Over the past 15 years, Americans have begun working remotely at a rapidly increasing clip.
According to Flexjobs.com, the number of employees at work outside the office rose by 159% between 2005 and 2017. At the beginning of the year, close to 5 million U.S. employees were working remotely. Almost universally, remote work has yielded benefits for employees and employers, particularly in terms of productivity and worker satisfaction.
With the unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic now upon us, millions of workers around the world are finding themselves setting up office at home. The global pandemic is going to have many long-term and widespread ramifications for how we live. Perhaps one of the best things we can hope for from the pandemic is proof that working remotely can be a viable option for more of us — an option that can be implemented successfully. That, in turn, will impact the global economy and our society in multiple ways, some we can foresee and some we can’t.
We have before us the potential for significant change in the way work looks in the future. It behooves us all to make this great, unanticipated experiment in working remotely as successful as possible, both for the good of the global economy and our own. Here are some best practices that could improve your ability to successfully work remotely.
You Still Have a Job, So Act Like It
Your work location may have just become significantly more agreeable, but remember, you’re still working. You’re a professional. Working at home does not mean you don’t have to get dressed. No one, and I mean no one, is at their sharpest in flannel jammies and bunny slippers. Sure, you can take liberties you wouldn’t at the office; ditch the uncomfortable shoes and client-facing suits, but please do dress yourself in presentable, videoconference-appropriate clothing.
Maintain a schedule
You should be at your desk and online at your usual start time. Some jobs have more flexibility than others; if you’re a writer, for example, you might be able to schedule your work in a way that’s more in keeping with your internal clock. If you work as part of a team, you may need to work a more traditional 9 am-5 pm. Whichever the case, keep a calendar and schedule your work time, along with breaks. At home it’s vital to be organized because the environment is rife with distractions.
Create a Professional Workspace
While it may be tempting to think you can work effectively curled on the sofa with a cat on your shoulder, this is as misguided as working in pajamas. If you have the space, a room dedicated as an office is always the best option. Everyone is not so lucky. But even if you live in a NYC studio, you can dedicate a corner to setting up a proper desk stocked with all the supplies you need to work. A tidy and organized work area leads to a more organized mind. It’s important to have the right tools, too. Videoconferencing applications like Skype and meeting tools such as Zoom and LiveMeeting are essential for interacting with co-workers. A high-quality external microphone and noise-cancelling headphones are essential for calls and meetings.
Schedule calls and meetings efficiently
A great way to enhance productivity is to schedule meetings and calls in a consecutive block. That way you leave larger blocks of time for uninterrupted work, which will allow you to get more done. Remember those days in the office when constant running between meetings kept you from getting anything done? It’s the same at home, so plan accordingly.
When you work remotely, the potential for misunderstandings and oversights is magnified. Following calls and meetings, follow up with an email documenting your understanding of the issue at hand and the steps to be taken. By keeping the email communications flowing, you ensure everyone is playing from the same sheet.
Importantly, it is crucial to be clear and unambiguous in your writing. Remember, tone in an email is easy to misinterpret, so be mindful. During calls, minimize background noise. During video conferences, make sure the background is appropriate and professional.
When you’re not in the office, it’s important to take care that you remain a visible and viable member of the team. Remember to check in and let your manager and colleagues know what you’re working on. Respond to requests and questions promptly. Schedule calls to touch base with your manager and colleagues. If you use Skype for Business, Slack or some other messaging application, make sure you are visible as available.
Get to know your remote colleagues
Just like in the office, it’s important to build relationships. To that end, schedule a bit of time at the beginning of meetings to chat. Try to video conference when possible to match faces to names. Learn some personal details about your colleagues; chat about your families, your pets, or your mutual interests. Chatting is not frivolous; it helps build intimacy and collegial feelings that will help you work together more effectively.
These are just a few tips to help you work more effectively, whether you’re new to working at home or if you’re a seasoned veteran. By approaching your remote work as methodically and professionally as you would in an office environment, you can increase your productivity and enhance the remote work experience.