Working 100% remotely can seem like a dream come true: No commute, flexible hours, lounging in your PJs all day, or even working on vacation. From the beach. In like, Italy.
Sounds nice, right? Sadly though, for the most part, those are unrealistic fantasies about working remotely. There are, however, some surprising benefits to remote work.
Technology has made it possible, even common for most of what we do at work to be accessible from everywhere, all the time. In the digital agency world, everything from stoking client relationships, to planning, executing and managing the projects that help make them money, can be done one the cloud, and likely in less time than in collocated offices.
I’ve been working from home for about 5 years now, and every day I get more done than I ever thought possible when I was commuting to and fro a big shiny building in midtown Manhattan. I don’t think I ever want to go back. The virtual-office model allows me to fit work in and around other responsibilities. So even though I get more work done, my work-life balance is better.
Also, I’m proud to be part of an organization driven by innovation, creativity, and an empowered, passionate staff each of whom loves what they do, and is all the more motivated to be able to do it from wherever is most comfortable.
Remote work: theories vs. practices
That said, working this way is not quite as free and easy as it sounds. If you choose a job you’ll do away from a traditional office, you will have to make sure you keep communications, equipment, scheduling, wi-fi strength, time zones and more in mind to achieve the ideal workflow rhythm.
In fact, since you usually won’t have a boss looking over your shoulder —and the lines between home and office will be pretty fuzzy—remote work can actually offer a bigger challenge to your achievement than a typical in-office desk job.
In practice, I’ve come to realize that being a successful telecommuter requires more responsibility, more discipline, and greater willingness to improvise and innovate than a conventional office job.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about what it takes to do this well. Read on for my top 7 practices to for working remotely—Also, tap the link for a nifty infographic.
1. Set a predictable schedule.
Since remote work tends to be more self-directed, you can design your day whichever way works best for you and the people with whom you collaborate. You’re free to plot your key goals; then design a schedule that allows you to meet the mark in a way that fits your work style, keeps your colleagues in the loop and makes sure you’re always on track to complete your to-dos.
For example, I’m most productive if I can unpack a complicated project without distraction. I like to coordinate and outline components of pending plans in the very early morning, when my phone’s not buzzing . That let’s me spend the day messaging team members to assign tasks and get updates as well as devote time to assessing reports and feedback with clients.
2. Allocate space.
When working in a traditional office, there are obviously clear boundaries between work and home. When working remotely, staying in bed all day is literally an option. And sure, that sounds amazing. But it’s not the best way to keep your focus.
Having an allocated workspace (sorry, wrapped in your comforter doesn’t count), whether it’s a desk next to the kitchen, a dedicated home office, or even a table at your favorite coffee place does not matter so much. What’s important is that you have a specific space where you work and hold meetings. This helps you associate work with a unique spot. So that when you’re there, you know it’s time to concentrate. It also keeps the rest of your home free to live in.
3. Minimize distractions.
How do you avoid distractions when you work remotely? Short answer: You probably can’t. You definitely can, however, set aside prearranged blocks of time each day for email, meetings, projects, etc. This keeps your attention on the job in front of you to prevent veering off course. It also allows you to hold yourself accountable for completing tasks.
Probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten regarding remote work is to begin each day by selecting your top three objectives. Even when you are shaping a large, multi-week project, managing your day-to-day efforts will make sure you don’t get off track and never miss a deadline.
4. Stick to the plan.
This is where I think most people’s romantic ideas of remote work break down.
Many of us who work remotely maintain a fairly normal schedule. For the most part, we tend to follow a routine similar to in-office workers. That being, getting up in the morning, getting dressed in suitable attire, eating breakfast, and grabbing a coffee for the morning commute (even if it’s just a few steps) to the office.
The reality is, erratic work schedules are confusing not only to your coworkers, but also your mind and body. Inconsistency creates disorder which prevents progress.
5. Group meetings.
This is a simple one: Grouping a bunch of meetings and appointments together with short breaks between leaves you with longer stretches of uninterrupted time outside of those meetings to get things done.
6. Encourage communication.
In a co-located office, a lot of information is shared in person, and face-to-face communication can be richer than online communications –at least for most people.
When you’re working remotely, you won’t have the option of tapping your office mate on shoulder and having a conversation. Which means that every interface you do have is that much more important.
It helps to put high value on GOOD communication. The tricky part is, what’s good means something different for everyone. So, too much can overload you, and not enough leaves you untethered. Either can be a big problem. With each new contact, I like to start out over communicating, then tailor my style to what works best for our association.
An important consideration, closely tied to communication, is being accessible to your team when they need you. How frustrating would it be to need a fast answer from someone and not be able to reach them during regular work hours?
What does that mean? Well, you are rarely ever in a position where you’re completely location or time independent. There are rules to this.
7. Use useful remote work tools.
It helps to use tools that organize how your team works. To keep on goal, our team uses a group of easily accessible tech tools to collaborate (mostly in real time) rather than relying on email responses all day.
• Google Hangouts – Google Hangouts for video meetings.
• Slack – Allows team members to keep in touch all day.
• Dropbox – Still the best file sharing option, especially for image files.
• LastPass – Rather than circulating passwords to everyone who needs them.
• Join.me – Great app for screen sharing, handy for training.
• Trello – A flexible project management tool.
Remote work takes a bit more planning and thoughtfulness than you might expect. When you make the effort though, it can be pretty perfect.