In large swaths of a California and in the parts of Vancouver I frequent, the accepted answer to this question among acquaintances is ‘Fine.’ No one expects to find out how you really are. The question is just a greeting, or a prelude to a different conversation.
I feel like this pandemic is changing our answer. We’re in the middle of a mass trauma; things aren’t fine. The old knee-jerk answer feels a little silly right now. We may not bare our secret fears during Zoom happy hour, but few people claim to be fine.
This is the sort of balanced honesty we need to take to work.
We Can’t Be All Business
Business runs on relationships, whether that business takes place in a physical, shared office, or in a video call. But you have to tend to those relationships differently when you’re remote. When you work in a shared office, you can wave to people as you walk to your desk. You can glance significantly at your work best friend when someone says something ridiculous. And then you can laugh about it over lunch. There are so many opportunities to see each other, you can afford to focus purely on business in team meetings.
The same can’t be said when you work from home. Remote workers have fewer opportunities to see each other, so we have to make the most of them. We need to reach out proactively to see how people are doing. At the beginning of video calls, we need to ask colleagues how they are.
Managers need to take the lead in modelling this behaviour. If you want your workforce to do it’s best, if you want to help them avoid burnout, then make sure you know how they’re doing. And provide some outlets for stress relief. Consider hosting a coffee break over video call. You can even hold a company sponsored group lunch. Give everyone a dollar amount to spend, tell them to submit an expense report, and let them order their own take out.
When you mix personal attention with business, you show your remote employees that you care. And we can all use a little bit of caring during this time.
Places Where I’Ve Talked About Remote Work
it’s been an action-filled week at Remota HQ. I spoke to a reporter in the United Arab Emirates about tending to your mental health when you’re cooped up inside. I was also on the Radio Health Journal on Sunday talking about how to ease the stress that comes from working at home. Incidentally, the host Reed Pence has a very knowledgeable and soothing voice. He was born to be on the radio. On Tuesday my interview with Andi Simon went live, as did the interview in USA Today, where I was interviewed about employee wellness. Check them out if you’re so inclined.
The Douglas Family is Surviving
On Sunday my daughter made a Devil’s Food cake. It was moist and delicious. She even modified the frosting so it was flavoured with peppermint. By the time this pandemic is over I’m going to have a mini dessert chef on my hands. I will also weigh 300 pounds, but that’s a problem for later.
Right now, the kids are dealing with being cooped up by making nice things. It’s an urge I can understand and support. I also make nice things when I need to cope, which explains why I’m designing a sweater as my pandemic activity. My son is making a rope ladder. My husband bought a mini fire pit. He told the kids he bought a flame thrower. They were severely disappointed to find out what it actually was. On the other hand, we can now roast marsh mellows on our patio and pretend we’re camping. I’ll take all the breaks from the news I can get.
How are you doing? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
You Got the Job–here’s how to tweak your schedule so you can enjoy your day to day.
On August 2nd I started a new job. I wasn’t expecting to change roles, but my company’s needs changed, and I had to change to meet that need. This is the nature of remote work. One day you may work as an analyst, and the next in people management. The savvy remote worker develops skills to bounce back when life (or your company) disrupts your status quo.
We can’t always control our own destiny. No one asks to have their position eliminated. But we can all develop habits that help us deal with the unexpected. A few weeks ago I talked about how to network when you don’t know anyone. This week we’ll discuss how to take control of your day to day when you start a new role.
Start with a Positive Attitude
We’ve all had bad bosses. Many of us have worked in places with a toxic culture. Or perhaps you’re in the opposite situation. Don’t let these past experiences sour your new role.
That’s easier said than done, especially if (for example) your new boss works in ways that are similar to a previous bad boss. Know your triggers. I had a terrible boss we’ll call Stan. Stan was an extrovert who needed to talk to work things out. He would repeat what other people said in meetings immediately after they said them in order to process the information. Stan was also passive-aggressive, controlling, and enjoyed calling people names.
Intellectually, I know these things have nothing to do with each other, but when I’m in a meeting with someone who is a detail-oriented auditory processor, I think of Stan. And I have to remind myself that repeating what other people say isn’t evidence of evil. It’s evidence of an auditory processor.
Trust, But Verify
If you find yourself triggered by your new boss or team, take a step back and diagnose the situation. I’ve found it helpful to ask myself a set of questions:
Let’s pretend there’s a reasonable explanation for this. What could it be?
Do I have concrete evidence that this person or team is mean?
Could this be explained away by lack of caffeine or sleep?
What did the person say when I approached them about the situation?
Is there a pattern of bad behavior or is this a one off?
Give people a chance to do right by you. For all you know, someone on your team finds YOU triggering. We don’t think of ourselves as the bad guy in our own life. Remember, though, that your new team mates don’t know you. And remote workers don’t have many unplanned opportunities to see each other interact with other people. Lead with trust. We all have to make a conscious effort to demonstrate that we’re sane people. That takes time. Your reasonable response to stressful situations will show people how great you are.
Don’t Let Yesterday’s Great Ruin Today’s Good
Or perhaps you’re in the opposite situation. Perhaps your former team was great and you’re grieving their loss. This was my situation on August 1. I’d said my goodbyes to the people who were leaving, and to the people who moved to different teams. That loss was in the front of my mind during my new team’s kickoff events on August 2.
What helped, of all things, was thinking of my son. Two years ago his best friend moved away. The boys went from seeing each other every day at school to seeing each other every couple of months. My son absolutely refused to make any new friends for a year. He thought that if he was miserable long enough, he could force his friend to move back to his old home.
You and I are adults and we understand that this isn’t how the world works. But if we’re not careful, we can act as if it does. You can like your new team and your old team at the same time. Not everybody has the good fortune to work with a great team. Enjoy your memories while you work to build different ones with a new set of people.
Assume You Have Some Agency
When most people start a new job they worry about proving themselves. This is largely a healthy reaction when you’re trying to establish a good reputation.
There’s a difference, though, between trying to be a team player and putting up with unnecessary inconveniences. The remote workforce gives us an unparalleled opportunity to craft flexible schedules. Freed from the limits of geography-based offices, we can get work done in a way that lets us live fuller lives.
Don’t be too quick to give that up with your new team. You might have a strong desire to go with the flow and accept every meeting people put on your calendar and treat them as immovable. The fact is, you don’t know how sacred those meeting times are unless you ask. So ask. Assume that your boss and your team mates are reasonable people who are willing to move things around when they can.
Lead with Trust
Again, this is easier said than done. It’s my policy to lead with trust and assume the best, but it was still scary to ask my new boss if we could talk about the reoccurring meetings he was setting up with the new team. We’re following an agile model and holding daily stand up meetings. And wouldn’t you know it, those meetings were all scheduled for the time slot formerly known as my lunch break.
Now, I don’t like eating while on camera. I don’t care if anyone else does so as long as I don’t have to hear chewing. But that wasn’t the real issue. I run on my lunch break. Running outside is how I keep from feeling cut off from the rest of the world when I work from home. It’s important to me.
It’s Always No Unless You Ask
I’ll admit that I took a few days to dither about whether I would really ask the whole team to move the daily stand up just so I could go running at lunch. Once the dithering process was over, I brought it up with my boss.
As this was a potentially tricky conversation, I decided to save it for our one on one. I wanted to see his reaction when I asked to move a work thing for my running. I already knew how he liked to communicate because I asked him in our first meeting. So I sent him a quick Slack message the day before our meeting letting him know I wanted to talk about potentially moving our stand up meetings.
I explained that I block off an hour and a half in the middle of the day to finish my morning work, plan my afternoon, and then run for 30 minutes. I wasn’t sure if he chose our daily meeting slot because it was the only time that worked for most of the team, but I would like to explore shifting the time either up or down if possible.
Give your new team a chance to show who they are
There are times in your life when you gear up to persuade people to your way of thinking, only to find out they don’t need to be persuaded. My boss picked that time because he thought it would work for everyone. He was happy to move our meeting since the time wasn’t working for me. When he brought up the issue with the rest of the team, it turns out they preferred to have the meeting earlier in the day anyway.
I found out two good things that day. First, that my boss values daytime breaks. Second, that my team is full of nice people. I would have figured these things out eventually, but I’m grateful I didn’t spend a lot of time bereft of my lunchtime run because I was too afraid to ask. Give your new team a chance to show who they are. You may also be pleasantly surprised at the result. And remember to be the sort of person who is willing to be flexible for the sake of other people’s schedules. We’re all in this remote working boat together.
Starting a new role comes with a lot of mixed feelings. Will you do a good job? Will you get on with your boss and your team? If you lead with trust, assume the best, and approach your new situation with a flexible mindset, you can craft a job that you enjoy going to day in and day out.
Working while on vacation isn’t ideal, but there are things you can do to get your work done and then get out and enjoy your vacation.
My only niece got married last Saturday. Good aunt that I am, packed up the kids on Wednesday and flew down to attend.
You might expect me to say that I’m glad that I can both vacation and work without missing a beat, thanks to the power of the remote workforce. The truth is that I try very hard to NOT work while I’m on vacation. Just because you CAN work from anywhere doesn’t mean you should. I generally keep work out of my vacations.
Sadly that wasn’t possible this time. My fellow analysts can’t cover all of the work I do. My boss generally oversees the bit that needs special handling while I’m out. Unfortunately he was scheduled to be in Banff (that’s in Canada) that week. Since he wasn’t sure about his WiFi situation and I was going to be staying in Silicon Valley, it made sense for me to cover my own tasks.
Working while on vacation isn’t ideal, but there are things you can do to get your work done and then get out and enjoy your vacation.
Communicate Your Work Hours
Distributed companies with healthy cultures celebrate remote worker flexibility. Still, people need to know when they can talk to you. Remote workers can’t see when colleagues get to work. We rely on other indicators–work hours listed in an email signature, the status button on instant messaging platforms, and good old fashioned memory. People won’t always remember the time zone you live in; they are more likely to remember the time of day when they usually get a response from you.
One of my colleagues regularly sends me instant messages at 11:50am. I’ve accidentally rewarded her for doing so by responding very quickly at that time. I go running at noon, and at 11:50 I’m anxious to clear things off my plate quickly so I can enjoy my run. I don’t know if she understands why I respond so quickly, but she obviously remembers that I do. Your colleagues hold similar information about you.
You need a strategy for handling work tasks while you’re on vacation. First, weed out any work that can wait until you get back. Your out of office message will do the heavy lifting here. I lead with some version of ‘I won’t be checking email or phone messages while I’m away’ so people won’t expect to hear from me until I return.
Second, use your email’s out of office message to empower people to get work done without you. My message lists specific people or groups to talk to for specific sorts of questions. I even share which key words to use in their subject line to get faster service.
Make Sure You’re Available to the Right People
If you have to do some work while on vacation, email the specific people involved with a different communication plan. I live on the West Coast but work East Coast hours. While I agreed to work on my vacation, I drew the line at starting work at 6:30am. In this particular case I committed to checking my email and finishing my work tasks by 9am Pacific.
Your email should be short but informative. Include your amended work hours, and the specific tasks you’ll be working on. Mention that all other work will either have to wait until your return, or go to your sub. My email went out 2 days before I left, and then again the night before I left. Does this sound excessive? It’s better to assume that your colleagues are too busy to keep track of your vacation time.
Break the News to Your Family or Friends
Even when you set great boundaries, it takes constant effort to get loved ones to respect them. There’s always that person who thinks your focus hours don’t apply to them. And if you work while on vacation, you can expect that your vacation mates will point out that you’re violating your own boundaries.
Are you tempted to sneak in some work when no one’s watching? Nobody wants an argument. But keeping your work schedule a secret generally makes matters worse. This is especially true if you regularly let work take over your life. If you told your loved ones that you would focus on them during vacation, and then try to work in secret, you can damage relationships.
Talking about you work schedule up front helps maintain your credibility. It also gives people a chance to weigh in. Your friends or family don’t want you to work on vacation. However, if you ask for (and use!) their preferences to plan your work hours, that can go a long way to help them deal with your reality.
I’m part of a large family. And I haven’t seen most of them for more than a year. When I come into town I usually spend every moment visiting and catching up. Since I couldn’t do that this time, I promised I would work only 2 hours each day, and that I would get it done by 9am.
Respect Those Hours
If you tell people you are going to be at work during a set time, make sure you’re there. And then make sure you sign off when you say you will. If you’ve been setting boundaries around your work and home life before your vacation, this should feel familiar to you.
Resist the ‘Just One More Email’ Excuse
Do you feel guilty ignoring work emails? Remember my colleague who sends me instant messages at 11:50. If you answer everyone’s emails while you’re on vacation, you’re rewarding that behavior. You can even justify it by saying that taking care of the problem now means an easier transition back into work later. Don’t do it.
You won’t develop a robust vacation coverage policy if you’re too available. Nobody likes waiting for answers. Nor do we like shifting our routines so we can catch our colleagues before they go on vacation. But you know what? We don’t always like waking up early in the morning to get to work on time, either. We do it because we have to.
Many of our greatest accomplishments as a species were solutions to problems. How can I eat that rabbit when it moves faster than me? Let’s invent the snare! How do I keep from starving during the winter? Let’s figure out how to preserve food!
Do you want a work culture that respects ‘off’ time? Then act as if off time is sacred. If we assume we can’t reach people on vacation, we will invent workarounds for this problem.
I remember when my niece was born. I remember when she used to call me Auntie Orange because I let her steal them out of my fruit bowl. It doesn’t seem possible that she’s a now a married adult. Thanks to the power of my boundaries, I was able to enjoy her moment and build memories that I can look back on for years to come.
We might see a day when towns get into bidding wars for remote workers instead of a company’s HQ.
“Canadians just aren’t work online people,” the twenty-something assured me, as he charged my credit card for my new phone. “I wish more people moved to Canada like you. You already have a job and you didn’t even take it from a Canadian.”
I thanked the man for my cell phone and left without arguing with him. It was 2014, I was fresh off the plane from California, and I didn’t want my first action as a Canadian expat to be telling a random stranger why he was wrong.
And make no mistake, he was wrong. Remote work is a world wide trend that shows no signs of disappearing. In Canada, 47% of employees work outside of an office for at least half of the week. And according to International Workplace Group (IWG), over half of employees across the globe work outside of their main office at least 2.5 days per week. While the overall number of full time remote workers world-wide is relatively low — Owl Labs puts the number at 16% — it’s one of the fastest growing workforce segments in the US.
While we can probably discount the idea that everyone will be working remotely in the future, it’s pretty clear that remote work — in some form — is here to stay.
The People Are Asking for It
In the movie ‘The Princess Bride,’ Miracle Max asks the (mostly) dead Wesley “What’s so important? What do you have that’s worth living for?” Wesley had a strong reason for wanting to live. While today’s knowledge workers may not be motivated by true love, many of them have compelling reasons to pursue a flexible work schedule.
The survey from IWG found that “83% of global respondents report that the ability to work flexibly at least some of the time would act as clincher in case of indecision between two similar job offers.” Even people who don’t want to work from home 100% of the time benefit from a work from home policy. No one wants to use a vacation day to wait for the plumber to show up. Working from home means you don’t have to.
While work flexibility is a perk for some, for others, it’s a requirement. For a certain segment of the workforce, remote jobs mean the difference between working and unemployment. Some people have health conditions that they can only manage from home. Others must move every few years to follow a spouse.
These folks are highly motivated to learn the necessary skills to work remotely and find employers who will accommodate their needs. Employers who are truly interested in diversity and inclusion should consider remote work as one way to further that goal. The technology already exists to let you transition to an ‘office optional’ approach.
The Technology is Already Here
I was once at a party where another guest said, after learning that I work remotely, “We could never do that where I work. I can’t do my job online.” It’s absolutely valid for people to say that they don’t want to work from home. However, there’s only a subset of knowledge worker jobs that can’t be done remotely.
Just ask 100% remote companies like Automattic, Buffer,and FlexJobs. Virtual Private Networks, video conferencing, and collaborative project management boards allow companies to conduct business no matter where employees sit. Everything from accounting to people management can be done online.
In some cases, when people say ‘you can’t do that remotely,’ what they really mean is ‘I don’t know how to do that remotely.’ Many of us learned how to perform work in a traditional office. We developed skills that depended on seeing each other. ‘Going remote’ means relearning how to communicate, how to get what you need, and how to motivate people to do things.
You might not want to relearn these skills. You may not have a choice. Knowledge work CAN be done online, and knowledge workers know it. Business leadership might keep certain tasks in a physical office, but there needs to be a well-thought-out rationale for doing so. ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ isn’t enough. Not when workers can interview for a remote job without leaving home. And not when they may have other, more powerful reasons for doing so.
Cities are Getting Expensive
I left California in 2014 to move to Canada. I can’t afford to move back. Not if I want to give my children a good life. My hometown is so expensive that people making six figures are living in their cars. While the state needs to resolve the livability crisis, remote work can provide an escape hatch for employees who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to move.
People are more productive when they aren’t worried about feeding their children or losing their homes. They’re happier when they can break free from long commutes and spend time building a life outside of work. For companies based in expensive areas, providing a remote work option is the ethical thing to do. Not everyone will choose remote work, but for those that do, it can dramatically improve their quality of life.
This is true not just for employees, but also for rural geographies.
Revitalizing Rural Communities
People have been leaving the country to move to the city for hundreds of years. The rate of movement is on the rise, with the International Organization for Migration estimating that nearly 3 million people are moving to cities every week. This has left many rural areas without the needed population to keep their economies afloat.
A few of these rural areas are attempting to reverse the tide. Towns inside and outside of the US will pay you to move in. Some are even specifically targeting remote workers. In January of 2019, the state of Vermont started accepting applications for the Remote Worker Grant Program. If you work for an out of state employer, Vermont would like to give you $10,000 over two years to move there.
Governments aren’t the only entities trying to revitalize rural communities. There are a growing number of grassroots movements dedicated to bringing remote work to small towns and villages around the world. Grow Remote is just one of these community-based groups. Their mission is to help repopulate rural areas, to employ those already there, and to give remote workers a connection to the larger community.
It’s a little too soon to tell if these initiatives will bring people back to rural communities. CNN reports that as of May 14, Vermont has approved 33 remote work grants and people are moving in. And rural communities aren’t the only ones trying to attract remote workers. Tulsa, Oklahoma has followed in Vermont’s footsteps and is also offering $10,000 if you move into the city for a year.
Will people stay and put down roots? Only time will tell. If these programs help Tulsa and Vermont to grow their tax base, it’s likely more places will set up programs to attract remote workers.
The man who sold me my cell phone had one thing right. More people should have the opportunity to move to a new place, secure in the knowledge that they have a way to support themselves when they get there. Fortunately, a tool with this much potential isn’t going anywhere. As more companies embrace a flexible work policy, people will have the opportunity to improve their quality of life while potentially revitalizing their communities for years to come.
There may not be a magic formula for succeeding as a remote worker, but there are certain competencies that can increase your chances of success.
I first met Roberta in a Slack channel devoted to discussions around distributed teams. When I found out that she had just completed some research around remote worker competencies, I knew I had to interview her for the blog. You can get a copy of her full report HERE.
Why did you decide to research remote worker competencies?
I care deeply about helping people realize their greatest potential, specifically in their working environment. Having worked in the areas of management and human resources in a variety of sectors (for profit, not-for-profit, academia, public sector), I saw the importance of supporting, developing, and providing valuable feedback to my team members.
I was also involved with an organization who provided notification services to employees being terminated. It never ceased to amaze me how many employees were surprised at receiving their notice, and reported having had very limited, if any, professional development offered, or feedback on their performance. When I considered how common this was in collocated organizations, when employees and employers were face to face on a daily basis, it caused me to wonder how much more epidemic the lack of support would be in a context where personal interaction and physical presence was rare.
Thus began the research to first seek out what was necessary for success as a remote worker, what feedback looked like, and what support was desired…all from the perspective of the remote worker.
Are there remote-worker specific competencies?
I would suggest that there are some common competencies between remote and collocated workers, however, the level of proficiency necessary in each competency is higher for remote that collocated.
Were you looking at things that would help remote workers do a good job, things that would help them to be happy in their job, or a little bit of both?
The simple answer is yes. Competencies by definition are the knowledge, skills and abilities a person should possess in order to successfully perform their job. If we can identify what those competencies are, and build a recruitment and selection process around them…right down to the interview questions, the likelihood of both job success and job satisfaction is greatly increased.
Was there anything that surprised you about what you discovered?
I’m not sure that I was as much surprised as overwhelmed by the honesty and passion with which the research respondents shared their opinions, joys, and challenges. These are a group of hard working, dedicated people who are totally committed to doing their best.
Probably what saddened me the most were the number of people who reported total lack of support from their managers or supervisors (to be sure, over the course of the research I met, and hear about some amazing managers that others could learn a great deal from). While some are simply negligent, I would suggest the majority simply don’t know how to manage in the remote world. What works in a face to face setting doesn’t necessarily translate into a virtual setting.
Is there any quality that guarantees success as a remote worker?
Guarantees? I would not go that far. However, possessing the competencies revealed in the research certainly will raise the likelihood of success. The one competency that was reported by 100% of respondents was communication. That includes all forms of communication as in verbal, written, and non-verbal, as well as the ability to discern the most appropriate channel for the needed communication, and taking the responsibility to make sure the message you have ‘sent’ has been received as intended. If it wasn’t, then make it right.
Do you think people can learn these competencies if they don’t have them now?
Absolutely. Some people may naturally possess higher levels of certain competencies, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t continue to develop them. Those who are not so strong can grow as well. That being said. I am a strong believer in knowing and operating from your strengths. We all have them, and we need each other to bring out the best of those strengths.
Remote work is not for everyone. Many factors come in to play, not the least of which is the simple desire that some people have to surround themselves with co-workers…and there is nothing wrong with that. Individuals considering remote work should do a serious self-evaluation. Ask themselves, ask those who know them well (and will be honest with them), ask supervisors…anyone that they trust, to provide feedback on how they would rate their ability in each of the top competencies revealed in the research. Ask for examples, for specifics. Use that input to determine a fit for remote work. It’s also important to keep in mind that some people have no choice but to work remote…I do believe that with the right support, they will survive, and even thrive.
The competencies that were
identified in the research are as follows…listed in order of
importance as reported by 250 remote workers.
A big thank you to Roberta for sharing her research and findings. Don’t forget to download the full report. If you would like to see what else Roberta is working on, you can follow her blog at www.ProbeandPonder.com. You can also find her on LinkedIn and Twitter, and on her website.
In November of 2010, there wasn’t a whole lot of guidance for people who wanted to ditch the traditional office in favor of a home office. I looked. My company had given me the option of going remote or finding a new job, and I desperately needed tools that could help me navigate this new world.
Most of what I found fell into one of two categories. First, there was the ‘scam group.’ The less said about these folks, the better. The second group I’ll call the ‘C-Suite Club.’ These people targeted their advice at the senior decision makers in a company.
I was a mid level manager, not a senior decision maker, and my concerns were more personal. How did I keep my work and home lives separate if they now happened in the same building? How could I keep my family from interrupting me during the day? No one seemed to be answering my questions in any venue I could reach. I stopped looking. Several of us figured out our own answers to these questions, and eventually some of us wrote a book about it. It’s called Secrets of the Remote Workforce.
This summer, as I began blogging, I found that there are many conversations going on about remote work. I wasn’t the only one who thought we needed to be talking about how to navigate the remote space. Here are some of the things I’m currently reading/listening to. This isn’t an exhaustive list of what’s out there–just what I’ve enjoyed.
Trello has a simple (but effective!) guide on How to Embrace Remote Work that is visually lovely. It’s easy to read, and a good document to send to your in-office coworkers or managers if you want to give them a gentle hint about how to work better with their remote coworkers. After all, YOU aren’t the one telling them that they need to stop crowding around a single computer to talk to you, it’s TRELLO doing it.
21st Century Work Life is a podcast about the different ways people work. Many of the episodes focus on remote work issues. I am not a podcast person, mainly because I can only listen while I knit or run. If I try to listen while working, I either stop working or I stop listening. This podcast is my exception, because there is a treasure trove of information in each episode. Pilar Orti is the host, and she also blogs at Virtual, Not Distant.
I found out about Lisette Sutherland through the 21st Century podcast. She has her own podcast called Collaboration Superpowers, and she just came out with a book called Work Together, Anywhere. The podcast is a great way to hear about what other remote people are doing, and how they get their work done. I just started the book and so far I’m enjoying the personal stories.
I am also a part of a couple of remote focused Facebook groups. The Remote Workers group is a good mix of job postings, commiseration, and links to articles about remote life. It’s a moderated group, and that seems to keep everything positive. Grow Remote is trying to build out remote opportunities in rural Ireland. I don’t live in Ireland, remote or otherwise, but it’s interesting watching them implement their dream of growing the local economy with remote jobs.
The deeper I dig, the more conversations I find about remote work. Do you have any books or podcasts about remote work that you enjoy? I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments so I can check it out.
Four questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge
Choosing to work remotely could be the best career decision you make this year. Alternatively, you might make the move to remote work, only to wonder why you thought it was a good idea. The difference between these two paths has less to do with the type of work that you do, and more to do with the type of person that you are. Here are somethings to think about to help you decide if remote work makes sense for you.
Do You Have a Compelling ‘Why’?
There are a great many professional and personal reasons to love remote work. Many successful remote workers enjoy flexible schedules, increased work autonomy, and the opportunity to pursue outside interests. Like any job, however, this set up comes with it’s own stresses. For some, remote work is incredibly isolating. Others fight an ongoing battle to keep friends and family members from interrupting their work day.
In those difficult moments it helps to remind yourself of what you get out of remote work. Does your virtual job allow you to live in a less expensive part of the world? Can you continue to work while caring for a young or ailing family member? Perhaps you are a military spouse who moves every two years. Working remotely may allow you to stay with the same company no matter where you go.
Keeping your ‘why’ in mind will help you in at least three ways. First, it can help you endure whatever is irritating you. Your spouse might have a poor sense of what ‘do not disturb’ means, for example, but at least you get to spend more time with your kids. Your coworkers may forget that you work in a different time zone and try to message you at 6 am, but at least you can train for half marathons. Take a moment to make sure you’re clear about the benefits that remote work brings to your life.
Understanding your ‘why’ also helps you to know when it’s time to cut your losses. Your circumstances may change, and your ‘why’ may no longer apply. If you took a remote job so you could homestead in rural Canada, and discover that you hate homesteading, there may be no overriding reason to stick with remote work.
The quality or urgency of your ‘why’ will also determine how much effort you ought to expend to become an excellent, contented remote worker. The person who has to choose between working remotely or not working at all will be more motivated to excel in this environment than the person who can get a traditional office job at any time. Know where you fall on this spectrum.
This leads to another question that you should ask yourself.
Are You Willing to Adapt?
Think back to your first “real job.” For most of us, that job took place in some sort of in-person setting. Even if you didn’t particularly like that job, or the ones that followed, you learned how to navigate your environment. You learned how to look busy and productive, how to make work friends, and how to navigate office politics. You probably learned how to turn work off (even if you still have trouble actually doing so).
Switching to remote work means learning new approaches to these activities. Your boss can’t see you industriously typing away at your computer. It takes effort to figure out that your colleague loves the same movies you do. You CAN make work friends, grow in your career, and learn to turn off your remote job — but you have to be willing to learn. Are you willing to learn? Do you have the bandwidth to try new things, fail, and try again?
It’s important to be honest about your willingness to adapt. Some people really want to work in a traditional office. They may take a remote job for a short time in order to pay the bills, but would not consider such a job a long-term commitment. If this describes your situation, understand that you will still need to learn some remote skills if you wish to keep your remote job until the next in-person job comes along.
Are You Willing to Act?
All of us have a list of things we “should” be doing. I, for example, should have cleaned out and organized my kitchen pantry weeks ago. Fortunately this doesn’t affect anyone but me (and occasionally my spouse when the dried fruit packets avalanche on him, but I digress).
Are you the sort of person who gets your important things done? Your commitment to delivering quality work on time has to be stronger than your commitment to Netflix. No one is watching you. Remote work offers the unparalleled opportunity to dive deep into your task list if you are the sort of person who knows how to focus. If you can’t focus without the threat of a boss walking by or the social pressure of in-person colleagues, this may not be the right work setting for you. If you can self-regulate, then you may never willingly set foot in a traditional office again.
Incidentally, your future remote boss will also want to know the answer to this question. If you haven’t worked remotely before, think about other times when you had a commitment to fulfill with very little oversight. If you are a recent college grad, how disciplined were you in following a study schedule? If you’ve ever stared a side business, or tried to learn a new language or musical instrument, how hard was it to do the things you knew you had to do to succeed? Your answers to these questions can help you figure out how self-directed you are.
Are You Willing to Play?
Most people understand that they need to learn to focus on their work during work hours. What comes as a surprise to many remote workers is the need to focus on doing fun things after work. We all need a certain amount of human contact. A successful remote worker not only knows how much contact she needs, she takes steps to hit her weekly quota. That may mean enrolling in dance classes, going to church, or joining your local knitting group. Be the sort of person who can pick something and then actually do it.
Success as a remote worker won’t come from using the latest team building software, or learning a new skill — though both of those things can enhance your career. To really make it as a remote worker, you need a clear sense of why this lifestyle works for you, a willingness to learn new things, and the ability to have some fun along the way. Armed with these qualities, you can roll with whatever your remote work/life throws at you.
All work and no rest makes Remote Ronnie cranky and inefficient
As veteran remote workers can attest, it’s all too easy to let your work take over every waking hour. While some employers worry that their remote employees are slacking, most remote employees struggle with taking proper breaks from work. Breaks are important for a variety of reasons. This article will discuss ways to make sure you actually take them.
Schedule Your Breaks
It can be hard to justify a break, if your work is demanding, or if you procrastinate and feel bad about stepping away from the job. It sounds counter-intuitive but scheduling breaks can help with both of these scenarios. Short breaks help you recharge so you can continue to handle a fast-moving task list. If your problem is procrastination, understand that work will fill up all available space. Scheduling hard start and stop times creates the deadline-driven environment that some people need to focus. For others, procrastination stems from fatigue. If you give your brain downtime, it won’t need to force downtime via procrastination.
Treat your breaks as important appointments. If your work has to spill into a break, reschedule it. Use your calendar’s alert function to notify you of an upcoming break. And then take your break.
Back Away from Your Desk
Checking your social media sounds like a nice break from work, but it isn’t as effective as actually getting away from your desk. Some people routinely ignore scheduled break time. Sometimes this is because work reels you back in, in the form of text messages and urgent emails. Even if you temporarily turn off all notifications and close your work tabs, it can be hard to fully unplug and relax in the space you associate with working. In the remote workforce, you still need to have some version of a break room.
Plan Your Break Activity in Advance
You are more likely to take a break if you know what you’re doing. These small pauses in the workday can also serve the dual function of recharging your brain and moving you forward on personal goals. That can make a break from work more palatable if you are ambitious or goal-driven. Do you want to work more reading into your life? Set out your book or cue it up on your device so it’s waiting for you. Are you trying to build exercise into your day? Plan your route outside, or choose a workout app and have it loaded on your phone. Apps like ‘Movr’ have exercise routines that you can complete in five minutes.
Remote work gives you an unparalleled opportunity to fit more “life” into your life. Take advantage of this. While traditional office workers are obliged to sit in an office, YOU have the opportunity to work from anywhere (and possibly at any time)that you have an internet connection. Schedule your breaks, actually take them, and soon you will find that you have more energy for both your professional and personal goals.
If you can’t focus, it isn’t because you’re weak. You need a new habit.
Before you started your remote job, home was a place of rest. Coming home signalled the end of the work day and the start of down time. This presents problems when your place of rest becomes your workplace, too. Are you having trouble focusing now that you work from home? You aren’t alone. Before we talk about what to do to fix the situation let’s clear up one thing.
You Aren’t Distracted Because You’re Weak
Your lack of focus stems, at bottom, from the associations you have about home time. Your brain knows that home is where you relax. If you live with family or roommates, they are used to talking to you whenever. Trying to work in these conditions can seem like an uphill battle. Fortunately there is a powerful technique that will help you focus more easily.
Build New Habits—Visual Cues
The best way to fight the ‘home is where I chill’ association is to build a new ‘I’m at work’ habit. This looks different for different people. Think of the routine you had when you worked out of an office. Did your commute involve a run to Starbucks? Did you have a set of work clothes? Harness some of those cues.
The second time I went remote, I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles with a husband, a toddler, two cats, and a second child on the way. Getting dressed in my suit jacket and slacks put me in work mode. As I became accustomed to working from home I was soon able to ditch the full suit. Now I work in jeans and a button down shirt.
Build New Habits—Spatial Cues
Try working in the same part of your home every day. I enjoy working from Starbucks, but that gets expensive pretty quickly, so I mostly work at my desk. The ideal desk location will be away from the hustle and bustle in your home, and have some way to lock out family. You may need to get creative.
My desk is in a small alcove in my bedroom, and my bedroom door doesn’t have a lock. Instead I wedge a crutch underneath the doorknob. It’s both funny and infuriating when one of my kids tries to get in by body-slamming the door. Usually they are saying something like “Mom? Mom are you there? I can’t get in.” That is, of course, the point.
If You Build Habits, The Focus Will Come
Above all, don’t give up. Just because it’s hard to focus now doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for remote work. Try a few things, and give your habits time to develop. Soon you will be focusing on your work like the ninja you are.
Do you have a go to work routine that works for you? Share it in the comments.
Your first remote job is an adventure—complete with the need to gather the right supplies if you don’t want to crash and burn. Admittedly, this is a balancing act. On the one hand you don’t want to over invest until you know that the remote work style works for you. On the other, there are a few key things you absolutely can’t live without. The list is smaller than you think.
Invest in a Great Internet Connection
Wired internet is the gold standard. Many apps take a lot of bandwidth, and you will save yourself some stress if you can plug into a router. That said, if you can’t get a wired connection, get the strongest wifi you can afford. Understand that you may need to find work arounds. Check out the rates for coworking spaces in your area. Some libraries also have wired internet, and private spaces you can reserve.
Buy a Comfortable Chair
This is the one tangible item you should buy as soon as possible. The first time I went remote I worked from my kitchen table. I was a freelance writer in New York City and I was determined to set up my office with money I earned freelancing. I was a hard nosed business woman and that was my hard nosed plan.
Unfortunately my kitchen chair was also hard. A month into my new career I needed a chiropractor. Fixing my bout of sciatica took many chiropractor visits and several hundred dollars, and then I had to invest in a nice chair anyway. My attempt to work on the cheap ended up costing far more than making a simple investment up front.
Clear a Wall
There will be video calls you have to attend. Make sure one wall in your home is work appropriate. A blank wall is perfectly acceptable. You can always add more personality once you understand the work vibe.
And that’s it. There are other things you will add to your remote office eventually, but let yourself settle in first. Some people don’t like working from a desk. Others need their things in a dedicated space. You may not know which category you fit into until you develop your new routine. Give yourself time to figure out what works for you, and you’ll be cruising along on the remote highway in no time.
For those of you who have been working remotely for a while, what things do you absolutely need to be happy and productive? Let me know in the comments.