How to be an effective remote worker

I’ve been remote working as a solutions architect for the past year. I’m based out of a home office here in Ireland in and I work remotely for MYOB in Australia. It’s a very long way from here to Australia with over 17,000 kilometers of globe and between 9 and 13 hours’ time difference depending on the seasons. Before I jump into it let me begin with a word of caution, remote working isn’t for everyone. To succeed as a remote worker, you need to be a self-starter, open and very disciplined. You also need great co-workers who are understanding, supportive and willing to make it work on the other end. I travel back to Australia 3 time a year to spend time with the team and I can’t stress enough the importance of spending face to face time with your colleagues. You need to set yourself up so that you can communicate with your team as often as possible and by as many different means possible – every day I make my presence felt through video conferences, email, screen sharing, SMS, twitter, yammer and  instant chat.

Here are some tips I’d like to share on how to be an effective remote worker.

Create a great working area for yourself, you deserve it!

If you plan to work from a home office be sure to take the time to create a great work-space for yourself. Eliminate noise and distractions and have plenty of natural light around you. I also find it’s really important to have a separate space in the house where I go to work. At the end of the day or when I’m taking a break it’s great to close the door behind the home office and step out into my home.

Match the time zone of your co-workers

There is a large amount of communication in my current role – listening, talking , influencing and challenging the team. To make it work I’ve aligned my working day to overlap with the team in Sydney as much as possible. In the summer time I start work around 5:45am (2:45pm in Sydney) and in the winter i flip it and work evenings, finishing around 1am (12pm in Sydney). This was I have 3 hours overlap with the guys every day.

Experiment with a personal kanban board

I started out with a daily to-do list to track my productivity and switched to a personal kanban board. It’s a great way to organise your time and ensure you are sending your time effectively especially during the periods of the day where you don’t have many distractions.

Get out of the house and meet people!

There are day’s where I realise I haven’t left the house all day and I always find myself much more drained and tired those evening. So set an alarm or pop a reminder in your calendar and be sure to get outdoors and meet some other humans! I try to get out every day either for a trail run or walk.

‘Leave work’ at the end of the day

I was speaking to a guy that remote works a few months ago and he told me that he actually walks out the back door in the mornings, says goodbye to the family and comes in the front door of the house again and goes into his office. In the evenings he does the opposite! I’m not advocating this by any means but I find it’s really important to switch off and leave work at the end of the day. There is always a temptation to go back into the office later in the evening  for 10 minutes to finish something off but 10 minutes will often turn into 2 hours and you end up working all day so be sure to leave the office and turn off when you are done.

Stay personal

Just like in any job keep things personal and be sure to spend the time keeping up personal relationships with you team. There is a temptation to get down to business and jump straight in to work talk when time is limited on both sides but don’t forget to keep things personal like you would in the office.

Travel back to the office regularly

Nothing beats hanging out in the office and spending face to face time with everyone building relationships with everyone. Schedule regular trips back to the office and don’t overload your schedule when you are there so you can spend time with everyone. On my last visit to Sydney we had a 2 day hack day in the office. It was a great to spend quality time hacking code in person with the guys.

Take breaks

Taking regular breaks is key to keeping yourself productive and focused on the job at hand. Get out of the office for 5 minutes , grab a coffee , listen to some tunes or better still grab some fresh air – you’ll be much more alert for the break.

Have many collaboration tools up your sleeve

Try all the online collaboration tools you can find, some days one works well and the next it will fail horribly. If one doesn’t work for whatever reason, don’t waste time, just move to the next one. If someone starts to associate you, the remote worker, as being hard to get a hold of or to communicate with it will warp their perception of you – so make it  as easy as possible for them.

Above all else pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and adjust 

Above all else, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Ask for regular feedback from everyone on how you are doing. Do they feel connected to you? How do they feel its working out?  Are you easy to work with? What can you change? Its a moving target and having the self awareness to adjust according to the projects you are working on will make sure you continue to contribute and work effectively from the home office.

Hope this helps!

2 thoughts on “How to be an effective remote worker

  1. I had a neighbour who used to work from the basement of his home. His little trick to make himself feel like he was really going to real workplace was to every morning get dressed in a full suit and tie, have breakfast with his family, kiss the kids goodbye, put on on his jacket, and then walk down the stairs to his office.

  2. This resonates well with me. I think it is critical to have a dedicated space away from distractions.
    I use a physical list on a pad (although I’m starting to use the Rally kanban for this nowadays).

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