Seven Tips for Being a Productive, Professional Remote Worker
April 16, 2020
My first taste of telecommuting was in 1999 as part of my
former professional life as a technical recruiter in the Boston area. My husband and I were relocating to Raleigh
NC for his new job and my company didn’t want me to leave, so they set me up to
continue working for them from the comfort of my new home.
It was great to work from home. At first.
But I had gone from an office full of colleagues and chats over coffee
to relatively isolated days broken only by the occasional brief phone
call. I struggled to feel connected to
my coworkers. I didn’t have the
resources I needed. Minor issues became
major issues. It was not the idyllic
situation that I had imagined it would be.
I learned a great deal from the experience. Since then, I have worked remotely off and on
for over twenty years, and I’ve gotten better at it. I’ve learned how to maintain a positive,
productive remote work life that meets my professional obligations and nicely
balances with my personal and family life.
If you’re new to remote work, you’re not alone! Here are seven tips that may help you in your efforts to stay on an even keel in these rocky times.
ready for work each day
It’s very tempting to stay in
pajamas all day, but it can have a significant impact on how you feel about
yourself and, by extension, your work.
The simple act of getting dressed for work will wake you up and help you
feel more ready to take on the day. You
don’t need to wear a suit, of course.
Just be clean and neatly dressed.
You’ll feel better and sharper, which will help you to be more
productive throughout the day.
the value of your commute
When I drive to and from work, I
often spend that 20-30 minutes listening to my favorite music or a good
audiobook. When I work from home, I miss
that dedicated “me” time. You
might use your driving time to listen to sports radio, or maybe you take the
bus and you read during the ride. When
you become a remote worker, you might be tempted to start working right away
each day, and you might lose that dedicated “you” time. Think about what you’ve lost, recognize the
value it added to the quality of your day, and replace it. Spend the first 20 minutes of your morning
listening to sports radio while you drink coffee and watch birds out the
window. Or do 15 minutes on the
treadmill with an audiobook. It doesn’t
cut into your workday in any meaningful way, and it’s an invaluable self-care
activity that can put you in a positive frame of mind for the rest of the day.
If your office life was full of scheduled
meetings, regular calls, opening the mail, the normal group lunch, etc., that
routine helped to keep you moving. When
you work from home, those office-life events drop off sharply and you may find
yourself wandering aimlessly through your day, which can severely undermine
your motivation. Create a structured
routine that moves you purposefully through your workday. Schedule daily events such as a morning
strategy session with yourself to review your schedule and set priorities for
that day, regular videoconferences and phone calls, your own lunch time, an
afternoon break to snuggle your furry 4-footed “coworker,” a specific
time to check and open your mail, etc. Having
regular activities and approaching each day with intentionality can help you to
stay focused and be productive throughout the day.
with coworkers, customers, or clients by voice every day
Emails and text messages are great,
but they can’t take the place of live personal contact. Chatting with a colleague or client over the
phone, even just to exchange social pleasantries and light jokes, can really
brighten your mood. Make it a point to
speak to a real person every day, preferably multiple times a day. This is especially valuable when you are struggling
with a difficult issue, like how to handle an unhappy client or a tricky
business transaction. Phone a
friend! Talking through issues by
brainstorming and problem-solving with a colleague has a near-magical tendency
to help you identify better options and solutions than you would on your own.
social media during your work hours
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. They can be a great way to connect with
people, but they can be huge time-sinks.
The immediacy of posting and responding on social media can create a
false sense of urgency, leading people to think that they have to take time
RIGHT NOW to respond to comments. YouTube
and TikTok can be sensational! It’s easy
to fall down a rabbit hole and lose hours of productivity. When you are working remotely, treat social
media as a break-time activity. Limit
yourself to lunch time or set break times.
Also, avoid posting on social media about your non-work activity during
working hours. “At the groomer with
Rex! Doesn’t he look handsome?!?”
Your colleagues, who thought you were working, are likely to squint
loudly and grumble. It creates a
negative impression of your work ethic and professionalism, even if
a dedicated workspace
It’s old news that eating or
watching TV in bed can make it more difficult for you to get restful
sleep. Your brain needs to associate
your bed with sleep rather than with waking activity. Similarly, if you work in bed, on your living
room couch, and everywhere else in your home, then your brain will associate
everywhere in your home with work, and you will have more difficulty relaxing
and enjoying your personal and family time.
When you aren’t relaxed and rested, you have difficulty concentrating
and become less productive at work. It’s
important to create a dedicated workspace in your home, even if it’s just a
specific corner of the dining room table. For attorneys and medical providers,
it is also important to choose a space with privacy for speaking with
clients/patients and protecting confidential/health information. A dedicated physical workspace enables you to
make that mental shift into “work mode” during working hours. You will reduce distractions and increase
productivity. You’ll also be able to
“leave the office” at the end of your workday by shutting down the
computer, turning off the light, and leaving the workspace. The rest of your home then remains associated
with personal and family time rather than work.
Once you dedicate a physical space
for your work, make sure you leave work every day! Because they work from home, remote workers
are often tempted to continue working during their off-hours. Maybe you get an email from a client at
9:00pm. Maybe your boss emails you on
your day off. Whatever the cause, it’s
easy to think “I’ll just log in for a few minutes,” and then spend
hours working when you’re supposed to be relaxing. This doesn’t hurt occasionally, but be careful
not to make this a regular practice.
Working long hours can increase risk of depression and illness, and lead
to serious negative effects on family life.
It can also impair cognitive function and decrease productivity. The
brain needs to rest. So, at the end of
your workday, log off and leave the office.
Working from home is a new challenge for many companies and
employees, adding to the rest of the challenges we face during the COVID-19
pandemic. When the pandemic passes, this
experiment with remote work might end up changing how some companies do
business. Now is the time to create your
own routines and procedures to maintain your productivity, meet your
professional obligations, and enjoy a personal life. You might find this to be a useful experience
in the future!
I am a NC licensed attorney and practice in The Brocker Law Firm, P.A. I represent represent professionals before various licensing boards and administrative agencies. I counsel clients on ethics, disciplinary, and licensing matters, and provide general employment law advice and compliance counseling.