Tips for Working Remotely

The pandemic exacerbated a trend that was already starting to gain legs: that of more remote working. Even two years on, many governments around the world are strongly encouraging people to work from home as much as possible in order to minimize exposure to the virus and its many variants. But remote working can be stressful in its own rights. It’s certainly nice to make your own schedule (especially if you’re a night owl or early bird), avoid annoying, bullying, overly chatty, and obnoxious coworkers (especially for people with mental health, physical disabilities, or are neurodivergent), and many people feel more comfortable doing work at home. But it can also be quite challenging: how do you ensure that you aren’t forgotten about by your boss? How do you structure your time around a million distractions (especially if you have kids?) And how do you hold your boundaries when you are living your entire life at home?

We cannot definitively answer these questions since everyone is different, but over the last two years, I have been working almost entirely remotely due to family demands. And prior to working as an instructor, I was a freelance writer who, you guessed it, worked entirely from home! With that in mind, here are my tips for working remotely without losing (much of) your mind.

Communicating

Many people say over-communicate, but as an introvert who is constantly chasing kids, cats, and a spouse, I prefer the idea of ‘targeted’ communication and using a medium that works for everyone. Phone calls for example have never worked well for me and my toddler throws a complete meltdown when he sees me on the phone (And then destroys everything). But video chats seem to work fine and gets the same information across. And email or texting is even better because no one is hearing kid chatter, cats playing, or whatever is on tv.

Obviously this is just me. The point is that it’s important to choose communication medium(s), times, and days that work for everyone. There is nothing worse from a person’s point of view of being told they *must* communicate one way when they’d vastly prefer another. As long as the information is flowing smoothly and everyone can stay on the same page, the medium itself shouldn’t be a massive problem.

But, you should have a top three list so that you can be flexible. So for me:

  • Email. I have it on several devices, lots of notifications, and I can send messages back quickly, including attachments.
  • Instant messaging. We use Teams and again, I have it on my computer and phone. As long as I mark myself as ‘available’, people can be generally assured they’ll get me fast. And if I’m not available, I set my status as such so that people know.
  • And finally, video chat. The kids don’t seem quite as bratty about video.
  • Phone calls are really last resort and only for a few people. I also put them on speaker so I can keep my hands free!

Should you over communicate? Personally, I’m not a fan. But weekly check-ins with my manager and team are normal and allows me to actually have something to say. Otherwise, we spend a lot of time shrugging at each other and that’s a waste of time. There are many days where I am just doing broad research and reading textbooks. No one cares about that.

To make the communication work:

  • Use medium(S) that work for everyone
  • Have a dedicated day/time for meetings or check-ins and try not to deviate from that unless you have to. That way it becomes routine and people know what to expect
  • Don’t communicate everything. If you know what to do, just do it! You wouldn’t ask your boss for every last thing in the office, so why would you do it when you work from home?
  • Take some time, especially in writing, to make sure your message is clear and to the point. No one wants to read a novel over email. Even less so over messaging!

Consider Your Workspace

There are piles of articles and blogs on creating the ideal workspace at home, but let’s face it: we don’t all have space for a home office! We might not have access to co-working spaces or coffee shops or any of the other places that give us privacy. (Side-eye at the kids. And the cats).

If this sounds like you, be realistic about where you are comfortable and where you can do work. Your workspace also considers your hours. So, when do you work and where?

I work on my recliner in the wee hours of the morning (when I can get up) and in my room for the rest of the day and evening. I like stretching out on my bed to work and the toddler (or cats) can climb up with me. This keeps everyone a lot calmer than if I locked myself in a room and they all went ballistic which would be far more distracting!

At the moment, the two-year-old is stretched out beside me, dozing and watching Spongebob. Sure, it sounds distracting, but you get used to it. And at least he is quiet and happy!

So where, and when, can you get work done? Maybe it’s in the bathroom or a corner of the living room, or out in the yard! Whatever works for you. But keep these things in mind:

  • Your comfort
  • Internet strength (odds are, you’re using internet. You don’t want it crap out on you)
  • The level of noise/distraction you can tolerate (if you have kids, you’ll find you build up a tolerance!)
  • Room temperature and access to water or food

And don’t let anyone tell you where to work! If you like working on a beanbag chair in the kitchen, all power to you.

Make Sure You Have the Equipment You Need

And make sure you keep it in working order! It could be that you are your own frontline IT person, your own product purchaser (or at least the decision maker for what you’re going to use), and the one doing the base repairs on things. Make sure that you have what you need, you know the basics at least of keeping it operational, and that you know how to contact the people you need to keep you operational. Generally speaking, remote workers need a good computer, internet connectivity, some sort of communication system (email, phone, instant messaging, etc), a good cyber security software, and then whatever else is relevant to their position.

Sticking to Your Boundaries

One of the biggest problems with working remotely, and particularly from home, is that the lines between home and work blur and that can cause a lot of stress. The global connectivity of the world means that you can easily end of working on stuff at all hours and all days which leads to burnout. It might look good to be available 24/7, but is it practical and sustainable? Probably not!

Figure out your working hours and days and then make sure to communicate those. If you want to log off every day at 5pm, then log off every day at 5pm. If you’re not working Saturdays, then don’t work. Make sure you clearly communicate your availability to your coworkers and then stick with it. The only way to break this 24/7 work expectation is if the majority of us break it. You’ll actually find that you are more productive when you get regular time away from work, which of course will make you a much better employee.

Other boundaries to stick with:

  • Your means of communication and when you are available to talk
  • The type of work you’ll do or not do (just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can just take on a pile of new duties!)
  • The realities of working from home. My kids will sometimes show up on my meetings. It’s just the reality of working around the kids.

Be Kind to Yourself

The transition from working in an office to working from home can be hard, confusing, and exhausting. Make sure to take regular time for self-care, take the time to establish your boundaries, and take a look at the perks! There are some great benefits to working from home and they can be enjoyed so long as you ensure that you know how you will be the most productive and set things up with your team.

Remote working is probably going to grow more common as time progresses and once people get used to working from home, they don’t always want to go back to the way things used to be. It’s likely that more and more businesses will go hybrid over time whenever possible, changing the landscape of employment forever. Good luck!

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