The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Remote Workers
Transition seamlessly into remote work with these 7 habits
Transitioning to a remote work environment can be a jarring experience for some people. It’s not uncommon to see drastic drops in concentration and the quality of your work output to dwindle. Part of that can be things outside of your control, for example having kids in the house or chatty roommates. But leaving uncontrollable variables aside, there are still things that you can do to make the most out of working remotely.
In this article we’ll explore some of the habits of highly effective remote workers, giving you actionable habits that you can start doing today.
1. Create a Work Protocol
Setting a work protocol is about creating a routine for starting and ending your workday. For example, you may start the workday with a cup of coffee, listening to classical music, and end the workday with a glass of water while listening to jazz. Creating these rituals allows you to seamlessly transition in and out of your workday, ensuring that you don’t neglect personal time.
You might also use additional senses to anchor your start and end times. For example, using an essential oil diffuser with different scents to signal the start of a break or end of a workday.
2. Have a Dedicated Work Environment
Rather than working on the couch, you watch TV on, or even worse, the bed you sleep in, you should invest in creating a workspace dedicated to your professional life.
This might mean spending some money on an ergonomic chair or transforming your garage into a personal office. The key thing here is to have a space dedicated just for work, even if it’s a corner of a room that serves other purposes.
3. Schedule Breaks
Working in an office environment gives you natural breaks in the day, like conversations with colleagues between meetings or while grabbing coffee. These naturally occurring mini-breaks are much harder to replicate while remote unless you consciously choose to schedule them. You might, for example, decide to eat your lunch outside on your patio, rather than in front of a computer. Likewise, household chores like laundry may serve as a natural breakpoint in your work schedule.
Of course one of the best benefits of working remotely is that these breaks can take the form of a nap! Mid-day caffeine naps, in particular, can be a great way to get a second wind if you’re feeling tired.
4. Plan Your Week
Parkinson’s law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Planning your week down to the hour can be one way to counter this phenomenon. This prevents you from filling your time with nonurgent and unimportant work activities or surfing the web.
When planning your day, keep your work preferences in mind. For example, some people find that morning is their most productive time, and so they’ll avoid scheduling meetings then. Instead, they’ll try to schedule them for the late afternoon when they experience lulls in their productivity.
Another tip when planning your day is to use color to denote certain tasks on your calendar (e.g. orange=meeting, blue=focus time). This allows you to get a feel for how your day with a quick glance.
5. Over Communicate
One of the hardest things about transitioning to remote work is losing the benefit of face-to-face interactions. It’s much easier to cut through ambiguity and resolve misunderstandings when you’re talking to someone in-person.
Without the benefit of an in-person conversation, it can be easy to be misinterpreted and create frustration. To avoid this, be sure to over-communicate, particularly when your communication is in the written form. If all else fails, the best alternative is a quick video conference call where you can see the other person. Otherwise, a phone call can be another way to cut through the confusion and arrive at mutual understanding.
6. Embrace Deep Work
When embracing deep work, you must take the necessary steps to cull distractions, such as email or Slack alerts. This might mean turning off notifications and letting people know that if they need to reach you they can either call or text your number directly. By limiting these distractions, you can avoid getting knocked out of your deep work state.
A good way to structure these deep work sessions is by using a Pomodoro timer to set time for focusing and taking breaks. The basic idea is that you work on a task exclusively for 25 or 50 minutes (no checking emails!), and then take a 10-minute break upon completion. With this technique, you can then estimate and break apart large tasks into smaller timed tasks. For example, if I’m building a machine learning model I’ll first need to build a training dataset, then explore the data to understand it, clean the data, fit to a model, and then tune the hyperparameters. As you can see one high-level task can be broken down to many sub-tasks, that can then be mapped to a corresponding number of Pomodoro timers allowing you to work in focused sprints.
7. Highlight Your Accomplishments
This is particularly important if you have a manager that hasn’t managed remote workers before. Communicating progress and highlighting milestones is a good way to build trust with your manager. Rather than waiting for them to check in with you, you can proactively detail your accomplishments at the end of the week, or highlight key milestones on projects as you achieve them.
Transitioning to a fully remote environment can be challenging, however, adhering to the habits above can ensure that you make this transition as smooth as possible. Once you do, you may even find yourself enjoying working remotely.