Remote working has many benefits for your work-life balance. Being able to work from anywhere means you can choose to avoid commuting, work in your comfys, or even travel while you work. But having recently gone remote after many years of office life, I’ve discovered that it’s not all sleep-ins and beach-side working.
I’m not saying that I wasn’t working hard when I was in an office… But there was a certain extent to which just by showing up and being present for the regular 9am-5:30pm time slot, you knew your boss would feel you’d done your duty. Working remotely, there’s much more (at times self-imposed) pressure to perform. You find yourself trying to respond near-instantaneously when a colleague communicates with you just to prove you’re actually working as much as you said you would.
As a digital nomad, it’s also been a huge learning curve for me to figure out how to stay productive when there’s temptation to explore a new place or push things to another day so I can participate in an activity with other travellers.
I’ve spent a bit of time recently thinking about how I can make this work, and what makes a good remote employee. Here’s what I’ve found.
Generally as a remote employee, your employer will be more interested in the outcomes of your work than how many hours you’re working (since they can’t really tell how many hours you’re online anyway). Of course, you can perform better if you know what these outcomes are supposed to be. Get a good understanding of what your employer considers to be your goals and responsibilities from the outset, so you know you’re working towards the same thing.
2. Check in regularly with team members
Become aligned with other team member’s goals and banish the feeling that they’ll think you’re just playing with your dog all the time by connecting regularly with colleagues. Use video calls so you get the benefits of face-to-face interaction. I usually use Google Hangouts but Zoom is another good video conferencing tool. Other real-time communication tools like Slack are helpful for getting quick questions answered. In fact, 44% of remote workers say real-time communication tools are the most vital tools they use to help them stay connected. If you use these regularly, you’ll feel more like an active member of the team than an outsider.
3. Make time for personal connections
Without the office water cooler chat, it can sometimes feel as if you’re working on a solo project. Consider incorporating time for personal updates or small talk on each of your calls, so you’re able to build the trust that comes with social relationships.
A study of virtual teams worldwide showed that there’s a direct connection between lack of trust and unpredictable communication patterns, so stick to your scheduled meetings as much as possible to help cement that trust.
4. Learn when you’re most productive
Some of us can get stuck into work as soon as that first morning coffee hits the lips. Others really hit their stride around 11 o’clock at night. Figure out what works for you and use that to your advantage. Take care of creative tasks in times when you feel most in flow, and get your more menial tasks done in off-peak times.
5. Stick to a schedule
When I first started working remotely, I created a ‘to do’ list every day, focusing on the tasks that were the most urgent. But I quickly realized that this made me feel as if I was working reactively and lacking the ability to plan ahead. Taking the time to put together a regular schedule of what I would work on each week made it much easier to ensure I got the repetitive tasks done as well as the bigger, more pressing items.
Share your schedule with your boss as well. If you regularly duck out for yoga at lunch, make sure your boss knows so you don’t have to spend your shavasana in fear that you’re leaving an urgent message unanswered. If you plan on starting late one day or front-loading your work so that you can take a day off at the end of the week, communicate that too. The easiest way to do this without getting into information overload is to share your calendar. Google Calendar works well for most.
6. Be honest
If you have an issue or are worried about something, be transparent about it. Asking for help is not a sign that you’re not good enough to do your job – it’s a sign that you’re a smart worker who is serious about reaching your goals.
7. Keep a shared agenda
While it’s important to communicate regularly, it could also become frustrating for your boss to be frequently interrupted by your updates. Keep a shared agenda that you can use for your regular catch ups. I use a Google Doc, so I can add in points whenever I think of them, and my boss can also jump in to add agenda items whenever it suits him.
8. Use productivity tools
Some say that working remotely is actually more productive than working from an office. In this TED Talk, Jason Fried shows how meetings and managers interrupt workflow and cause us to lose our productivity. Make the most of your reduced unsolicited interruptions with a few tools that can help you use your time more productively. I use AND CO to give me visibility over which tasks are taking up my time and which I need to get more efficient at. I use Dashlane to securely save all of my passwords so I don’t waste time with ‘forgot your password’ recovery. And I use One Tab to save the many, many tabs that I have open when I need to focus on one thing without distraction.
9. Block tasks
It’s more efficient to do several of the same task at one time than to switch between different types of tasks regularly. Whatever your role, there are likely tools that can help you automate tasks to make this easier. I use Buffer to schedule social media posts so I don’t have to make time to do this task each day, and Boomerang to schedule follow up emails.
10. Share your to do list
A ‘to do’ list with deadlines for each task is an essential way to stay organized. Sharing it with your boss and running through it together will confirm that you’re on the same page. I use Asana for this, which means other colleagues can also comment on tasks or follow tasks that require collaboration. Plus… when you tick off multiple tasks at once Asana shows you a flying unicorn. How’s that for motivation?!
11. Get dressed
As great as it might be to be able to work from the couch, you do need to separate your work and home life if you are going to keep your sanity. Even if you don’t have to go into an office, make sure you set an alarm each morning and get dressed, to signal that it’s time to start your day.
I’ve found that working in a coworking space is incredibly beneficial. While I can get a lot done from home, I find it motivating to see others working hard around me. And, a coworking space provides you with instant colleagues and lunch buddies. As they’re often working on an exciting business of their own, the conversations I’ve had with other professionals have inspired me to come up with new creative ideas. Don’t underestimate the power of networking… or coffee breaks!
Being in an office also helps remind you to clock off. Many remote workers find it a challenge to shut down – but going home for dinner gives you a good reason to close your computer.
At the end of the day, the best way to show that you’re getting things done is to do them. Your boss won’t have to worry about what you’re up to if they can see that you’re achieving what they hired you for. Make an effort to report your wins and results to your boss each time you catch up.
About the Author
Sophie McAulay is a content marketer and digital growth strategist. As a recent convert to the life of a digital nomad, she’s seeking the perfect integration of travel, work and life.