Remote working isn’t anything new. For decades, people have been taking their work home, working from home, contracting from outside the office, freelancing, and, in general, working some percentage of their work week from a place that is not their office.
Earlier this decade, this trend took on new legs when large corporations began using the work from home option as a perk for their employees, a simple way to help keep a workforce happy.
But that didn’t work out so well. By 2017, some of the biggest corporations -- companies like Yahoo, Bank of America, and IBM -- pulled their employees back to the office. It felt like they were treating remote working as a failed experiment.
But it isn’t an experiment. Remote working is an effective way to work for the right kind of people, especially if they know how to make it really work.
According to a Gallup survey, "The optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to less than 80% of their workweek -- or three to four days -- working off-site."
Before even considering taking on the work from home lifestyle, you should first take a moment to consider whether or not you can make it work for yourself. Does remote working fit into your current lifestyle? Does your home life support an environment which can make working there possible? Do you work well alone? Will you work well when you are in the company of a significant other or family? Can you really be effective at your job if you do that job outside the office?
If you want to give remote working a try for the first time, may I strongly suggest working from home part time until you get your feet under you. There are a lot of things to get organized around, not to mention the changes you may be putting your co-workers through.
Once you have begun that transition, begin to evaluate how you are doing. Are you being effective at your job? Are you focused and free of distractions? Check in with your team, if you are working with one, and make sure that you address any rough spots in your transition to remote worker.
If you truly are ready to take on being a remote worker, I would like to present you with some best practices that we have been discussing at RevUnit.
When I joined RevUnit as a remote working contractor in 2017, I thought I had worked in a few progressive work environments, but I was wrong. RevUnit proved to be a completely different working experience from any other workplaces I have encountered.
What was different about RevUnit was not readily apparent to me. What I did not understand was that #WorkBetter is not just a hashtag to them. It is a call to action. It is why they continually examine how they work and challenge preconceptions about what works and doesn’t. They have a passion for it, a fever that I immediately caught.
Upon arriving at RevUnit, I felt that they had integrated their teams of in-office, work from home, and remote workers, finding ways to allow for collaboration and innovation within a team of workers who do not share the same physical space. Through their example, I was able to see some patterns form, from which I began to put together a list of best practices.
It is important for you to understand that these best practices are not exclusively for remote workers. These best practices are targeted at anyone working in a mixed environment; in-office workers who work with remote workers can find value in these practices as can managers who are empowering their teams toward better collaboration.
As always, your mileage may vary. You may find that some of these practices are too much for your situation, and some may not go far enough. Good luck in your remote working practice.
Just like an in-office worker, remote workers are not expected to be at their desk every minute of the workday. But it is considered a best practice to let people know that you are not available. At RevUnit, we use Slack as our means of communication, but you may be using any number of products for communication. Regardless of the product, if you need to step away, please update your status and if possible mention your expected return time. Also, remember to update your status upon your return. In-office workers should remember that their remote co-workers are not able to look over at your desk to see if you are not sitting there. Let everyone know your status.
Best Practice: Update your online status before you become unavailable and after you return.
Consider installing Slack (or your team’s communication product) on your mobile device. This best practice is not advocating 24/7 access from you. Sometimes it is more convenient for you to use your mobile device to communicate with your team when you are away from your laptop. Does your remote co-worker who lives in a different time zone need an answer to an important question? Consider taking a moment while you are in line to order that delicious burrito to give them the answer that may save them hours of work.
Best Practice: Install Slack on your mobile device.
Remote workers, especially those who are not in the same time zone as their teammates, can have difficulty with their work/life balance. Putting in your eight hours does not mean you have to work a couple of more hours in another teammate’s time zone. Teams need to establish expectations around each member’s availability and respect those parameters. We recommend snoozing notifications on Slack during non-business hours and setting up Do Not Disturb on your phone.
Best Practice: Set up Slack to snooze your notifications during non-business hours.
Best Practice: Set up Do Not Disturb on your mobile device.
Best Practice: Add working hours to your shared calendar.
Meetings at RevUnit are almost always video-based (we use Zoom) since meeting attendees often reside in different offices or are working remote. Some people may gather around a conference table, but many will attend from their desk. But don’t use video-based meetings like you would if it were telephone-based. Best practice at RevUnit is attending Zoom meetings with your video on. Attending with your video on can ensure that you aren’t zoning out like you may during a conference call. Sharing your video also helps other team members gauge your body language and can prevent remote workers from feeling isolated from in-office workers. And conference room phones are notorious for blocking phone audio over speakers in the room; you may need to wave down participants so you can be heard. We know that remote workers won’t have access to a conference room or private space, so sharing your video might not always be possible, but please be aware of the expectation.
Best Practice: Turn on your video when attending video-based meetings.
There can be extra challenges to remote workers. Issues like feeling isolated, ignored, over-stressed, and depressed can sneak up on remote workers. Please be aware of these challenges and check in regularly with yourself and the people who support you. Hint: Ask other remote workers for tips on navigating these issues.
Best Practice: Be aware of how working remote can affect your emotional state.
Sometimes things can go wrong, and being a remote worker can complicate things more than usual. Please update your manager and your human resources representative with your emergency contacts. And give your friends and family your employer’s contact information in case they need to contact us.
Best Practice: Add emergency contacts to your company information.
Best Practice: Inform your friends and family of your employer’s contact information.
Having a good work environment in your home can be a challenge: You may not enjoy working on your couch all the time. It may be an inconvenience to you and your family if you work from the dining room table.
Having a separate room for working in your home is advisable. Nothing is better for your work/life balance than closing a door and walking away at the end of the day. Make a great space for yourself in which to work.
Best Practice: Find a space in your home where you won’t disturb or be disturbed by those who share your home.
Best Practice: If possible, work in a spare room.
Ergonomics are important. For instance, a dining room table probably not the best level for your body to operate a laptop keyboard. And that dining room chair may be great for a 30 minute meal, but try sitting on it for four hours. Working in a poor physical position will affect your focus and your stamina which can affect you after business hours. Make sure that you take into account the wear and tear you are putting your body through before it becomes a health issue.
Best Practice: Work from a desk that is at the right level for your body.
Best Practice: Use a comfortable chair that is built to support your body for hours at a time.
A laptop’s microphone and speakers may not be appropriate for meetings via Zoom in some environments. Taking a meeting from a coffee shop may pick up conversations at a different table. Those people may not wish to hear your meeting and your client may not like that confidential information is being broadcast in a coffee shop. Augmenting your laptop with a headset or headset/mic and having that with you at all times can be very helpful.
Best Practice: Use the mute button on your video conferencing tool liberally when in a noisy environment.
Best Practice: Ask a fellow meeting participants if your video and audio is at acceptable levels.
Best Practice: If you are leading your meeting, find the most quiet possible place to take that meeting.
Best Practice: If you are taking a meeting in an uncontrolled environment, make sure you have a headset with a microphone to ensure proper participation.
Sure, you close your office door when your meeting starts and prefer not to be interrupted. But if you haven’t established and reinforced that expectation, your fellow housemates may treat your office door like it isn’t there, which can be annoying and embarrassing to you, your housemates, and those with whom you are meeting.
Best Practice: Set rules around interruptions during work hours and enforce them.
Best Practice: Establish clear expectations about your remote working environment with those with whom you are sharing your home.
Best Practice: Establish ways for people to communicate with you even though you are physically in the same home. For instance, sending a text message instead of interrupting with non-emergency communications like would happen if you were at an office and not in the next room.
Hating their internet service provider or power company can be a remote worker’s least favorite hobby. Sometimes your broadband connection can become unstable. Sometimes the power goes out. If you think about solutions to these scenarios ahead of time, this can become an inconvenience and not a work emergency.
Best Practice: Have a backup plan for when your internet connection goes down. Use a mobile hotspot, local coffee shop, or local shared workspace.
Best Practice: Test out your backup plan regularly. Does a mobile hotspot or local coffee shop have a strong broadband connection for your needs? Try it out before you need to rely on it.
Best Practice: Install necessary communication products on your mobile device so you have a secondary way to communicate with teammates.