A friend of mine was talking with me earlier this week about his struggles and frustrations now that he is suddenly (and unexpectedly) in a remote work situation. He isn’t sure what tools to use. He isn’t sure how to structure his time. He isn’t sure how and when to communicate with his co-workers, and he has found that his home-office isn’t set up in a way that’s conducive to the kinds of work he needs to do. In short, he is unprepared for remote work.
I’ve been working remotely for over 10 years now and I often forget some of my own struggles with it. There have definitely been lessons learned along the way, and the one thing that I know for certain is that working remotely requires preparation. I think that some people think that you can just plop down at your kitchen table and declare yourself an expert at working from home, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that the transition from a traditional office setting to a home office can be tricky.
Prepare Your Work Area
It might seem obvious that one of the major contributors to your success at working from home is having a good place to work, but it’s amazing how often people neglect setting up a proper work area. Not only should you create a dedicated space that is your “work zone” but you should make sure that it is conducive and constructive to you staying there for periods of time. For example, do you have ample supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, stickies, etc close at hand? Do you have a comfortable chair? If you like listening to music while you work, do you have good headphones? Is the temperature set to a level that won’t put you to sleep but won’t freeze you out? Do you have proper equipment for video chats or conference calls? In short, is your work area prepared for the kind of work that you do?
The Wirecutter has a great list of products that they have compiled for creating a full time space to work at home. I agree with most of their suggestions, and I highly recommend making sure that a nice, comfortable chair and/or standing desk are at the top of your list. (If you’re wanting a second opinion, Business Insider also has a reasonable list).
Prepare Your Tools
Similar to preparing your work area, it’s also important to make sure you have the right tools to work remotely. I’ve written in detail about what tools we use elsewhere, but there are some fundamental things that everyone needs like video conferencing and chat applications. However, once you’ve settled on your tools, particularly your teleconferencing tool, I cannot stress enough how important it is to do dry runs with them before using them in real meetings. Make sure that your audio and your video are set up properly. Do a test meeting with a co-worker or friend. You definitely don’t want to be the person who makes the group wait for 10 minutes while you try to get your connection working.
Prepare Your Routine
One of the major challenges of working from home is that when you work from home, you’re always at work. As anyone who has worked from home knows, it’s far too easy to let your working hours drift into your non-working hours. It’s incredibly tempting to let yourself take one more peek at your email or work on one last task for your project.
To prevent your work life taking over your home life, it’s helpful to develop a routine for yourself. This isn’t to say that your routine needs to be rigid because one of the most amazing aspects of remote work is the flexibility it provides. However, it is very important to establish a general flow and process to your day. This will help you set limits for how long you work during the day, and it can encourage you to stay healthy both physically and mentally. Having a routine can help ensure you’re getting exercise and that you’re taking breaks and that you’re making sure to eat lunch. (Skipping lunch is actually a common problem when working from home!) All of these things will make you more productive, but without a routine, it can be very easy to neglect them.
Preparation and Kaizen
Finally, my biggest piece of advice for working remotely is that even when you think you are prepared, you should always be on the lookout for how you can improve. In an office setting, there are many people from HR managers to facilities managers to direct line managers who observe employees and try to come up with ways that they can be more efficient. When you work remotely, none of these people will be around to offer suggestions to you. No one will tell you that your keyboard is too close to your monitor. No one will tell you that a nice plant next to your monitor will improve your mood. No one will tell you that you should take a break for lunch. It’s up to you to identify areas for improvement and to become more efficient. The Japanese term “kaizen” refers to continuous improvement, and it is a concept that remote workers really should embrace in relation to their work environment. As a remote worker you should always be looking for ways you can improve, whether it be in your schedule or in your tools or even something as simple as the kind of chair you are using.
If you are one of the many people who suddenly find themselves facing the prospect of working from home, please understand that while this offers many amazing advantages, it is absolutely not as simple as it sounds. To get the most out of the opportunity, make sure to take some time to think about your workplace, your tools, and your time.