How to thrive in a remote work environment
by Will Geiger, on Mar 20, 2020 2:09:08 PM
“COMMAND NOT FOUND.”
I had just spent 3 hours formatting an Excel file and now it wasn’t loading! To make matters worse, the project was due at 3pm...six hours ago.
I tapped out a message on my phone: Hey Jeremy, I’m sorry it’s so late, but do you have a minute?
Luckily, Jeremy messaged me back right away, and we hopped on the phone.
“You should be using this version of Python....”
He patiently walked me through the problem, and within a few seconds, the terminal command came alive again. I flopped back into my chair with a sigh of relief, amazed that a 5-minute conversation saved the day.
As a non-technical startup employee who was thrust into a role that required considerable tech savvy, there were certainly some growing pains. On top of that, I was working on a completely remote team that spanned three continents. I’d learned that working virtually required a unique set of skills, and as time went on, I became more comfortable and effective in my remote role.
Whether you’re normally remote or you’re working from home for the first time due to COVID-19, I have a few tips to help you thrive in the virtual workplace:
Lack of communication can create massive issues on distributed teams. You can’t just walk down the hall to dig into a problem with a colleague, and there’s no bumping into someone in the hallway to catch up about their weekend. Instead, you need to be very intentional about communication. Whenever people ask me for advice on remote work, my first tip is always “over communication.” If you’re confused about something, say so! When you’re chatting on Slack, don’t pretend you know what a colleague is talking about if you don’t. In fact, try to take as many conversations “live” as possible. Phone and especially video calls are more effective than instant messaging.
Flex with your video calls
Just a few years ago, video calls were slow, grainy, and generally unpleasant. Luckily that has changed with some great free video conferencing tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Flex with your video calls by ensuring that you have a professional background (clean up your dirty dishes and laundry!), good lighting, and a flattering camera angle. Speaking of which — whenever possible, try to use video calls. This allows you to see your coworkers or client and react to their facial expressions, creating a more natural, personal interaction.
Treat remote work like a normal day job
Wake up at your normal time, get dressed, and identify a workstation to use during the day. Even if you don’t have a home office, try to find a comfortable place where you can work without putting strain on your body.
One of the biggest challenges of remote work is the constant flood of distractions. No doubt, there are many distractions in a traditional office environment, but the combination of working from home and no in-person accountability can make remote work particularly difficult. Schedule time during your day when you can be distracted — giving yourself 5-10 minutes every few hours to check email or scroll through social media can help you be more productive throughout the day.
Know your limits
In my experience, the temptation to work around the clock has the potential to be dangerous. Know when to cut yourself off at the end of the day, and try to turn off your work devices completely. Otherwise, it can be very easy to slip back into your work in the evening or early morning if you happen to see a new conversation in Slack or an email response. It helps to establish a clear after-work routine, such as going to the gym, taking a walk, or preparing dinner.
Learning how to be effective remotely is an essential part of 21st-century working life. Even if you aren’t fully remote, chances are you have some exposure to virtual work, whether it be phone calls with distant clients or Zoom sessions with team members in another state. Learning how to work and communicate effectively in this environment will help you succeed in the long term!