Top 5 Tips To Being An Effective Remote Worker

We’ve devoted posts to the corporate environment of remote work and distributed teams.  Today’s installment is directed at our end users who find themselves to be, you guessed it, remote workers.

There is sometimes an assumption within the tech world that any problem can be solved by a tool.  “If someone isn’t an effective remote worker, maybe we can create a tool to make them effective.”  There is actually a lot more to the picture than what tool you are using to get their work done.

First, you must make a careful assessment of your character.  Just about anyone can work from home (or the hotel, or the park, or the cafe) for a day.  The question is, can you stand working without the hustle of an office for days, weeks, or years on end?  You have to be able to handle the environment of working without a net.   You must also be very motivated by deadlines.  (See Five Things You’ll Miss by Not Working In An Office.)

If you (and/or your boss) believe you fit the above profile, I have a list of suggestions to help you survive and be productive:

1)      Have a dedicated workspace/office

My home office actually has a placard that says, “Office” over the door.  There are two reasons to have this space:  i) It’s a tax write-off if you don’t use that room for anything else.  ii)  Behaviorists say that if you have trouble sleeping, don’t read or watch TV in bed.  Likewise, if you have trouble working, don’t use that work space for entertainment.  I have access to all the same distractions in my office as I do in my living room (thanks, Hulu), but I get a lot more done in here than in there.  In here, I’m in “work mode.”

2)      Get up, and dress as you would to go to work.

Again, it’s the mental game.  If you dress as you would for work, you’ll associate that with working.  Simply wearing something other than pajamas often makes it easier to stay focused.  (People who’ve never had to dress up for work may feel free to ignore this.)

3)      Allow for some distraction.

A little distraction forces you to focus.  In an office there are other people.  They’re talking, typing, playing music, banging things, etc.  Don’t feel bad about playing a radio in the background…unless you find yourself paying more attention to it than your work.  This supports the importance of the dedicated work space:  In your office these things will be background.  In your living room…well, good luck getting work done.  (By the way, this doesn’t have to be music.  Children in the house, loud neighbors, even checking email or Twitter all count as viable distractions.)

Remember, this is an easy tip to abuse.  When you find you are no longer focused, turn off the background.  Then, if you find you are losing focus again, you can try turning it back on.

4)      Have human interaction.

Erik, one of our engineers, has a one up on the rest of us because his wife, Colleen, is also there working in the same home office space.  (She’s our customer relations lead.)  Most of us don’t have someone actively working with/near us when we’re working remotely.  Things like IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and VSee help immensely, but it’s still important to go out from time to time (breaks, if you will) and interact with living people…even if it’s just at the grocery store.

5)      Don’t forget to stop!

You’re probably familiar with the adage, “Don’t take your work home with you.”  The belief was you’ll spend less time with your family.  Maybe your children will resent your work.  You’ll bring the stresses of your workplace into what’s supposed to be your place of decompression, etc.  Well, too late for that.  You’re at home and you’re working.  Maybe you’ve gotten sucked into a project that you feel compelled to finish…  If that happens every now and then, great.  But if your family has to drag you to dinner every night, you need to take stock of your priorities.

There is a lot of information out there about how to be a productive remote worker.  It is actually impossible for VSee (or any software for that matter) to overcome the non-collaboration issues of remote work.  But if you, the remote worker, are able to take responsibility for being a productive member of your team (and follow the tips above), then you should find collaboration tools make it easier to achieve.