Once an “office worker”, I used to imagine my “remote working” colleagues as the lucky ones that could work from a nice coffee shop and have hot drinks with their name on served to their tables by happy baristas. Or even luckier if they could just stay at home, attend calls partially wearing pyjamas and then walk their dogs every now and then to take a break.
Across the globe, remote working has increased 159% since 2005 and it’s set to keep rising. Truth is, whether you decide on spending 20% of your salary on expensive coffee or replacing designer suits with joggers, achieving a fair (and fun) work-life balance is a real challenge. And it doesn’t mean you always get to do that just because you’re working from home.
As part of a remote working team, one of the main difficulties is managing my time in a way that works for all and switching off at the same time I switch off my laptop. I’m talking about that feeling that you must be “on demand” when you work from home to show that you’re really working and contributing to the team.
A study by SoCO Cloud shows I’m not alone. While 77% feel more productive when working from home, 23% are more likely to put in extra hours to achieve more and 52% are less likely to take a day off sick than they would if they were working in the office.
I’ve been working from home (or sometimes in a café or even at the gym) for around 18 months now and I feel like I’ve found a way of making it work for me, my clients and my employer.
In my experience so far, balancing work and stress management comes from creating a working structure where access to projects and information can be always-on, but people don’t necessarily need to be. So I thought I’d share my tips on how I optimise my time as a remote worker.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
We all have a pressure to reply quickly, to always be available for work nowadays, and that can be even more pronounced when we we’re not in the office.
It’s as if we want to prove that we’re not flouting the “benefit”. An extensive 2017 Polycom study of 25,234 people supports this: that the biggest concern people have with remote working is that others in the company won’t think they are working so hard.
It’s important to bear in mind that the quality of your assistance and support is better than your availability “quantity”. It’s much better to give a considered response once you’ve taken the time to digest something, instead of sending a quick response just to show that you’re working. And frequent interruptions will probably keep you from doing a better job.
Interruptions happen every eleven minutes and it can take 23 minutes and five seconds just to get back to where you left off.
Research conducted by the University of California, Irvine: No Task Left Behind: Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work
Even if you are available, it doesn’t mean you’re not working on something more urgent. If I’m focusing on an important project, I block out time on my calendar and turn off email notifications for a little while so I can focus on the task at hand. If it’s urgent, people will find a way to get through and you’ll get back to them as soon as possible.
How you deal with interruptions sets the tone of your relationship, so don’t let that be that you are always on. You don’t need to be.
If you’ve been offered the chance to work remotely, the trust should be there. I always say: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” and having a healthy, sustainable working pattern has a positive effect on the whole team, clients included.
Select The Right Digital Communication Method (For You And For All)
Some people use Slack (or Microsoft Teams), some use Skype / Zoom, and others prefer a “quick telephone call” but it needs to work for everyone and be appropriate for the situation and topic. It’s therefore essential that you establish very clear boundaries with your team as to what kind of communication method you should both expect and when.
Here’s what I’ve found works for me (and, in turn, those I work with):
- Instant messenger apps: If I need to quickly clarify something simply with my colleagues or contractors, I’ll send a quick note via Teams. This is for short messages that don’t need a lot of context or long discussion. If the conversation is taking too long, move to another format.
- Email: If I need to provide more context and provide a proper brief with files attached, etc, I’ll send it via email. That way, when they're ready to digest the information they can review and action it when we are ready to do so.
- Telephone calls: I usually use these for quick catchups and one-to-one help with people I’ve got a solid working relationship already with. Or for brainstorming, even – ideas come more easily when you’re having a chat, rather than typing it out.
- Video: I always try to use video when an issue is complex as it helps to minimise misinterpretation and misunderstanding. I’ll also use it when meeting a potential partner or client to help us both determine if our values align and at the beginning of working relationships to help build trust.
Look For Where You Can Eliminate Bottlenecks (And Avoid Being One)
When you work remotely, it can be harder to check progress on a project or hear about an issue that might be holding someone back from completing it. When the workforce is spread out, this is usually done via weekly catch-up calls but this can lead to bottlenecks if someone is stuck and feels unable to reach out – and you may only find out during that meeting and not have enough time to address it then.
Providing visibility is the best way to allocate support where it’s needed and avoid interrupting other colleagues with questions about progress. You get to discuss any issues that are happening and how to address them before they evolve into a bigger issue, and let people work independently (and interruption-free) when they need it.
Here at Tribal, we use Asana as our project management tool, Asana. We can all see what work is being done and when a task or project was last updated, so we are aware of any issues that need to be addressed sooner. Less calls, less messaging and more visibility across the team. As a result, there’s less interruptions for remote workers and it diminishes the pressure to be available on demand.
Future Working For Remote Workers (And Temporary Ones)
Your set of tools may differ to this, and your approach to communications may as well. Remote working often looks pretty on Instagram and LinkedIn, but it often can be more about talking to customers while you’re doing the laundry and feeling like you need to make up for the fact you’re not in the office.
As we work remotely either by choice (or lack of, in the current crisis), we are all learning the best way to communicate, stay on top of projects and be on top form while performing our duties, without compromising mental health and family time.
There is lot of uncertainty now regarding future of work, and to be honest, about what the future looks like at all. But in all cases, in all scenarios: you don’t always need to be “on demand”, your employer doesn’t (or shouldn’t) expect you to be, and you will work better if you aren’t.