As a remote employee for both contingent workforce management and technology companies for the last 12 years, there are certain remarks and reactions one tends to get when you say you “work from home”. Yes, you get to choose what coffee is made. The dishes in the sink are yours and yours alone. You won’t have food gathering dust and mold in the fridge (unless you’re the culprit). No one will steal your lunch (hopefully).
Yet, working from home is a two-sided coin – there are certainly real benefits, as well as some potential drawbacks. Based on my experiences, I thought I’d dispel some of the assumptions and myths, as well as highlight some truths and best practices you can consult if you’re considering proposing either part or full-time work with your employer.
Myth #1: “You Must GET ALL YOUR HOUSEWORK DONE DURING THE DAY!”
If that were true, I would have been fired years ago. In fact, my husband would probably argue that less housework gets done since I started working from home. The reality is that to be an effective and valuable member of a company while working remotely, you must still approach your day and work obligations as if you were working in a formal office environment. While working from home may provide some time and cost savings to you and your company, you must still manage and schedule your work time to ensure you’re getting done what your employer is paying you to do – not in between lunches, laundry, vacuuming, childcare, and so on.
While the actual hours I am working each day may vary, I consider myself “clocked in” until my workload has been successfully satisfied…and sometimes that means working much more than I would have if someone turned off the lights or thermostat at the office each night (more on that later in this post).
Myth #2: “I would love to not have to ‘get ready’ each day”
Yes, there are many days I find myself working in my yoga pants and a t-shirt. And, while it’s a comfortable way to spend your day, I’ve
found that I crave ‘dressing up’ more. There’s something to be said about having a routine each morning, where you get up, take a shower, brush your hair, put on a nice work outfit, and be ‘presentable’.
If you tend to work in the same clothes you slept or worked out in, how professional are you approaching your work and in your communications with colleagues and clients? Now, is it worth the (presumed) unnecessary dry cleaning bill to dress up when no one can see you? No. But, for those days when you’ll be on several phone calls with your coworkers or clients, it may be worth throwing on a nice outfit and being properly groomed. You may find that, in dressing as if you’re at the office or in front of them, you communicate differently than if you were kicked back in your most comfortable sweats… And, it may prove beneficial for when one of those calls ends up using video with your webcam!
Myth #3: “You must get so much more work done!”
One of the benefits of working from home is that – for many people – it provides periods of uninterrupted work time. You no longer have the “door darkeners” and colleagues popping by your desk to chat, disrupting or distracting you from getting things done. However, this presumed benefit is very much contingent on how you approach the way you work, as well as the type of work you are responsible for producing. If you are working as part of a team, where strategic and tactical collaboration is vital, working as a remote employee may prove to be less productive than if you were co-located, working together through in-person meetings, to devise and deliver solutions. That’s not to say you cannot still be a remote employee; however, you may need to be open to doing so part-time, or ensuring that – for those critical meetings where decisions need to be worked through and made as a team – you are able to travel to the office or other meet-up location with your team.
In addition, the idea of getting more work done is heavily dependent on the way you and your colleagues communicate. I recently wrote a post that outlines the pitfalls and problems of poor work communication processes. If both you and your employer have not established and adopted effective communication practices, working from home can introduce even more distractions (through meetings, emails, messaging, and so on) that would have produced better results and time savings had they occurred in person.
Myth #4: “You can work from anywhere!”
One of the benefits of working from home is that, for many, you can work from anywhere. Having the opportunity to work remotely after Hurricane Katrina was a blessing for me for two reasons: It allowed me to continue being employed and earning income when many others were struggling to find work after evacuating to new cities and towns, and my husband is in a field where he commonly finds himself having to move every couple of years to a new part of the US (he’s part of a circus…no, actually he’s in the talk-radio business, which is kind of similar).
We all love the idea of being able to live and work anywhere in the world; however, you should also consider the following when deciding where you will be working:
- Must you maintain certain hours when you are working? If so, while working from Hawaii may seem like a great idea, if your company is located in New York, your workday may start in the middle of the night.
- Is there reliable internet connection? The idea of ditching the metropolitan lifestyle for a simpler existence near a beach in the Caribbean may sound idyllic, but if you’re in a remote area with spotty connectivity to the tools and technology you need to perform your work, your serenity (and your coworkers’ or boss’s patience) may erode quickly.
- Does your job require a fair amount of travel? If working from home is due to the fact that your “office” can vary frequently (client on-site visits, consultation work, speaking engagements, etc.), living in the middle of nowhere – or at least where an airport is quite a distance away – can result in increased work hours due to travel time from and to the nearest airport.
- Are you an introvert? This one may sound odd to add to the list, but – speaking from personal experience – if you’re not a social butterfly or are active in civic or social groups, you may find yourself struggling to make new friends, especially if your remote work situation is due to a relocation. No longer do you have the built-in social network of going out to lunch, dinner, or drinks with your coworkers. It’s all on you to seek out and meet people in your town; else, you’ll never leave the house!
In addition, if you think you can take a vacation without formally being off and still squeeze in work, you’re only setting yourself (and your friends or family) up for disappointment and frustration. The reality is, you’ll almost always get stuck on a call or have a deadline pop up during a scheduled fun activity; or you end up working your normal hours and then think you’ll start your vacation time once your workday is over. By then, you’re exhausted and will probably not be up for much play time.
While these myths do hold a candle of truth to them, and each present benefits along with my cautionary commentary, remote work is still a terrific option for many people. But, in order to be successful, there are certain truths you must be willing to consider and implement. Below, I outline some of the top practices that I’ve learned to help guide you through this transition.
Truth #1: Understand and Be Realistic About How You Work
When it comes to deciding if you’ll be successful as a remote employee (both personally, and by your employer), you need to first evaluate whether it’s the right environment for you.
You should start by looking introspectively to determine if you have the right work ethic and skill set. Working as a remote employee requires a certain amount of discipline and self-motivation. If the idea of working remotely makes you immediately imagine all the other things you’ll get done at home, or the freedom and flexibility you’ll gain in your work schedule, a telecommuting environment may not be right for you, especially if the work you’re expected to produce is not individually- created or has dependencies. It’s tempting to hit the snooze button or go run an errand in the middle of the day; however, if you’re neglecting and delaying completing the necessary work, you’ll only end up having a pile of work that needs to be done and working through the weekend to complete it.
Also, if your role in your organization requires a significant amount of collaborative work between team members, working remotely may result in decreased productivity and outputs. In early 2017, IBM decided to reverse their remote employee policy for work types where teamwork is a critical part of an employee’s output. Know your role and how it interacts and relies on others – and vice versa.
You will have to work even harder to create solid working relationships and trust with your coworkers, since your interactions with them will be mostly via the phone, email, and messaging. If you’re struggling, you need to speak up – your boss won’t know what’s going on unless you tell them. I suggest setting up a weekly check-in/feedback session between you and your manager, as well as your team members or co-workers, to ensure the communication channels remain open and honest, to drive ongoing organizational success.
Tip: At a prior company, we held most of our meetings via a video conferencing tool (such as Skype or Google Hangouts). This significantly aided with the way we interacted and built relationships because we were speaking and seeing one another during each conversation.
And lastly, when you work from home, you are – in essence – an office of one. That means you won’t have the benefit of participating in office birthday parties, appreciation lunches, happy hours, and other activities that occur in a traditional office environment. If those elements of a work environment are important to you (plus the free snacks), you may need to seriously contemplate the idea of working outside of one. Plus, realize you may start talking to yourself more and more… 😊
Truth #2: Be Comfortable with Technology and Tools
Are you technically-savvy? If you struggle with using or learning about (or have never heard of) tools such as Outlook, Slack, Asana, Trello, Google Hangouts, Skype, and the like, you may find it difficult working as remote employee, since these tools tend to be more heavily-used when coworkers are not sharing a co-located office space.
Also, since you are not in an office setting, you may have limited access to instruction on how to use the tools. You need to be comfortable with seeking out help, if needed, either on your own or through your employer. At the end of the day, you are your own tech support.
Truth #3: Create a Dedicated Office Space
I have a dedicated room that serves as my office. It has a desk, a comfortable chair (plus a standing desk attachment), a printer, and all the necessary supplies I’d need and use during a regular workday. It’s not at the kitchen table, my bed, or on the couch (though, I will admit there are occasions where I’ve found myself working from there – NOT recommended long-term).
You must create a space that is conducive to work, where you can have private conversations with clients and coworkers without children, dogs, spouses, televisions, or other distractions. It’s also important to have a dedicated space so that you can leave it. Once your work day has concluded, the computer should stay in the office and the door should be closed. While you are working from home, your entire home should not be your office – don’t ‘bring your work home with you’.
Truth #4: Schedule Your Day, including Breaks
As noted in Myth #3, properly planning your day and establishing communication best practices are critical to ensuring maximum productivity. In addition to scheduling when activities will occur, it’s equally important to block out time and define boundaries around when they will not. Too often I have found myself literally not leaving my office or getting up from my chair for 8 hours or more. As much as possible, schedule a lunch and shorter break reminders in your work calendar. I have a fellow remote co-worker who takes a 45-minute break each day, where she walks around her neighborhood.
Whether you’re leaving the house, or simply stepping away from your office, it’s so important to make sure you’re taking a few breaks during the day. I’ve had some remote co-workers who installed a fridge or coffee maker in their workspace – I strongly advise against that. You need to keep the snacks and drinks in another room so you’ll get up from your chair to retrieve them.
Along with scheduling breaks, establish appropriate work hoursboth with yourself and your colleagues. Often I’ve ended up working much later than what a typical work day would be, simply because I lost track of the time. As noted in Truth #2, it’s important to be dedicated and committed to “leaving the office”, else you’ll create an environment where you feel like you’re always working. Also, if you live in a time zone that differs from the work hours you keep, coworkers may need to be politely reminded if they are scheduling meetings that are too early or late – even for your standard work hours.
Tele/remote work is a terrific way to retain employment when a traditional office setting isn’t available or feasible. In order to be successful as a remote employee, you must be dedicated and self-motivated, be diligent and understand how you’re included and work hard to not be overlooked (not an island). If you’re a leader, you need to work twice as hard (or more) to inspire your team to stay motivated and on task.
Having the opportunity to work remotely has been a fantastic journey for me over the last 12 years. I’ve learned a lot about who I am as an employee, co-worker, team member, boss, and person. While there have been times where I’ve missed working in an office environment, I’m fortunate enough to be able to get my “fix” through periodic visits to my company’s headquarters and client offices…and stock up on the free snacks!
Have you previously, or currently work as a remote employee? If so, what tips, tricks, or myths can you share? Are you considering work as a telecommuter? What additional questions do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments below or through direct message to me. I’d love to continue the dialogue on the pitfalls and successes of remote work!