Where is your office located? For an increasing number of people, the answer is “anywhere.”
When implemented correctly, remote work allows for increased productivity, flexibility, and convenience. However, potential pitfalls do exist. As more and more folks enter the virtual workforce, establishing clear guidelines and expectations is a must—for both employees and management.
Let’s take a closer look at work-remote best practices, including several techniques I’ve personally found success with.
Remote Working Trends
Although working from home certainly gained popularity during the peak of COVID-19, it was already a growing trend. Essentially, the coronavirus pandemic just kicked the trend into overdrive, rapidly accelerating the pace and spread of remote work.
Researchers believe remote work is here to stay, even as lockdowns lift and the pandemic’s effects lessen. Pre-pandemic, about five percent of all full-time employees worked remotely, but going forward, that number is expected to hover around 22 percent.
Traditional office structures are in the midst of permanent change. Companies and employees who can lean into that change will have a leg up on any competitors who resist it, which is why developing clear and efficient work-from-home policies is so important.
Types of Remote Work
Just as there’s no one type of office, there’s also not a single type of remote work. Determining the type of remote worker that you are or that you have to manage is the first step when developing best practices. Common types include:
- Fully remote employees – They work 100 percent virtually and don’t have a workspace in a company office.
- Partially remote employees – They divide their time between remote and in-person work.
- Freelancers – They’re hired to work virtually on a specific task but aren’t employees.
Best practices vary depending on the type of employee. As someone with experience in all types of remote work, I’ve noticed that management will typically implement a fair amount of structure over when employees work but will often allow freelancers to set their own hours.
With partially-remote work, employees and management will need to work together to develop a plan that satisfies both parties. Employees will want maximum flexibility while employers will want consistency and structure, so a happy medium must be reached.
Creating a Home Office
Some remote workers are what’s called a “digital nomad.” They combine virtual work with extensive travel, frequently changing locations. Their work setup is typically kept light and portable, usually consisting of a laptop and little else.
While digital nomads can thrive, it’s typically a situation best for freelancers. Most companies prefer that their employees work from their homes, as nomadic employees can be difficult to reach consistently. Plus, working from home allows employees to use more sophisticated equipment, such as a desktop instead of a laptop.
When working from home, one of the best ways to set yourself up for success is by creating a permanent home office. It provides a quiet space for you to concentrate. Plus, it helps create both a physical and mental separation between work and home.
Although specifics will vary based on job duties, the typical home workspace requires the following:
- Computer – In a home office, you typically don’t need the portability of a laptop and might prefer the extra power of a desktop instead. Regardless of which type you use, you’ll likely want a large monitor to help avoid eyestrain.
- Internet connection – Practically all remote work requires a reliable and fast internet connection. Wi-fi is typically fine in many instances, but some jobs require the speed and reliability of a wired connection.
- Headsets – If your job involves lots of phone calls, a headset allows for easy, hands-free operation.
- Desk – Avoid working on the dining room table. Instead, choose an ergonomic desk, which is designed to support your neck, back, and arms.
- Chair – A ergonomic chair also helps ensure you maintain the correct posture throughout the day, which helps reduce a variety of aches and strains.
Who purchases this equipment—the employee or the company? The answer varies. Many organizations will provide electronics such as computers, photos, routers, and monitors. Providing desks, chairs, and other furniture is rarer, but it’s sometimes an option.
I strongly encourage you to sit at a proper desk in an ergonomic chair, with a large monitor. When I first started working at home, I worked on my couch with my laptop. But eventually, I developed soreness in my neck and arms. Fortunately, sitting at a desk helped relieve these pains. It’s a worthwhile investment.
Tips for Remote Workers
Shifting from the traditional office to a remote one does pose challenges, even if you’re looking forward to it. As a long-term veteran of at-home work, here are some techniques that I’ve found helpful.
Start Right Away
When heading out to a traditional office, your morning routine and commute can help you mentally get ready for the day ahead. However, that doesn’t translate to home working for many people.
If I wake up and perform my morning routine, such as showering and eating breakfast, I can struggle to get started on work afterward. The morning stretches into the afternoon, and I’m losing productivity.
Instead, I start work right away, getting out of bed and heading immediately into my office. There, I’ll organize my day and begin key projects. After an hour or two, when I’ve got a solid handle on the day’s duties, I’ll take a break to eat and shower. When I return to work, I’ve got a clear idea of what to do.
Establish a Clear Distinction Between Work and Home
I’ve touched on this before, but you want to avoid working in random locations throughout your home. You can end up feeling like you live in an office and never get any time off. Instead, create a dedicated work area.
I like to close the door to my office space both when I’m working and when I’m done. A physical barrier does wonders for keeping work thoughts out of my mind when I’m in the rest of the house and keeps distractions at bay when I’m working.
Take a Field Trip Now and Again
When I find myself stuck on a project, sometimes I take my laptop and head out to a coffee shop down the street. On nice days I might even go to the park. Changing up the scenery almost always helps me rejuvenate.
Other times, I simply stroll around my backyard. During the workday, I get up and move around for about 15 minutes every hour, and you should, too. It helps keep your body from feeling stiff and also enables you to refresh mentally.
Best Practices for Working Remotely
Management and team leaders still play an essential role in a remote environment, but what’s effective in the real world doesn’t always translate well remotely. Here are techniques you’ll want to use when managing remote employees or that you’ll likely experience as an employee yourself.
An office work environment fosters consistent, informal communication. Team members discuss projects around the water cooler, at lunch, and other random moments. You can lose out on this type of communication in a virtual environment.
Video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, can help here. It’s often the superior alternative to audio-only conference calls. When the team can see each other during virtual meetings, they’re more likely to stay engaged. Plus, real-time visual check-ins help foster team spirit among remote team members.
Also, platforms such as Slack and Google Hangouts can help foster communication. Creating different channels allows employees space to discuss specific topics or even chat informally. These platforms work well in environments where employees are spread across many different time zones.
Meetup When Possible
As lockdowns end, explore the possibility of meeting with your virtual team in person, especially if most employees live in the same general area. A monthly strategy meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant offers an opportunity for team building and face-to-face conversation.
Encourage Work/Life Balance
One potential pitfall remote workers often fall into is overworking. Many people have a hard time setting up boundaries between work and home. They find themselves checking emails at night, working on weekends, and otherwise putting in excessive hours.
Effective project managers will encourage workers to scale it back when their work hours grow excessive. Not only is promoting a good work/life balance the right thing to do, but it also helps reduce burnout and promote creativity.
Security Best Practices
Most companies don’t leave security for employees to implement on their own. Even as a freelancer or consultant, many of my clients have implemented mandatory security procedures.
For partially-remote employees, providing remote access to his or her employee desktop computer creates an extra layer of security. Another common option is providing employees with a laptop or desktop specifically for company use only.
Many work-related security issues involve others in the household, using the same computer, accidentally interacting with work files or systems. Companies need to highlight the importance of consistently following these rules:
- Always log out from work systems when away from the computer
- Create effective passwords that use numbers, letters, and symbols
- Never keep written passwords near the computer
- Maintain updated, comprehensive virus protection and firewalls
In my experience, employers typically take the lead here without much hesitation. However, as an employee, it’s often helpful to understand the key aspects.
Develop a Clear Work Policy for Remote Teams
Effective in-office strategies don’t automatically translate to a remote office environment. Instead, proper planning is necessary to ensure remote work, well, works. In my experience, working remotely can benefit both employers and employees, especially when best workplace practices are implemented.
Welcome to the world of remote work!