Remote working is awesome.
It has become more common in today’s world because of a few things:
- Cooler employers.
- Public health issues like the coronavirus 😬.
- Technology has developed to a point where it just makes more sense.
But not everyone knows how to maintain the same level of productivity when they’re working from home.
I have been working from home for close to fifteen years now. At my most recent company, I moved the entire organisation over to optional remote working arrangements.1We had offices where people could come in if they wanted or needed to, or they could work from home as well.
There is definitely a system to it, and a right way to do it – and I’m going to show you how.
Benefits of Remote Work
Let’s start with why you would want to work from home.
You probably already know some of this, but there are always some unexpected “oh that’s cool” moments when people start working remotely for the first time.
1. Freedom, independence and autonomy
The obvious one is that you aren’t artificially glued to your chair or screen all the time at work.
When you work remotely, if you’re working, you’re working.
And if you not working, you are not obligated to sit in your chair just because you’re at the office. You can get up, walk around, get some water, stretch or do a little tap dancing.
There is also no one looking over your shoulder. This means less pressure, less obligation,2This is good/bad depending on how you look at it. and no-one interrupting your workflow. You can work to your own rhythm, which may not be the same as everyone else’s in the office.
The largest benefit, by far, is that you can work the way you want. This means:
- You can play your favourite music, as loud as you want.
- You can wear whatever you want.3Or erm, not wear as the case may be.
- You can handle your own pace of communications. This means you can choose when to respond to messages, emails and even phone calls.
- You can take breaks or even a nap whenever you want.
If you are super productive, you can even structure your day to get extra time off for an early dinner with friends or a spin class in the evening.
2. No transit time
Working remotely means you don’t have to commute.
This means that you have an extra hour (or two) for things like sleep, exercise or family time.
It means that unproductive “gap time” vanishes.
It also means that you are less likely to get into the office in a semi-homicidal rage because of traffic and idiots in cars/trains.
3. Other benefits of working from home
Working remotely from home means you’ll eat at home more often, so you can eat exactly what you want. This should be healthier, and you will likely save on food costs as well.
If you have young children you can also take care of them whilst working from home.4Though this may vary depending on your job. When you really need to focus, you’ll still need someone else available to take care of your kids.
And the obligatory mention: if we are in the middle of an ongoing public health issue like COVID-19, you won’t have to worry about why the person across from you is coughing all day.
Setting Up Remote Working Arrangements
Step 1: Talk with your employer
The first thing is with talk with your employer and/or manager.
They need to be OK with this.
You can also send them my article about remote working for business owners, to help convince them.
Make sure you know how to access your company’s infrastructure via your laptop and phone. This includes your messaging systems, CRM, ERP and every other three-letter system that your company uses.
Step 2: Set up your remote work environment at home
The best environment for remote working is a dedicated room in your house that you can use as a home office or study.
Mine looks like this:
Set it up the way you want, so that you are comfortable and can conceivably sit there for eight hours a day.
If you don’t have a dedicated room or space available, use your kitchen table as a last resort.5Though this will make it much less enjoyable or productive.
Some people prefer outside work environments like co-working spaces or cafes.
These are not my personal preference because work is still work. You need to be able to focus, block out distractions and get things done, not sip fancy lattes and take photos for Instagram.
The one exception to this would be an external personal office that you rent on a regular basis… but in that case you may as well be at work.
Step 3: Develop solid remote working mindsets and principles
When people start working from home for the first time, they often mess it up and end up having their remote working privileges revoked.6That’s right. Smart employers will set up remote working as a privilege, not a right.
This is because you need to adopt a certain mindset to work remotely.
Here are the most important remote working principles.
1. A good worker is a good worker
Your work environment has some impact on how you work, but you have more impact on how you work.
It doesn’t matter if you’re at the office or at home, if you do good work – you do good work.
If you do bad work – you do bad work, no matter where you are.
2. It’s still work
Despite being able to put your feet up and lounge on the couch every now and then, remote work is still work.
You should absolutely expect to put in your standard forty-or-so working hours in every single week.
You should also expect your work performance to be assessed based on results and the work produced, not on the number of hours you spent on it.
Working from home is not a vacation.
3. Don’t abuse your employer’s trust
Related to #2 above, your employer is trusting you to remain productive and functioning while working from home.
Remember that you are still on payroll. You are still expected to contribute, even if you have Rick and Morty playing in the background as you fill out that TPS report.
A good way to keep your manager and employer in the loop is to request a daily five-to-ten minute check-in by phone with your manager. Most companies going remote will already have this set up in the form of a daily huddle call, but if they don’t, you should propose this.
4. If you have to go to the office or hop on a call, be punctual
If for whatever reason you have to go into the office for a meeting, make sure you are on time.
This applies to team calls done remotely as well.
Doing this lets your employer know that you can be trusted to work remotely, and generates a lot of goodwill.
If you don’t show up or if you are late, then most employers will equate that with laziness or slacking off. They will then use that as the reason for revoking your remote working privileges.
5. Always reply to your messages
Always reply to your messages, and within a reasonable amount of time.7Your manager can tell you what a reasonable amount of time is for your specific company.
Even if it’s a simple “I’ll get back to you at X time”, reply.
Not being able to reach staff during normal office hours is the pet peeve of managers and business owners who have tried remote working arrangements and say that they don’t work.8i.e., don’t f*ck it up for everyone else.
Dealing With Digital and Other Distractions at Home
Digital and other distractions are such a big obstacle for productive remote working that they deserve their own section.
Just like you would at work, put your phone away.
Remember that just because you are at home, it doesn’t mean you can watch Netflix or play Xbox all day.
Remote work is still work.
Sure, you can wear comfortable clothes, turn up the music and lie down to stretch during breaks. But at the end of the day you are still working, so you must focus and get things done.
You cannot let distractions pull you into trying to multitask home and work things. Have a set time for work tasks, and have a set time for home tasks.
If you use something like timeslices, you can set them up so that you focus on your deep work, and then clear some small home tasks during your breaks.
The Biggest Mistakes With Remote Working
Here are the other big mistakes that people usually make when working from home for the first time.
1. Handling personal errands
One of the biggest problems people have when working from home, is they end up losing all their work time to personal errands.
A shopping trip here, a visit to the bank there… and they end up not having enough time to actually complete their work.
The weekend is ironically the best time to run personal errands when you work from home.
Once you have your schedule down though, you can take advantage of shorter queues and fewer people during normal business hours – so long as you know exactly when you are going to work instead.
2. Not working
You must block off time to actually do work.
How you want to structure your day is entirely up to you, but you must structure it.
If you have family or a partner at home, it may feel weird to say to them “OK, I need to work now” but you have to do it to remain productive.
For first-time remote workers, I recommend keeping normal office hours until you get used to it.9A couple of hours each side is also fine. Don’t be that guy who’s out hiking when everyone else is on the weekly team call.
I cannot stress this enough – even though you’re not in the office, it is still your job to get things done.
3. Measuring by hours, not outcomes
Once you get the hang of working remotely, you want to start looking at your work as outcomes, not hours.
You are paid to get things done and deliver value, not for the number of hours you sit in front of the computer.
In the absence of seeing you at your desk working, the only way your employer or manager can gauge your performance is by the results that you deliver.
4. Working too much
For some reason when people are free to work from home, they end up working more. Their work life and home life starts to blend together and they’re almost “always on”.
You should have a very concrete idea of what your employer expects of you and deliver on that – this will cover your *rse.
But apart from that, make sure that you make the time to get in all the other parts of your life too. This could be family time, social time or just hobbies.
Having these things will stop you from overdoing it and transforming into an eighty-hour-work-week remote working monster.
A good way to do this is to bookend your work time with morning and evening rituals, or any other regular activity like exercise or preparing dinner.
5. Handling loneliness
It is possible to get a little lonely working remotely, especially if you are also working on different hours from your team.
You will still be connected on something like Slack, but chatting through an app isn’t quite the same as the lively interaction you get in an office environment.
How you handle this depends on your personality type.
The only thing you need to watch out for, is social atomisation. The best way to counter this is to remember to get out and meet someone at least once a week.
If you are extrovert, this will be tougher for you.
Hopefully the team interaction over calls and messages will be enough, but if it isn’t the only real solutions are:
- Go to a cafe or co-working space, but this will come at the cost of a distraction-free environment.
- Rearrange your work schedule so you free up time for social or family activities during the week.
What To Do Next
You now have everything you need to know about how to work from home. It’s time to put it to work for you.
If your employer is considering remote working arrangements but is on the fence about it, send them this article about setting up remote working for business owners or this one about how remote working differs from a traditional office.
If you liked this article, please share it with a friend.
- We had offices where people could come in if they wanted or needed to, or they could work from home as well.
- This is good/bad depending on how you look at it.
- Or erm, not wear as the case may be.
- Though this may vary depending on your job. When you really need to focus, you’ll still need someone else available to take care of your kids.
- Though this will make it much less enjoyable or productive.
- That’s right. Smart employers will set up remote working as a privilege, not a right.
- Your manager can tell you what a reasonable amount of time is for your specific company.
- i.e., don’t f*ck it up for everyone else.
- A couple of hours each side is also fine.
- Not that we introverts normally revel that much.
Photos by Hemerson Coelho.