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? It can be a fruitful experience especially if you prepare and start adopting self-directed work habits. Here are some practical tips 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. 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 you can close. This will help screen out household noise (think flushing toilets or clattering pans from the kitchen) to prevent audio interference when you’re in a video call. Also get a headset (it’s a life saver). Have a professional-looking background. You don’t have to make it look fancy, just go for the clean and uncluttered look.

  3. Set a schedule and follow it

    Having a routine is the key to staying productive. Since working remotely allows for a lot of flexibility, you may be tempted to procrastinate or conversely, work beyond your hours.

    Start by making a list of tasks for the day. Make sure to define your work hours – set the time to start and end work (and don’t forget breaks in between!). Having a schedule and a to-do list provides a structure that will help you focus and become more efficient. Say no to distractions and time-wasters like the TV, social media (unless it’s part of your job) or tackling household chores. However, distractions are not your main enemy when working from home. More often than not, it will be the tendency to overwork rather than slacking off. Because bosses do not see you working, you may be pressured to prove that you are getting a lot done so you overcompensate. Work then spills over to your personal time. This is not a healthy practice and will only lead to burnout. Keep your work hours reasonable.

  4. Don’t get stuck with traditional communication tools

    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). Digital tools can help. For instance, using online collaboration tools is more efficient than emailing back and forth to check on a project’s progress. Video calls with the team is the popular choice (rather than phone calls) to ease the feeling of isolation.

    Clear communication is essential in any setting but it is crucial when working remotely. Give detailed instructions and always be open to questions and concerns. Adapt your communication style to the situation. 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.

    A note about online communication: When you’re telecommuting, there is a tendency to assume that everyone is on the computer, available at all times. You won’t see it but co-workers could be on a client call, having a project meeting, or maybe experiencing internet connection problems. Don’t expect an immediate response every time or assume that they are slacking off, mad at you or trying to ignore you when they don’t answer. Follow-up if you need something. Always ask first if they’re free before clicking on video chat.

  5. Stay professional

    A lot of people dream of working in their pyjamas. You can certainly do that when you’re working from home. Personally, I prefer getting dressed as if I were going to the office. 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 isolation at some point. As social beings we need to connect and communicate. It can also be demoralizing when you’re left out of the loop about company happenings. Help ease this feeling by being proactive. Schedule regular check-ins with your boss and co-workers using video chat or phone. Be active in your chat or messaging group. Initiate a collaborative project. If you deal closely with clients, give them a call just to check in or say hi. Walking outside and taking breaks from time to time also helps. You may not be able to chat with your neighbours at this time, but the change in scenery and fresh air will help you get over cabin fever.

  7. Have healthy habits

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

    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 work habits, you can be 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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