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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.