Have you ever considered a work at home career? Do you dream of ditching the commute to work and embracing a life of telecommuting?
Work at home jobs are appealing for many reasons, however, if you're not careful you could be in for a disappointment.
How to Succeed in Working Remotely
There are few things as impressive as when you can work from home as a remote employee. You get the benefits of a steady paycheck and the flexibility in working in your home office.
But working from home is a privilege that requires additional responsibilities. If done wrong, you could end up getting fired and have a hard time finding a job replacement – unless, of course, you have a killer resume at the ready. You might also unintentionally limit your income and promotions.
Let's look at what I've learned working from home, and how you can get the most from being a remote employee.
Communication is the undercurrent in working from home successfully. It's kind of like how humans need air to breathe.
This idea is true with most jobs but becomes a top priority when working remotely. That's because your primary connection with the company you work for and your co-workers is 100% through the digital space. If you don't get good at communicating over the internet, you will leave a path of confusion and frustration.
Excellent communication isn't just about the number of words you write. It more has to do with being clear, concise, and direct.
Over the years I've focused on over-communication, which I think is a good thing at its' core. But I'm learning to write what I mean in fewer words, to make what I'm trying to communicate easier to digest and understand.
Excellent communication comes down to a few core principles:
- Asking the right questions as early as possible
- Making sure you understand each request or task
- Explaining complex problems for anyone to understand, regardless of their background
- Being careful about what assumptions you make
- Taking an active role in whatever you touch
Organization and Work Efficiency
You could be at the top of your field, but if you can't organize your workday, you could fall flat on your face when working from home.
I've worked with well-intentioned individuals who had a hard time getting this right. They were smart and talented but had a hard time organizing their time when working through multiple priorities at home.
It becomes about making order out of chaos. The better you become at what you do regularly, the more the company will go to you in solving those problems. Being organized means increased responsibilities and more tasks coming your way (and can anyone say cha-ching).
This idea isn't about letting your employer put unrealistic expectations on your time; it's about increasing your work efficiency. In most work at home situations, no one is going to dictate your every move. You have to figure this out on your own.
A few questions I like to ask myself in making sure I'm on track:
- Are my priorities for today and this week clear?
- Am I being blocked by anyone, and have I communicated this clearly to the correct people?
- Are the expectations of what I will accomplish with my time realistic?
- In regards to what I am working on: what are the main risks? Have I communicated these risks?
As you can probably tell, being organized is highly coupled with communication. Both communication and organization depend on each other, and the more you can improve these skills, the more you will increase your value.
If you want to excel at working from home, focus on your communication and organizational skills. You'll decimate your competition if you do.
There is an element of working from home that requires a higher level of confidence than working in an office. People depend on you to work, even though they can't physically see you at your desk.
The more you can convince your co-workers that you know what you are doing, and are reliable in solving problems, the more you increase your value as a remote worker.
Your value should be evident through your day-to-day output. If the company you work for starts to wonder if you are working at all, that is a bad sign.
But once you get to the point where people learn to rely upon you for high-value output, they will start to give you the benefit of the doubt. When something takes you longer than expected, they assume this is because it is a more complex task than expected; as opposed to questioning your abilities or work ethic.
And I can't stress how important this is when working from home. When the company needs to let people go to cut costs, you don't want to be at the top of the list.
It's easier for a company to fire remote employees than their in-office counterparts. You can counteract this by being a necessary component on your team.
I'm a natural introvert. I suffer from social anxiety when I'm in crowds of people I don't know very well.
But even if you are an introvert like me, we all need human connection. When working from home, this becomes more vital. Building personal relationships is harder when you aren't physically working with people.
Creating a personal connection with your co-workers is about team dynamics. Strong teams know each other well. The more you can identify a human behind a name, the more you can collaborate effectively with each other.
There are several ways you can build secure personal connections when working from home:
Not being able to walk up to someone and have a real conversation means it is difficult in having more in-depth discussions. Email does not work great when there's a ton of back and forth.
Chat software, like Slack, helps solve this problem. It allows you to have private conversations with individuals, or have rooms dedicated to teams. It also provides a way of having lighter social conversations through general chat rooms. These can be fun and gives a break from the regular day-to-day conversations.
Being able to see your coworkers regularly during meetings does a great job connecting with your coworkers on a personal level. You can see expressions, hear voices, and interact with people, not much different from what you would do in an office environment.
If you work for a company that does not have this setup, I highly suggest you push them to implement video chat company-wide. Even if your company has a central office, they should be able to install a webcam so that you can be a part of meetings in the office. Google Hangouts and Zoom are great options.
You will want to have a decent web camera that produces a clear picture. Even if you don't end up doing video conferences, you will want to have a good headset or microphone, that will record your voice crisp and clear. It can be annoying to be on a call with someone who is talking, but no one can understand what they are saying. "Did anyone hear what Chris said?"
In Person Gatherings
Spending in-person time with your co-workers adds a human element that is hard to replicate when you are a digital nomad. Sharing meals, chatting over a beer, and attending conferences can do wonders in building a personal bond with your online co-workers.
The goal is not necessarily to become best friends with everyone at your company. But the more you can connect with others on a personal level, the more integrated you become into that company.
If you work remotely for a company and don't do any of the above, I recommend you request these things. Otherwise, you are going to feel like you work on an island, and work depression can set in quickly.
Internet Speed and Reliability
When working from home, your internet connection is your lifeline. Without it, you're left sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs.
I've worked with people who tend always to have some internet issue. They either take forever downloading a large file (which wastes time), or their internet is not reliable, and they will frequently go offline.
Besides slowing you down (literally), it doesn't put you in a positive light if you seem to have constant internet issues. Having a reliable internet connection is a vital aspect of working from home.
In addition to getting stable internet, spend extra money ($100-$300) on a reliable wireless router. The best routers are mostly set it up and forget about it and will work reliably for multiple years. The one I use has lasted over 3-years and is still going strong. I can even get a reliable internet connection from my front porch!
What if you are needed for a critical issue and end up losing the internet? Losing your internet connection can happen to anyone, but the more you can reduce this risk based on your internet provider and hardware, the less likely this will occur at the wrong time.
Being at the top of your game means you need to prioritize your physical wellbeing.
If you are always dead tired when you work at home, you are going to find it challenging to focus on the problems at hand. You also might end up taking your frustration out on your coworkers or managers, which is never a good thing.
In my case, when my sleep schedule is not consistent or if I'm having problems sleeping, my monitor feels like a gateway to hell. Words look like mush and issues seem impossible to solve. My comfortable work environment doesn't make this any easier.
Save yourself pain and suffering by making sure you are performing at the top of your game. Figure out what sleep schedule works best for you and your family, and try to stick to it (during the weekdays at least).
In most cases, your remote employer will talk to you about the expectations on the hours you work. Whatever is decided and agreed upon, stick as closely to the plan as possible. And make sure you are keeping timezones in mind.
If you are scheduled to start working at 8 AM MST, make sure you are online at that time, and not 8:15 AM. Keeping a regular schedule relates to building trust with your company.
This idea might seem like a small issue, but having your managers wonder why you aren't online is not a good thing. Coming across as flaky doesn't put you in a positive light.
When you need to take off early, or take an extended lunch, make sure you communicate when you will be gone and about when you think you will be back. It's not about having people micromanage your time; it's to limit the possibility of someone looking for you and not being able to get a hold of you. Do this a few times, and people might start to wonder what you are "really" doing at home.
Have you ever tried to get work done with a small child yelling in your ear? It's not fun, and it is incredibly hard to focus. Let's face it: For some of us, a remote job – especially one where you might be your boss, may not be as fun as it sounds.
Having a distraction-free work at home environment will make your time more efficient. It also doesn't help your work at home status if your coworkers think that you spend most of your time watching kids at home.
Luckily, my kids are older, and even when they are off from school, they keep themselves busy by playing outside or doing things on their own in our house.
In the past, I was interviewing with a possible employer for a remote position. At the time, my youngest daughter would have these tantrum fits (she was four years old at the time). During this video interview, she would storm into my office and start wailing. I'm convinced that part of the reason they didn't make me a job offer was that they were concerned I didn't have a place where I could work undistracted.
Having a solid work ethic is required while working at home. Would you hire someone to do a job who you thought was lazy?
Developing a driven work ethic takes time, and isn't going to form just because you are working from home magically. It helps if you like what you do, and have lots of experience. It also helps in thinking about what you are working towards. Do you envision having this job long-term? Or are you pursuing financial independence?
Like any job, some days you might find it hard to work. But if you have an end goal in mind, this can help you push forward.
The goal is to work as hard as you can, to give you more options in the future. This goal might be more money, or the opportunity to switch to a different role that fits you better.
Optimize your Home Office
Being able to work from your home office means that you can define your work environment.
Improve anything that will help make your day more enjoyable. For me, I've grown to love working on Mac laptops, as I've found them to be reliable and I don't have to worry about viruses (so I've always requested a Mac work computer). I also like to use a standing desk, and have decent speakers where I can pump up the music and enjoy some Kendric Lamar.
Anything that is going to make you feel comfortable, relaxed (but not too relaxed), and helps you focus on solving problems, is money well spent. Some of these things you might have to cover out of your pocket. But you won't know unless you ask!
A crappy chair that gives you back pain is going to become a bigger problem over time. Solve these types of issues early, and your future self will thank you.
More recently, I've converted to a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, which has simplified my computer setup. I also have a USBC/Thunderbolt 3 doc that allows me to connect + charge my laptop with one cable to all of my workstation equipment: monitors, ethernet, speakers, charging cables, etc.
And for the love of God, please set up a computer backup solution! There are online backup services you can use, or like me, you could purchase a computer backup drive that is compatible with your OS. I use a WD My Passport drive, and it works flawlessly with my setup. I don't have to think about it and know if I am connected to my workstation, everything is getting backed up regularly.
Be Quick On Your Feet
Sometimes you are going to have to work on things that don't fill you with feelings of butterflies and rainbows. But remember, working from home means there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who would love to do what you are doing.
Being a valuable remote employee means that you are willing to tackle things that make you uncomfortable, up to a certain point. If you push back on every task that is assigned to you because it doesn't fit with what you want to do, eventually your employer might decide they need to find someone who fits that role better.
Don't underestimate the value of being a kick-ass problem solver. Learning new things, or tackling problems that make your insides squeal, can often have you learning much more than if you only stuck to what makes you comfortable.
It takes skill and tact to understand what type of tasks to push back against, so I would advise you to move forward carefully until you know your value and your strengths.
Own Your Mistakes
When you make a mistake, own up to your part of the problem. Show your coworkers and managers how you are going to prevent this problem from happening again.
Owning your mistakes not only is the right mentality to have in general, but it reflects how valuable of a remote employee you are.
If you are continually looking for others to blame and playing the blame game whenever you can, this erodes how much people trust you. People will wonder if you are trying to cover your tracks and if you care about what happened.
You might work alone in your home office, but you are still part of a team. Show that you are a team player and care about the results and effectiveness of the team above everything else.
Working from home is a tremendous opportunity. You have more freedom with your time, and the commute is fantastic.
But just because you work in your home office, doesn't mean you can take it easy and watch Netflix all day. Doing your job seriously, and improving your communication and organizational skills ensure that someone will most likely always be looking to add you to their team.
Written by Michael for Your Money Geek and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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