How to work effectively online or remotely – Tips from veteran telecommuters

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Have you been given the option to work from home? Awesome! If you prepare well and start adopting good, self-directed work habits, it can be a fruitful experience for you. Here are some tips to from veteran telecommuters:

  1. Preparation is everything

    Read Moving your work online? How to do it efficiently. It’s a step-by-step guide for a smooth transition. Aside from the hardware and software, see to it that you have:

    • Internet connection with adequate speed (do a speed test to know your Internet’s download and upload speed)
    • A good work space
    • Ample lighting
    • Electrical plugs nearby
    • Documents and equipment to do your work (files, contact numbers, etc.)

    Be clear about your company’s telecommuting policy. Know if there are rules for virtual check-ins, scheduled meets, platforms to use, and other do’s and don’ts. Most especially, know who to call if there are technical problems. Thorough preparation ensures a smooth transition and zero frustration moving forward.

  2. Have an environment conducive to working

    Designate an area in your home for work, preferably one with a door that you can close. This screens out household noise (think flushing toilets or clattering pans from the kitchen) and prevents audio interference when you’re in a video call. In relation to this, expect to be doing more video calls, so make sure that you have a headset (it’s a life saver) and a professional-looking background. You don’t have to make it look fancy. Clean and uncluttered surroundings look professional.

  3. Set a schedule and follow it

    Setting a schedule and following it is the key to staying productive. Since working remotely allows a lot of flexibility, you may be tempted to procrastinate or conversely, do work beyond your hours.

    It is important to make a list of the tasks you need to finish each day, set a time to start and end work, and schedule breaks in between. This helps you focus and become more efficient – you’re actually developing a routine. Say no to distractions and time-wasters like the TV, social media (unless it’s part of your job) or even doing household chores. But more often than not, remote workers are prone to overworking and extending work hours. Because our bosses our not seeing us actually working, we may feel pressured to prove that we are getting a lot done and overcompensate. This is not a healthy practice and will only lead to burnout.

  4. Don’t get stuck with traditional communication tools

    Expect to adapt to new scenarios and needs when working remotely. For example, emails and calls are good but you’ll have to do more in order to connect, motivate and engage your staff or team (especially if you’re a manager). This is where digital tools can help. For example, using online collaboration tools may be more efficient than emailing back and forth or calling often to check on a project’s progress. Also, many prefer video calls than phone calls since they ease the feeling of isolation. Your communication style also has to change. Clear and concise communication is essential in any setting but it is crucial when working remotely. Always provide clear and detailed instructions and be open to questions and concerns. Indicate whether it’s best to contact you by phone, email or chat. Do your best to attend to concerns as soon as possible and communicate often. Generally, being open to using new communication tools and strategies will be helpful to you and your team.

    A note about online communication: When you’re telecommuting, there is a tendency to assume that everyone is on their computer, available all the time. It can happen that a greeting or question you asked in your office chat or email will not be acknowledged or answered, and this will make you feel bad. You’ll think you’re being ignored or that you said something wrong, or perhaps a co-worker is slacking-off. Sometimes, it is just due to technical problems, or perhaps your co-worker is busy answering a call or is on a video chat. Don’t expect an immediate response every time or assume that a co-worker is ready to video chat without notice. Wait for their response without assumptions and always ask if they’re free before you click video chat.

  5. Stay professional

    A lot of people dream of working in their pyjamas. You can certainly do it when you’re working from home. Personally, I prefer getting dressed as if I were going to the office. For me, this does not only convey respect for colleagues and customers but more importantly, it’s a mental cue for me to get into work-mode. But if you don’t deal directly with customers or are more productive when you’re super comfortable (and your office allows it), then do what works for you!

  6. Feeling isolated?

    You’ll have to deal with the feeling of being lonely and alone at some point. As social beings we need to connect and communicate. You can ease this feeling by scheduling regular check-ins with your co-workers, team, manager or supervisor using video chat or via phone. If you deal closely with clients, give them a call just to check in or say hi. Even walking outside from time to time helps. You may not be able to chat with your neighbours at this time, but the open outdoors and fresh air will help you get over cabin fever.

  7. Have healthy habits

    Fight the temptation to work off a couch or your bed. Use an ergonomic chair and desk instead. Your back and neck will thank you for it. Other tips:

    • Take breaks and stretch or walk outside (read Health tips for computer users – Or six ways to avoid dying at your desk for more tips).
    • Rest your eyes from time to time using the 20/20/20 rule to prevent eye strain.
    • Don’t have chips and candy lying around on your desk. Instead, have healthy snacks on hand like nuts, veggies (like carrot sticks), or dried fruit.
    • Always drink plenty of water.
    • Plan and cook healthy meals for your breaks.

    Working from home gives you freedom, flexibility and in these times, protection from illness. Plus, by adopting smart communication strategies and small adjustments in your day-today work life, you can be even more productive and maintain a great work-life balance.
    Sources: Working remotely for the first time? These seasoned experts have advice for you to follow, Cameron Albert-Deitch, Inc.; Don’t make these 6 biggest mistakes if you’re working from home, says a guy who’s done it for 10 years, Tom Popomaronis, Make it (CNBC); and 10 mistakes to avoid when transitioning to remote work, Remote Year. Accessed March 20, 2020.

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