I’ve been a remote worker for over three years now. When I tell people I work from home, I still get the odd sly smile and a wink, “Oh yeah, you ‘work from home’?”
Given the current state of affairs, over the next few months, a large chunk of people will start to experience the reality of remote work, though, and I hope that the experience is a positive one for them. I also hope that it’s a positive one for businesses, and that flexible work arrangements are made available to more people in the future.
I want to share some quick tips for those starting to do this, regardless of where you sit within an organization. Let’s split this down into the two main constituent parts: the technology and the social/practical issues.
The Technology Behind Remote Work
Technology is what really underpins remote workers, so let’s look at a few pointers that can really help you work. If you work from home, most companies want to make sure that you’re productive (in some regions they may even have legal obligations to follow as well). If you are lacking some technology to keep/make you productive, make sure you ask for it! Upgrading your broadband service, improving your WiFi (or converting to a wired connection), getting a webcam, getting a good chair, a separate monitor or laptop dock — these are all things that your manager may be able to help you with.
If you don’t ask, then you don’t receive.
Use the best medium for each form of contact. Often this will simply be phone calls or emails to the people you’d normally go and find in the office but remember that Microsoft Teams (and others) can be used to easily schedule group video calls to replace face-to-face meetings. For content that doesn’t necessarily need immediate response (or perhaps needs input from multiple people), then look at email or internal message-board systems such as Yammer. And while I mention email: take a glance over these email etiquette rules and discuss making your own ones with colleagues. One of my favorite email “rules” is to use CC for “notifying” people about things that are happening where their direct input is unnecessary; I can then have an automatic rule to file these out of my inbox so that I can look through them when I get time.
Try and keep your work and private spaces separate, and I apply that rule to both technology and physical space (if you can). Don’t use your home laptop to work on company documents, as doing so may expose your company either to security issues (enterprise machines are locked down / monitored / secured / remote-wipeable for a reason), or to GDPR concerns. If you need to work remotely, find out what options are available from your manager or IT department. These may include switching you to a company laptop, or them providing a thin-client interface for you to access your work system from home. A separate physical workspace allows you to mentally disconnect from work outside of your work hours, otherwise you’ll constantly feel the need to dip in and out.
Most email doesn’t need to be responded to immediately. Some does, of course, but most does not. Glance at each email individually and assign them a severity. If it arrives at 6pm and can wait until 9am tomorrow, then leave it until then. It probably goes without saying that personal situations can affect how you respond to emails, so re-read anything you write after having told the kids off (or having had that glass of wine in the evening!), especially if the email is going outside the company or to your boss.
Make sure that you have remote access to the information that you need. While large chunks of information are often in our email (far too much information, if you talk to people in the know), make sure that access to Customer Relationship Management, Enterprise Resource Planning and Information Management systems can be done from home. This includes information that may be held on network shares. Speak to your IT department about what options they have in place to help with this, such as a VPN (shameless plug: and/or speak to us at M-Files about how our Intelligent Metadata Layer could help).
What about Those Social and Practical Issues?
For most people the main difference they will find is that they are suddenly less connected with their colleagues, both at a professional and personal level. While it’s now less likely that your boss will come in for a “quick chat”, you will also not bump into people in the kitchen to say hello, or overhear what’s happening in that project you were interested in.
Keeping involved with colleagues will require changes to your behavior. You’ll love having more time to focus on tasks but ensure that you schedule some meetings with your teammates or friends at times that are convenient for everyone. Remember that they too may now have childcare issues or need to nip out to support vulnerable friends or family, so be flexible with times.
Don’t worry about life getting in the way. This is of increased importance in the current situation where all members of a family may be working in a confined space. If your kids need you then they need you; it is better to take 10 minutes to sort them out and then return to concentrating than it is for them to argue, grumble and affect your ability to work all morning. Discuss any issues such as childcare with your manager and see what options there may be to flex the specific times you work so that you can share the monitoring of the kids with a partner, friends or family.
Time management is one of the things that I found hardest when I started working from home, although perhaps not in the way that most people might expect. In my role, I will often get emails from APAC early in the morning, and emails from the Americas into the evening. It’s very easy to start going through your emails in bed when you wake up, and to continue answering them until late in the evening. Ignoring the contractual side of things, this isn’t good for your mental health.
Schedule some breaks throughout the day and make sure that you take them. These can be as simple as making sure that you make a cup of tea or go downstairs and chat with the kids for ten minutes. Better would be to get out of the house and go for a 30-minute stroll. Trust me, you’ll feel much more refreshed. To help with time management, check whether you can alter the hours that your mobile device synchronizes your work email so that you don’t get interrupted with emails at 11pm.
Will it Continue?
While the current worldwide situation has thrust a significant portion of the workforce into uncharted territory, I hope some of the tips above can help you maintain your work-life balance, and also help businesses continue to get value from employees who are adjusting to this new way of working.
Provided this works for both parties, I strongly hope that this opens the door for more people to work remotely in the future.