Last updated on January 30th, 2021 at 10:56 am
If you're an employee, freelancer, or supervisor who's suddenly shifted to a telework stance, these remote working tips will help you stay productive.
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As the world shifts towards workers that aren’t crammed into an office every day, employees and supervisors are having to change the way they approach their jobs. For those who’ve never done it before, working remotely from home or managing remote employees can be a challenging adjustment.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has converted many office jobs into telecommuting jobs, a good portion of remote workers haven’t had time to even figure out how to telework. So let’s talk about some remote working tips and best practices to help get you started on the right foot.
Remote Working Tips for Employees
There are a handful of things that are common to just about all telework jobs. Whether you’re a remote employee or supervising remote employees, it’s not going to be possible to do good work without the following items in place.
1. Have The Right Equipment for Telecommuting
Having the right equipment is the most important of all remote working tips because without it, you simply can’t do your job or manage your people.
If you have to telework from home, it’s critical that you have the equipment you need to do so effectively. You won’t have all the things in the office that you might be used to having. But let’s face it, a lot of things in the office aren’t really needed for you to get work done. But let’s talk about a few things that are an absolute must.
Most companies provide computers onsite for their employees, and laptops for those that work from home. However, many telecommuting jobs with companies where remote work has been the norm will expect employees to bring their own devices right from the start.
Having a reliable computer will ensure that you don’t find yourself unable to work due to a computer issue. If you opt for a laptop computer, you’ll probably want to invest in an extension monitor (or two).
Fast Internet Connection
You’ll most likely connect to your company’s network through a secure VPN while working, so having a fast and stable Internet connection is critical. There aren’t great ISPs available in every locale and depending on where you live, you might not even have a choice in which ISP you choose. So if you’re going to be one of those working nomads, you’ll have to make sure you spend the premium money on the best available in your area. You may even be limited to where you can live.
In the worst-case scenario, you may find yourself having to work at a satellite office located in an area where good stable Internet is available. If you live near a major city, this shouldn’t be necessary – though you might elect to do this if your home situation isn’t conducive to productivity (we’ll talk about that later).
Instant Messaging & Remote Meeting Software
Communication is key in every work environment, but it’s even more critical in a teleworking job where you might not see or interact with some of your coworkers for days at a time. The best work from home companies will invest in a premium instant messaging and online meeting system like Webex, Microsoft Teams, or something similar.
Quality Headset or Mic & Speakers
It’s very likely that telework companies won’t provide a headset for you simply because everyone likes something different and there are sanitization concerns with the potential for employees to be sharing headsets. Good telework companies might offer you an allowance to purchase your own, but in most cases you can expect this a personal expense related to work.
Luckily, you can get inexpensive headsets online that all work with a variety of programs. Most are plug & play as long as you’re running an up to date operating system on your computer.
Even with the best instant messaging and online meeting software, sometimes you still need to take a good old-fashioned phone call. Perhaps you need to discuss something with a customer who doesn’t have access to your online meeting system or you still need to be available if you have to step away from your desk.
There’s no shortage of smartphones available and this post isn’t about choosing a smartphone, but just know that you must have one if you’re going to take advantage of telework opportunities.
Ensure you’re using an up to date model that can handle your instant messaging and meeting apps, as the smartphone may be your fallback in case you need to be away from your desk and still attend that online meeting or conference call.
2. Have the Right Space
Another one of the most important remote working tips is to have the right space set aside to perform your duties. While many workers are familiar with telecommuting once in a while (during bad weather for example), it’s different when that move to remote work becomes more long-term or permanent. It might be ok to sit in your kitchen during an ad hoc telework day, but that’s not going to fly if you’re in it for the long haul.
Work is a mindset and the environment you place yourself in when you need to get work done is critically important to the quality and quantity of work you can complete. Not to mention, who wants to have a video conference with all the household noise going on in the background? Even remote part time jobs aren’t going to suit you well if you don’t set aside a true place in your home to work.
The Home Office
Not every telecommuter is lucky enough to have their own office in their home, but if you’re remote working on a long-term basis, it’s worth it to set aside a separate room or at least a separate space in a larger room of your home. Preferably, the room you choose will have a door that you can close when you need to concentrate and a window or two to bring in some natural light from the outdoors.
If you don’t have a separate room, consider setting up a desk & computer in a larger room that gets as little traffic from the rest of the family as possible. A place like a basement or an upstairs attic room might be a good option. Avoid high-traffic areas of your home such as the living room, dining room, or kitchen. Even a large walk-in closet could be a place where you can set up a small private workspace.
A Satellite Office
Telecommuting often garners glamourous images of people working all day in a coffee shop or bookstore, but unless you’re a freelancer that’s probably one of the worst ideas ever. Good work almost never happens in a coffee shop, no matter what the movies or TV shows say.
But let’s assume you have no good place at home to work. Perhaps you have a house or a small apartment full of extended family and there’s just not enough space for you to work without constant interruptions. A possible solution might be renting a small office space to use during the workday. While this is obviously going to cost you more than setting aside space in your home, if working from home is simply not possible for you, this could be the next best thing.
3. Set Aside the Right Time to Work
Sticking to a solid start time for work every day is critical. Once the confines of the corporate office are shed, it can be easy to find yourself ducking into and out of work throughout the day.
While one of the perks of remote working may be that you can step away without a boss breathing down your neck, there’s a downside to it as well if you’re not disciplined.
For hourly workers, it means you may find yourself working later than usual to make up the time you stepped away. For salaried workers, it could mean that you fall behind in your tasks if you don’t add some nights & weekends to complete your projects.
By working on a schedule, you’ll not only ensure that your mind is ready for work at the right time, but that your work/life balance doesn’t suffer due to catching up on things you should have had completed while you were folding laundry instead.
4. Create (and Enforce) Boundaries
If you have kids, you already know where I’m going with this. If you’re new to remote working from home, odds are your kids are too. They’re used to your physical location defining whether you are available to them or not. Communication with your children is key. Explain to them that just because you’re home, doesn’t mean you’re off work – it will take some time because this concept is going to be new to them.
Many companies that offer telework and even most government telework agreements have stipulations that while you’re scheduled to be teleworking, you cannot be the primary caregiver of another person, even if it’s your own kids. There either needs to be a babysitter or other adult around who can watch over them.
While many companies have relaxed this rule due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these rules are in place because companies still have to ensure that you’re able to focus on work – after all, they’re not paying someone to be at home not working.
Every remote employee has unique circumstances to deal with. If you’re a parent, it may mean that you still have to send children to daycare or bring in a nanny or babysitter to handle the kids while you’re working.
Following remote working tip #2 and having your own space will really help in this regard. Being able to close a door or at least have some other type of “do not disturb” mechanism in place will help create a boundary so you can get work done when it’s most important.
5. Control Your Distractions
This one could be lumped into some of the other remote working tips in this article, but I decided to break it out separately because I’m really talking about the distractions you have control over. If your child bursts into your home office because they hurt themselves, obviously you’re going to stop what you’re doing and deal with it. But do you have to answer that email from your coworker as soon as it hits your inbox? What about that instant message? How about multiple trips to the refrigerator?
One of the best perks to working remotely from home is the ability to get into the zone and stay there without a random coworker popping into your cube to ask a question or a manager stopping by to check on the status of a project you’re working on. These random pop-ins always seem to come at the worst time when you’re in deep thought or really burning through something important and you lose your focus. It’s one of the primary reasons work doesn’t get done in the corporate office.
People really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get something done. You cannot ask somebody to be creative in 15 minutes and really think about a problem.Jason Fried – TEDx Midwest 2010
When you telework from home, you eliminate many of these in-office distractions which provide you with the potential to increase your productivity. And if you follow the first 4 remote working tips in this post, you’ll already have control of some of your home’s distractions to productivity like your children, pets, other family members, etc… But there’s one other type of distraction you have to get control over in order to be productive – the work-related distractions.
Work-related distractions don’t disappear when you aren’t in the office. Well, some do – but others just change form. That random pop-in by your boss to check on that project might be replaced with an instant message from them saying, “Hey what’s the status of… ?” Don’t be afraid to use a do not disturb status in your IM or set auto-replies on your email for a few hours if you have important work you really need to focus on. Very few of these interruptions are things that need to be responded to immediately.
6. Take Breaks
Not to be confused with distractions, breaks are an important part of any workday. Whether it’s going for a walk around the block after a long meeting or or just getting some air away from the computer screen, taking breaks help refresh your mind and get you ready for the next round.
Taking breaks can help increase productivity because they reduce the chance that you’ll get burned out in the middle of the day. Burnout is a real possibility for telework jobs as the social nature of being in the office has been removed. Traditional in-office breaks such as water cooler chat and lunch outings pretty much disappear entirely once an employee shifts to working from home.
Taking a break is critical to production and a healthy mindset at work. Make sure you take at least a couple breaks each day.
7. Disconnect at the End of the Workday
Of all the remote working tips, this one is the one that most people seem to forget. And yet it’s one of the most important ones in order to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Technology has made it so easy to be connected to work all the time that it can sometimes be too easy to be working when we’re not supposed to be. Have you found yourself jumping online late at night to knock out your work emails so you didn’t have to in the morning?
Make a habit of disconnecting from your work VPN or systems once the workday is complete. If you must check in after hours, have a set time and duration that you’ll do so and stay within those boundaries.
Remote Working Tips for Managers: Managing Remote Employees
All of the remote working tips for employees apply to managers, however mangers have their own set of remote working challenges that aren’t faced by their subordinates.
Keeping track of your employees and ensuring everyone is productive can be difficult. If you’re a manager who also has their own tasks and responsibilities (ie. a “working manager”), the challenge is even greater.
8. Block out Calendar Time for Each Team
If the remote workers you manage are broken up into teams, make a point to have a standing meeting periodically to go over all of the different projects that team is responsible for. This will provide an opportunity for team members to speak up about items they need help with and brainstorm for solutions.
Team leads might already do this, but if you’re the manager, you’ll want to be involved or at least have your ear in the meeting so when you’re asked for a status update by someone higher up, you won’t come across as being in the dark.
You might be thinking, “can’t this be done through email?” Well, let’s face it: if you’re managing more than a dozen people who are broken up into multiple teams, there’s no way you’re going to be able to keep up with all that email. I’ve seen managers with inboxes containing thousands of unread messages. Putting time aside to speak to the team as a whole, will do more good than any email will.
Speaking with each team separately will also give you visibility as to any current issues that might be holding the team back from performing at their peak. Maybe they’re stuck waiting on a deliverable from another team or a support vendor. If so, you’ll want to know this.
9. Block out Calendar Time for Each Employee
Just like doing a periodic meeting with each team is important, doing a 1 on 1 meeting with each remote employee can go a long way to finding problems before they start. If you have employees who work on automatic and are super-reliable, you could conceivably go days or even weeks without talking to them and never realize it.
But what if that employee is struggling on something and they haven’t asked for help? What if they’re dealing with an unruly customer? What if they’re not happy at their job? What if they don’t actually have enough work to fill out their work day? What if they’re overworked? These are things you want to address before they become larger problems, and in a telecommuting situation they’re easier to miss especially if the employee is used to figuring everything out themselves.
Try to make sure you set aside a 30-minute block on your calendar at least every other week for each of your subordinates. During this time, you give them your full attention and give them the opportunity to bring up any concerns. After the meeting, make a real plan of action to address these concerns.
10. Trust Your Remote Employees
Here’s my little disclaimer on this last remote working tip: I’m not talking about employees that are duds. If you have an employee who is a dud, that’s an entirely different issue. While not everyone is self-motivated enough to be a superstar telecommuter, people don’t become duds just because they’re working remotely from home. And if you hired a dud, then you need to revise your interview process and set the correct expectations to weed them out before they get hired.
I once had a supervisor tell me, “How do I know if someone is actually working if they’re not in the office?” You know someone isn’t working because their work isn’t getting done. It’s that simple. If you determine someone’s productivity simply based on how much time you see them sitting at their desk, then you’re probably not a good manager.
This also means you have work to do as a manager. Assign tasks to your team in a way that allow those tasks to be tracked passively. The reality is that managers are one of the most distracting people for hard working employees; we always need status updates and progress reports for the people up the chain from us and we have a habit of asking our employees for these things at the most inconvenient times (like when they’re in the zone – see remote working tip #5 above).
Keep some type of central project tracker that everyone updates every few days to help you build confidence and trust that your employees are making efforts to complete projects without having to be hounded to do so. You’ll be able to see their progress passively without being a distraction to their work.
Telework Tips: Final Thoughts
Remote working is both a perk and a challenge. It’s not for everyone, some folks prefer to be in the office environment. But whether you’re an employee or a manager, there are best practices to follow when teleworking that make it easier and productive for everyone.
Telework is here to stay. After the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, many companies are finding that it’s cheaper not having to maintain an office. Their employees are taking fewer sick days and being more productive working at home. As the trend towards more remote working opportunities continues, these remote working best practices will help keep you and your employees ahead of the game.
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