This coronavirus scare has half the business world working from home, and for many people, that’s an entirely new experience. I remember my first WFH position back in 2012. It took me a while to get into a groove of remote work that made me feel comfortable. Questions I asked myself when I first started to work remotely were:
- How can I inspire my boss’s trust so they know I’m actually working and not just screwing around at home?
- How much work do I have to do to prove myself?
- How do I keep myself motivated when I’m sitting in my own living room?
- Is it okay to watch TV and work at the same time?
- What about working in pajamas?
There were about a thousand questions in my mind, these being just a few. As an introvert, I enjoyed the prospect of being at home and instead of having to get up, get dressed, and go sit in some cold office, but as a social person, I also worried about myself having a lack of community. Now that I’ve been working remotely for the better part of the past 8 years, I can provide a much clearer picture of what a day in the life of a remote employee actually looks like, as well as some tips for how to ensure optimal productivity and a sense of accomplishment.
What does a workday look like for a remote employee?
Depending on your job type, you may have a specific start time where you have to be clocked in and begin working. No matter what time that is, your life is automatically going to be a bit easier because you won’t have to factor in your getting ready or commuting time. That is easily my favorite part of the remote working experience. Here’s an example work day for me:
7:30 – 8:00am: Wake up, take my time getting out of bed, make my morning cup of coffee, cook some breakfast that features protein and veggies (my favorite: poached eggs, sauteed kale and mushrooms, and a carb like gluten-free toast, buckwheat, or rice), get my laptop out and start working through my morning emails.
8:00-9:30am: Thankfully at my most recent job, no one would ever schedule meetings before 9:30am because they were all commuting into Manhattan. I always took advantage of that window of time to get into my own work. Right after coffee and breakfast, I’m at my sharpest, so this is a great time to do some writing. For me, that often includes preparing creative briefs for important projects, writing corporate communications for my role as a senior-level copywriter, copyediting projects that other writers have submitted to me, etc.
9:30-11:00am: On some days, this is the time for company meetings, and I often schedule my meetings for this window on other days as well. Online conference calls are convenient and easy to do at this time of day because I’ve already eaten and had some coffee, and I’ve already been productive this morning. I am not a huge fan of video conferencing, and most companies I’ve worked for don’t require them, but if they are required, two hours into my day is time enough to get dressed and do hair and makeup. (I generally keep it pretty simple anyway.) On days when I don’t have meetings, I use this window of time to pack up some simple snacks into a lunch box and head out to the local coffee shop.
This is one of my most important tips for remote workers: Find a space where other people are working remotely, whether that’s a coffee shop or a shared workspace. For me, it’s Indie Coffee Roasters, a clean and modern space in downtown Carmel, IN where lots of professionals gather daily to drink exceptionally delicious coffee! It can be so helpful to have a space where you can go, see and be seen, and engage in a little social banter on occasion. I prefer to sit up at the counter where socializing can happen, but many professionals like to sit at tables to be a little more isolated from socializing but still near other people. Now that I’ve had time to become accustomed to remote working, I am able to be in a public place and still be productive, but it may take time for newbies to work up to this.
Obviously in our current circumstances, social working spaces are not appropriate options at this time. However, I highly recommend setting aside time to have FaceTime or Marco Polo chats with your friends to get your daily social fix.
11:00-12:30am: This is the window of time when I’ve first arrived at the coffee shop and I usually spend a few minutes socializing with friends. While many people who work in offices have already had some social time in their day, I’ve already been working for 3+ hours and this is my first socializing opportunity.
12:30-4:30pm: During this final period of the day, I usually stay at the coffee shop, have a working lunch where I snack on the food I brought with me, and finish the rest of my required work for the day.
When I close my laptop at the end of my time at the coffee shop, I usually keep it closed for the remainder of the day, which is how I manage my work-life balance. I find it to be important to keep the separation in place so I don’t find myself tempted to work evenings just because I’m “in the office” which doubles as my home.
Some questions about remote working
Should I set up a home office?
Personally, having a home office space has never worked for me. I like working right in the center of the action, but that works for me because I’ve lived in a home where I was the only remote worker and I’ve lived completely alone. This is something that is up to each individual to try out. Some people may need a door they can close to cut off the rest of the world while they work, while others, like me, may need to simply leave the house and go out in public to work.
How do I handle workplace questions? How can I avoid miscommunication?
Open communication is important in any workplace, but especially for remote workers. In order to ensure that I have a good relationship with my coworkers, I spend several weeks per year working in the office for face-to-face meetings with my team. This may not be an option for everyone, so in cases where you can’t work in the office, I recommend frequent check-ins and at least one phone call a week talking with critical coworkers to build relationships with them. When in doubt, pick up the phone. Verbal communications will clarify a lot of confusion that comes from text/IM communication.
How do I avoid distractions?
Distractions will be an issue when you’re working from home because you don’t have the fear that your boss is looking over your shoulder to get you back on task. However, personal integrity and self-regulation is a quality that you will have to develop if you want to be a trusted remote worker. It takes time to work up to this, but it’s important to do it.
What should I do when I feel unproductive or unmotivated?
This is tough! I personally only feel unproductive or unmotivated when I’m doing a job a don’t like, and this is something I avoid at all costs! I love being productive and accomplishing things. However, when these feelings do occasionally hit, I usually make a hard stop for 15 minutes and try one of these tactics:
- Take a walk
- Eat a nutritious snack
- Change your work location
- Do something that engages a different part of my brain, like draw a doodle or read a book for a few minutes
How do I maintain a work-life balance?
As I mentioned earlier, I find it important to have a hard start and stop on my workday. That, of course, doesn’t mean I would make myself unavailable in an emergency. (As the remote employee in a team of in-house employees, I would often get called upon to handle a situation that would arise while everyone else is on public transportation just after a workday ends and I’m the only one with access to the computer!) However, for personal sanity, it’s important to have a hard stop for yourself so you can shift gears into your personal life. I also enjoy working from a coffee shop or remote working location so I can have the opportunity for a commute home to decompress.
And the questions from the top
How can I inspire my boss’s trust so they know I’m actually working and not just screwing around at home?
First of all, a good boss will not make you feel micromanaged, so hopefully, this is a personal concern and not one that has been put on you by the person you work for. My best advice for this is to simply do your work and do it well, meet deadlines, and communicate with your coworkers and managers whenever relevant. The best way to inspire trust is to be trustworthy!
How much work do I have to do to prove myself?
This same concern should be addressed by the above question. If you really feel that you have to prove yourself constantly, you may need to assess whether your working environment is healthy for you. But that’s a different topic entirely!
How do I keep myself motivated when I’m sitting in my own living room?
I believe this question was also addressed above. Motivation is self-made, but taking breaks also helps!
Is it okay to watch TV and work at the same time?
My gut says no. If you really want to be productive and complete quality work, you’ve got to keep yourself focused. Besides, if you have a TV show you’re really invested in, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you watch it without the distraction of responsibility.
What about working in pajamas?
This is up to each person individually, but for me personally, I can never wear sweatpants and get work done. I believe in actually showing up for work, and for me, that involves wearing pants. But, you should do what makes you feel good and productive.
What other questions do you have about the remote working experience that I might be able to help with? Drop them below!