What I Learned from 10 Years as a Remote Worker
Working remotely for the past 10 years has been a gift. It has allowed me to live in coastal New Hampshire while being able to work for the kind of organizations that interest me. My last job had me in the office every day and required me to spend at least three hours on the road daily. I left home before my daughter awoke and returned when she was asleep for the night. That commute had negative impacts on my physical and mental health.
But now, with work-from-home programs becoming the new normal, I wanted to add some of the lessons I have learned to help people who may be new to, or uncomfortable with, working from home. Each person has to determine the practices that best work for them but I hope you get some inspiration from my experiences.
Many experienced remote workers will tell you distractions at home are the biggest challenge to staying focused and productive. My home office is next to the TV room. This means that when my daughter is watching reruns of The Office, I can hear every joke. Don't get me wrong, that can be a great relief from a stressful day, but it doesn't help me to get my work done. I've also learned that my dog has an affinity for only wanting to go outside when I am on the phone.
Tip: Wear headphones and listen to focus-oriented playlists. You can find many on Spotify and similar services. I like instrumental jazz and brown noise. Brown, pink and white noises are constant tones on different frequencies that can help many people focus too.
Tip: Limit social media trips. Schedule short breaks to check out Twitter or Facebook at intentional points in your day, for example, every three hours or after you complete a complex task. Complete avoidance is unrealistic but planning for short bursts keeps it to a minimum.
No one wants to accidentally enable a breach. Treat the resources your employers give you with respect.
Tip: Always use your work computer for work only. People are more likely to stray from work activities when on their personal devices. Though not every company does it, technology makes it possible for your employer to track your online activity on a corporate machine. Knowing that is a good reminder to be doing the right things.
Tip: Especially when you work from a public place like a library or coffee shop, make sure you connect to your VPN after you join a wireless network. It is another layer to keep company information safe. This is particularly important if you interact with customer information.
Tip: If you take your laptop to work outside your home, consider a device from a company called Tile. It can affix to your laptop and connects to your phone to give you location information to prevent you from losing or leaving your computer in a public spot. You can even set up an alarm if too much distance separates you from your computer. You don’t want to lose it. The device can also help you get it back if it does disappear.
Internet, Power and Audio/Video
Reliable Internet is a must to have a good experience working from home.
Tip: Get a free Internet speed test like one from services like Ookla. Then, check with your Internet provider to confirm what speeds you are paying for. Sometimes your provider will give you a new modem or upgrade your speeds if your speed isn’t as fast as it should be. As a general rule, you want download speeds to be 100 Mbps (megabits per second) or higher and upload speeds of 6 Mbps or higher. Many high-speed plans today give you much faster download speeds.
Tip: If you hear lots of crackling noise in your headphones when making a call, it could be you have dirty power which emits electrical interference. This can be very annoying. A variety of devices, sometimes called power conditioners, can often reduce or eliminate this unwanted noise.
You can find lots of other advice that discuss things like headsets, lighting and other equipment. I would suggest that, as your needs evolve and your comfort with the technology grows, you can add equipment like better microphones and cameras. For me, I like using a professional external microphone and separate headphones. Many people also connect a professional camera to their laptop to provide better quality than their computer camera. There are many cool things that you can do to deliver better presentations or interact with your colleagues when you work from home. I will share examples in a future post.
No Such Thing as Work Hours
In my experience, there is no such thing as 9 to 5 when you work from home. But, in my opinion, I generally think it is a good thing. You have a little more flexibility to get things done. Sometimes, I like getting up early to work, while other times I like staying up late – especially if I am working with teammates located in different time zones. Some people like to have an on/off switch. I prefer flexibility.
Tip: Reserve Extra Time in Your Day for You
People who go from having long commutes to no commute when they're working from home will notice extra hours in the day. Reserve some for yourself! Try to use some of that time to exercise. Going for a walk in the morning, instead of sitting in traffic, can do wonders for your mood and productivity. There are mobile apps that deliver workout routines that you can easily do at home. There are companies that offer virtual exercise classes. PS: Getting in exercise after the workday sets you up for a good night at home too.
Did any of these tips resonate with you? Did I miss anything? We'd love to hear your ideas by messaging us at [email protected]. If you suddenly find yourself working from home, visit HERE for more advice. You can also check out our truly free video conferencing service at 8x8.vc.