As a remote worker, you have far greater flexibility in where and when you work, what clothes you wear, and when you take a break. However, the freedom of being able to work from anywhere also comes with some loss of human connection. What may have once annoyed you – like your officemate’s habit of chewing on their pen or constantly tapping their foot – is also something that creates bonds. Without these bonds and other basic forms of human connection, we can often feel isolated when working solely on a screen.
Use a remote conferencing platform such as Zoom or Google Hangouts to create a virtual shared office with colleagues or friends. Keep it open in the background so you can check in with them or just say hi when you feel like it. If you’d prefer to limit non-work conversation to a designated time, schedule an extra period at the start or end of a video meeting, or a weekly meeting simply for catching up with your team. Use a communication platform such as Slack, and create a few channels for sharing cat memes or recipes, or expressing frustration or excitement. Just think of what unites people and create a Slack channel around that. Some larger organizations even schedule weekly online chats between employees from different teams, just so they can get to know one another and other parts of the company.
If you worked in an office prior to working remote, your schedule was likely determined by your office hours. Your workday probably started when you sat down at your desk and ended when you shut your laptop. Remote work means you can create your own schedule, but the increased flexibility and freedom can make it much harder to maintain.
Before you establish your schedule, identify your peak productivity times and embrace the flexibility you have. For some, this means starting at 7am and working until midday, while others feel more productive at night. If you create your work schedule around your regular habits and rhythms, it will be easier to maintain. If you feel most motivated and energized first thing in the morning, try and complete your most difficult tasks for the day during this time. If you feel lonely towards the end of the day or crave interaction, try and schedule meetings around this time.
When you have the freedom and flexibility to create your own schedule, it can be tempting to continue working well beyond the period that you’re actually productive. Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, says, “the more complex and creative jobs are, the less it makes sense to pay attention to hours at all.” Despite this, we still tend to feel obligated to work at least an eight-hour day, and when we’re working remote, it can be easy to go beyond this.
We’re at our most productive when we’re fully immersed in an activity. This is when we enter the physiological state of “flow,” a term coined by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975. You might also know it as “the zone.” Identify how many hours of flow you need per day in order to reach peak productivity. Cal Newport, best-selling author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, says, “three to four hours of continuous, undisturbed deep work each day is all it takes to see a transformational change in our productivity and our lives.”
The internet is teeming with tools to help you improve your productivity. One of the most tried and tested is the pomodoro technique, for which there are many tracking tools. There are also plenty available to track work time for teams and projects. Clockify is a simple time tracker and timesheet app that lets you and your team track work hours across projects.
Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated, private workspace at home or in a co-working space, which means many of us end up working at the dining table. This can lead to difficulties separating home life from work life, and also make it harder to minimize distractions.
If you do need to work in a space also used for non-work activities, make physical changes to the space to separate the two. When you’re working, maintain the same setup. Place your coffee mug and water glass in the same position, and ensure no non-work-related items or clutter are on the table. Maintaining consistency and minimizing physical distractions can help you reach flow state in your workspace. When you’ve finished for the day, clear the space entirely of your work gear and place it out of sight. To aid the shift to a recreational space, lay down a tablecloth or place a pot plant or vase of flowers in the middle. These minor changes may seem trivial, but they really can help you to switch off.
Working at home around other people, especially family, can make it difficult to maintain focus. In a home environment, family members will naturally want to speak to you at any time. Denying spontaneous conversation with them can be difficult, and could even lead to conflict or feelings of isolation, even though you’re not alone.
It doesn’t need to be as explicit as a “do not disturb” sign, but to maintain focus you’ll need to designate the times that you shouldn’t be interrupted. Gently communicate with your family about when you need to focus and when they need you to be available – some compromise to accommodate their needs might be necessary. If you’re working in a shared space, noise cancelling headphones help reduce distraction, and indicate to others that you shouldn’t be interrupted unless it’s urgent. If your partner also works remotely, sit down together at the start of the week and review your schedules to identify the blocks of time you can spend together.
A 2016 study conducted by dscout found that we touch our phones 2,617 times a day and check our email 74 times a day. Each time you switch your focus from one thing to another, you lose attention. Switching to a new topic requires you to refocus your attention, which takes time. This is called context switching, and it’s one of the biggest productivity killers.
Always learn what settings are available before you use a tool or app, and try to maintain complete control of your notification settings for all apps. Don’t just set and forget, but update them for different situations. If you’re working on something urgent, make sure notifications are audible or clearly noticeable, but if you’re heading away for the weekend and need to switch off, then switch them off too. If you’re an iPhone user, iOS15 gives the ability for you to set ‘focus modes’ in order to keep certain notifications on or blocked during specific times during your day.
Moreover, designate personal and professional communication channels. If you communicate with friends and family via WA, try to minimize its use for work purposes. If you only want to work to set hours throughout the day, let your colleagues know your schedule. If they contact you during your non-work hours, don’t set a precedent of responding. Set your own boundaries and walk within them.
While some prefer synchronous communication (communication that receives an instant response such as face-to-face conversation and instant messaging), others prefer asynchronous communication (communication for which you don’t expect an immediate response, such as email). Amir Salihefendic, Founder and CEO of Doist, says, “While I think remote work is the future, I believe that asynchronous communication is an even more important factor in team productivity, whether your team is remote or not.”
Learn your team members’ communication strengths and be open to both synchronous and asynchronous communication, but minimize the former. Salihefendic says that synchronous communication prioritizes being connected over being productive, creates unnecessary stress with the expectation of being constantly available, and leads to lower quality discussions and suboptimal solutions. Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, gives you greater control over your workday, results in high-quality communication rather than knee-jerk responses, better planning leading to less stress, automatic documentation and greater transparency, as well as time zone equality.
When you’re making the switch to remote work, it can take time getting used to having a meeting via a screen. Remember that easily preventable tech issues can quickly derail you and your colleagues’ focus.
Never underestimate good lighting and a good mic for video calls. Before you use your new mic for work, test it out during a Google Hangout with friends. For unreliable wifi connections, always ensure you have 4G data as a backup.
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