Year on year, the statistics demonstrate how more of us are now working remotely, and we only expect this figure to grow as the price of office space becomes higher.
When I tell people I work remotely (more often than not, from home), it's not hard to see on their faces what they think that means.
They envision me in pyjamas, flopped in front of the television, only partially paying attention to the work I'm supposed to be doing on my laptop. Or getting distracted by housework and then frantically pulling an all-nighter to get the work done that I'd promised would meet the deadline.
Anyone who works from home and does it successfully knows the sacrifices and benefits that come from such an arrangement. Yes, working remotely allows some flexibility and a chance to spend time in a more comfortable environment. But it also often requires an employee to be more disciplined and, at times, there is the expectation that the employee should be available 'whenever', making a work-life balance even more difficult.
There are a number of key factors that help remote employees remain successful in staying on track and making the boss (or client) happy.
1. A good office setup
Your workspace might be a kitchen table, a sofa, a bed, or a designated room with a desk.
No matter where you choose to work in your home, it's important that it be organised, clean, and have everything you need to do your work efficiently. If you need your mobile phone nearby at all times, make sure it's there. Keep pens and paper, a calendar, a bottle of water, whatever you need close by to ensure you're not going to have to get up twenty times a day and reduce your productivity.
Comfort is also important. If you're going to be sitting most of the day, invest in a good chair that offers great back support and is adjustable multiple ways. Look at getting an ergonomic mouse and keyboard, and ensure your monitor or laptop is positioned properly so that you aren't straining your eyes and neck.
If you were sat in an office, you'd do a Health and Safety desk risk assessment – remote work spaces should be no different.
2. Limited distractions
You likely have a TV in your home that could become a temptation, or if you're working at a coffee shop, the chance to people-watch can be an easy distraction.
Choose a space where you know you will be uninterrupted for long periods and where tempting distractions are nowhere to be found. If you have to, use software that blocks social media and certain websites while you're in work mode.
If you have a pet that wants constant attention, keep them in a separate space while you're working.
Limiting distractions throughout the day can result in you being your best productive self.
3. Effective communication
This one is essential. Communication is a completely different beast when you're working remotely. It's not possible for co-workers to pop in and discuss a project with you, and your boss might forget to pass on important information since he or she isn't seeing you face-to-face. Providing regular updates, asking plenty of questions, confirming details, and ensuring everyone involved is on the same page means that the work should get done correctly and within the set timeframes.
Asking for and providing examples is also a great help in the communication department. Sometimes it's easier to understand what someone means if they can provide visual examples as a reference. If you are waiting on someone for an answer to a question or for them to provide you with information, sometimes it's faster to just give them a quick call than expect them to get to your email right away. Being thorough and consistent in your communication with others should make working remotely no more challenging than being in the office.
4. Helpful tech
Employees who work remotely will need to be fairly tech-savvy or willing to learn how to use various programmes, apps, and devices. Technology is what makes working remotely possible, so it's important to embrace it despite its sometimes frustrating habit of not working when you need it to.
Taking advantage of communication tools like Skype, collaboration tools like Slack, and office tools like Google Docs and Google Sheets can keep you connected and make working with others who aren't physically present that much easier.
It's a good idea to be constantly on the lookout for new tech that can make your work life at home more efficient.
5. Routine, routine, routine
When you don't have a boss physically checking in on you and you're working in an unconventional space, getting off track is a real danger.
Creating set routines and holding yourself to them is crucial to your success as a remote employee.
Find ways to manage your time effectively; create daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules for your tasks; and try to make a habit of using consistent processes (and documenting them for yourself electronically or otherwise) to make each day more productive and less stressful.
There are numerous websites, apps, and physical agendas that can help with your routine creation, so it's worth doing some research on which would be best for you.
6. Key takeaways
Working from home or another space outside the traditional office environment can be just as, if not more, productive as being in the office, as long you keep yourself motivated and on task, and hold yourself accountable.
Finding the right space that offers a combination of comfort and utility will keep you at your computer longer and allow you to stay focused. Eliminating distractions should also be part of your workspace selection. Sharpening your communication skills and being on the ball at all times to get the information you need from others will ensure that you working remotely doesn't affect your deadlines. Using technology to help with your communication and being your own IT problem solver can also be a huge help. And, finally, creating and sticking to routines and using consistent processes will serve you well in the long run.