The future of work
While working virtually is a monumental change for most people, there’s a reason why many industry experts are calling it the future of work. According to Fast Company, 34% of business leaders surveyed at the Global Leadership Summit said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. 82% of telecommuters reported lower stress levels and 80% claimed to have higher morale (PGI 2014 State of Telecommuting). Taking complete ownership of your workday – read: no micromanagers hovering over your desk all day, no nine-to-five workday, no dress code – is empowering.
But although the perks are many, there will be plenty of challenges, too. Many remote workers have a hard time coping with the lack of social interaction, bounty of home distractions (those dirty dishes in the sink that are calling your name), lack of on-demand, on-site tech support, and general feeling of disconnectedness. Luckily, there are ways to overcome each of these roadblocks, with the right discipline and set of tools.
Here are 9 tips for thriving, not just surviving, the first 90 days
They say habits are created in 21 days. When it comes to starting a new job, the first 90 days are the most important. It takes that long to get the lay of the land, undergo training, dig into some real projects, and get to know the people you’ll be working with (and vice-versa). Not only are these first three months crucial for management to see how you fit into the established work culture, but as the new employee, you’ll be making a critical decision yourself: should you stay or should you go. Studies have actually shown that 20% of employee turnover happens in the first 90 days.
When your new job is remote, it can be that much harder (and take longer) to get up to speed, especially if you are coming from a traditional office environment or non-virtual workplace. These eleven tips will help you get comfortable, and confident, in your new remote role, regardless of any prior experience working with a virtual team.
- Set up your work space. Having a dedicated work space is vital for your success as a virtual employee. While it’s nice to have the ability to set up your desk however you’d like, make sure your primary goal is increased focus and concentration. You don’t want to be distracted by the TV, piles of laundry, or yard work to be done. It’s not necessary that you have a separate room dedicated to your home office – or even that you stay home at all! – but you will need to find a spot where you can look and feel professional and do your best work.
- Get your communication tools in order. It would be impossible to do your job effectively, and stay sane while working virtually, without having systems set up for communicating with colleagues, managers, and clients. Not only should you make sure you’re covered from every angle – phone calls, conference calls, video conferencing, instant messaging, project management, time management, file management – ensure that your systems work properly before putting them to the test with colleagues or clients.
- Keep a consistent schedule. Another one of the benefits of being remote is having more flexible hours. The rest of your team may be spread out across the country, or world, so there’s no reason your workday has to follow the traditional nine-to-five schedule. Or you may find you’re getting as much done in six hours as you would in eight in a regular office environment. That said, you should find the schedule that works best for you – and your team – and stick to it. The consistency will help others know when they can reach you, and it will help you stay organized.
- Figure out your ideal working environment. Does complete silence help you focus, or would you prefer to have music in the background to help fill the space? Does listening to podcasts throughout the day make it feel like you’re not alone, or does it just interrupt your concentration? It can be a big change, going from a noisy, traditional office environment (especially if you worked in an open office) to the peace and quiet of your own home. For some, the silence and isolation that comes with working virtually can feel unsettling and distracting. Take some time in the beginning of your new job to try different tactics to fill the void, if it becomes an issue. If you find you work better with few interruptions and little background noise, congratulations – we think you’ll be quite happy here.
- Get to know your team. Learning about your colleagues is much easier in an office environment. People have pictures of family hung up on their cubicle and office walls. Bumping into someone during lunch can turn into a half-hour chat about anything from recent vacations to kids to the latest Netflix series. When you are working virtually, those serendipitous encounters are nonexistent. That’s why it’s important to find – or make – time to ask questions about your colleagues, chit chat about un-work related things, and share photos or videos the same way you would a story in-person. If you’re using a communication tool like Slack for collaboration, consider creating an off-topic channel where employees can post anything from what they’re eating for lunch today to what they’re up to this coming weekend.
- Find the right balance (work-life balance, that is). According to a report from ConnectSolutions, 30% of workers said that telecommuting allowed them to accomplish more in less time, while 24% of those surveyed said they were able to accomplish more in about the same amount of time. In most cases, working virtually is good for productivity. Unfortunately that can make it bad for work-life balance. Because your home is your work space, it’s easy to continue the work into all hours of the night and over the weekends. Try your best to set rules for yourself when it comes to when you “leave the office,” when you check email, etc.
- Figure out what energizes you. If you’re missing the social element, consider working from a coffee shop once or twice a week. If you find yourself getting stuck while working on difficult problems or assignments, get out of the house and take a quick walk or go for a run. One of the biggest challenges with remote working is being 100% responsible for your own experience, which – with the right attitude – can be a blessing (think complete flexibility) as opposed to a burden. Don’t be afraid to seek out a change in scenery when necessary.
- Utilize video whenever possible. One of the downsides to working virtually is not being able to pick up non-verbal cues when you’re in conversation with your teammates. Tone can also be an issue for some people when you are communicating solely via writing. For that reason, and to help minimize the isolated feeling some people have when they are no longer in an office environment, use video conferencing as often as possible. There are lots of free solutions that make it easy to jump on a quick video call, including Google Hangouts and Zoom.
- Put an end to bad habits. For some people, working remotely gives them free reign to indulge in their worst procrastination habits: endless Google searching, engaging in social media during work hours, taking or making too many personal calls… Fortunately there are tons of great, free online resources to help you maintain your productivity when you are remote. The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most popular time management strategies and SelfControlApp is an excellent way to keep yourself off of Facebook and Twitter when you need to focus.
In general, the benefits of working virtually outweigh the disadvantages. With a little effort, you’ll find yourself doing more in less time before you know it. So sit back and enjoy filling your coffee cup at the from your own kitchen and working in an environment perfectly suited for you!
Do you currently have a remote nonprofit or association position? What strategies or tools have helped you thrive in your virtual job? Let us know in the comments.