Editor’s Note: Stelligent has been a remote-first company since 2013. All of our employees work from home, providing cloud consulting services to the public sector and corporations all over the United States. We love our remote culture, but the arrangement has its challenges. We’re publishing a series of articles to share our insights with everyone who may be facing those challenges for the first time.
You’ve undoubtedly seen a lot of blog posts popping up in the last week or two on how to work remotely. Many of these are focused on the technology aspect of working from home (what do we use to communicate? How do we hold meetings?). While this information is clearly important for organizations trying to implement remote work for the first time, it fails to capture the human challenges you’ll face as you start working remotely.
Remote work can be challenging at first, especially if you’re one of the many people that has only ever worked in an office. You may find that the distractions present at home, combined with the differences in how you need to communicate, significantly impact your ability to get work done and affect your happiness and your work-life balance.
Create a dedicated work space
While the thought of working from bed or the couch sounds enticing to many people when they first start working remotely, the reality of it is often disappointing. The truth of the matter is that you’re probably going to find it difficult to work in the same spaces all your habits tell you are used for leisure time. One of the best things you can do to be productive while working remotely is to create a separate, dedicated workspace.
This doesn’t mean you need to have a dedicated home office. Many of us aren’t lucky enough to have that luxury (though of course that’s a great way to do it if you can). Even if you’re carving out space in a bedroom or dedicating some precious real estate at the dining table, commit to making it your work space for the times you’re on the job. This can go a long way towards creating an environment that is similar to your usual work environment.
This is your shot at making the workspace of your dreams. Think big: Standing desks, large/multiple monitors, comfortable lighting/seating, soundproofing, you don’t have to get it approved by finance and HR. If you have a vision problem, or a bad back, you can accommodate yourself.
Distractions can be one of the most challenging parts of working from home. It can be all too easy to turn on the TV when you want to take a break… and then never turn it off. Or to try and multi-task and get chores done (I’ll just run the laundry while I work!). But these small interruptions can end up significantly impacting your productivity.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to eliminate these distractions. Treat working at home just like you would working in an office. You wouldn’t try to work in your office with music blaring in the background, so don’t do it when working at home either.
Creating a separate work area, like in our first recommendation, can also help eliminate distractions.
Keep your morning routine consistent
Though it may sound trite, people truly are creatures of habit. One of the best things you can do is to keep your morning routine unchanged from what you did when you were working in-office. Set your alarm for the same time you always would, and stick to the same routine you have before going into the office to work. Showering, making coffee and breakfast, getting dressed in normal work clothes, whatever your routine is, stick to it.
Maintaining your morning routine will help keep your mind geared to switch into work mode when your routine is complete.
Communicate with your team regularly
When you can’t just pop over to someone else’s desk to check-in or ask for guidance, it becomes much more difficult to collaborate and stay productive. One of the best ways to combat this is to make sure your team is checking in regularly and communicating what everyone is working on.
In order to facilitate this kind of communication, remote teams will often implement a “daily standup” meeting every morning where people on the same team share what they completed in the last day, and what they will be working on today. These don’t have to be “traditional” meetings that are performed face to face (or via Skype or Zoom). Even just having everyone write a couple sentences that they share via an email or message chain can go a long way towards keeping everyone in the loop as to what everyone else is working on. Just make sure you keep the groups for each of these “standups” small and focused. The point is to keep people on the same team apprised of what other people on their team are working on. If you mix teams, and people are receiving updates they don’t need (ie the finance team getting updates from HR and vice versa) then you’ll end up doing more harm than good.
It’s also important to communicate when you’re available — and when you’re not. If you need to step away from your desk for an extended period, let people know. There’s nothing more frustrating than expecting to be able to reach someone and for them to be unexpectedly absent.
Maintain normal work hours
The flexibility that comes with working from home can be both wonderful and terrible. The challenge is to use the flexibility responsibly, and one of the best ways you can do that is by maintaining your normal work schedule whenever possible.
Keeping your schedule consistent offers a few benefits. First, it’ll help keep you in your normal routine, which will help improve your productivity. Second, it’ll help you turn off at the end of the day and disconnect from work. Compartmentalizing between work and leisure can be one of the biggest challenges of working from home. Being able to check out at the same time every day will ensure that you can make working from home sustainable.
There are many tools you can use to help with this. Scheduling work hours in Google Calendar (or whatever calendar you use) can help with consistency. At Stelligent, we use PTO Ninja to help manage our Google Calendars and to automatically update both our calendars and Slack with our Out of Office information. Of course you can also use more traditional methods like scheduled office hours to communicate when you’re available.
Working from home has its challenges, but making a good plan and sticking with it will improve how you feel and your success making the change. Remote work can be incredibly productive and rewarding if you’re willing to take the time to embrace and master it. We hope we’ve given you some insights into what you can expect as you start working remotely, and some tools and strategies you can use to overcome the challenges.
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