Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 2: Excelling)

This article is number two of a three-part series that will help you succeed while working remotely. Part 1 focused on the basics: create a dedicated work space, commit to a schedule, and empower yourself to sign off. This second installment focuses on tips to truly excel while working away from the office. Enjoy!

  1. Develop a morning routine. What do you mean “morning routine”? I thought working remotely meant you didn’t need a morning routine?! While that might technically be true, those who excel while working from outside the office generally have a regular and consistent morning routine—and I am a big advocate for it. You see, morning routines do more that physically shift your body into a certain place at a certain time, they prepare you mentally for the work of the day. How one prepares themselves will vary notably from person to person, but I like to do things that get me into “work mode.” First and foremost is getting dressed. It may seem trivial and unnecessary, but your brain probably links pajamas to rest and relaxation, so getting out of your PJs—however comfortable they may be—is a good first indicator to your subconscious that it’s time to get to work. After putting on a pot of coffee, consider some form of mild physical and/or mental exercise. On the physical side, it might be some light stretching or taking the dog for a quick walk around the block; on the mental side, try setting aside a few articles to read as you enjoy your coffee. This need not be work reading, but it also shouldn’t be fluff; pick articles that are engaging and interesting. Everyone’s routine will vary slightly, but it’s important to build consistent triggers into your morning to help you hit the ground running when you’re finally ready to log in.
  2. Set two goals for the week. This tip can apply to anyone, but I think it’s absolutely critical for teleworkers. Why? Because those of us working from home have ample opportunities to become distracted. Family, odd jobs, solicitors, and a million other things are constantly present to pull you off track, in addition to many of the same work distractions and short-term fires that plague your in-office colleagues. In this wash of distractions and time-suckers, these goals will help keep you oriented and aligned with what’s truly important. And it doesn’t have to be two goals; depending on your day-to-day workload and schedule, it may only be one. It could also be more, but I caution against making more than four, because then it becomes a to-do list—which these goals are not. To-do lists tend to be collections of tasks that are agnostic to timeliness, priority, or both. These weekly goals should be how you define success for the week; these are high-level strategic objectives that will drive you, your colleagues, your partners, and your customers forward. For example, my goals for this week are to support the transition of my development team to a new sprint and to successfully brief my new boss on a suite of internal tools that I manage. These may seem fairly mundane, but each include a number of sub-tasks, as well as significant preparation and follow-up. Looking back at the end of the week, barring any cataclysmic events, if I have been successful in these two areas, I will have had a successful week.
  3. Make yourself visible. By far the biggest downside to working remotely is your physical separation from peers and superiors. This is especially pronounced if most of your team is collocated. It’s easy to take for granted the amount of team building that takes place in the office, even in informal settings. This can make it hard as a remote employee to connect with your teammates. Similarly, it can be more difficult for your accomplishments to get due visibility and credit when you’re not interfacing directly with your superiors. To remedy this, it’s important to find ways to make yourself and your accomplishments as visible as possible. Obviously, this must be done in a measured and tactical manner; no one wants to hear you brag. Instead, send drafts of work out to peers and superiors for feedback. Rather than sending an email for assistance, try to schedule a brief call to talk through what you need. To build better relationships with your teammates, connect, engage, and endorse them on LinkedIn. To stay involved, schedule recurring (but brief) meetings to touch base with peers and superiors to discuss important projects and ways to contribute. If you manage your time closely, as I do, make your calendar visible to others so they can see what projects you’re working on. Being proactive about making yourself more visible will take additional effort, but will be well worth it in the long run.

The final part of this article series, focusing on enjoying your time while working remotely, will be released tomorrow. In the meantime, please share your experiences and feedback in the comments below and reach out via the Contact section above. Thanks!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com

Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 1: The Basics)

May of 2018 marked seven years since I started working remotely full-time. I’ve worked for the same company over this span, but held several different positions in multiple departments. The teams with whom I’ve worked have been diverse as well; some were fully collocated, others fully remote and spanning multiple time zones. Through all of this, I’ve developed a laundry list of tips and best practices that have helped me continue to thrive from afar:

Part One: The Basics

  1. Create a dedicated workspace. Everyone operates most efficiently when they are in a familiar and comfortable work environment. For most people, their company office or desk serves this purpose; a place designated solely for business and designed—intentionally or not—to foster productivity. The most important thing to do while working remotely full-time is to create this dedicated work environment. If you have the space, I highly recommend a dedicated home office. Creating and customizing this space not only empowers you to work most effectively during business hours, but allows you to “clock out” at the end of the day by leaving the room and shutting the door. You’ll be amazed at the psychological benefit of this practice over the long term. If you don’t have the space for a home office, create that dedicated business environment in some other way. Pick a chair at the dinner table that you don’t normally use and designate it as your “work spot.” The location, layout, and size of your remote workspace isn’t as important as it being a dedicated and unique environment specifically for work. Over time, this will create a subconscious trigger in your mind when it’s time to “clock in” and “clock out,” which is critical to working effectively and happily from home over the long term.
  2. Commit to a schedule. Strictly adhering to this tip may not be for everyone; after all, one of the big benefits of working from home for most people is the ability to quickly bounce between work tasks and home chores as the need arises. And while I understand that, to me the most effective way to have long-term success while working remotely is separating work time from personal time. I do this by creating and committing to a weekly schedule, which outlines the time that I will be spending on specific work tasks each day. I refine this as needed throughout the week, but I rarely make on-the-spot changes. In order words, I’ll bump movable work time a couple of days ahead to accommodate a plumber, but I won’t delay the start of my work day because I want to rearrange my living room—that can wait until personal time. The schedule can be different every day, but the most important thing is to commit. When done right over time, your mind will more easily switch between work time and personal time. Additionally, this often has a side benefit of making you more effective at work, as people are more likely to succeed when they commit to a specific goal.
  3. Empower yourself to sign off. The longer you work remotely, the more you’ll realize that separating work time and home life is more difficult than you expected. Done improperly, work mind and non-work mind never really separate which often results in a constant feeling of residual anxiety as your conscious and subconscious minds regularly jump between personal and professional thoughts. To combat this, it is critical to effectively “sign off” when your workday ends. When I had a home office, the act of shutting that door (and keeping it shut) was an effective trigger to signal that work was done for the day. More important than any trigger, however, is the commitment to respect the boundaries of your professional and personal time. Plainly put, this means resisting the urge to check your email after you’ve concluded your workday. If you use your computer for personal and professional tasks, make sure that your work applications are closed out before you sign off. Even before finishing your day, make sure that you’re respecting your personal time. It’s very easy, especially when others know that you work remotely, to get roped into a late meeting or continue down whatever rabbit hole you find yourself. While exceptions can be made in certain circumstances, make sure they don’t become the rule. Use language like “I’ll be signed off at that time” to set these boundaries with others, you from two years from now will thank you.

This is just the first in a multi-part series to help you work remotely more effectively. I’d love to hear your feedback, stories, successes, and failures too! Leave a comment below or message me in the Contact section.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com