Make it Easier! Work Remotely in a way that Works for You
Your alarm goes off at 6 AM. Time for your morning routine to get ready for work. Maybe you even have to get other members of your household ready for their days too. You go to make your morning coffee and see that someone left a mess in the kitchen overnight. If you don’t clean it now, it will just rot, and you’ll smell it from your workstation. Since you’re already cleaning, why not throw in a load of laundry? You’ll be home all day, so you can switch it to the dryer during lunch. Oh, and someone asks if you can listen for the doorbell today – they are expecting a package. Of course, you can. You say your goodbyes, and by the time you log onto work, you’re exhausted. What happened to having a better work life balance? Wasn’t working remotely supposed to be easier than working in the office?
Remote work opens a whole world of new opportunities and freedom – literally! You can board a plane to Cancun without missing any meetings. Goodbye stressing about PTO!
However, remote work presents its own challenges, too. Here are five ways to set some ground rules and reap the benefits of working remotely without the troubles:
Routine or Flexibility: Which Do You Need?
Many experts recommend creating a daily routine with “normal working hours” and time off the clock. This has two immediate benefits. Firstly, your coworkers and other remote teams will know exactly what times they can expect to reach you. Secondly, the human body and psyche need predictability.
Each person has a circadian rhythm, which is the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, but they are not the same for each and every person. Some people’s circadian cycle makes them more alert in the morning and more sluggish as the day goes on. For others, it is the opposite.
Regardless if you are an early bird or a night owl, your body needs a healthy wake-to-sleep ratio in order to operate at its best. Sleeping and waking at sporadic times will disrupt your circadian rhythm, which profoundly impacts your hormonal balance, digestive system, and body temperature. The negative effects of a dysregulated circadian rhythm are felt by your body on a cellular level.
When your cells and hormones are thrown off this badly, you could experience mental health issues, loss of passion, and feelings of worthlessness. This is a dangerous downward spiral and one that can often be prevented by setting a routine for wake, sleep, work, recreation, socialization, and private time. As remote employees, the more specific this routine is, the better preserved your circadian rhythm will be.
The most natural way to preserve your circadian rhythm is to have a proper sleep schedule and wake up when the sun rises and rest when the moon is out. Minimize the use of artificial lights after the sun is down. Scientists especially recommend turning off all electronic devices at least three hours before your regular bedtime due to the harmful blue light.
But what if that doesn’t work for you? Maybe mornings are not your best time for remote work, and you would rather start and end late. One of the greatest strengths for remote employees is flexibility! Share your needs with your team and supervisors to determine a plan that works best for everyone.
Some people thrive in structured, repetitive environments. For these people, strict routines and established patterns are great allies. They might even despise anything that interrupts the norm.
Not everyone has a lifestyle that can keep up – especially caretakers. If you have children, family, or even pets that need your attention, no two days look exactly alike! It might be hard working remotely to work a precise 9-5, but when given time, freedom, and submission deadlines, you will not let your team down.
Intentionally communicate this to your coworkers. Help them to understand that you might not make it to every virtual meeting, but if someone sends you an email, you will carefully read it and respond when you return to your computer. They might not get the speediest of replies, but you’ll be on the same page, and your work will be exemplary.
Work-From-Home or Work Remotely?
Are you a homebody, or an extrovert who benefits from other people’s energy? Do you work in silence, with music playing in the background, or do you prefer small talk and collaborative remote work?
Not all remote workers are “built for” working at home, just like how not everyone likes going to the office. Working remotely might show you how much you enjoyed those water cooler conversations, or you might see how much more productive you are without people walking by your desk.
Some people would be great at remote work if they had a better set-up in their home office.
Possibly one of the most frustrating situations at work is when your WiFi malfunctions. WiFi that cuts out or loads too slowly has the power to end your workday, hinder your progress, and ruin your mood. This not only affects you, but also your entire team. For guaranteed “always up” wireless data, consider a service provider with instant failover and instant recovery.
For your peace of mind, invest in a network that comes with managed security features, 24/7 monitoring, and real-time alerts.
If much of your remote work is done over the phone, carefully choose a phone plan with a wide network of cell towers. With the right phone service, you will never miss an important call or text!
Maybe technology isn’t the problem in your home setup. If your desk is in a common area of the house, you don’t have the opportunity to completely focus. Or maybe your housemates tend to barge in and interrupt.
If this sounds like you, consider working outside of the house! Public libraries and local coffee shops could be a better work location for remote employees.
You can also invest in co working spaces. A co-work is a place designed for people to work remotely. They often look like typical offices – with a staff kitchen, coffee machine, and plenty of desk space. These environments bring all the benefits of office work, such as coworkers to socialize with, strong internet, and getting you out of the house. Some places include free use of conference rooms for presentations and group work. Places like these are great for those who do not enjoy working alone or at home.
Take the time and space you need to experiment with your work life balance. Try different strategies and routines to see what works best for you. Once you know, you can communicate that with the people at work and home. Working remotely doesn’t have to be difficult.
Boundaries Open Up the World
In a 2006 study Preschoolers were sent to a playground that had no fences or boundaries. These children stayed huddled closely in the middle, skeptical wondering further out. Later, a boundary was added around that playground and a new group of toddlers was sent out. These children spread to the furthest ends of the playground. They were also more confident and appeared happier than the first group. The researchers found that boundaries give people a sense of security. They know exactly what is on- and off-limits.
How does this translate to remote workers? Imagine you are a night owl – you do your best work in the evening hours. As you’re working on an important project, you have a question that only another coworker can answer. You could message them, but what if they are spending time with their family? You don’t want to interrupt them. What if that offends them? This is a challenge working in remote teams.
The solution to this problem is knowing your coworker’s boundaries. It’s important to know their work life balance. Do they refuse to look at their emails after 5 PM? If that’s the case, it would be fine for you to send the question, knowing they will get to it in the morning. Or maybe they promised their family that they will never let a work-related message take them away from quality time. If they respond to your late-evening question, you can confidently know that they must not have been busy.
Likewise, you can help other remote teams by making your boundaries clear. Do you welcome text messages day or night? Are they supposed to ask someone else before they come to you? If you need something delivered to you by Friday, be clear – does that mean Friday at 8 AM, midnight the night before, or 5 PM on Thursday? If you mark “Do Not Disturb” on your public calendar and someone contacts you anyway, will they get an answer?
Boundaries are also important in your personal life. Do people assume that because you are home, you can do household chores during the day? Does someone think they can drop off their kid for free childcare? Are friends offended when you can’t go out for mid-day coffee? To prevent this, clearly communicate the boundaries you have in place so that you are successful as a remote worker. You may even need to install a lock in your home office to keep people from interrupting your working hours.
To help yourself keep your boundaries straight, try keeping a calendar that accommodates all aspects of your life including remote work. Suppose you have an important presentation due on Friday, but you’re expected to volunteer at your kid’s school on Thursday. Having work and real life on two separate calendars could lead you to believe you have all day Thursday to get your work done, and then when Thursday comes, you are unable to fulfill both commitments. However, if your personal calendar shows all aspects of your life (bonus points if it’s even color-coded!), you can plan ahead and get that presentation done on Wednesday.
While boundaries may feel like you’re telling people “No,” they actually create a safer, more secure relationship for everyone.
“Can Everybody See Me?” How to Build Intentional Relationships with Coworkers
One great aspect of work flexibility is that you can spend more time with friends and family. If you frequent a co-working space, the other “regulars” there can quickly become your new friends and acquaintances, even be a part of your remote work culture. But don’t let this convenience make you overlook your remote team!
Sometimes, it can seem like your coworkers and bosses are teeny-tiny profile pictures asking you for stuff, but you have the power to fight this. One quick way to make work more personal is to log onto team conference calls a few minutes early. This will allow you to spark small talk on a video call with other coworkers, the same way you would in a conference room at the office.
When emailing, messaging, or on a call with a team member, don’t be afraid to ask personal questions. Is this work something they are passionate about? What do they enjoy doing in their free time? Do they have family members? Think of it as a team building exercise. Hopefully, this forms a bond between your team members, easing any awkward tension felt while collaborating as remote employees.
You might be thinking: What if asking personal questions is awkward? It’s not like in an office setting where you could walk past someone’s desk and see photos that strike up a conversation. And a majority of bonding with coworkers used to take place in the break room during lunch, but now we all spend our lunches watching Netflix or folding laundry.
Do not be afraid to break the ice. Who knows? You could meet your new best friend! Maybe your simple interest in their lives can help other remote workers feel connected, easing the sensation of isolation. Maybe you’ll start a movement, change the remote work culture, and help foster a community in your workplace.
Worst-case scenario, they tell you that they would rather stay on-topic. No big deal.
Personal connection is crucial to preserving a coworking culture even with remote work, but it’s even more important that your work is seen. You are a valuable member of your team. With most remote jobs, others cannot see you hard at work on your computer; they only see the results that are sent to their inbox, or placed in a shared folder, that’s remote work life. A great practice is to maintain visibility on Slack or Teams and respond to questions or requests in a reasonable time frame.
It is especially important that your boss knows you are hard at work. Keep them posted on what you are working on. Track progress through project management software. Don’t over-stuff their inbox sending unprompted progress updates. This will show off how valuable you are as a remote worker to the company!
Celebrate Logging Off!
Create an end-of-the-day ritual. One that gives your brain a refreshing shot of dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter that accompanies accomplishment) as well as prepares your workstation for when you return.
Think about or jot down your success today. This can be finishing a big project or making progress on several smaller tasks. Include personal successes, like keeping your boss informed or having an enjoyable exchange with a coworker. Some days this list might be long, and some days it might be short. That’s okay! Not every day will be your best, but still, celebrate the things that went well.
After you’ve done that, write a to-do list. This serves two purposes. Firstly, writing it down signals to your brain that it can stop thinking about these tasks. It’s written down and won’t be forgotten, so now your mind can relax. Secondly, a prepared to-do list will cut down prep time when you come back to your desk. Instead of trying to wake up your memory to see what needs to be done or scrolling through your inbox to see what’s important, you can jump right to work.
Next, physically log off. Close the tabs, close the computer, change your clothes, get some fresh air etc. Since you’re not physically leaving an office as a remote employee, and you are most likely still at your home, add extra motions and routines to tell your body that it is off the clock. Maybe even try singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Switch out your jacket for a cardigan and your shoes for loafers – anything to momentously sign off from a job well done!
Remember, it is always important and beneficial to find what works best for you. Routines, flexibility, boundaries, privacy, relationships, and remembering your values all work together so that you can thrive in your job and your personal life. Not every day will be easy, but these five steps can help make working remotely easier for you.