There are the friends that envy the "easy" money you make working from your couch in pajamas to the family members that encourage you to get a "real" job, even the random stranger on the train that feels compelled to provide advice...everybody seems to have their own idea about telecommuting or remote work.
Don't get me wrong, it has some unique challenges, like communicating effectively with headquarters, maintaining a tie to the corporate culture, getting proper feedback on ideas and shaking that feeling of isolation.
I've faced similar obstacles in my years working remotely from Boston (and managed to keep myself from talking to inanimate objects. Just the dog, and he's a great listener!). Let me share a few tips for becoming a successful remote worker:
1. Practice your phone skills. Because of your status as the remote employee, you're likely also the "person on the phone" and people can (and will) forget you are present unless you assert yourself. And without the added benefit of reading body language, it's often difficult to know when to interject. Bonus points if you use video chat!
- Take advantage of actually listening to what people say, make notes and then follow up with them 1:1
- Interjections from the "person on the phone" can annoy the meeting attendees in the room, so instead write down your best thoughts and wait for a natural break in the conversation. Then you can break in and share all your feedback or commentary as one thread. Also, don't forget to identify yourself each time as the speaker. It could be difficult for people to identify your voice.
- For any meetings that you're running, make sure that you start and end on time, have a clear agenda and allocate time for participants to give feedback or ask questions. End by recounting deliverables and follow up on email so everyone clearly understands what actions they own. In reality, live meetings can be a major productivity drain--so lead by example and prove that a well-run conference call can be beneficial to project management.
2. Visit HQ often to get your "face in the place." Reinforce your virtual presence with your actual personality and humanness. Pack your calendar with meetings, including a lot of "grab coffee and catch up" types and plan dinner or drinks with key influences and ALWAYS meet live with your boss. Being in the office reinforces everything you do virtually! (Because I'm sure you're kick-ass!) Plus, it gives you the opportunity to reconnect with the bigger picture, learn about upcoming company news, chat about new features with colleagues and chat around the water cooler.
3. Consistency is key. Yes, it's extremely tempting to spend the whole day in your pajamas, but many studies show that people who dress in appropriate work attire are more productive and happier. So please, wear pants during that important conference call Monday morning. Also, working from home is not a free ticket to sleep in. You need to set regular working hours. On the flip side, try to power down at a regular hour, too. Just because you're remote, doesn't mean you're on-call. It's great that you care about your job (and I know there's always more work to do), but it's very important to maintain a routine, both for the quality of your work and for your long-term health.
When done correctly, remote working can be a win-win for the employee and employer. For me, its all the hours per day that I'm saving in commute alone that translates to thousands of hours gained for time with family, friends and personal interests. Because there aren't nearly enough hours in the day to whip up a nice meal for you + your loved ones and binge-watching re-runs of Breaking Bad.
What advice would you give to someone who has recently started working remotely?