11 Ways to Be Totally Awesome at Remote Work
How and where we work is extremely important.
In the modern age of knowledge workers, the question of where and how we work has become...complicated.
Why the complication?
Two words: Remote work.
Some people are all in favor of remote work. Like this guy.
Some people, on the other hand, are against remote work. Like Marissa Mayer.
She took flak for forbidding Yahoo employees to work from home. Many people called her decision an “epic policy failure,” but others called it “smart.”
You see what I mean about “super important” and “complicated”?
Like it or not, remote work is here to stay. As long as there are knowledge workers, WiFi, and the interwebz, people will be working from Starbucks, basements, living rooms, and Tahitian beaches.
[Enter obligatory stock photograph of someone actually (not really) working at the beach, because seriously, who would?]
I provide this rambling introduction about the friends and foes of remote work to make a point: If you are going to work remote, you need to be awesome at it.
Those who are in favor of remote work are asked to prove the merits of their decision. It’s the whole guilty-until-proven-innocent thing. You must somehow demonstrate that remote working is superior, enabling you to be more productive, creative, talented, and better looking than your cubicle-dwelling counterparts.
This article is going to show you how to do just that.
(Minus the better looking thing. Good luck with that.)
1. Find a dedicated spot to work.
Remote work is a pretty common thing. Not surprisingly, several businesses are capitalizing on the rise of the remote class. What does this mean for you?
- If you leave near a mid-sized or large city, you can find a nice office or coworking space to work.
- If you don’t live near a mid-sized or large city, maybe you can build yourself a shed or something. My brother-in-law actually built a very nice shed in his backyard that functions as a classy but tiny office.
Why is it important to have a dedicated spot to work?
It helps to create boundaries between home and work, because home tasks can easily invade work tasks, and vice versa. Though we may never achieve that elusive “work/life balance,” we can at least give our work tasks and working hours their own location.
A dedicated work spot gives you the control you need to make your working space work for you. Rather than negotiating with kitchen table clutter or moving aside your kids’ crayons to sit down at your desk, you’re able to arrange file folders, white boards, printers, and other paraphernalia to improve your workflow.
Productivity is another perk. Somehow, the physical space of a dedicated work location enables you to zone in on the tasks at hand.
To find or rent an office near you, Google “remote office center” and your city name.
My smallish city in South Carolina has plenty of such locations. The map image below shows only three dots, but there are many more coworking and collaborative office spaces in the area.
I personally rent an office from Regus, which has multiple office spaces worldwide. I liked their pre-furnished option, worldwide locations (I like to travel), and proximity to my home.
2. Find an enclosed location.
Enclosure is a second aspect of remote work that will really help you out.
What do I mean by enclosure? I mean an office with walls.
The benefits, according to Lifehack, are privacy, quietness, and additional space. I would add that personalization is a key part of having an enclosed office space.
Lifehack’s research indicates that “workers in enclosed offices are the happiest, reporting the least amount of frustration.”
Sounds like a great way to get your remote work groove on.
3. Get a chair worthy of your butt.
Your chair matters to your overall work.
There are two schools of thought on the whole sitting thing:
- Sit and work.
- Stand and work.
Some people have a lot of negative things to say about sitting — like the fact that it’s killing you.
Their arguments can be pretty scary.
To circumvent the life-sucking qualities of sitting down, you can buy a standing desk.
If you’re hardcore, you can buy a walking desk.
My friend gets in about ten miles a day on his walking desk.
Research indicates that your risk for back pain is high whether you sit all day or stand all day. The solution? Do both.
I usually sit in the morning and stand in the afternoon.
Either way, buy a good chair. You aren’t saving money by using the ratty, worn-out, foam-vomiting office chair that you snagged at a yard sale for five bucks.
An uncomfortable chair will wreck your body and ruin your productivity. As the standing champion Bill Carmody wrote, “cheap is expensive” when it comes to chairs. (That article, by the way, is worth the five-minute read.)
Nice chairs can cost a few hundred bucks, and may even clock in at a thousand. Consider it an investment in your health and your professional success.
This is an image of the chair I use in my office. It’s called an Aeron.
4. Hold video calls from time to time.
Remote work can feel lonely. Being location independent means that you don’t get to interface directly with your colleagues or clients.
The occasional video call really helps to add interest and depth to your working relationships. If you haven’t video Skyped or done a Google hangout with your colleagues, I highly recommend it.
5. Clearly communicate your working hours.
The worst thing that happened to me when I became a remote worker was the misconception that I was a lazy slouch that hung out on my sofa eating Doritos and watching Netflix.
I do not commit any of those actions during working hours.
My well-meaning friends knew that I worked (somehow), but they didn’t know how or when. Thus, requests to help them with mid-day moving projects, random let’s-grab-coffee calls, and meetings on their schedule crept in to corrupt my workday.
I had to realize that work was work, and flexible though I may be, I needed to get stuff done. In other words, I had to set hours. And keep them.
So I did.
Communicating my working hours clearly has helped in many ways:
- My colleagues in Denver know when I’m coming online.
- My clients in Riga know when they can catch me for a quick chat or Skype call.
- My family understands the need for me to maintain a schedule in order to conduct my work.
Remote work can easily plunge into a morass of unscheduled chaos unless you choose and control your working hours.
6. Make it look like an office.
The space in which you work should feel “officey.” (I guess official is the right word here, but I can make up words if I want to.)
Why? Because it’s for doing work. It can still be cool, and personal, and stylish. But avoid the this-doubles-as-a-bedroom-and-party-hall look.
The environment in which you carry out your work influences your creativity, energy, happiness, productivity, health, and work quality.
Lifehack recommends five important factors for workplace satisfaction and productivity.
With the exception of the seaside view, nearly all of those things are within your control. A window, potted plant, earplugs, and a bucket of paint? Not bad.
7. Dress up.
Working from home is often viewed as synonymous with “working in your PJs.” Unless you’re smart. The clothes we wear are not necessarily for others’ viewing. Clothes serve a much more important purpose: self perception.
Scientists call it “enclothed cognition,” a branch of embodied cognition studies.
The effects of enclothed cognition have been proven to shape an individual’s thinking process, skills, and actions.
Here’s how it works practically:
- Wear a white lab coat, and you are more likely to act like a doctor.
- Wear shorts and a t-shirt, and you will feel more athletic and active.
- Wear a business suit, and you will feel professional and successful.
- Wear heels and an evening dress, and you will feel romantic and exciting. (Unless you’re a dude. Don’t do it if you’re a dude.)
Some workplaces have mandated dress codes, stipulating the extent of a man’s sideburns and the length of a woman’s skirt. Rather than prudish invasions into an individual’s self-expression, these regulations were designed to enhance the professionalism of the office and the product that the business was targeting.
Dressing up and going to work? Yes. I recommend it even for remote workers who cherish the loungeability of their yoga pants or flannel pajamas.
Dress like a boss, and you’ll work like a boss.
Remote work runs the acute risk of being overlooked. “Out of sight, out of mind” has a very real effect on workplace behavior.
I recommend regular check-ins with your colleagues, clients, and supervisors. Err on the side of too much communication.
It is professionally detrimental to be overlooked, and the only way to overcome this is through occasional emails, daily IM chats, and regular updates on your progress and workflow.
9. Interact with real life human beings.
Something weird happened when I started working remotely.
Weird and totally unexpected.
I started losing my social skills. Not that I was ever the world’s most interesting man or anything.
I found it harder to have normal small talk conversations. Random chatter with strangers felt more awkward and less enjoyable.
I thought it was just me being weird. Because I tend to be that way.
And then I told my friend — also a work from home guy — about my issue. He totally related. He explained, “I feel like a moron when I try to talk to people now.”
My dark secret was corroborated as verifiable fact when The Oatmeal discussed it.
Is there a way to counteract the degradation of social skills?
Surely you don’t want to lose your social suave just because you work from home.
Here are some suggestions:
- Use a coworking office space, or a place where you have regular interaction with other professionals.
- Schedule regular meals and/or coffee with other people.
- Participate in local professional networking events or meetups.
Somehow, someway, get social again. With real live human beings. Not Twitter feeds and Google Hangouts.
10. Embrace variety.
One of the great things about working remote is the ability to get variety into your schedule.
I have a proclivity for routine — a systematic groove of productivity, day-after-day. On the occasions when I throw off my routine intentionally, great things happen.
Like good things.
- Often, an insight comes out of nowhere.
- Sometimes, I’m able to solve a thorny work problem.
- Many times, I feel a rush of creativity.
By “variety,” I’m not suggesting Tahiti beachside work (unless you can afford it). I’m simply suggesting working from a different coffee shop for a change.
For me, transitioning to another Regus office is always an option. I work just outside of the downtown area of my city, so going directly downtown to work in a coffee shop often sparks the fresh engagement and creativity that comes from variety.
11. Work outside sometimes.
Working outside is actually awesome.
Science says so. And so does this physician.
Dr. Eva M. Selhub of Harvard explains that working outdoors, specifically in a nature setting, makes your brain happy, healthy, and productive.
“It stimulates reward neurons in your brain. It turns off the stress response which means you have lower cortisol levels, lower heart rate and blood pressure and improved immune response."
This gem comes from her book Your Brain on Nature.
If working from a park bench just isn’t possible, please look at pictures of the great outdoors.
Environmental psychology is increasingly discovering the link between brain health and exposure to outdoor environments. A combination of factors — atmospheric, visual, cognitive, etc. — makes outdoor experiences healthy.
Remote workers have the freedom and flexibility to move to an outside office setting when possible. Take advantage of this, and use the outdoors to amp up your creativity and improve your performance.
There are a lot of awesome things about remote work.And thankfully, you can be even more awesome at it. My few suggestions have only scratched the surface of the myriad ways to improve on your remote working. What are your suggestions for becoming more awesome at remote work?