We've all seen the image of the person sitting on the beach with their laptop open, acting like they are being productive. Pipe dream? Maybe not.
While the remote worker trend is continuing to gain traction and acceptance, it's not for every company OR every worker. I'm not claiming to be a remote-work expert, but here are seven factors that will contribute to your success when working remotely:
1. Your morning commute. Yeah, the office might be only a few feet from your bedroom and you might be wearing your fuzzy slippers, but it is important to put yourself in the mindset that you're going to work. I often even verbally announce, “Ok, I am going to work!” only to have my yellow lab look at me like “if there isn’t a treat involved, keep it to yourself.” Granted, I can’t do anything without my morning coffee. I usually start off reviewing what needs to happen for the day, checking my to-do list (big fan of Wunderlist) and getting caught up on urgent/time-sensitive emails. The 20-40-60 minutes that others spend in the morning commute, I put to good use.
2. Dedicated office space. I remember some years ago, I was managing a large recruiting team and several team members worked remotely. Earlier in the year, I had purchased everyone their own webcam in my attempt to bring the team closer together, and to hold more productive meetings (given 50% of communication is non-verbal). Well, we all got a bit lazy with using the webcams. On one occasion during a routine 1:1, I decided to fire up the ol' webcam with one of my direct reports. To my surprise, I found this person kicked back on the couch, laptop on their lap, TV on, dog running around and a lot of other noisy distractions. I gently inquired if this was their normal workspace and they acknowledged that it was. Now, I am pretty open to the concept of “different strokes for different folks”, but clearly this was not an optimal work environment. Over the years, I've witnessed greater performance issues with those whom did not set themselves up for success by minimizing distractions. Setting up a dedicated workspace, free of distraction, can greatly contribute to your success.
3. Technology. I've heard a lot of different takes on what the ideal workstation should look like. Some managers have pushed back on the idea of supplying monitors, mice, keyboard, telephony, etc. thinking that all one needed was a laptop. I am a firm believer that your remote workstation should be “state of the art” and comparable to the look and feel of an on-site office. A good size monitor (or two), a full keyboard, a mouse and the ability to make phone calls on a dedicated line are all vital technology components.
4. Telephony. While on the subject of technology, I find that having a way to communicate with the outside world other than email is another must have. Email cannot replace (nor should it) the ability or desire to get people on the phone. I have worked with several products in the past and have found that having a dedicated Skype # with a USB/Bluetooth headset are my tools of choice. For those of you that have used Lync, now called Skype for Business, consider yourselves lucky if you have the telephony addition. The ability to instant message, create conference calls, share screens, etc. all from one tool is very handy. Point here is that while many use our cell phones for everything, having a dedicated line (IP phone) just for work is ideal.
5. Over-communicate. Out of sight out of mind, right? Not always. Your responsiveness and visibility is very important in making sure that others know what you are doing and to showcase productivity. I'm a big advocate for acting with a great sense of urgency and over-communicating. Communication helps build trust that others (especially those that rely on you or that you report to) know what is going on…including the good, the bad and the ugly.
6. Getting lonely? For those with extrovert personalities, the presence of others while working can truly boost productivity levels. So, how do we produce our best work when working alone from our home office? I have learned to balance the need to be around people with the desire to be super productive. However, there are times when I need that interpersonal connection or to simply just be around people. During those times, I make a trip into the local coffee shop with my laptop and get my dose of people energy. I would caution you about this being a daily routine, but it has proven to be helpful and sometimes the jolt you need for generating creative ideas.
7. Gimme a break. Yep, it's very easy to stay heads down and work a 12-hour day with just a quick break like grabbing a sandwich to take back to your desk. Guilty as charged! This is an area that I have to remind myself about over and over as I tend to work. work. work. all day long and forget about the need to recharge. As the weather gets nicer, I have been setting aside some time for a quick walk, going out to lunch, or even some quick stretching breaks.
While this may seem like common sense and there are many other approaches out there, I keep hearing of the struggle some remote workers face. Getting yourself in the right mindset, effectively communicating with your team, staying visible, productive and also happy are all important success factors in a remote situation. Oh, and the next time you see that “working from the beach ad”, just think about how it is possible, but will require a company that supports remote work, a great deal of discipline, and the all-important skill of keeping sand out of your laptop. Happy remote working!