Working remotely is something I’ve been doing for a while and I always found myself to be more productive, not to mention the inherent satisfaction of investing time in things more significant than commuting every day to work.
Still, despite generally enjoying this type of work, the perks I got from working from home didn’t come for free and there are some unique quirks to it. With the sharp increase in the number of remote workers to tackle the ongoing health situation we’re living, I wanted to discuss some of the quirks I faced as a remote worker and share tips on how to avoid them.
I split the issues into three major categories: Communication, work-life balance and staying focused. Good communication is the most important by far in my opinion, as it can help offset the problems we’ll go through and an array of others.
Communication is one of the areas that are the likeliest to be impaired when working remotely or interacting with remote workers. However, a few key practices can help remote teams maintain broad and clear communication channels that can be used to tune the entire working process towards increased efficiency. That is to say, good communication can help iron out other quirks.
The first pitfall for remote workers is not enough communication. When moving away from the office, a good deal may be lost in ways of exchanging information we take for granted. We can think of it as a fog of war. When working remotely, everything you and your coworkers do is more implicit and harder to realize.
The best way to tackle this issue is to assume that there is no such thing as over-communication with remote workers. The goal is to share as much and as publicly as possible. This will help the team to offset the unpredictabilities caused by the loss of visibility. As a rule of thumb, when in doubt if something should be shared with the team in your main communication channel, prefer to miss by excess than by lack of information.
This is another pitfall that is harder to happen in an office. Remote workers can accidentally make themselves hard to find and it may result in the impairment of a co-worker’s routine and in grinding some processes of given jobs to a halt altogether. To avoid this, the goal is to try to make yourself easily discoverable.
Try to share as much and as clearly as possible when you’re becoming unavailable. Good examples would be at lunchtime, breaks and meetings. Maintaining an up-to-date calendar can also help give your peers the visibility of your availability. For some teams, hanging around in a communal video-call room can also help promote the immediate discoverability of team members. Lastly, be mindful of making yourself discoverable by having notifications enabled on your communication channels and remember to turn them back on if you need to mute them to focus on something for a while.
In an office, if you need to discuss anything with an unresponsive co-worker, there’s always the possibility of simply walking to their desk and tapping them on the shoulder. For remote workers, this particular quirk can be quite harder than that.
A good way to start the search for an unresponsive coworker is checking their calendar or asking other team members. If your team has developed a culture that promotes open communication, chances are that others might help you connect with the person you’re looking for. Also, be mindful and respectful of your peers’ privacy and availability. If the colleague you’re after notified their absence or unavailability, choosing an asynchronous way of communication that can be checked once they’re back is probably the way to go.
This is a common pitfall that afflicts remote workers. So far, we talked about communicating often, clearly and broadly. It can lead to situations in which meetings start multiplying and emails piling up.
When you share information with your team members, be mindful of the best communication channel to do so. A good rule of thumb is to go bottom-up, selecting less intrusive and asynchronous channels, such as messaging platforms by default, and deciding on more formal, synchronous channels, such as video-chat platforms, as needed. Some meetings could well fit in a well written short message sent to the team’s channel.
Remote-workers should be aware of their work-life balance. At first, it might sound no different than the usual covered topics regarding office-based workers but there are some peculiarities to home-based professionals that should be minded.
This is a common quirk for remote workers. Companies usually invest a good deal of money and time in optimizing their office spaces. That is not something easily achievable while working from home.
Ideally, try to find a quiet room in your house where you can work uninterruptedly. It might be tempting to work in a more lively space where there are other people, but noise and frequent interruptions can impact your workflow negatively. Also, try to make it clear to other household members that you’re unavailable during your work hours. Friends or family members can mistake your presence in the house and needlessly interrupt you. Working behind closed doors or using headphones can help create a work-focused space in your home.
When working from home, time-consuming commuting is transformed into just a few steps into whenever your computer is. It can be tempting to overwork yourself or mix work and personal schedules.
Consider having a fixed schedule the way you would when commuting daily to the office. Try to get ready as usual in the morning and consider investing the extra time you got by not having to commute to take care of yourself and your family. More importantly, try to establish boundaries and use the time allocated to work to deal with work-related tasks and personal time to do personal activities. You usually wouldn’t stop a family movie session at 09:00 PM to go to the office; there’s no reason to do the same in your home office.
Maintaining focus can be more challenging for remote workers than for their office-based counterparts. I chose three key quirks and pitfalls in this area that I experienced during my career as a remote worker and a few tips to avoid suffering from them.
When you work in your own house, some factors might make the work path ahead of you not as clear as when you work alongside your colleagues in an office, where it is possible to follow the flow and dynamics set by your colleagues. Maintaining an organized work routine can help you offset that effect.
The general approach is to keep track of your activities, have a clear vision of what’s ahead of you and of any possible blockers. Also, communicate immediately with your team if you can’t establish your next steps for the day. Finally, remember to take breaks as if you were in an office because it’s easy to become a bit too absorbed while working from home.
That’s a common pitfall that might arise for remote workers. Several things might block you from doing your work: from a faulty computer to a missing piece of information that another colleague is holding.
If you’re blocked, make it your priority to fix it. The best approach is to make your team aware of your blocker and work with them to improve the situation. If a co-worker is blocked, consider helping to unblock them. Since it may take some time to remove blockers, once the situation is under control, consider pairing with and assisting your teammates to avoid becoming idle once your situation is dealt with.
In this article, I discussed some of the quirks and pitfalls I’ve faced as a remote worker and shared some tips on how to deal with them. For the most part, I’ve been enjoying this type of work thoroughly here, at Pipefy, and I’m fond of the extra time and liberty it provides me. If you’re considering moving to a remote-based position or if you’re working remotely due to the coronavirus outbreak, I hope my experience can help you make the best of this experience.
Thankfully, Pipefy is a complete tool that helps your team to keep control of your work even remotely.