Remote work is the future of business—and it’s happening now. While it provides tremendous opportunities for companies to scale, it lends even more opportunity for remote workers to build the career they never thought possible. You know, the one working from a comfy living room chair or a favorite coffee shop while still doing meaningful work.
What’s the secret to thriving as a remote worker? Connectedness—but not just to your colleagues.
Here are five practical steps you can take to improve your remote working experience (or your team’s). They come from the better part of a decade I’ve spent managing over 100 highly-skilled remote employees in 17 U.S. states and seven countries.
1. Understand the emotional dynamics of not being with people
While there is a slew of killer apps to stay in communication when working remote, collaboration software alone doesn’t solve connection problems. You are alone—no matter how good your communication or video conferencing is.
Regardless of what we think, humans need social connections and support to be at their best. Ready for this? A study in Science found that a lack of social connectedness is more harmful to health than obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure.
Here’s a good rule of thumb for remote workers who want to thrive: if you can’t give someone a real hug every day, you need more people to be socially connected to.
(Hint: dogs also count!)
2. Stay grateful for what you have
Being in charge of your place and space is a beautiful privilege. So is the flexibility of working from anywhere that makes remote work so attractive in the first place. However, like anything, when you do something every day it’s easy to forget why it’s so great.
It may sound counterintuitive, but you can stay grateful by doing some of the things you hated about your job before working remotely.
Did you ditch an awful, mind-numbing commute? Retrace those miles by driving or taking public transport again! It’ll make you instantly grateful for the 10-second commute to your living room every morning.
Is your new remote work culture positive while your old boss was a jerk? Take a play out of former Campbell Soup CEO’s playbook (who’s hand-written 30,000 thank you notes to his employees), and send a note of thanks to your colleagues… You know, with a real pen and paper.
As simple as it sounds, staying grateful for what you love about remote work will make you more efficient, productive, and happy.
3. Set boundaries and keep work stress outside of your home
To keep a healthy work-life balance, create an end-of-day ritual to make a clean break from “work” and transition to “life.” While it’s tough for most everyone to leave work at the office, kitchen counters often double as conference tables for remote workers.
This makes it easy for stress to press into your life. Here are a few dead-simple rituals to help you flip the “off switch” on work:
- Change your clothes. This is a signal for your brain to reset and take off the metaphorical (or literal) work hat.
- Take a bath or shower to wash the work away. This simple action can act as a mental and emotional palette cleanser. It’s a clean break from the daily work grind.
- Leave your baggage at the office. I heard the story of a CEO of a large company who wore an empty backpack into work each day. When he arrived in his office, he picked up two large rocks from the floor and dropped them in his backpack. Then, at the end of the day, he took them out, strapped on the once-again-empty backpack, and went home.
This action, like the others suggested, reminded him to leave the weight of work at the office rather than carrying it home.
Whether you create a ritual as literal as that CEO’s, or as simple as a wardrobe change, setting boundaries between work-time and life-time will help you thrive by giving you a chance to rest.
4. Unplug electronically to truly be “OOO”
As a remote worker, you’re plugged into tons of electronic devices and apps all day. At every moment, you’ve got Slack chiming, emails dinging, a phone buzzing, and Zoom ringing.
The problem is just because you’re ready to stop working for the day doesn’t mean the incoming communication stops. This is especially true if you’re a leader.
In fact, if you don’t do this – remote work has the potential to do just the opposite of what you intended it to be — it will be so stressful you might wish you were back in the office with a regular schedule!
So, set proper working hours to put a true “out of office” sign on your virtual office door. This is especially important when you work in different timezones. Set boundaries and say when you are available and when you’re not.
Don’t try to work 24/7. Set the expectations of when you’re reachable and when you’re not.
5. Speak up—because no one knows how you’re doing except for you
When you’re in the office, people can read your mood. They can hear you huffing and puffing, see the bags under your eyes, and ask you what’s up. But when you’re remote, you don’t have that. No matter how much emotional intelligence they have, your colleagues don’t know what’s happening in your life—or even what you look like!
So, tell them.
To thrive in a remote environment, it’s our responsibility to speak up and express when we’re having a rough time. This has the added benefit of creating real connections. So, to be at your best, you must be well mentally and able to express yourself.
For example, one individual I worked with remotely felt like she was working extremely hard, but was going unrecognized and underappreciated. So, I told her to speak up! People can’t read minds in person—they certainly can’t read them remotely.
This communication skill is so important when your team is not together in an office. As a remote worker, you must be emotionally mature and proactive. Look after your wellness by speaking up when you’re having a tough time.
Start thriving in the new era of work
All of these things look easy on paper, but it takes a special kind of person to have the discipline and courage to break with a traditional 9-to-5 and work remotely. When done successfully, though, your wellbeing and value as a remote employee will grow exponentially.
This is the future of work.
Say goodbye to those long commutes, clocking butt-in-seat time, and spending your best hours away from family and start thriving in the new era of remote work.