Working from home gives you the freedom to work when and where you want. It gives you ownership over your time and the flexibility to work in the ways that best suit your preferences.
This freedom is exhilarating: Finally, you have control over your workspace and lifestyle! However, with that freedom comes a lot more responsibility.
There’s no clocking in at 8 am for your job, there’s no specifically allotted time for breaks, and there’s no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you complete your work.
Now, all that responsibility falls on you.
It’s up to you to figure out where you work, when you work, and how you manage what’s expected of you.
Remote Work Expectations
You Need to Show Up
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you have total autonomy. The expectations for your job are the same as if you were going in to the office:
- You need to behave professionally
- You need to show up for meetings
- You need to get work done
- You need to keep the lines of communication open
If anything, working remotely means you actually have to communicate more! This is one of the reasons that many businesses have taken so long to start implementing remote work; they believe that with no one looking over employees’ shoulders, work won’t get done, communications will become a problem, and employees will essentially “check out”.
If you can get into the habit of showing up (not physically, but virtually), demonstrate your value beyond your physical presence, and prove that remote employees are at least as productive as on-site workers, you’ll not only put yourself in a great position for professional success in the “new normal”, but also help encourage businesses to keep work-from-home as an employment option over the long-term.
Take Responsibility for Your Time
Working remotely means you are responsible for your own time. Being able to control how and where you work according to your own needs is a huge benefit, but it also means taking ownership of how you spend your time.
Whether working remotely or in an office, your employer and your manager should never act as an enforcer or babysitter. It’s your responsibility to know exactly what work you have been assigned, when it’s expected by, and what to do next. When you’re the one in charge of your work, you can’t say that you ran out of time to complete an assignment or simply didn’t know about it. It’s your job to be organized and efficient.
If you’re having trouble meeting a deadline, or don’t know what to do next, communicate with your teammates, mentors, or managers, so that there aren’t any surprises.
Complications do arise, and life does get in the way!
No one expects you to be perfect, but you should never leave anyone hanging. Give advance notice, show what you were able to accomplish, explain why you need more time, and ask for additional help or clarification when you need it.
Respect Other People’s Time
You wouldn’t want your time wasted, so don’t infringe on other people’s time if you don’t need to. Everyone is managing their own time when working remotely in the best way they can. Before reaching out to someone, try answering the question yourself first.
- Have you tried Googling your problem to see if the answer is already online?
- Have you checked appropriate playbooks, help pages, and customer service forums?
- Can more than one person answer your question?
- Might the answer become clear if you set it aside for a couple of hours?
If you find you do need to reach out to someone for assistance, be mindful of their time and communication preferences. Don’t expect an answer right away. They may be in the middle of an important task that requires uninterrupted focus.
If your questions are not urgent, opt for an email or Slack message, since those are less time-sensitive. If you need someone’s attention as soon as possible, use the phone instead.
You should also be mindful of timezones and weekends. While 10am on the East Coast is a perfectly reasonable time to make a phonecall, it’s only 7am on the West Coast. And 5pm in Los Angeles or Vancouver is 8pm in New York or Toronto. Generally speaking, you should keep to typical local business hours.
Finally, consider that because of app notifications, any direct message you send might risk waking someone in the middle of the night!
Important Tools and Techniques For Remote Work Time Management
Manage Your Own Calendar
Calendars are extremely important for remote workers, especially those managing meetings, classes, and sales calls alongside work deadlines. Keeping an up-to-date and organized calendar is your responsibility. It’s up to you to decide what type of calendar you’ll keep and how you’ll ensure that it’s continuously updated.
A Google Calendar is a common place to start. If you have a Google account or Gmail, you have access to a personal Google Calendar. With it, you can schedule meetings, assignments, group calls, and more.
You can create multiple calendars for your work and personal life that you can view at the same time to ensure nothing overlaps unexpectedly. You can access it from your phone or computer. And Google Calendar provides a huge number of features that make it simple to maintain and share schedules.
Calendly helps people schedule meetings without the annoying back-and-forth of picking time. It syncs with Google, Outlook, Office 365, or iCloud calendars to show other people when you are available and when you are not. Asana, a free productivity tool, has a calendar view that can help you keep track of tasks, assignments, and looming work deadlines. The tool is designed to help teams collaborate online, but you can use it as an individual at no cost for your own project planning and general organization.
Whatever type of calendar you choose, the key is being consistent. Find what works for you and stick with it. No matter how many features a productivity tool has, it’s no good if you don’t take the time to use it.
When you are assigned a task or a meeting time is set, always turn to your calendar right away. It might be top of mind right now, but not solidifying it in a calendar could mean forgetting about it down the road. Plus, a calendar will help you juggle competing expectations and ensure you never overbook yourself.
Block Time For Focused Work
As your professional life intensifies, you may find that you quickly start to run out of open blocks of uninterrupted time. It’s up to you to create opportunities for focused productivity. If you discover you’re having trouble finding the time for larger projects, such as following up on emails or creating written work, schedule a block of time in your day to get it done.
During this focused time, ensure you aren’t interrupted by the people in your home, by phone calls, or by other distractions. Going “offline” for an hour or two to focus on work is okay. No fires will start if you leave your notifications alone while you focus on your important task.
Even a small interruption caused by a phone notification or someone asking you a question can completely throw off your focus. You can manage your notifications in your phone’s settings. If you find you are absentmindedly picking up your phone too often, keep it in another room during your blocked time of focused work.
Website blockers can police your online habits if you are prone to getting lost in social media or news aggregators when you should be working. They let you set parameters around the websites you can access (and the ones you can’t!) during your scheduled work hours.
It’s usually better to be very productive for a few short hours, than it is to work for days on end while getting very little done.
Pomodoro Productivity Bursts
The Pomodoro Technique helps manage your time by clearly separating the time you spend working from your break time. It’s designed to help you avoid burnout and augment your focus using short intervals—25 minutes of focused distraction-free work, followed by a 5 minute scheduled break.Taking regular breaks is vital to maintaining both your focus and your productivity. That said, it’s certainly easier to become distracted while on a break at home, and a 5 minute break can quickly turn into an hour. So be careful that a strategy for productivity doesn’t turn into an excuse to procrastinate. Don’t trick yourself into using a productivity tool or technique that’s actually a distraction for you!
Find a Distraction-Free Work Environment
As a remote worker, you are responsible for creating a productive workspace for yourself. Consider your own work requirements, and the competing demands for your time. When you need to make frequent calls and participate in Zoom meetings, you’ll need a private, noise-free space with a solid internet connection.
Set boundaries with your spouse, kids, parents, roommates, and pets. Being at home might have meant you were available to them before, but that’s changed now that you work from home. They need to know when you are available to them, and respect when you can’t be interrupted.
Training the people you live with will take time—especially for kids and pets—but it’s a necessary step to ensuring you have a productive, distraction-free workspace. A closed room, a door sign, or noise-cancelling headphones are a good indication that you are currently busy.
Remote work is all about figuring out what works best for you—and then sticking to it. Take the time to figure out what tools and resources you need to keep yourself organized, and get into the habit of being productive.
If you do it right, you’ll be able to carry those skills with you whether you’re starting a new job at a new company, or flying across the country on a business trip.