While remote working certainly comes with a lot of luxury in terms of being able to wake up later and avoid the daily commute, it also has a few downsides that can be hard to navigate. Keeping myself motivated and not feeling isolated have been my biggest challenges, so here are a few things I’ve been doing to be as productive and involved with my team as possible.
I’m part of the team that guides software makers through their job search journey at OfferZen, and have been working remotely for a few months now. When my husband was offered a great job opportunity in France, we made the decision to pack our bags and head off on a new adventure. While this was exciting, it was also scary in terms of the major adjustment I’d have to make working remotely, thousands of miles away from my team in Cape Town.
Over the months, I’ve learned a lot about what steps I need to take to really set myself up well. These include:
- Having a non-negotiable routine
- Setting up a space at home that’s similar to an office environment
- Establishing a virtual communication strategy with the team
- Removing all distractions
- Being smart about my eating habits
Here’s what that looks like in detail.
Be strict with how you structure your day
I found that it was important to set up a structured routine from day one of being remote. When you know that you don’t have to commute into work, sleeping in can be very tempting, but it comes with the risk of completely derailing your day. Here are some things I do to keep myself on track.
- I start my day almost as if I’m coming into the office: I get up at the same time and get changed into ‘real-world’ clothes. Small things like this help me get into the right mindset to get started.
- I stick to regular working hours: When you’re not physically leaving somewhere every day, it’s easy to stay at your desk longer than you normally would. However, to maintain a healthy work-life balance, I start at the same time that I’m used to and close my laptop when the clock strikes five.
- I take regular breaks: I do this at home by actively scheduling five minute breaks in my calendar. I do small things like make myself a cup of coffee, stretch, or play a game on my phone – anything to get me away from my computer screen and out of my chair.
- I leave my apartment at least once a day: Cabin fever is real! I’ve found that when I stay within the same four walls every day, it takes quite a toll on my mental health, so I use my longer break over lunch time to walk around the block and get some fresh air.
I’ve learned that not planning your time well can be very damaging. It is very easy to get sucked into work when you’re remote full-time, because you feel like you always need to be available and seen to be working. Take the time to halt this mentality in its tracks by setting up your calendar to prompt you when it’s time to start, pause and stop your tasks for the day.
Set up your workspace at home to be similar to the office environment you’re used to
I’ve made a point of carving out a place in my apartment that is dedicated solely to work. I’ve set up my laptop as well as a few things I used to have on my desk, like my favourite pot plant. Doing this works well to get me into work-mode when I sit down in the space every morning.
If you can, I’ve found that it’s really important to stick to working in the space that you set up.
While it might be tempting to work on the couch, your bed, or anywhere that you associate with ‘down-time’, I’ve found that it’ll not only affect your productivity but when you do want to call it a day, those relaxing places will continue to be ‘clouded’ with work and make switching off harder.
Establish a virtual communication strategy with your team
When I moved to France, not seeing my team every day proved to be the hardest part. The work that we do is often quite collaborative, so I knew that I’d have to find a way to ‘be in the room’ with them every day, or else risk getting lost and extremely lonely!
To make this easier, I started doing the following things:
- I asked my team lead to set up a Zoom room that was on all day: Being in the room with my team, albeit as a face on the screen, has really been a saving grace. Not only do I get to see everyone, but when I have a question, it’s easy for me to ask directly, without having to wait for someone to check Slack.
- I schedule coffee chats with the team: Taking a quick break to make coffee with my team was something I enjoyed most when I was in the office, so I made a point to schedule time in my teammates’ calendars to take a break, and take me on the laptop, to the kitchen and turn the kettle on. This gives us the chance to catch up and maintain a relationship that doesn’t solely revolve around work queries.
- I reach out to other team members who aren’t on my direct team: At OfferZen, the whole team gets together frequently to discuss where we’re at and let each other know of anything important that comes up. Working remotely means that it’s easy to get stuck in a much smaller bubble, so I make a point of calling or pinging people on other teams to find out what’s going on in their worlds.
As I mentioned before, I’ve found that there’s more pressure to be constantly available when you’re working remotely. To avoid letting this overwhelm me, I’ve agreed on the following things with my team:
- If I need some quiet time, I turn off the Zoom room’s video audio: Sometimes I need complete silence to work, and other times I want to listen to music for a little pick-me-up. The team can see when I’ve done this, and if anyone needs me urgently, they send me a message on Slack to get my attention.
- I’m visible about when I’m available and when I’m not: I try to be pretty vocal on our team’s Slack channel about when I’m taking a break or doing a chore. I also make a point to schedule everything in my calendar so anyone can see where I am.
Disappearing without giving your team a heads up can be frustrating, and maybe even lead to trust issues, so I’ve been strict with myself about maintaining clear communication lines.
Remove all distractions
Being at home means that you’re constantly surrounded by distractions, like your bed, the TV and even household chores, like the laundry. However, I’ve found that if you’re going to be productive, you need to distance yourself from these things as far as possible. This is where working in a designated spot and making specific time for tasks in your calendar is key.
Another thing that I’ve struggled with is social media. It’s so easy to access on both my phone and my laptop, so I’ve started using apps like SelfControl to block my access to distracting websites, like Facebook.
Be smart about eating habits
I’ve found that this is another major challenge that comes with working from home. While you might think that this wouldn’t be a problem because you have constant access to your fridge, I’ve found that this isn’t the case at all.
- Meal planning is a thing: If you don’t plan this in advance, it’s highly likely that you’ll have nothing for lunch. I either buy ‘lunchtime’ food like salads or sandwiches, so that I have something light at hand, or I make sure to cook enough food at night to have leftovers.
- Have healthy snacks available: At OfferZen, there are always healthy snacks like nuts and fruit available. Going upstairs to grab some fruit was part of my daily routine, so I’ve made sure that I can keep that going by always having fruit in my fridge. This helps me keep up a routine that I’m used to, and helps me curb junk food cravings.
- Drink enough water! In the office, there was a water dispenser that made getting cold water easy. Now that I’m at home, I have to be super diligent about making sure I drink enough. I’ve started using a bottle that I only have to fill up twice a day to know that I’m getting my two litres in.
Getting used to working remotely has certainly been a learning experience for me. I’ve done a lot of reading on how other people do it and have found these articles to be particularly helpful:
- 5 Habits for Crafting the Perfect Remote Work Day – Ambition & Balance by Doist
- 13 Home Office Upgrades You Need If You Work Remotely – Ambition & Balance by Doist
- Remote Work: Lessons Learned Building the Workplace of the Future – Ambition & Balance by Doist
- Remote Work Guides – Twist
- The Future of Work: The Guide to Remote Work – Twist
- Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive – Ambition & Balance by Doist
- How to Build Trust in the Remote “Workplace” – Ambition & Balance by Doist
- The Best Advice For Remote Work Success From 10 Global Teams – Trello
- What I learned in my first month of working remotely – Nicole Friesen
- 12 Steps to Establish a Connection Between Remote Workers & Your Company – ProofHub Blog
- I’m the only remote employee on an in-person team – The Predictive Index
- How To Be The Remote Employee That Proves The Stereotypes Aren’t True – Trello
- How to transition from being an in-office to a remote programmer – freecodecamp
- Remote Work FAQ – Remote-How
- How to Transition an Office-Based Company to Become Remote-Based – Remoters