People who work in a conventional office set-up often get the impression that working from home is the bee’s knees – and the reasons they cite are usually fairly uniform. You get to work at a schedule that suits you. There’s no need to commute. It’s not a requirement, when you’re alone, to get into your office clothes.
A lot of these points are true, and there is a quiet sense of freedom when you don’t have to haul yourself to the office every morning. However, working from home – or working remotely if not from home – brings its challenges. Challenges that those with no experience of it might not even see as challenges.
Inspired by a piece by Aimée Lutkin, I wanted to share my thoughts on how best to overcome these challenges. We’ve already talked about the benefits for your business of encouraging remote work, one of which is that people are often a lot more productive. Yet, it’s time to look at the other side of this. And it’s time to say to every to remote worker: I feel your pain, but it’s okay!
One of the main concerns around remote work – particularly when you are working from home – is that the line between work and not-work becomes a little blurred. To put it more straightforwardly, a lot of people don’t know when to stop working.
With emails and work chat coming straight into your pocket these days – at all hours of the day – there can be a lot pressure to respond immediately. This is particularly difficult when the people you work with are based in a different time-zone. They are not obliged to respect your working hours if they have stuff to do, so you need to respect your own.
This means being very clear with yourself about the hours in which you are working and the hours in which you are not. You will simply not perform well, and you will not feel well, if you work excessive hours. And when you are, in effect, sleeping in your workspace, it’s difficult to know when enough is enough.
So be willing and able to leave emails until the next day – for the sake of your health, productivity, and everything that is not work.
Being at home all day can be lonely. Whilst people might see going into the office as a burden, the benefit – which often goes unnoticed – is that there are other people there. The workplace is full of people who you can get to know, bounce ideas off, laugh with, and, simply, talk to. This just isn’t a given when you are working from home.
So, when working remotely, the onus is again on you to ensure that you keep in company. This means with the people with whom you work, with friends, and with anyone else. Just going outside and talking to someone can nip in the bud that little bit of loneliness.
And beyond your mood and mental health, it’s good to keep up with what your colleagues or employees are doing. So, ask them! Otherwise, the risk is that you can become a little isolated in a task of which you don’t know the larger picture.
A lot of people can feel that working from home can be just a little bit distracting. And whilst the glamorous image of freelance work is that centred on the young professional with a Mac working in a café, I’ve never found coffee shops to be ideal places to work (not least for the caffeine addiction that a day’s worth of coffee will give you).
So, find somewhere that works for you. If you can trust yourself to work from home, have a dedicated space for work that doesn’t seep too much into your non-working life (a proper study is much better than the kitchen table, for example). If not, you could check out local co-working spaces, where you can rent a desk alongside other people working remotely too!
Finally, working remotely means missing out on two further things.
Firstly, this is the ability to ask for advice whenever you need it, or to clarify immediately the task at hand. As Sean Blanda, director of InvisionApp, writes, “The WORST outcome for a remote worker isn’t doing bad work. It’s doing the WRONG work”. The only way to avoid this is to do something that might make you feel like you’re making a nuisance of yourself. That’s checking in regularly.
Secondly, you don’t receive what office workers might often take for granted. There are no throwaway congratulations, thank yous, well dones, or rewards to make you remember that you are doing a good job. This can often make remote workers feel a little underappreciated. So, remember, you need to have ‘champagne moments’ yourself and reward yourself for a job well done.