Interested in working remotely? You're not alone.
“From 2012 to 2016, the number of employees working remotely rose by four percentage points, from 39 percent to 43 percent, and employees working remotely spent more time doing so," highlights Gallup's most recent State of the American Workplace report. With only one-third of US employees engaged in the workplace, flexible hours and opportunities to work remotely are what some companies use to retain high-performing talent.
To work remotely, also known as telecommuting, means to work outside a traditional office, and it's not just for freelancers. Instead of commuting long hours or being stuck in traffic, employees have the flexibility to work from home or choose a shared workspace closer to where they live. The arrangement also helps employers reduce costs associated with owning or leasing space.
While roles in technology, customer service, marketing and sales can be done 100 percent remotely, the option is not realistic for all professions. With the ever-increasing competition for high-performing talent, however, many employers are ready and willing to offer some flexibility when it comes to working remotely. What that looks like differs across industries and functions, so before diving into the world of remote work, you may want to consider the following:
As you prepare to explore remote work with your current employer or venture out into fields that allow you to work remotely, take an honest look at yourself -- your motivations and work ethic -- to determine what keeps you engaged and on track. Are you a morning or an evening person? Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Do you value autonomy or do you seek regular interactions?
Gallup has found that employees are most engaged when there's a balance between working from home and working in an office location with colleagues, but you want to know what your optimum engagement conditions are. When working remotely, you are in charge of your schedule and you want to make sure you can manage it effectively. Knowing when and how you are most productive can help you establish an arrangement that works best for you and ultimately your employer.
To set yourself up for high performance, once you understand your work style and preferences, create the right space to stay engaged and motivated. If you are making your first steps into the world of telecommuting, you may need to experiment with different spaces to find what's best. If working from home, consider using a home office or setting up a designated work corner. The goal is to minimize or avoid distractions and disruptions in the background.
“It might sound obvious, but it's really important to create a physical space that is not only conducive to productivity but also separates your work from your personal life," says Cheri-Leigh Erasmus, programs and learning manager at Accountability Lab. “If not done properly, your whole home can start feeling like a workspace." If working from home is not an option, you may consider shared workspaces, which have gained popularity in recent years. Shared workspaces are perfect for startups and nonprofits, but even large traditional companies are taking advantage.
Communicating with colleagues and supervisors on a regular basis and clarifying expectations about tasks and deadlines are essential when working remotely. Understanding key performance indicators ensures that you and your employer are on the same page. Working remotely does not mean that you get to work whenever you feel like it. Your teammates and managers depend on you so you may want to establish specific work hours and communicate those ahead of time so they know when you are available.
With some remote work, you may need to be available at different hours of the day and night, so if you are going to be out for a certain period, be sure to alert those who may need to reach you during that time. If you are billed by the hour, monitor your hours worked. Keep track of and communicate accomplishments and projects completed, as well as new ideas and initiatives so that you are seen as someone who is engaged and brings value.
Working remotely in an increasingly global workforce often means that you may need to collaborate and communicate with people across different time zones. When scheduling meetings, pay attention to the time zone and make sure you highlight both the time of the meeting and the time zone you are using so others can interpret accordingly. Establish guidelines with your team so there is a balance between those who need to wake up early or stay up late. “Set boundaries around when you are able to participate in meetings and make that clear to others; it is difficult and requires flexibility at times, but it helps you establish a rhythm," says Erasmus. “For example, I don't take calls before 5:30 am because I know I don't perform at my peak earlier than that."
When working remotely, the quality of your devices and your Wifi strength are essential to success. Good equipment and a fast internet connection ensures that you can complete tasks in a timely manner and that you can communicate with colleagues and managers without glitches.
You may also want to keep up-to-date on new tools that enhance any aspect of remote work. As Lisette Sutherland, author of Work Together Anywhere, points out, part of her interview process is to assess how comfortable potential candidates are with different technologies by asking them to send a brief intro video, following up using a variety of mediums, and gauging their navigation of different time zones. Knowledge of and comfort with different tools is key for success in a remote role.
One challenge with remote work is the inability to engage socially with your co-workers. As such, you may want to join relevant groupsto ensure that you have a community for advice and support. In addition, when you work remotely, seeking assistance with hardware or software you are using may not be as easy as walking up to another office or tapping a colleague on the back. Have a clear understanding of what assistance is available to you and keep contact information handy, especially if you are in a different time zone than your colleagues. Many companies provide a help desk available 24/7 so be sure to use it when needed.
Lastly, if you choose to work remotely, do not ignore self-care. Although evolving technology makes it easier than ever to engage with colleagues, managers and clients remotely, you may want to avoid falling into the trap of always being on. “Create clear boundaries for yourself as it is much easier to work longer hours and drain yourself when you don't have a commute," Erasmus advises. “Hold yourself accountable." Take breaks. Go for walks or grab a lunch with friends. Consider working out and avoid the dreaded afternoon slump. It doesn't matter when and how you take breaks; what's more important is that you schedule regular breaks.
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