Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in October 2012 while I lived in New York and juggled three jobs. Along with working at a restaurant and a news agency on nights and weekends, I spent my weekdays commuting from Brooklyn to a media company in Manhattan. When the hurricane made landfall, it crippled the city’s public transportation system for weeks, leaving me all but severed from office headquarters.
More than 8.1 million people in the region were without electricity in the days that followed. Yet in my Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment we had power, internet, and plumbing. This fortune came with another price: Those of us who were able to worked remotely.
In the calm days following the storm, I woke up each morning, rolled across my sheets, reached for my laptop, logged into various tools — Google Chat, Basecamp, Trello — and got to work. My roommate would bring me coffee from the bodega, and I would not leave my bed until my shift ended (eight hours later), around which time I would shower and hike to a nearby bar for dinner. As the city fought to restore power, there was a candlelight afterglow wherever I walked. That first week I told myself, “I could get used to this.”
Then things soured. I began to loathe working remotely. I felt unkempt and dirty, lonely and disconnected, malnourished and unhealthy. Turns out in my hasty jump into remote work, I had fallen for the most common pitfalls. More than five years later, I’m now a regular from-afar employee — whether it be from an apartment in Brooklyn, a cabin in upstate New York, or my tiny home in Maine — and I can comfortably and productively contribute a solid day’s work from almost anywhere.
There are many things that contribute to becoming a successful work-from-home employee. As more companies across nearly every industry accommodate an increasing number of employees wishing to forego the morning commute and office pantry footfall, remote work has become an increasingly easy and breathlessly viable option for many who seek it.Continue reading the main story
Here is a modest guide to becoming a successful remote employee, a culmination of what I’ve learned along the way.
Get Dressed for the Day
Don’t wake up to the blue hue of your smartphone and immediately start working. Place it across the room, or better yet, in an adjacent one, and force yourself up and out of bed to turn off your alarm each morning. When the alarm does go off, get up and prepare for your day as you would for an office job: take a shower, and get dressed.
Business attire is (obviously) not required, but act as though you will be interacting with colleagues in person. After all, you never know when they may want to video chat, and you don’t want to beg off because you look unkempt or aren’t wearing a shirt.
This also sets the tempo for the day and discourages the sleepy notion that, perhaps, just maybe, you can crawl back into bed for a nap around lunch — although there’s something to be said for workday naps.
Don’t Sleep Where You Work
Whether it’s a rented office space or a den converted into a home office or a cabin in the woods for that matter, find a space away from your bedroom to work. (Then again, F. Scott Fitzgerald did most of his work while lying in bed). Worst case, toss your laptop in your bag, grab a pair of headphones and head to a local coffee shop that has Wi-Fi or even a quiet spot at your local library to set up shop and get things done. Just be courteous if you plan to make a public space your office — be sure that coffee shop is O.K. with people working there for long hours, and make your all-day presence at one of their tables worthwhile by buying food and drinks.
“Set up an area that is for work,” said Chris Heinonen, a staff writer at Wirecutter, a New York Times company where a majority of writers and editors work from home. “I have an office, but I’ve set up a corner of my bedroom in the past, as long as it is a work area.”
If you find your apartment too cramped or if the thought of working at a loud cafe or taking calls in a whisper-quiet public library is unbearable, there are plenty of co-working spaces to be found. Services like ShareDesk, WeWork or Croissant help you rent an office space and sit among freelancers and other professionals, maybe making some new friends or even taking advantage of a stocked pantry or kitchen. If you have the cash, you can even have a quiet executive-style office to yourself. Smaller co-working spaces that cater to locals and neighborhoods are a great (and often more affordable) option as well. Just visit Google Maps and search “co-working spaces near” and add your town name to see what’s available around you.
Set Yourself Up
Before divorcing completely from the office, check with your corporate IT department and your manager to see if you are equipped with the programs and applications necessary to work remotely. Security first: if you connect to your company’s internal systems or email through a Virtual Private Network or other secure tunnel, make sure you’ve tested it and that it functions from where you plan to work. Also, have a backup plan in the event your connection experiences disruptions.
The same advice applies to internet connectivity. I make sure that if the wireless internet in my home office fails, I can still connect seamlessly through my smartphone, set up as a Wi-Fi hot spot. To do this, make sure you have the right wireless plan, especially if you handle large files. You don’t want to get hit with hefty overage fees on your cell bill just because you worked from home. Similarly, your company may provide special equipment for remote employees or pay for their mobile phone or internet service. Check with your IT or human resources department to see how they can help.
Also, make sure your workspace is set up with everything you need: a comfortable chair, any special tools you need and even a phone or headset. Wirecutter has a great rundown of the best gear you need for a home office here.
The ability to communicate quickly and reliably is the most priceless attribute a remote employee needs to succeed. Update your manager or boss frequently. Most offices use some group chat service, like Slack, to communicate with each other during the day, and tools like Google Hangouts or Skype for video calls and meetings. Make sure they’re installed and you know how to use them, and make your presence known to your colleagues (especially your boss) when you are available and working.
Find out which of those platforms are the most convenient for the people with whom you frequently communicate. If you’re not working and are out on a walk or a lunch date, don’t ignore that message from a co-worker seeking clarification or assistance. Follow up, and be sure that while you are on the clock, you remain as available as if you were seated right beside them, even if it’s just to say “I’m away from my desk, but I’ll let you know as soon as I’m back.”
Get Into Your Groove
Set goals. Make a list of things that need to be tackled today, this week, and this month.
“Having a consistent schedule and being kind of strict about it is really useful for drawing outlines around your time so that you can keep things balanced for both work and play,” said Jacqui Cheng, editor-in-chief of Wirecutter, and someone who’s worked from home full-time or close to full-time for over 12 years.
Follow the S.M.A.R.T. goal approach: Make sure your to-do list for the day includes tasks that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Friends who work from home have long touted Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro productivity technique as an effective way to tackle a goal, or even longer projects, by helping you stay focused for 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks in between. Tackle one task within the 25 minutes? Move on to the next. The TomatoTimer web application is a simple timer that can help you get started and stay focused.
Plan Against Distractions
Block out disturbances. Set (and enforce) boundaries if you’re working at home by explaining to family members or children that your work area is off limits, and they should avoid interrupting unless it’s important. Set aside time and breaks to spend with them, so they don’t feel entitled to your working time.
Perhaps more nefarious, however, are the social media streams that steal our time. Apps available for Google Chrome, such as StayFocusd, allot a specific amount of time per day on select websites (like Facebook or Twitter) before rendering those sites inaccessible for the remainder of the day. Other web apps like Strict Workflow, which is similar to the TomatoTimer, are worth checking out as well.
There are similar tools available for other web browsers and even mobile devices, just don’t spend more time installing and updating apps to keep you focused than you spend on focused work.
Find time to go for short walks to help inspire productivity and creativity. One of the blessings of working remotely is the opportunity to live a more active lifestyle instead of being deskbound, but it’s important to make activity a habit. Otherwise you’ll fall into the inertia of sitting at your desk all day and never leaving the house at night.
Kevin Purdy, a staff writer at Wirecutter who has worked from home full-time for roughly a decade and is a partner in a the Buffalo, N.Y. coworking space CoworkBuffalo, calls it a “knitting circle.”
“Have a regularly scheduled social meeting: pre-work coffee, lunch with a friend or group of friends,” he said. “It helps you feel like you have a regular schedule, gives you some outside inspiration, and if nothing else, it enforces the Wear Pants rule at least once or twice a week.”
It’s important to socialize to combat the inherent loneliness and isolation you’ll feel while out of a traditional office setting. I’ve found that chatting with the owner of my corner store or other local establishment gives my days a light, communal routine, similar to what I would get in an office environment.
If you are more secluded, brisk bike rides or short hikes elevate endorphins and sharpen focus the same as a quick tour of your neighborhood. Worst case, make plans to get out of the house with family or friends when the workday is over.
When You’re Off Work, Separate Entirely
Separating your technology from the place where you come to recharge and disconnect at the end of the day is invaluable to the discipline needed for working remotely. Just as you should wake up in a room absent of technology, you should do the same once you’ve completed a day’s worth of work. When you log off for the day, log off. Close your work chat programs and emails and consider yourself “out for the day,” and “home now.”
Trying to mix work and free time runs the danger of never quite powering down or shutting off, and can lead to burnout and depression from feeling like you’re always on and available. To boot, your friends and family miss out on the time you would spend with them if you worked in an office instead of at home. Make sure to enforce your boundaries.
Play with your dog or cat or goldfish and relish the fact that you work from home! Not everyone can. After all, if you get tired of it or dislike it, you can always go back to the office.Continue reading the main story