Companies, increasingly aware of the benefits of providing their workforce with more flexibility, are experimenting with the idea of allowing more employees to become remote workers. Even more traditional organizations are starting to see that there are considerable advantages to allowing staff to telecommute at least a certain number of days during the week or month.
A 2017 report by Owl Labs found that Companies that support remote work have 25% lower employee turnover than companies that don’t. Not to mention, employees who work remotely, at least once per month, are 24% happier than those who never work remotely. It’s also important to note that this is not merely a function of employees wanting to work from home. Companies are finding that they can get more focus and productivity from remote staff, and can cut down on the overhead required in maintaining a larger office space.
Technology has made it possible for a significant percentage of employees to work from anywhere with a stable Internet connection. However, it has also created some new challenges for organizations needing to manage employee output and facilitating collaborative work between teams. For employees working remotely, there can be an entirely new set of hurdles. It’s worth weighing the benefits before taking a position that entails a considerable amount of telecommuting.
We’ve pulled together a few things, both positive and negative, to keep in mind before you consider becoming a remote employee.
A Buffer survey found that respondents listed a “flexible schedule” as the most significant advantage of remote work. As a remote worker, you usually have a lot more control over your daily schedule. And while you typically need to be available during the business day, with a flexible work schedule, you can also get your work done in the evening or on weekends. It also means that if you have to pick up kids or take an older parent for an appointment, you can often fit that into your day a little more easily.
Work where you’re comfortable
When you work from home, there is no commute to and from the Office, which usually frees up at least one hour or more every day. There’s also no need to waste time or effort in considering what to wear to work. Not to mention, working in your own space can make you feel more relaxed, more productive, and usually less tired at the end of the day. If you feel the need to be around people, most coffee shops offer free WiFi and many local co-working spaces are popping up to provide meeting rooms and a communal working atmosphere.
The trouble with the modern office, as satirized in shows like The Office or films like Office Space, is the considerable amount of time that is wasted in unproductive activities to fill the time you are expected to spend “at work.” Being a remote employee allows you to focus strictly on the tasks required without regular interruption from those around you. The same 2018 Global State of Remote Work Report, conducted by OWL Labs, found the number one reason that people choose to work remotely is increased productivity and better focus. Fewer distractions led to improved productivity and overall heightened job satisfaction.
According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2018 Report, 21% of respondents found “loneliness” to be their most considerable struggle when working away from the office. As social creatures, human beings need to connect with others. As a remote worker, it’s essential to structure your day to include some social interactions and regularly scheduled breaks to get out of your space and clear your head. While some introvert personalities may enjoy the option for limited social interaction, extroverts should be aware that they may need to make a concerted effort to get the social connection they require. See where you fall on the Introvert / Extrovert scale here.
Equally, 21% of respondents in Buffer’s report, listed a “lack of collaboration” as the main detriment to remote work. Having the ability to bring in another colleague on a problem quickly can often lead to a swifter solution, and the inability to do so may only add to the loneliness mentioned above. For remote workers, it’s essential to establish reliable channels of connection to the office or to other colleagues working remotely to maintain collaboration.
Despite the silly interactions that go on in many offices, being there can help you build strong social and professional bonds with your colleagues. When it comes to salary increases and promotions in companies where most employees are not remote, it can be a challenge to stay top of mind. Even if you’re doing fantastic work for your company, it’s essential to be seen to be doing that work. It’s of course, more challenging to do this when you’re not there day-to-day.
Ultimately though, no matter how you feel about working remotely, it’s a trend that is showing no signs of reversing. If you find yourself working for one of the 40% of companies that are a hybrid (offering both remote and in-office), or more importantly considering a position with one of the 16% of fully remote companies, how do you become a genuinely excellent remote employee?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the things you can do to achieve the status of a great remote employee.
Establish Business Hours
We are not suggesting that you give up the flexibility of working remotely. What we mean is committing to being available during a set number of hours. If you have to shift those hours on certain days, be sure that you’re clear about those changes with colleagues. By setting regular “working hours,” it will also help you better maintain a work-life balance. Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work Report (https://buffer.com/state-of-remote-work-2019) found that the biggest struggle remote workers face is unplugging from work. There are always going to be occasions when overtime is necessary. However, if you set and track your hours, you will be able to know where you’ve gone “over and above” and when you’re entitled to take back some time for yourself and your family.
Connect with the Office Regularly
Have a scheduled check-in at least once a week with your team or direct supervisor. And, preferably do it over the phone or video chat. Not only will this help establish priorities and keep things on track, but it helps maintain a professional relationship between people and not merely computers. Even if you can accomplish all of your tasks digitally, the real-time interaction will remind people of the human being behind the results. This becomes very important during promotions planning and budget salary increases. Further to this, it can also help alleviate the sense of loneliness the Buffer reports continually cites as a detriment to remote workers.
Have an Office
Even though you aren’t going into an office every day, carve out a space that will be where you do most of your work. By having a dedicated “space for work,” you tell your brain that when you sit here, it’s time to accomplish things and not merely surf the Internet. If you’re the sort of person that requires variety, choose a few places that meet this need. You could have a desk at home, a local coffee shop with great WiFi, and the library down the road. However, the bar you frequent with friends, or your couch in front of the TV are probably not great options for focusing on getting the job done.
Seek out Social Interactions
If most of your remote work is done strictly by interfacing with a laptop, it’s no wonder loneliness is continually cited as a top concern for remote workers. Along with scheduling your office hours, it’s vital as a remote worker that you plan your breaks. Find ways to include human interaction to your day regularly. Maybe it’s popping out to get a coffee instead of making it at home, taking your lunch down to the park, or going to the local business centre to do your printing instead of maintaining a printer of your own. Much as working in an office can provide too much distraction, it can also fulfill our innate need for social interaction. Make sure you don’t forget about this essential requirement.
Report in Regularly
If you are working on a project remotely, make sure you are providing regular updates on your progress. One of the best ways to do this efficiently is to create a “work-back” schedule. You can then report back to all stakeholders when listed tasks get accomplished. When you’re not physically in the office, it can be easy for others that are to forget about you, even if they are relying on your contributions. Remember the adage, out of sight, out of mind. Since you’re not there to be seen, make sure you keep on their radar regularly.
Go to the Office
For some remote employees, this is strictly not possible given their geographic location. However, if you’re not too far away, make an effort to schedule a day of meetings in the office at least once a month. Sure you could conduct these meeting over video chat, but having a day where you interact, in person, with the team can help build social ties that may prove useful when trying to move projects along as a remote worker. It also allows you to have facetime with your supervisor, which keeps you front of mind when it comes time for a raise or promotion.
Have an Office Buddy
If you’re working remotely for a company that still has a healthy office culture, be sure you have someone in the office who you can be your person on the inside. Chances are there is going to come a time when it would be easier to ask a direct question or when the people you need are not replying to their emails. In each of these cases, having someone at the office who you can call or text to get some person to person action initiated will be a huge help. It’s also a great way to keep up on what’s being said around the office.
Use a Digital Collaborative Tool
If you’re working for a company that is mostly remote or at least has been encouraging it for some time, you are likely already on Slack, Monday, or Asana and already enjoy the power of digital project management. If your company is newer to remote working, encourage them to investigate these options. Having a shared platform for monitoring tasks across teams is great for any company, but it can be huge for remote staff. Not only will everyone see what you’re accomplishing in real-time, but the whole team will also better be able to keep track of the goal.
Remote work is something that is just coming into its own. While it’s not going to go away, there are still some steep learning curves that are going to need to happen as we iron out the best way to make it work. As a remote worker, be flexible, make sure your efforts are visible, and always look for ways to make it easier on yourself and the team to do great things.