Recently, we offered advice to managers working with remote teams. For managers, it can be hard to keep track of employees, communicate needs, and make sure everyone is staying happy and productive.
However, it’s not entirely up to the manager to make sure a distributed company is running smoothly. Employees are just as crucial to maintaining a balanced workflow, which means you can have a huge impact on the success and morale of a company with the right skills and know how to work remotely.
Here’s how you can thrive as a remote employee, to make your employer love you and to enjoy the work from home lifestyle.
Make Sure You Love Your Job
William Craig, President of WebpageFX, citing research into a travel center that leans heavily on telesales, says remote workers are often more productive than in-office workers.
“At-home employees made, on average, 13.5% more calls per week than their counterparts in the office,” Craig writes at Forbes. “This translated into roughly a whole extra work day every week, and all because of a simple change in scenery. Maybe it goes without saying, but the company’s at-home employees also boasted a higher rate of job satisfaction.”
However, not all remote positions are created equal, and you may find yourself experiencing the same problems in your new job as your traditional one.
Journalist Carolyn Gregoire, writing for the Huffington Post, reviewed different remote work agreements with companies and found that some were more conducive to happy employees than others. “Working from home [was] most effective if implemented in a way that [met] the needs of both the individual and the organization,” she reported. “…It also worked better when employees were given the freedom to decide when they wanted to WFH, and when they had more flexible timelines for submitting their work.”
Make sure you know going in what hours are expected of you and how your manager will evaluate them. If not, your micromanaging boss might not feel as far away as she actually is.
Furthermore, the ability to work remotely shouldn’t be the only criterion you look for in a company. Megan Combe at Nectafy explains that you still have to love what you do:
“You need to be motivated by the job itself, not just by the idea of remote working, in order to be successful. Many people are enamored with the idea of working from home, like it’s this mystical thing that allows you to put in very little effort and have tons of free time. This really isn’t true.”
It doesn’t matter whether you’re working from home or in the office. If you’re doing something you don’t enjoy, you will be miserable.
Build Your Weekly and Yearly Career Ladder
While you may have taken a remote job to get away from the morning commute or office stress, you’re not taking a hiatus from your career. To accomplish your work on a daily and annual basis, you need to set tangible goals.
Jeffrey McGuire, Open Source Evangelist at Acquia, has worked remotely since 2008. He believes remote work depends on evaluating what your employer values and setting clear goals to achieve them.
“Your manager must be willing to define your success by achievement of agreed goals. This is crucial, probably the single most important point here. Your success at your job cannot be defined by old measures like ‘eight hours on seat, typing.'”
Even if your manager sets deliverables for you, make sure they understand the scope of the project and all of the moving elements to complete it.
Tim Baran, Content Director at Rocket Matter, has seen this firsthand.
“Grinding, non-sexy, but necessary, work can easily be missed during evaluation time. Keep a list of recurring and other activities that may seem mundane. Don’t assume that your employer knows about them. If they are, great. If not, it’s good to be prepared.”
On a day-to-day level, documenting these administrative tasks can help you plan your hourly schedule. Entrepreneur Stephen Key shares his way to balance them: “Whatever it is you do, I guarantee there are some aspects of the job you enjoy more than others. My advice is do those things in the morning. Schedule preferable tasks in the afternoon.”
Setting these micro and macro goals can make sure you stay on track with your career and keep an eye on the big picture.
As Chris Moss, journalist for the Telegraph, reports: “No line manager will be inviting you in every six months for an appraisal, so you need to invent your own checking systems. One key part of this is to have goals, both long and short-term. The latter will give you achievable targets and help pay the bills. The former will make you feel you are going somewhere.”
By communicating your weekly goals and setting a plan for the future, you’re making it easy for your employer to manage you while setting yourself up for success during promotion season.
Find a Communication Balance
Communicating the work you do can be tricky when no one’s actually watching you work.
Bob Gower, Director of Process and Innovation Management at Citrusbyte, highlights the delicate balance of task communication. “The trick is to make it easy for others to see what you’re doing, but not overwhelm or interrupt them. Two tools I find essential are an open and visible calendaring system, and a threaded conversation platform.”
Project management software is another tool that can help with indirect communication. As Jason Lengstorf cheekily puts it: “Every project gets planned. Some just get planned after a bunch of time and effort has been wasted. You can become an invaluable asset to your company (and yourself) by taking the time to plan each project effectively.”
Once your employer knows what needs to be done and where you are in the process, they can take a step back and let you work.
Learn How to Clock Out
Here’s the doubled-edged sword of open, frequent communication: Diego Poza at Auth0 finds that all of the text chatter and emails can be just as detrimental as in-office noise or gossip.
“Sometimes, you need quiet time to really get on with work. In an office environment, you might shut a door, or just put your headphones in and it would be obvious to the rest of the team that you need focus. But when you’re remote … nobody knows the best time to interrupt you. Don’t be afraid to protect your time, as others won’t.”
Even if your team knows when to give you space at work, your boss might not. This can make it challenging to turn off when you’re done for the day.
“Remote workers can run into the problem of having job-related calls, emails, and other forms of communication jumbled with personal messages,” says Rich Feloni, Senior Strategy Reporter for Business Insider. “[Take] full advantage of company perks like a work phone, computer, and email account. If they are not available, it is at least worth creating a separate email address and instant messenger screen name to maintain focus.”
The very act of signing out of a work email for the day can do wonders for your mental health.
Create Your Optimal Work Space
In the same way that athletes have pre-match warm-ups and lucky traditions, you as a remote employee should have a habit, plan, or even special corner dedicated exclusively to work.
For example, Eric Bieller for the Hubstaff Blog, tries to reduce clutter and personal items on his work desk. “Even though I have a hard time keeping my home clean, I fight to make sure I never pile stuff on my desk, and I always try to keep the surrounding area clear. This gives me the feeling of working in a clean area, even if the rest of the house is a mess.”
For others, the best way to work is to leave the house, even if they’re just walking a block or two to Starbucks.
“Consider working from a library, coffee shop or even rent a co-working space to work from for a day or two,” Tucker Schreiber at Shopify advises. “It will help you reevaluate your efforts, and will give your mind a break from life at home. If you can, try working from somewhere that has a lot of natural light … exposure to natural light increases workspace productivity tremendously.”
Getting outside, if only for a short while, will also prevent the cabin fever that comes from working alone and inside all day.
Melanie Pinola, lead writer at Zapier, found her social circle to be a crucial part of remote work. “If the only support system someone has is their work one, then being in a remote environment will likely make them go crazy. You need people who have outside support systems so they have people they can interact with on a daily/weekly basis.”
You may have to do some testing to learn what environments work best for you. However, once you find the right environment, your productivity will soar.
Never Skimp on Tools or Skills
Now that you have the right desk, you need the right tools for the job. These might be skills your employer wants you to learn, or physical tools such as pens and printers for bookkeeping.
Kelsey Libert, Marketing VP at Frac.tl, believes having the right supplies can be a time-saver. “Being a prepared work-from-home employee means you must anticipate your needs in the way an administrator or manager might if you were in the office. Keep an adequate supply of pens, printer ink, coffee, and whatever else you may use stocked and ready during working hours to avoid the distraction of a drive to the store.”
While you don’t have to buy the nicest items in the store, you want to make sure you have exactly what you need to thrive.
“Buy yourself the best tools available,” Ionut Neagu explains. “Even if you don’t like to spend money in your personal life, this situation is different. Don’t ever compare buying a $200 bottle of wine to a $200 piece of software. Those are two completely different things.”
Furthermore, the tools are only as beneficial as the people using them. You may find yourself seeking out classes and online training to make the most of your software and skill set.
Adda Birnir, CEO and co-founder of Skillcrush, can’t emphasize that enough. “Beyond using online tools for time management and communication, you can really stand out when you’re applying for remote jobs by having fundamental tech skills down pat. Remote jobs are abundant in the tech industry itself, but feeling comfortable with some code can help you in any field and almost any job nowadays.”
Make Sure Your Professional Needs Are Met
Working from home often means you can decide how hard you work and how far you go. Even if you’re meeting your company’s standards, never sacrifice your own. “A measure of personal responsibility goes a long way when telecommuting,” Carson Tate writes at Fast Company. “Your productivity shouldn’t flag by your own standards — your company’s notwithstanding. Know your strengths and weaknesses, and adjust your routine to suit.”