7 Best Practice Tips For Successfully Working Remotely

Working outside of the office requires focus and strategy—and a little play. Here's how to make it work for you and your employer.

When I talk about working remotely most people have an immediate gut reaction to it; some feel a pit in their stomachs, while others feel like iron shackles have been removed and freedom from a sort of indentured servitude is on the horizon.

Whatever effect your initial assumptions about working outside of an office have on your psyche, know that it’s not uncharted territory—many people work remotely and thrive doing it!

Through my own experience working outside of an office environment from the age of 18, and now running a company with hundreds of virtual employees, I’ve gained some solid insight into the methods that lead to successful, enjoyable, and rewarding remote work.

1. Find the Right Job

This is one of the most vital aspects of working in general that people tend to dismiss. Instead, they only look at the number of zeros after the comma in a salary offer, or seek a sense of security in substantial health benefits.

Now, don’t get me wrong—a great salary and awesome health benefits aren’t something to shrug off, but it’s also an undeniable fact that if you don’t enjoy your work, you’ll continually feel unengaged and burn out, again and again. On the other hand, if you love what you do, you’ll do more of it, better.

The "right" job is typically one in which three main components converge:

  1. What you like to do
  2. What you do best
  3. What contributes value to an organization

Establishing roots in a job that combines these three things leads to greater job satisfaction, less stress, and improved performance.

So before a by-the-book kind of offer steers you in a direction that will lead to a psychological, emotional, and spiritual dead end, give yourself the permission to truly investigate a job that will be the right fit for you. Don’t think it’s out there? I dare you to give it a five-minute Google search, and go from there.

2. Set Yourself Up for Success Through Reducing Barriers

There are a lot of ways to reduce barriers to achieving success, but one of the basic and most critical ones lies in integrating systems of organization into your work process so that you’re better equipped to streamline productivity.

Whether you work from home at a big oak desk or in a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi, organization (within the drawers of your desk so you know exactly where your backup drive is, or on your laptop’s desktop so you know where to find a particular spreadsheet) is paramount.

Because the drudgery of organizing your work and workspace can feel like wasted time, taking you away from more urgent tasks such as meeting deadlines and replying to company emails, it’s easy to let it go by the wayside. But don’t underestimate it—strategic organization can pay off tenfold in productivity.

As a result, I’ve found that it’s best to incorporate organization into each task you do. A messy environment (physical or virtual) can make for a messy mind. A few extra seconds here, along with a some systematic thinking there, will save you hours of catch-up and self-induced frustration down the line.

3. Connect with Your Team

When you’re working remotely, a good amount of communication with your company may feel unnatural because you don’t want to "bother" anyone or seem too needy. But nothing galvanizes people more than working within a connected team.

In an office setting, you unknowingly benefit from the built-in luxury of running into a colleague in the break room and talking about how your weekends were or what’s new with the significant other. It may seem trivial, but it’s this person-to-person interaction that fortifies relationships, enables better project communication, and creates a sense of loyalty that leads people to make sacrifices for one another.

On a professional level, putting that extra effort into report edits for a coworker, or taking on an extra task that your colleague doesn’t have time to complete, can be pivotal in the glue that keeps a team working effectively. In this kind of culture, you feel more like a community in which the members "have each other’s backs."

Reach out as much as you can to the extent that it adds value to your working relationships. For example, let your manager know when you’re working on a particular assignment and offer updates. In a remote setting, your supervisors (and teammates!) will not know when you’re working on something unless you tell them.

Including away messages when you’re not working can also be helpful in keeping the lines of communication open and everyone on the same page. This kind of interaction, although virtual, is still significant and creates a more accessible community culture.

4. Play

A state of "play" within your work comes naturally when you feel connected to your team and you love your job. In this scenario, active engagement with your work leads to creative, fun, and healthy challenges when it comes to approaching tasks and producing valuable work.

This results in what many in the psychology and neuroscience fields refer to as flow: A state in which we’re so engrossed in what we’re doing that we lose self-consciousness. And this is where our best work is born—when we’re "in the zone," or acutely focused on our activity in the moment.

But what if this sense of play isn’t coming totally naturally or it needs a little room to develop? That’s where managing your energy, rather than your time, can compensate tremendously in the arena of enjoying your work.

5. Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time

If the idea of managing your energy versus your time inexplicably inspires a sigh of relief, good news: you’re sane. Managing your energy makes sense because it’s something you can control. Time, on the other hand, is often an elusive frenemy: sometimes on our side, but more often not.

Also, time is a finite resource, whereas energy can always be created (remember that good ol’ Law of the Conservation of Energy?). So, what it boils down to is finding a way to produce more effective energy to fuel your work.

Here’s how you do it: establish simple rituals that give you energy, rather drain it away. For example, insert 15-minute walks into your morning and afternoon work schedules. And stick to it! Although it may feel like a conflict of interest to tear yourself away from your computer and stop typing that one last email, the short break will get your blood flowing, increase oxygen to your brain, and fundamentally increase your energy.

Likewise, making time for exercise or meditation can drastically increase your sense of well-being, let alone your actual physical health. Remember, the key is to stick to your schedule for this energy-inducing power time in order to create effective, lasting results in your work lifestyle.

6. Persevere

I share this quote from Calvin Coolridge as often as I can, because it’s my mantra and inspires me every time I read it again:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

It’s actually scientifically proven that when we learn new tasks or take on challenges, mental agony is a natural sidekick. But, afterward, we feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment and our brains are stronger for having gone through the exertion.

There are always arduous humps to get over when it comes to ploughing through any type of work, and the best way to reach the finish line is often to simply take one step at a time until you’re on the other side.

7. Take Pride in Your Work

After you’ve created, toiled, played, and rocked it, it’s just as important to applaud yourself for a job well-done as it is to do the job well. Celebrate! The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that you achieve when you acknowledge your efforts will reinforce your subconscious to keep up the speed and continue making headway in your work.

It’s so crucial to understand just how impactful acknowledgement—of yourself and of others—can immensely affect performance and productivity. So, when you finish a big task, celebrate your accomplishment through sharing it with your team and getting that extra latte just the way you like it from you favorite coffee shop down the street.

Working remotely can be intimidating, and it can also be a blessing. When you understand the factors that go into successfully managing yourself and maintaining meaningful connection with your colleagues along with your own well-being, the word "remote" will become less of a connotation for isolation and more of a tool for choosing your own channels to thrive in your work.

Maren Kate Donovan is CEO of Zirtual, a company comprised entirely of remote employees.

[Image: bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock]

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5 Comments

  • f75b366a

    Thanks for the post! The tips were good, not only for those who work remotelly :) Lately I'm following every tip the Internet is providing me, and I'm going to save this in my favourite altogether with my last discovery, that I'll share with you so you can give me your opinion! It's about business cards, do you think these ones are so original they'll get loads of clients to your desk? http://lazypenguins.com/25-unique-business-card-concepts/

  • I particularly appreciate your note about celebrating accomplishments. When you are working alone it is too easy to just rush from one task to the next, never stopping to savor the accomplishments you are making. They is like the opposite of managing your energy, because your energy also gets refueled by positive self-regard. You need to feel good about yourself and what you're doing with your days, and that has to be specific, not just a general platitude like, "I love myself." You need to focus regularly on the concreted evidence of your awesomeness, and if you're the only one there, you're the one who is going to have to do it.

  • Chris J. Jankulovski

    Hi Maren,

    Although remote working is trending nowadays, there's a lot of misconceptions. Working remotely doesn't exactly mean achieving the "work/life balance" concept ( http://bit.ly/1ob3zl7 ) as some remote workers might feel a sense of isolation.

    Having a routine and following the points here would be of help in making remote working more fulfilling :)