Remote Working Success Factors:
According to a 2016 survey of American remote workers, about 91 percent of people who work from home feel they’re more productive than when they’re in an office. Forbes Magazine and Harvard Business Review have both written extensively about the productivity gains from remote working.
I have worked remote for the past 6 years. I think working remotely is great for productivity and work-life balance but it might not be for everyone.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of remote working.
Remote work can be good or bad, it depends on you, your job and employer
What kind of a job do you have? Studies show Knowledge and Creative workers will benefit most from remote working. Obviously, if you have a job that requires face to face meetings or special equipment then working remotely is not going to work for you. There is no way a Starbucks Barista is going to work remotely. The exceptions might be phone or chat-based customer service jobs, they are tailor-made for remote workers.
Remote working flexibility is great. It allows you to schedule life around work. You can take a 15-minute break to pick up the kids from school or meet the plumber. These little conveniences improve work/life balance.
Commute time is eliminated. People don’t realize how much time (and money) is spent commuting. I live in a large urban city and my wife spends 3 hours and $15 a day using public transportation. That is a big expense and time commitment. My commute is one minute to my home office.
If you spend a lot of time working in teams, remote working can still be very productive. There are many factors that determine if remote work works for you. Let’s look at those that can make you a successful remote worker.
To work remotely, you need appropriate technology
Remote working requires the ability to work from anywhere, ideally, you need complete mobility.
Depending on your exact situation, you need a laptop (or desktop PC), mobile phone and some kind of screen sharing or online meeting tool. You might also use a chat client or an online project management tool. There are many solutions out there, you need to investigate which tools work best in your situation and with your employer.
I use Google Voice. Google Voice allows one number to ring in many places at the same time, my desk phone, my mobile phone and my Skype number all ring together. I can be anywhere and you can reach me by phone. Many telephony systems allow you to forward your calls to another number or to your mobile phone. There are phone features like Find me / Follow me that ring at multiple locations, one after another until you pick up or it goes to voicemail.
If you work in teams, you need technology to support teamwork. Technologies like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or VDIs (Virtual Desktop Interface) give you complete access to your work computer and all your office files and programs from anywhere you have Internet connectivity.
If your company does not use VDI or allow remote access, then you are going to have a harder time collaborating with colleagues and access the programs and data you need. Most companies, even if they do not use VDI, have some way to securely access company infrastructure. This is typically done using Virtual Private Network (VPN) and some kind of secure authentication.
I am fortunate my company, Advance2000, provides technologies to enable our entire staff to be 100% mobile. We also help other companies become 100% mobile and work remotely. We can provide an “office in the cloud” and supply servers, desktops and phones all completely hosted in our private cloud and accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Some of our clients don’t even have physical offices any longer.
You need a comfortable place to work. Companies provide a comfortable productive place for their employees to work. Working remote, you need that too.
When setting up a home office, keep these things in mind.
- Door – I find having a door on my office, especially when my kids were younger, was a necessity. If the door is closed, no kids or cats are allowed in.
- Full-size desk – Get a full-size desk for your computer and two monitors. Dual monitors have been shown to boost productivity. Spend some money on quality monitors, keyboards and mice. You spend 8 hours a day on these tools, make sure they are high quality. You want to minimize the chance of eye strain and RSI and you need reliable technology that will last.
- Network/Internet – a wired Internet connection is faster and more reliable than using WiFi. If needed, have an electrician run wiring from your Internet Router to your home office. If you have multiple devices using the Internet, you can invest in a small switch to share your Internet connection.
- Hotspot/phone fallback – I recommend you have a cellular backup in case your home Internet service goes down. You can use a mobile phone or tablet with cellular data to create a mobile hotspot to use in case your primary Internet goes out. Or you can just pack up and head to the nearest coffee shop to work.
- Good desk chair – Get a good office chair. Do not buy a cheap box store chair. You are going to spend 8-10 hours a day in your chair. There is a reason office chairs are so expensive, they are designed for all-day comfort. Don’t scrimp here, if you can’t afford to spend a lot, check out office equipment resellers. They have lightly used office chairs by all the major office furniture providers. Go and sit in the chair, make sure it is right before you spend hundreds of dollars.
- Private space – I recommend a private office space not shared with the rest of the family. You need to separate from the family distractions.
- Windows / fresh air – it is a bonus if you have natural light and operating windows in your office.
- Monitor/keyboard/headset – These are the tools you use all day. Along with a good chair, get a good keyboard and mouse and monitors. Ergonomic tools are a plus. If you spend a lot of time on the phone, consider using a lightweight high-quality headset.
- Office in a wardrobe – Tight on space? You can house an entire office in a piece of furniture. There are also desks that hide the office equipment from sight.
- Build an office? – Depending on your local building codes, you might be able to build an office in your backyard. This gives you the mental and physical separation from the home. You leave your house but still have all the amenities of home just a few steps away.
Photo courtesy Will Leger
Office parks/coworking spaces – Finally, if you can’t stand working alone, there are many coworking spaces available everywhere. For a very small monthly investment, you have access to a shared desk and workspace. Coworking spaces offer Wifi, refreshments, shared desks and team/conference rooms. You just bring your laptop and work. Some people find the social activity stimulating to work.
Successful remote working ultimately depends on you. It requires discipline and organization. If you are the type of person whose attention wanders you might not be a good candidate. Here are some things you can do to improve concentration and reduce distractions.
- Music – some people use music to provide “white noise” to help them focus on tasks at hand.
- Minimize interruptions – Be careful of distractions / Internet / social media. Stay away from distractions online. Consider using browser extensions to block all websites for a period of time. (RescueTime)
- Pomodoro technique – Work 25 minutes without stopping and then take a 5-minute break. Specialized Pomodoro apps and websites can help you use this technique to stay focused.
- Set time for lunch and breaks – every 20 minutes look away from the computer screen for 20 seconds. Plan a regular time for lunch and get away from the computer.
- Face time – Plan regular trips to the company’s office. You need face time occasionally. This makes working remote more successful. Once you meet someone in person, it is much easier to work with them remotely.
- Demographics – Surprisingly, younger people prefer working in an office for the “social” aspects.
Tips for remote workers
- Keep a professional attitude – When remote working, it is tempting to not get dressed or shave or get out of your pajamas. Resist these behaviors, they affect your thinking. Maintaining professional behaviors will help you be more productive. Don’t take conference calls in bed.
- Turn off social media – Use organizational technology to keep on track, create lists. If you know what to do next, it will help you resist the temptation to waste time.
- Schedule all your time – Schedule your todo tasks as well as your meetings and appointments. When you have free time, refer to your to-do list and move to the next item on your list. Stay busy and your mind will not wander.
- Use fill-in tasks – I have a list of projects to do right now, to do in the future and to do someday. Having those lists prepared keeps you from wasting time by not knowing what to do.
- Establish regular hours – Keep regular hours. I start work at 8 AM and take lunch 11-11:30 and end my day at 5. Beware of the trap of working all the time. It is tempting to answer email and phone calls 24/7/365. Unless you are required to do this, working remotely is not an excuse to work 12 hour days. Working remote can improve work/life balance. Working all the time increases stress and is unproductive.
- Take regular breaks – Take time away from the computer screen, rest your eyes every hour. Take lunch every day, I take a shorter lunch (30 minutes) since I don’t have to get food or go anywhere to eat.
Pulling it all together
- No commute
- Fewer distractions / interruptions
- Lower employee attrition (higher retention)
- Better home/work balance
- Self Management (responsibility)
- Save money – no commuting costs = instant raise, eat at home
- No office space required/create a virtual company for startups
- No face time / alone / isolation
- Lose “social” aspect of the office
- Time management harder / requires more discipline
- No physical presence in the office – out of sight …
- Need to over communicate to be heard – you are not seen
- Must be a good time manager
Convincing the Boss
So how do you convince your company to allow you to work remote? In the studies on remote work, middle management seems to be the most resistant to allowing staff to work remote. This might be because they can no longer see their staff working in front of them. There is a certain amount of trust required on the part of managers to let go.
One suggestion might be to rotate the days you work remote. Maybe you go to the office on Monday and Friday and work remote Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday? Or maybe part of your department works remotely while the rest are in the office and then you switch. Companies using remote workers need less office space. Fewer offices/cubicles and less office furniture reduce costs for a company. It is a win-win for employees and their companies.
Remote working is not for everyone or for every company. Set up a remote working trial and see how it goes. I think you will be surprised how it can improve productivity, create happier employees and save money.