Congratulations! You just got hired for your first remote job. A world of possibilities just opened up to you: You can now work in your PJs at any hour. Set your own schedule. Remote workers have been shown to feel happier and more valued at work compared to all other workers, but there is a dark side as well.
Cross-time-zone communication, a lack of structure, more distractions, and isolation all threaten to overshadow the joys of remote work. But don’t worry–we’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. This guide will walk you through the major challenges you will face in your remote job–and how to conquer them.
Balancing Work And Life
You’re ready for work to finally be about what you do, not how long your butt is at your desk. But then you start to find yourself wondering if the day’s work was really enough. You push yourself just a little longer, a little later, and next thing you know, you’re working all day, stressed to the max, and fantasizing about that idyllic remote life you thought you were getting.
When you’re not punching in and out of work, it’s easy to feel guilty and end up overworking. In fact, remote workers tend to overwork, not underwork. To avoid overworking and burning yourself out, adopt the mentality that Popforms founder Kate Stull gained through painful trial and error:
“There is always more to do, and when you work remotely, there is no one to tell you to go home or that the office is closing, so it has to be YOU who decides when to stop.”
Defining Your Priorities
On Monday mornings, define the most important priorities for your week. Every morning, define the 1-3 priorities for your day. This way, when the end of your day or week rolls around, you’ll be able to end your day with confidence, knowing you did the day’s most important work. Remote work is supposed to be a better way to make a work/life balance for yourself. So set boundaries. It’s important to get work done in a timely manner, but that doesn’t mean you need to be online or available 24/7.
Experimenting With Your Schedule
When are you the most productive? When are you the least productive? You might not know the answers, but you should find out. Experiment with your days. Test different routines and a few different sets of working hours. Take notes on productivity, efficiency, and happiness so that you can “test” which schedules work best for you.
Maybe you do your best work in the early morning after a brisk exercise regimen. Maybe you’re a night owl and do your best if you can sleep in and start work later in the day. It’s okay to set different schedules for different days of the week! You have so much flexibility in this job–use it to find the rhythm that’s uniquely best for your work and productivity. Just make sure to keep your team up to date on your availability.
But even while you’re experimenting, you need to strictly enforce the schedule you set–even if you change it tomorrow. Work the hours you set for yourself, then make a clean break between work and home.
Dressing For The Job
I love wearing my PJs as much as the next person, but there comes a point at which comfy goes too far. Taking care of your appearance is a sign of respect to yourself. It will make you feel more respected and more professional.
Shower regularly. Pretend you have somewhere to be, and put in the effort to look good for it–even if that somewhere is only your local coffee shop. Having a grooming routine is also one great way to signal to yourself that you’re beginning your workday, and that it’s time to be productive.
Socializing And Making Friends
At first, you’ll hardly notice it. You’ll be enjoying the lack of office drama and distractions. Then you’ll start to feel a bit restless, but you won’t know why. Shrugging that off, you’ll hold a conversation with yourself to figure out your lunch plans–PB&J or grilled cheese?
A few weeks later when you have to meet with your financial advisor, you’ll realize that conversation is hard. Faced with your own impending hermit-hood, you have a choice. Either you order from Amazon Prime every couple days just to chat up your local delivery guy, or you can try working at your local coworking space or coffee shop.
Sometimes, shaking up your usual environment is the best thing you can do for productivity. One reason for that is the Hawthorne Effect, which shows that people improve their behavior when they are being observed. This is especially helpful if you’re having trouble with procrastination or have hit a mental block on a project.
Paying for coworking space not appealing to you? No worries. A few hours a day for a couple days a week at your local coffee shop will also help you feel less isolated.
Offices, for all their flaws, at least try to be distraction-lite zones. When you’re at home all day, there’s no social pressure standing between you and your TV, gaming console, or favorite books.
Learning to manage and avoid these distractions is critical for the remote worker. There are a lot of great apps to help you fight distractions online, apps like RescueTime, Freedom, and FocusBooster. Unfortunately, these apps can only help so much when distractions also exist in your physical space. The true key to avoiding these distractions is to strengthen your willpower.
Take Breaks With Purpose
Everyone needs to take breaks–in fact, taking breaks will help your mind reset and refocus, making you more productive in the long run! The trick is to take breaks with purpose. Don’t just break focus from your work whenever you feel like it–schedule your breaks ahead of time.
Then, be fully present when you take a break. Don’t let yourself drop into a half-work, half-distracted mode. Your work won’t get done well, and you won’t feel rested either.
How To Be Your Own Tech Support
You know all those remarks your grandmother makes about your generation being too reliant on the internet? Well, nana, we just proved you right. Working remotely puts you completely at the mercy of the internet–or, more accurately, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and power company.
Your remote job also sets you up as the one-man office management team. This means you are the tech support. So it’s time to come up with a good contingency plan if you can’t get online or experience hardware or software problems.
First, when you start your remote job, make it a priority to know who you should talk to if you need help setting up your virtual private network (VPN) access or if you need to troubleshoot something. But sometimes the problem isn’t anything you can fix–a power outage, or trouble with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will be the fault. These things happen–but they don’t have to ruin your work day.
Have a backup plan. We recommend getting a mobile hotspot Wi-Fi that you can use when your internet becomes unreliable, or use your phone’s personal hotspot to get online when your home internet’s down.
At Zapier, every team member has a Verizon Jetpack Mifi to use in case of Internet emergencies. This way, our team can stay connected and productive no matter where they are. If your company doesn’t automatically send new employees a hotspot device, see if it’s something you can expense.
Here’s the ultimate advice for your remote job: You have the flexibility, the control, and the smarts to tailor every solution to every problem you’ll face while working remotely. So embrace the trial and error. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and find the rhythm that works best for you. Everyone who works remotely is still learning and evolving in their remote work style.