Remote work is a widely covered topic—and one surrounded by many common misconceptions. No pants, no boss, no accountability and no meetings? What’s not to love?
In reality, there’s a bit more to it than that. So let’s set the record straight about what it’s like to work on a partially remote team, for a partially remote company.
I’m a software developer and the only person in my group who works remotely. My company employs many other remote workers in various disciplines. Here, we’ve gathered their insights to gain a broader perspective on the challenges remote employees face—as well as some effective strategies for addressing them. Even if you’ve never experienced this work and lifestyle, these eight hacks can help employees of all kinds improve productivity, become more effective communicators and establish a healthy work/life balance.
1. Create a designated workspace
Sounds easy, right? Just fire up your laptop and plonk down on the couch in your pajamas? Wrong. Establishing a designated workspace is a critical step that many assume is optional, especially when they’re first starting out. Even if you have a quiet, child- and spouse-free apartment like I do, there will always be distractions and interruptions in your normal living areas to draw you away from work. Children, roommates, pets, open windows, background noises, pending housework, texts and social media can quickly stifle productivity.
It’s essential to carve out a dedicated, distraction-free workspace such as an office, a spare bedroom or even a specific corner if you live in a smaller space—and then stick to it. I like to use an odd-shaped corner of my living room, with a specific chair for work and a nice view out the window. Sometimes, I shut the blinds to stay more focused while others, I stare out the window as I contemplate a creative solution.
2. Separate work from play
We all know that all work and no play makes life pretty dull. But for remote workers, keeping the two separate is particularly crucial. Achieving work/life balance is one of the trickiest aspects of working remotely. It’s easy to find yourself working when you should be living, and vice versa. Once you’ve established your official “office space,” only work in that area. If you like to play PC games or watch movies to relax, don’t do that in your office. The longer you work remotely, the more obvious the need to create clear, divided spaces for work and non-work activities will become.
3. Find more places to work...
Sometimes, even in your work-only area, you can find yourself becoming unproductive. Unfinished chores or clutter that needs tidying can easily distract you from the task at hand. I once went to the kitchen for a snack and ended up doing the dishes.
In this case, a change of scenery can help get you back on track. Find a coffee shop, restaurant or library where you can get down to work. Even places with no Wi-Fi, such as parks, can become options if you tether your laptop to your phone. When I find my productivity dwindling, I go to a quiet, nearby café with fewer distractions than at home. The best part? I don’t have to make my own lunch or coffee.
4. ... and more places to relax
This tip brings us back to our first two: separating spaces for work and play. If you also enjoy relaxing or socializing at that café where you sometimes work, pick a different spot to sit when you come in off the clock. If you use a regular table or seat for work, choose another for leisure time. Or, if it’s feasible, find a new location altogether.
5. Build a virtual watercooler
One of the most fundamental keys to job satisfaction is enjoying the camaraderie of coworkers. Without it, performance and morale can rapidly decline. But when you’re remote, colleagues don’t get the chance to stop by your desk to chat about one thing, then remember something else they needed to tell you. You even miss out on those semi-awkward, bathroom hand washing conversations about the weekend.
To compensate for these in-person opportunities to connect, you’ll need to take the initiative. DM your teammates and ask them about their day. Start group chats. Get on video calls that are completely unrelated to work. Once you open the door to these interactions, soon enough, you’ll find your colleagues returning the favor.
6. Prove your value
Gaining the respect and appreciation of your team is vital to professional success in any role—and is particularly challenging when you’re not on-site to do so. Before my transition to the remote work lifestyle, I tended to be quiet about my successes and loud about my failures. I’ve since realized how important it is to exercise some hard-earned bragging rights.
On the flip side, owning up to mistakes isn’t easy, but if you take responsibility, proactively come up with a plan to address them and share your lessons learned, everyone wins. Demonstrating value for your work may be challenging, especially if you don’t work in sales or marketing. So be proud and celebrate your wins, even if they’re correcting your own missteps.
Because no one actually sees you working with their own two eyes, as a remote employee you have to narrate what you’re doing—sometimes even more than feels necessary. This means talking and typing more, and doing so more efficiently.
For some, over-communicating isn’t a challenge but for others, it may not come so naturally. In this case, you might need to rely on the old, tried-and-true “fake it ‘til you make it” method. Push yourself to communicate early and often with your teammates, and eventually, it will become a habit.
8. Be accessible
One advantage of working on-site is that if someone walks up to your desk, they can immediately tell if you’re busy or available. Such is not the case with remote life. If you’re unreachable for long periods of time, it can quickly erode trust with your peers and supervisors.
Try to respond as quickly as possible when a coworker pings you. If you’re busy or on a call, update your chat status to make it clear that you’re not immediately available. If someone doesn’t have to wait when they try to reach you, you’re providing the same level of support and interaction as if you were there on-site.
While remote work has numerous benefits, it comes with its own unique set of challenges as well—especially if you’re the only one on your team working off-site. Fortunately, these eight strategies can help you improve overlap and interactions with managers and coworkers alike. In fact, they can be helpful for any employee looking to boost teamwork and communications. Try applying the methods in different ways, and see what works best for your work style, your lifestyle and your team. Whichever you choose, one thing is clear: remote work has made itself at home and is here to stay.