Historically, I’ve worked in an office setting where I grew familiar interacting with people and co-workers face-to-face. Having spent the bulk of my adult life working in offices and among other people, I grew accustomed to the luxury of dropping in on co-workers, chatting at the coffee machine, and walking down the hall to ask a co-worker a quick question. The casual drop-ins became the norm for me and my co-workers, and it was a critical part of how we worked together and created a strong and positive work culture.
As I became more of a home-based worker, I was concerned that I would feel isolated, have limited access resources, or lose that fun work culture. For many, it’s normal to be nervous about big changes in our work life, since for most of us, it’s more than just our profession—it’s how we spend 40+ hours a week. As I transitioned to working remotely, I had the means to communicate with my co-workers, but the question was whether it would be sufficient to replace what I had become accustomed to over many years of in-office work. With that question in mind, let me share four surprising things I learned over these years as a remote worker.
1. Workspace is Important
Having a dedicated office space gives you some focus, clarity, and a place to call work. I know a lot of people are just fine working from their dining-room table or kitchen counter—and, at times, I do that, too. However, my office space gives me the opportunity to have all of my resources at my fingertips and provides a delineation between home and work. This can be particularly important if you have kids and need to create boundaries in your house, especially now that many schools have closed.
I also happen to have a some high-tech video equipment and a professional backdrop for video meetings that allows me to host in a more professional setting when needed. In my office, I have all of my tools right at my fingertips, and I can easily get into a good work groove that allows me to focus on getting things done. Incoming video calls are like drop-ins for me, and I manage those just as I did for so many years before, when people stopped by my office. My office is where I am clear on what I expect to accomplish. I set daily goals for myself, and I know when I sit in my cushy work chair, I’m locked into my day.
2. Stay Active and Focused
Stretching my legs and leaving the room mimics what I used to do in the office, and it doesn’t have to forsake socializing. I like walking to the kitchen for refills, grabbing the mail, or taking a few breaks to check the chemicals in my pool. I also like leaving the office for a snack or lunch—and sometime that means leaving the house for lunch, as well! When I’m on the phone, I like to stand up, pace, and process all at once. I use hands-free headphones, so I can walk to the mailbox, up and down the stairs, and outside and around the entire house. This allows for productivity while getting in some physical activities. Sitting in a chair all day is monotonous and unhealthy. I think it’s important to develop a good balance and routine in your new remote working life. The lesson learned is that moving around and incorporating light exercise during the day is helpful in keeping your mind and body fresh, allowing you to be able to think clearly and continue to be productive.
3. Embracing and Avoiding Distractions
Personally, I have never had an issue staying focused on the work at hand, but I realize that may not be the case for everyone. Through conversations, I have found that people who are more easily distracted by non-work responsibilities get distracted because they are bored or need a change of scenery. On a sunny day, I can easily take my laptop to the back deck and work just as effectively as I can in my office. Occasionally, I can even take video calls from the sunroom, which is a nice benefit to working from home. I can work through substantial lists of contacts that I need to make when my other daily routine delivers unexpected downtime.
Distractions can be good and bad. It’s a balance we have to find between staying fresh and maintaining a long-term focus with daily objectives at all times. The key is to stay focused on your daily goals, but make sure you’re also taking the right amount of breaks during the day.
4. Video, Video, Video!
I travel a lot more than most people. In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to be in two states on the same day, with multiple appointments via video. However, with the recent COVID-19 travel concerns, that’s come to a screeching halt. Last week, I was just as busy—but I did it all from my home office. The flexibility allows me to quickly adapt to changes in schedules no matter where I’m located. In fact, my “home office” was in Philadelphia last week and in Michigan this week.
I definitely benefit by working for a company that values remote workers a great deal, and empowers each of us with high-quality, on-demand video collaboration. It may seem simple, but good video is an invaluable tool in the workplace. It not only allows for tremendous work flexibility, but it helps develop and foster camaraderie in the workplace. This can take time as companies adapt, but once people have the right tools and work teams begin to embrace this change, this creates a new work culture similar to when I was able to drop by someone’s office. In fact, with newer tools like video, messaging, chat, and document sharing, there are more ways than ever to connect with people and resources in your company. In fact, over time, I’ve found this to be a far more productive way of working and communicating. I believe that video is the key that changes the experience.
Needless to say, I have acclimated to remote work quite effectively over the years. I am fortunate to have the flexibility that I do in my work. If you’re one of the many people now finding yourself working remotely for the first time, take heart! I hope you can apply the lessons that have surprised and benefited me. It is entirely possible to be engaged, happy, productive, and effective in a remote environment. Even those of us who like face-to-face interaction can thrive remotely, with the right tools. Just remember to stretch your legs and walk away sometimes—it’ll help you maintain the focus needed to accomplish your daily tasks.
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