The times, they are a-changin. With the increase of virtual communication technology, more and more jobs now have the flexibility to work from anywhere, not just an office. With advantages like lower employee turnover, decreased overhead costs, and lower reported stress levels of remote employees, telecommuting jobs are on the rise. A 2015 Gallup study found that the number of employees who work at least part of the month from home has grown by more than 300 percent in the last 20 years.
As a remote employee for AdVision since my move to Durango, Colorado in May, I have learned some lessons along the way that I’ve found to be instrumental in my happiness and productivity while not in the office. For all the remote workers out there, or even if you’re just wondering if it’s right for you: I want to share with you five of my top pieces of advice for staying on task and creative away from the office.
1. Try to keep your personal space and your workspace in distinct, separate areas.
When you have the option to work from home, it can be embarrassingly easy to do just that: work from all the places in your home where you like to relax. Your couch, your bed, in your comfiest recliner in a Snuggie – we all like to be comfortable throughout the day, so why not just kick back with your laptop? Besides being much less focused (in my experience), you’re also blurring the line between true “home time” and “work time.” You know the feeling you get driving home on Friday afternoon after a particularly crazy week of work? You lose that concept completely when home and office are essentially interchangeable. On the flipside, blending home life and work life too much can make you want to complete “home” tasks like laundry or cleaning instead of working. No bueno.
Key Tip: Create a dedicated work area for the times you’re working from your house, whether it’s a desk, coffee table, kitchen table, whatever. If it’s a table used for other activities, clean up your laptop and work-related items once you’re done.
2. Don’t begin working until after your typical normal rituals.
Last August, Adobe Systems Inc. conducted a survey of 400 adult professionals about their email usage habits. They found that, outside of normal work hours, 52 percent of these American professionals check their email from bed in the morning more than anywhere else the rest of the day. And if you’re a millennial like me, you’re even worse – 70 percent of us check our emails before we even get out of bed. (For the record, I am thankfully not part of that number, for good reason.) I love my job, but I don’t love it so much that I want it to be the first thing on my mind when I wake up from a good night’s sleep. However, for many people who work remotely, it can seem like a no-brainer to check email like that from home. It’s especially more habitual for those who are primarily working from their houses, rather than a coffee shop or other facility (more on that later). But come on… we have allllll day to be on our email and knock out our work for the day. Savor those free moments in the morning!
Key Tip: I’ve found that one of the best ways to stay clear-headed and sane is to not touch anything work-related until I’ve woken up, gone on a run, showered, made coffee… Whatever your morning ritual is, have your personal time before tackling what’s on your plate for the day.
3. Talk to your coworkers on the phone (or even better, through video) as much as possible.
One of the biggest adjustments when moving from an office to a remote position is getting used to not seeing your beloved coworkers every day. The spontaneous conversations by the water cooler, the off-tune singing of “Happy Birthday” complete with a slice of cake, and of course the value of in-person collaboration – these are all things you miss out on as a remote employee. But, on the upside, 91 percent of remote employees believe they are more productive when working alone and on their own time. And with the proper tools, you can still reap all those benefits above (except for maybe the cake). Communication apps like Slack and Gchat are awesome for quick conversations throughout the day, but being able to speak with colleagues voice-to-voice helps get your points across more clearly. Phone conversation makes it easier to feel more connected on a personal level, too. And video chat ups the ante even more! At AdVision, we have weekly meetings every Monday and Thursday morning that I video-call into. Being able to see everyone’s faces (and vice versa) sets the tone for collaboration and camaraderie for the week ahead.
Key Tip: A Harvard Business Review study found that 87 percent of remote workers feel more connected with their colleagues through the use of video conferencing. Check out apps like GoToMeeting, FaceTime, Skype, and Sqwiggle (which I haven’t tried yet but looks super cool) to turn more emails into video chats.
4. Plan out your tasks and projects for the day ahead of time.
I like to think I’m an organized person, but in actuality, my “to-do list” for work has historically been much more jumbled than I’ve told myself. I learned very quickly that disorganized notes would not cut it if I’m working solo. Rather than looking at a long list of what’s on your plate, separate your projects by client, priority, and due date. I like to use OneNote for organizing my to-do list, and one of my favorite features is the ability to create a different tab for each client, and subpages within that tab. I’ve also gotten really into color-coding, which in case you didn’t know already, makes everything a little bit more fun. More importantly than organizing your tasks in that way, though, is to plan out exactly what you will do that day. Remote workers often have less structured days than those in the office, so it can be really helpful to make a tentative schedule for the day. So you might say… you’re going to work on the content for that campaign in the morning, have a coffee or walk break, knock out a blog post or two, eat lunch, then focus on the big design project that’s due Friday all afternoon. You might be amazed at how focused you feel throughout the day!
Key Tip: When you make your daily schedule, write it by hand rather than typing. Our brains tend to remember things we handwrite more than things we type, and it helps to solidify it in your mentality for the day. Even if it’s just jotting a few words down, it can help you stay on track.
5. Keep it interesting! Mix up your workplaces if you can.
One of my favorite parts about working remotely is the ability to mix up my scenery during the day. Sure, it’s great to stick to one spot if you’re really in a groove and if it works for you, but I’ve found that it breaks up my week in a manageable way to mix up my workplaces. Earlier in the post, I mentioned the whole “working from home” thing in the truest sense of the phrase – working from your house. Where you work is obviously a personal preference, but getting up and leaving your house in the morning can help tell your body and your brain that it’s time to get on the grind. By simply making the effort to walk, bike or drive to a coffee shop, coworking space, or wherever you have Internet, you’re dedicating yourself to at least some quality work time from that location.
Key Tip: Say it’s a beautiful day outside, and there’s a picnic bench outside a coffee shop that offers free wi-fi. Try switching up your day and knocking out a project from that bench rather than the same chair you sit in most days. Seeking out new places increases your motivation to work, and it might just become your new favorite spot.
To tie this all up with a nice little bow – working remotely can seem very appealing from the outside, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Intrinsic motivation is a much more crucial factor in completing work, and some people just don’t like working alone (I certainly miss my coworkers!). As telecommuting continues to trend upward, executives, managers, and employees alike should all be mindful of the intricacies involved with a remote workforce. In the end, no matter where we work, all we can try to do is help our company and clients the best way we know how – and, of course, stay happy. :)