In my childhood home, homework was serious business. My mom had strict rules about completing schoolwork, at least for me. ( I think there’s some truth to parents being tougher on the oldest child, but I digress. 😅) Before I could watch my favorite evening TV shows, I had to complete my homework assignments. And when I was finished, I had to show my mom so she could double-check my work. If it wasn’t completed to her standards, she’d send me back to the kitchen table to make corrections.

By nature, I’ve always been a people pleaser and a rule follower, so I took my mom’s orders seriously. Every afternoon when I got home from school, I’d grab a quick snack and sit down at the kitchen table to get started on my homework. Though my mom’s rule was to get homework done before primetime TV, I set a goal for myself to get it done before dinner. Looking back, I realize that the discipline my mom instilled in me set the groundwork for my success as a remote employee. While I doubt my mom ever imagined back in the early to mid-90s that I’d end up working full-time from home one day, I’m thankful that she gave me a strong foundation to do it well. Having spent the past seven years working remotely, I can attest to the importance of discipline and routines. What else have I learned about working from home, and what does it take to excel as a remote employee? Here are a few tips for being a great remote team member.

Establish a Schedule

“You gotta make it a priority to make your priorities a priority.” ― Richie Norton

If you’re a Type B personality, you might be cringing at the sight of the word “schedule,” but hear me out. You don’t have to be rigid, but you do have to exercise discipline. Set clear boundaries about what you will and won’t do during a workday and work to structure your day in a way that optimizes your productivity. It’s important to commit to yourself and your team that you’ll be available during certain hours. Does an 8:00- 5:00 schedule work best for you? 9:00- 6:00? Let your team know. Put it in writing and schedule some beginning and end of day rituals to help you stick to regular hours. For example, I take 3-5 minutes at the beginning of my workday to jot down three things I’m grateful for. I end my workday the same way and also take a few moments to write down my top to-do items for the next day. Other examples of morning and evening rituals could include a quick meditation, reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee, stepping out to walk the dog or heading to the gym. Establishing patterns in your workweek helps train your brain to be more disciplined. When you have activities to complete after work, it helps to keep the motivation alive and procrastination at bay.

Jenn Petty, the owner of Petty Details Appraisal Services, has worked from home running her business for more than ten years, and she agrees that schedules are critical to her success.

“As tempting as it is for those who don't have other responsibilities in the morning--getting kids to school, feeding the chickens :)-- to get up and start work in their pj's, a good start to the day is important,” she says. “Wake up on a schedule, take a shower, get dressed, then start your day ready for whatever may come your way!”

Quick tip: be sure to set your working hours in Google Calendar or Outlook. 8x8 Virtual Office user? Here’s a handy guide for establishing business and after-hours rules in Virtual Office.

Bring Your Best Self to Meetings

We’ve all been guilty of scrolling the gram for memes during a boring conference call, sending out a group text, or posting on social media (see exhibit A above). It happens! Admitting it is the first step to making a change ;-) But in all seriousness, don’t be that person. Especially when you work from home. Being present and attentive when others are speaking is just plain common courtesy. When you’re not in the room during meetings, you have to make an even bigger effort to remain engaged. That means putting the iPhone down, turning your camera on, and participating in the conversation.

When you’re not in a brick and mortar office every day, or you’re thousands of miles away from your teammates, it takes a bit of extra effort to build relationships with your coworkers, customers, and business partners, but it’s worth it. Bringing your best self to meetings is a simple way to do this. Show up a few minutes early if you can, and take the opportunity to chat with colleagues about their weekend plans. Those little moments of humanity build rapport and morale.

Take Short Breaks When You Can

As you might have gathered from my story about homework, I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. But I’ve learned that hours worked doesn’t always correlate with results. When I first began working from home, I’d sit holed up in my home office and glued to my computer for 10 hours at a time. I’d go several days in a row without ever stepping outside. It took me a while, but I finally learned that my well-intentioned bad habits were unhealthy for a variety of reasons, and a fast track to burnout, making me less productive than I should have been. Now, I try to take a few micro-breaks throughout the day. Whether I walk the dog for 20-minutes at lunch, take 5 minutes to meditate before a call, or unload the dishwasher after I finish up a big work project, stepping away from my laptop for a bit and unplugging almost always makes me feel more energized and inspired.

Don’t believe me? There’s scientific research to back up the fact that employees who take breaks are more productive than those who don’t. According to a study by Tork, 90% of employees feel refreshed and ready to get back to work after a lunch break. And 81% of employees who take regular lunches have are more likely to feel engaged in the company’s culture.

Flexibility is a Gift--Pay it Forward

"With great power comes great responsibility." -Peter Parker's (aka Spiderman) Uncle

Remote work is a privilege that I’ve never taken for granted. There are so many entries in my gratitude journal that extol the freedom and flexibility that comes from working from home. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work from anywhere, but I also strongly ascribe to the Peter Parker principle. Because I’ve been given the power to work from anywhere, I try to use that flexibility to help out others who don’t have the same flexibility. I believe that being a great remote employee means leveraging the flexibility you’ve been afforded to help your team be more productive.

In practical terms, what does that look like? It could mean offering to take notes on early morning calls so your teammates in other time zones can either sleep in or dial-in from their commute. It might mean extending your workday 30-minutes past your usual work hours if an in-office employee needs to leave early and pick up their sick kid from school. I’m not suggesting that you remain on the clock from 7:00-7:00 every day. I am suggesting that great remotes employees are willing to pay it forward on occasion, giving the coworkers who aren’t able to work from home some measure of flexibility in their workdays.

Find a Support Network

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ― Brené Brown

Another thing I’ve learned from seven years of remote work? You might be home alone for the majority of the day, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. The rewards of working remote are plentiful, but one of the biggest challenges is loneliness and isolation. It’s important for your mental and emotional health, as well as your productivity, to find a good support network of like-minded peers. For me, that’s meant weekly Twitter chats (contact center and customer experience pros: check out #ICMIchat or #CXchat), online communities like CX Accelerator, or the Digital Nomads Group on LinkedIn. But beyond virtual communities, I’m also a proponent of volunteering in your local community, joining meetup groups, or working one day a week from a coffee shop or coworking space. Humans have an innate need for connection, and you can still fulfill that need outside of a brick and mortar office.

Bringing it All Together

In my seven years as a remote worker, I’ve found that setting a schedule, being fully engaged in meetings, allowing myself to take breaks, showing genuine appreciation for the flexibility I’m afforded, and connecting with peers has helped me succeed. The other critical ingredient for productive remote work? Reliable, easy-to-use technology. As an 8x8 employee, I’m lucky enough to use our products every day, and coming from an environment that relied on disjointed legacy communication tools, I can tell you that 8x8’s Video Meetings has transformed the way I work. Want to learn more? 8x8 Video Meetings is free, easy to use, and has no time limits. No plugin downloads or registration required. See for yourself.