Working remote for the first time? Here are 6 tips to get you started
By Marleen De Winter, Director of MarCom and Sales
Having been a remote worker for almost 9 years, I’ve felt lucky to be able to work remote, doing a job I love with people that have become like a second family to me. I feel even luckier now with all the COVID-19 panic going on. But it makes me remember my learning curve way back when – here are 6 things I have learned working remote that may benefit you:
1. Set up and stick to a regular routine. At first, I thought: hey, I can work in pajamas and get up 5 minutes before work starts! You could, but for me, that did not pan out. I need to get up, shower, get dressed and get breakfast (coffee!) before padding to my office down the hall to get settled in for the day. Yes, I do sleep later than most but still. I also have a designated office space and stick to normal work hours as much as possible, breaking for lunch (sometimes) and trying to stop on time and close the door to work in the evenings as much as possible. That said, I have no issue working late if I need to and being home to do that sure beats sitting in an office late at night. I also feel that flexibility goes both ways, you take an extra long lunch to meet up with friends (see tip 5), you put in extra time to make up for that (tip 6).
2. Housework should not and will not get done during the day. My other delusion was, I can quick stick in a load of laundry etc. during the day. Not. Mostly, I would forget about having done that and wake up in the middle of the night thinking “yikes, my laundry is still in the machine.” I now do laundry at night or on weekends like most normal people. Yes, I have more flexibility to pick up and drop off kids and listen to them about their school day when they get home (my version of a coffee break) but true housework remains an outside of office hours to do. Also –make sure your family understands that work is work; you are not the stay-at-home secretary/housemaid/nanny/delivery service. My kids got that quicker than my spouse did.
3. Communicate, and then over-communicate. This one is key, folks. Working remote is all about communicating effectively. Instant messaging, calls, email, and online meetings are going to become your best friend: with your manager, your team, your co-workers but also “outside” customers, vendors etc. Set up regular 1-1 meetings with teammates and mangers to sync, keep a list with things to talk about so you don’t bother each other “willy nilly” and get multiple things done at the same time.
However, if urgent, or you need a quick response, use instant messaging and don’t be afraid to CALL – this last one may be hard for younger generations. Text and email don’t always get you the answers you need. I know my teenage kids look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest a call, but my guess is that even they will be more proficient after all this is over! Use email but don’t overuse it – sending out a recap email or a project email makes sense, just don’t spend all day shooting emails everywhere – people have work to do! When you think you have miscommunicated something, you probably have, so over-communicate – spell it out.
4. Avoid Distractions. Your family already knows the rules (see tip 2). Make sure your friends/ neighbors also know the rules. Now pretend the TV and your bed do not exist. Your cell phone – maybe, but put it in another room and check it when you get coffee.
5. Get outside. Staying home all day long becomes way to comfortable. Fresh air, anyone? I have a dog and that ultimately saves me from myself in terms of getting out there and walking at least once a day and EVERY TIME, I feel better. My mind is clearer, and I can tackle the rest of the day refreshed. Sometimes I do this for 15 minutes in the middle of the morning or afternoon if I need to clear my head and refocus. Also, because I am an extrovert and thrive on social encounters, I have lunch with friends, even if I have to drive 20 minutes into town to do that. I also try to attend marketing coffee mornings to meet local peers and well, have coffee with another human being! This last part will get trickier in the current social distancing environment so I will be practicing my remote social skills – my colleagues and I are already very good at that, spending 10 minutes here and there just catching up (again, a version of coffee break, water cooler chat, whatever). I also think I will be using my webcam more (provided I’ve combed my hair).
6. Build trust. Be disciplined, get your work done, stay online and if you do have to stop or take a longer break, let your manager know/put it on your calendar and be reasonable about it. Is it tempting to take a long nap in winter, or watch all episodes of The Crown in one sitting? Yes, but this is WORK people, not a bonus vacation. Your colleagues have to trust you and you in turn have to trust them. It takes a team to make this work – when I started, Integrity Data did not have a lot of experience with remote work, yet they took a chance. It took me proving to them that I could be a reliable and productive employee, and them to be willing to start or tweak routines to make working remote successful: remote dial-ins, raising their voices during meetings so I could hear them through the microphone, webcams, getting used to the 1-1 cadence etc.
Good luck working remote – it can be a very productive and rewarding experience!