Lessons Learned from 13 Years of Working Remote

With businesses around the globe sending their workforce home to carry out their 9-5 duties, virtual office working is quickly becoming the norm. Thirteen years ago, I moved from an office to remote work, and while I love it now, it was tough to establish boundaries and routine. If you’re struggling with how to find balance in a new remote role, consider these lessons I’ve learned through the years.

Lesson 1: Dress for success.

I know what you’re thinking: this girl is crazy. Finally, your sloth pajama pants have found a time to shine and you fully intend to give them the spotlight. Hold that thought. I’m not saying you can’t wear your pajamas to work, but I am urging you to reconsider, especially in these early days when you need to find your new normal.

When I first switched to remote work, I was elated to roll out of bed, brush my teeth, and pad over to my laptop to begin my day. I thought working in the comfiest clothing possible was incredible. But here’s what I found: I didn’t feel incredible. I felt lazy. And it translated to my work. After about a week of not fully getting ready and dressed for my day, I realized that this was a key piece in what I needed to give my day structure and purpose.

They say you need to dress for success, and that includes in a remote work environment. Do you need to bust out your power suit? No, probably not. But you should begin your day with the same routine as you did when you went into an office. If that means fully done hair and makeup or a button up shirt, so be it. If those things make you feel like you’re ready to tackle anything, I encourage you to keep up that routine. It may seem silly as you read this, but I promise you it makes a difference in how you face your day.

Lesson 2: Define your workspace.

This one is tricky if you don’t have a home office, especially given that many families are now home together. Kids, partners, pets … you have a lot going on within the walls of your home. It’s important to find a designated workspace to call your own and make sure that everyone in the house knows that this is your area.

You know how you work best. Does it help you to be able to see outside? Do you need a large workspace for printouts or an oversized monitor? Do you need a printer, scanner or other equipment? Take stock of all you need and then seek out an area that can be used for this purpose. A designated home office is obviously ideal, but you may not have that space, so get creative.

Remember that video conferencing may now be your new normal, so once you find a space, turn on your computer’s camera to see what others will see when you hop on a video call. Remember that now famous BBC interview when a small child walks into a room while her dad is on live TV? Try to avoid those situations. You should physically face the open doorway of your work area and ideally your computer camera should face a wall to lessen the chance that your colleagues or clients get an unsolicited view of your home life.

Lesson 3: Use a headset. Use your mute function.

Just like being aware of what your computer camera will pick up, also be aware of what your speakers may hear. When you’re on a work call, video or audio, be sure to use a headset and always mute when you’re not leading the call. Using a headset will lessen the chance that whoever is on the other end will hear any background noise in your home. Plus, it reduces echoes and gives you all-around better sound quality.

Lesson 4: Be available and work hard.

I can’t stress this one enough. If you’ve never worked remotely before but you’ve always wanted the chance, now is your time to shine. Be available during your work hours. Make sure you’re hitting your deliverables. Be in contact with your manager so they know what you’re working on and what to expect from you. It’s OK to be up front about who is also home with you to your internal colleagues during this time of social distancing and quarantines. Be strategic about scheduling calls with clients or prospects if your home is noisy or distracting. Chances are, everyone is going to practice empathy, but you still need to present yourself and your company in a professional manner.

Now is not the time to catch up on laundry or start a home project. I once worked for a CEO who told people he thought virtual office workers spent all day doing their laundry. I was insulted, and the gigantic pile of laundry in my home was proof he was wrong, but he probably had this experience with someone in his career and it stuck with him. Don’t be that person who puts all remote workers in a negative light. Separate your work and home life as best you can and save household chores for after work hours.

Lesson 5: Practice self-care when you can.

These are stressful times and your routine has been turned upside-down. It’s important to keep calm and carry on. You can keep your productivity up while maintaining a healthy work environment. I’ve found that these things help:

  • Get up at least once an hour to stretch and walk around. Sitting all day isn’t healthy, but it’s likely to happen if you don’t have distractions at home. You may find that your productivity will be higher at home and it’s easy to be so focused that you forget to get up. If you’re an Apple Watch user, listen to those pesky reminders to stand, and if you’re not, consider setting a timer to help you.
  • Drink water. It’s not only healthy, but it will literally force you to get up often for obvious reasons. Use the restroom then take an extra walk around your space.
  • Many gyms and fitness companies are making virtual workouts free or low-cost. Using your lunch hour or time before or after work to get a workout in will help you stay focused and raise your endorphins to combat stress.
  • Take short walks outside. Fresh air will help to clear your mind and, if you now have a four-legged office mate, interacting with a pet will always have a positive impact.
  • Listen to music. If you find that certain music calms you, make sure you’re pumping it into your workspace. It’s a small thing but it helps to engage your brain and calm your nerves.

Remember, these are unprecedented times and we’re all in this together. Use this time to find common bonds, support each other, reach out for help, and enjoy the moments of collaboration via video.

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