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How to be a successful remote worker

Kerrie-Anne Chinn
2020-03-09

In today’s workforce, it's increasingly common to be a remote worker, with more companies supporting and encouraging the idea of employees working from home.

In fact, these days many companies are comprised entirely of remote team members, working across different continents and time zones, from various office locations or home workspaces.

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Remote working can have a bunch of great benefits for both employers and employees. It allows staff the freedom to choose where and when they work, with the opportunity for more flexible hours and a greater sense of autonomy.

For workers taking care of a family, or dealing with health issues, remote work enables them to continue to use their skills to contribute to organisational goals, while managing their individual needs and lifestyle. Many creatives, such as writers or designers for example, can also really benefit from remote working arrangements, preferring to deliver projects from their own home workspace rather than the traditional open office working environment.

Whether you’re telecommuting for a company, or working for yourself as a freelancer or contractor, it’s important to know how to make remote working a success for you and your employer.

Create your own workspace

Working from home gives you the opportunity to create your own dream workspace, exactly as you’ve always wanted. Spend time creating a home office space, decorating it with things that make you feel uplifted and energised, like your favourite books, artworks or house plants. It may sound trivial, but by doing this you’ll be establishing an area of your home that’s dedicated exclusively to work.

This is an important psychological step as it helps delineate your work from your home life, which is vital to avoid burning out from work. Although some people may think that remote workers have it easy, lounging around at home in their pyjamas, the risk of burning out is still high – perhaps even higher, as remote work is often very deadline driven and there’s no one around to tell you when to stop!

Besides, working from your bed or couch isn’t going to cut it in the long run. It might be a novelty in the beginning, but you’ll soon realise you need a proper office set-up to feel productive and efficient.

You should also spend some time organising your virtual desktop. Setting up clear folders, tabs and bookmarks on your computer will make everyday work life so much easier. Messy workspaces, whether it’s your physical desk or virtual desktop, won’t help when you’re having a busy day.

Establish a work routine and schedule

Being a successful remote worker takes a lot of discipline and structure. You need to establish a good routine and a realistic schedule that works for both you and your employer.

This means figuring out what hours you’ll work, as well as the hours you won’t work. People who work from home are susceptible to working around the clock, being available and switched ‘on’ at all hours. It may take a while to figure out the best work schedule for you that fits in with your lifestyle and personal working habits.

For example, while some people are more focused in the early hours of the morning, others may feel at their best in the afternoon. You can schedule different tasks for different times of the day depending on your personality, which is one of the best things about flexible work arrangements. Falling into a night owl routine can be a risky trap for freelancers though, and isn't the best for your health.

Once you’ve made decisions like switching off at 5pm, or not checking emails on weekends, stick to it! If you’re feeling intimidated at the thought of working alone, or feel like you could use some guidance in setting yourself up remotely, look into online courses for remote workers. You’ll learn skills and helpful techniques to avoid and resolve some common problems faced when working remotely.

Take proper breaks when working from home

When you create your work routine, don’t forget to factor in proper breaks. In offices, you’re more likely to take the time to grab coffee with a colleague, or go out for lunch as a team. Social interaction reminds us to stop working for a second and have a chat or a snack.

Remote workers can be guilty of forgetting to take enough breaks, eating lunch at their desks, or deciding to just push through and get things done. It’s well-known that taking breaks during your workday increases productivity and efficiency, so it’s important to practice that. You’ll return to your desk after your break with a clearer head, feeling energised and ready to continue your work.

Getting outside is also important as a remote worker. Switching off from technology, even just while you walk around the block, is vital for your wellbeing and mental health. To help you stick to this, you can use an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you to take a break or shut down. If you need the discipline of hard stop times, set the alarm for 15 minutes before your break or end of day, to give you time to wrap up what you’re working on before switching off.

Stay in the loop as a remote worker

While collaboration technology is making remote teams just as efficient and productive as traditional workplace environments, as a freelancer you will be missing out on face-to-face interactions with colleagues and managers.

An article in Forbes discussed how important it is for remote workers to remain networked as closely as possible with peers and leaders in the office.

“While working at home can be beneficial for both companies and workers, it can also lead to ‘invisibility’ that can limit opportunities for career advancement,” Ana Dutra, chief executive of Talent Consulting says.

To avoid this, and maintain working relationships with team mates, it's important to make the effort to be involved in Skype meetings, video chats, conference calls, LinkedIn groups – whatever it takes. This will help you stay connected with your colleagues and managers, as well as in the loop with networking or career opportunities.

Celebrate your achievements

Last but most certainly not least – be sure to celebrate your achievements! Working from home means you won’t be getting the same kind of feedback on your personal or team work as you might in an office environment.

Finishing up a big project, securing a new client or hitting that important deadline is harder to celebrate when you’re working by yourself. But it's a good idea to take the time to acknowledge your achievement before simply moving on with the next piece of work.

Celebrating that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction will reinforce your subconscious to keep up the good work, so it’s an important step in building your confidence and career. You might not have an actual office full of people you can celebrate with, but you can share your milestones with friends, family or your professional network connections.

As Maren Kate Donovan, CEO of Zirtual – a company comprised entirely of remote employees – says, “when you finish a big task, celebrate your accomplishment through sharing it with your team and getting that extra latte just the way you like it from your favorite coffee shop down the street.”

On the flipside, when you do find yourself working in your pyjamas at midnight, fuelled by coffee and deadlines, don’t be too hard on yourself. Because days like this will happen and no one is perfect. Just try and get back to your proper routine the following day.

Marking your achievements, establishing a proper workspace and routine, and maintaining connections to the outside world will go a long way towards making your remote work life a success.

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