Adjusting To Remote Work

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I’m in between surgeries this week, so I thought I’d pop in and offer some tips on remote work, since it’s become a necessity to do as much of that as we can to keep us all safe.

As an introvert too often forced to behave like an extrovert, remote work is ideal for me. Plus, as a writer, there’s rarely reason I HAVE to be onsite (although far too many employers don’t believe you’re actually working unless they can stare at you, which, when you think about it, is a little stalky/creepy).

If you’re not used to working remotely, it can be a paradox of the freedom of your own schedule and the lack of structure. Personally, I’m far more productive remotely, which means better quality of work and better bang for the buck. But it’s not just doing whatever you want whenever you want.

Here are some suggestions:

Have a Designated Workspace. This is important. You may be working from home; you may move around where you work (especially on a laptop or mobile device), but have a designated space to set up and spread out your materials, so you don’t lose things or get disorganized. It also helps you get into the work headspace.

Set Boundaries With Others in the Home. If you and your partner or roommates are both working from home, talk about how you’ll use the space together. If your partner’s not used to you being around, again, set boundaries. If kids are at home, discuss it with them. Parents are under huge stress, juggling their kids’ online education and their own remote work, or child care if they’re not allowed to work from home and their kids are out of school. It’s huge. Not enough support has been built in for the parents with kids at home, especially single parents. Figuring out how to share electronic devices when necessary, manage time and needs is huge.

You are working; you can’t be interrupted for any little thing or “this’ll just take a minute.” Interact at designated break times. Define “emergency” so if one happens, that’s an interruption. Set the boundaries, then HOLD them. There’s a difference between having some flexibility in your work day and not getting any actual work done because you’re being interrupted every two minutes. You are WORKING. That needs to be respected. And you need to respect the boundaries of anyone else in the house. Talk about it beforehand, make an agreement. If you need to modify, do it after the designated workday, in preparation for the next one. If you’ve got kids home, set up their activities/schoolwork close enough for everyone to feel comfortable, but with enough space for focused work, and take more breaks to hang out with them, answer questions, etc.

Shower. You’ll feel better, if you start the day with your normal shower routine (or maybe you’re someone who does that at the end of the day — whatever works).

Get Dressed. Plenty of remote workers will disagree with me on this. Some of them have “day pajamas” and “night pajamas.” Glad it works for them. My remote work clothes are definitely more casual than for on-site (except for videoconferencing). But they’re clothes. I joke about having to put on “real people pants” if I have to actually leave the house, but the writing clothes I spend my day in are different from what I sleep in, and not pajamas. It indicates to me that I’m in professional work mode.

Keep Hours Close to Your Regular Workday. The lack of commute should help make getting ready for your workday easier.  Maybe you can linger over your first cup of coffee, enjoy your breakfast, take a walk (keeping a safe distance from others). But be at your desk the time you would normally be at the desk; walk away from your desk at the time you would normally leave. Especially the first few days of remote work, keeping a similar schedule will help you adjust.

However, if you have a more flexible remote work schedule and you find your best hours are different than a normal work day, go for it. Clear it with your boss first, so you’re not getting calls and texts in the middle of the day when you’re asleep, make sure people understand you’ll be responding to emails at different hours (and don’t expect an immediate answer if you send an email at 3 AM),  and make sure you hit all deadlines. But if your natural rhythm is to work at 3 AM and you can do it within the framework of your remote situation, do so.

Time Blocks. Instead of checking email whenever it pings; check it once every few hours. Bundle your phone calls together. Better yet, make phone appointments via email. I only do phone by appointment (and charge for it in 15-minute increments). It saves a world of time and a world of pain. Have blocks of uninterrupted time when you work on what you’d work on at your desk — be it a newsletter or a report or a proposal. Track how much time you spend on different things, and your productivity levels. See where you might need to adjust.

Take Breaks. If you were in the office, you’d get up to refill the coffee or ask a co-worker a question or use the restroom. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to do that when you’re in your home office. If your kids are home, take longer breaks in your work and their schooling to do something fun together, if at all possible.

Take Lunch.You might eat at your desk in the office, but take the break for lunch. It’ll give you energy for your afternoon. Maybe step outside for a few minutes (if you’ve got enough yard or a balcony).

Communicate With Bosses and Co-Workers. Maybe you’re texting and emailing. Maybe it’s Skype. Maybe it’s Zoom or Slack or Trello or KanTree. But stay in touch.  Let your co-workers know your progress on projects; ask about theirs. Check in to see how they’re doing.  Research some other remote tools and suggest them.

Don’t Blow Off Virtual Meetings. Pay attention. Take notes. Especially if you’re in a position where you often had onsite meetings, the virtual meetings might need a bit of adjustment. But if a time set for a meeting is way out of line, speak up. 

Set an End Time. Especially early in the process. Aim to end at the same time you normally end your work day. If, for some reason, you took a chunk out of the middle of the day to do something or take care of something, you might need to add in at the end, either now or after dinner. But set an end time and walk away. Don’t keep answering work-related emails or texts or calls around the clock. That way lies madness, unpaid time, and resentment. Working remotely does NOT mean you are on call and working 24/7.

Tidy up Your Workspace At the End of the Day. It’ll make it easier to come back the next morning.

Exercise! If you’ve been walking to and from mass transit, you need something to do.  Try yoga or meditation or home workouts. If there’s a place you can walk safely while not breaking quarantine, do so. If you’re got stairs in your house, use them more frequently. I have yoga, meditation cushions, weights, a jump rope, and an exercise bicycle in the house. It makes a huge difference, both physically and mentally. There are some terrific exercise apps.

Connect With Other Remote Workers. There’s a great community of remote workers, happy to share resources. Scott Dawson, the author of THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY, runs a weekly Twitter chat under the hash tag #remotechat. It’s on Wednesdays, at 1 PM EST. Michelle Garrett runs #freelancechat on Twitter on Thursdays at noon EST. There are dozens more. Participants are friendly and happy to share resources.

Set Up A Remote Hangout for Co-Workers. Whether it’s a free chat room on ProBoards or something on Zoom or Kantree, make sure you stay connected to your co-workers, especially if any of them are stressed and having a hard time.

Enjoy. Enjoy uninterrupted work time. Enjoy the lack of commute. Enjoy learning new tools and skills. Enjoy being around your family and pets more. Appreciate small moments you might miss in an ordinary day.

Adjust What Doesn’t Work. Some things will work; some will not. Adjust as you need to adjust. Keep lines of communication open. Don’t let worries fester. Try new tools and techniques. Let this be a type of professional development instead of a frightening inconvenience. Talk to those of us who love it –we’ll help all we can. See what tools and techniques you feel make your work and life better, and consider ways to integrate them into working onsite, when that’s ready to happen again.

Fellow remote workers, please feel free to jump in and leave any additional advice in the comments. New-to-remote workers, ask any questions, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. 

Stay healthy!