So, you’ve decided to work from home, occupy a virtual office, work remotely, become a café crusader. Perhaps your company is requiring you to work remotely. Regardless, this is an exhilarating time for you. When I left my corporate office job to work remotely for a company, I was ecstatic. There were so many plans to utilize my time which I would have otherwise spent commuting. I was able to focus more time on housework, I could cook my own meals, focus more time towards health and fitness, and even run errands.
By working remotely, depending on your type of work, you’re able to create your own schedule and run the “office” to your standards. Your workplace is a blank canvas to express yourself. After spending the last three years working remotely, I could truly say, for me, it was the right decision.
In 2020, technology is no longer an option, it’s a requirement for businesses to grow. Every office, company, brand, and shop owner is aware of the power technology holds in our society. As of January 2020, the number of people around the world using the internet has grown to 4.54 billion, an increase of 7 percent (298 million new users) compared to January 2019. Global technology is advancing at a rate quicker than companies can adapt, and that rate will continue to grow.
Remote work is usually associated with freelancers and most startups. The main reason: minimizing overhead yields more profit. As an individual or a small company, this makes a lot of financial sense. Additionally, larger, more established companies have started utilizing technology and communications to their advantage. They’ve introduced the ability to work remotely between one day a week up to several weeks at a time. By promoting and supporting remote work, they aim to increase productivity and efficiency, raise office morale, and above all, improve their bottom line.
What does this mean for the workforce? For one, it incentivizes employees to remain with a company by providing a flexible schedule in exchange for completion of work. Companies will have more relaxed employees, and employees will become more efficient at completing their tasks. For companies, that means more work completed, yielding more profit. Companies will continue to grow and allow more flexibility. Employees can live their lives how they desire, work how they please, and continue to produce for their companies.
There are several benefits of remote work, which tend to outweigh the negatives in most situations, especially for the employee. Companies, on the other hand, have more drawbacks to be concerned about regarding accountability, supervision, management, security, and loyalty. However, this article is for the employee, the nomadic working warrior. I want to dive deep into the solutions for situations that commonly occur when working remotely.
Get Out of the House
For the first few weeks, your new lifestyle may feel like a staycation, and that’s great. The house is cleaner, chores are done, errands are complete, you’ve caught up with some close friends, oh, and you also completed some work. Based on personal experience, this is a typical response, especially in the beginning, everyone’s going to be excited.
As the excitement fades, the realization of actually having to do work settles in. You have to sit down at the counter or desk and put in the hours, have the meetings, and produce the deliverables. Until this point, your house has always been your zone to relax, your space to escape from the rest of the world. Now it’s also your office.
If you work remotely part-time and the other days, you’re at an actual company office, you may not experience the dichotomy as strongly. You already have a tether back to a physical company location where you’re required to show face on several days of the week. If you’re remote full time, however, where you are will always be your office.
Designing a home office is a great option if you have space. If the space isn’t available, or it’s not in the budget at the moment, then you might find yourself working in the kitchen, in the basement, or in the living room. From my experience, this can be a little distracting if you’re not prepared and have grown accustomed to the accountability that the offices hold you to when you’re there.
After you bypass your staycation period, I highly recommend investing time outside of the house. Especially if you don’t live alone, or if there are other people home during your working hours. Assuming you have a work laptop and possibly a work phone, here are some options that I’ve explored firsthand:
This is the quintessential, work-from-home, freelance worker spot when you envision a remote worker. It’s obvious, but there’s a reason for it. Most of the coffee shops have free Wi-Fi. If your company doesn’t provide hot spot capability on your work phone, and you don’t want to waste your personal data, then this is a great choice. Also, needless to say, they have endless coffee and pastries.
This is a fun location on a nice day. Setup outside at picnic table, or even bring a chair and sit in the grass or sand (the beach also falls under this category). This is can provide a nice open space if you have a conference call or any other meeting. Side note: If you plan on having a video conference with clients or management, stay home. As common as remote work is, most people are still tied to an office. Many clients and managers may get the wrong impression or even develop envy if they see you sitting on a beach (even if you dressed in work attire for the meeting) while they’re stuck in a conference room.
Public libraries also offer free Wi-Fi. They’re a quiet, comfortable location that can put you in the mindset to really get some work done without any distractions. It’s my favorite ambiance for when I have to get serious report writing completely.
This can be your old college if it’s close, or even your old high school. If you’re an alumnus, usually the faculty doesn’t mind, as long as you don’t distract the students. Find an empty classroom or library and you shouldn’t be bothered. If they don’t offer a guest Wi-Fi, just ask for the password. If you’re friendly, it shouldn’t be a problem. If they hesitate, then offer some free counseling to some of their students in your field. They may truly appreciate that and not mind you using their facilities.
Local Universities and Colleges
If you don’t live near your alma maters, there are probably other universities nearby. Many of the larger campuses have free Wi-Fi available which you’re able to connect to. Find a spot in the quad, in a study hall, the cafeteria, classroom, or library and get to work. Again, if you need a password, offer up a consult to the administration, and they are usually nice enough to relinquish the password to student available networks. Be prepared not to waste time on social media though, they usually have a site blocker in place.
Barnes & Noble
Every city has one, at least for now, and they all have free Wi-Fi, especially if they have a café. Don’t be shy to ask for the password if you don’t see it posted. If you need a break, grab a coffee and browse the new books to help your mind wander and refuel.
With eateries, it’s hit or miss. Some have free Wi-Fi for customers and some refuse to offer the service. Experiment around your neighborhood and see who will be accepting of your nomadic style and surrender one of their tables for several hours a day. Typically, if you patron there often, and get to know the staff, they will allow you to stay without giving you a hard time. You can diversify your time and location by rotating between different eateries.
Disclaimer: Check with your management or IT department before you start utilizing the free Wi-Fi, as most of these locations have many people connecting to them. If your company’s information is sensitive, there may be a possibility of a security breach or you could be voiding confidentiality agreements. Discuss with your IT department the possibility of a VPN or providing you with a mobile hotspot on your company phone.
Separation of Powers: Home and Work
After a while, you’ll become comfortable working from home. You enter the sophomore stage. You know what has to be done and you believe you have a handle on everything, perfect balance between work and home. The problem with the balance is that it’s temporary if you fail to recognize the demarcation line. Your mind will start to associate locations in your home with work. Before your new lifestyle, everything was “home”, it was a place to unwind and relax from your day. Now you spend most of your days performing both work and home tasks in the same place.
To avoid chaos, try being mindful of where you choose to work. The spots where you choose to work from shouldn’t be where you normally relax. One room I would recommend NEVER working in would be the bedroom. It may feel ideal and exciting at first to work from your bed, but it’ll become a nuisance. Situations will arise that trigger response in the brain, such as noticing your laptop in the bedroom, and now you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re thinking about that deadline. Or maybe you have your work phone next to your bed and you wake up in the middle of the night to start checking emails. It happens, and it causes unrest.
Decide on a few locations which are the least occupied in your home. Diversify your locations or just choose one, it’s entirely up to you. If you have a basement, an attic, a spare room, convert one into a workspace. If you rarely use your dining room, turn it into your new office. Avoid using rooms where you spend most of your time relaxing or unwinding. For me, that’s the bedroom where I sleep, the kitchen where I cook and eat, the living room where I read, and the area of the basement where we watch movies.
For those who only spend part of their week working remotely, this applies to you as well. It may be even more important for you to establish a designated workspace. The limited-time you spend working from home can easily become less productive if you devote your working hours to your couch pointed at your television. Having this type of distraction readily available will decrease your efficiency and only prolong the hours spent working. It’s important to separate yourself from your comfort zones and develop a clear distinction between home and work.
Protect Your Network
One of the first “separation of powers” I implemented, was through creating an internet network exclusively for my company devices. This may have been paranoia, but honestly, it’s just adding another layer of security and separation between your private life and your company.
Most companies monitor their devices remotely through their internal software. When you connect your work devices to your personal network, you’re allowing the company a pathway into the other devices connected to that network. If the company has a security breach, there’s the possibility of a breach into your personal devices. Now, if you don’t have sensitive material such as financial statements and other records on your computers, than you may not be worried. Be aware, however, of all the IoT devices connected to your network, your cameras, voice-activated devices, and any other smart objects. By allowing an outside device, which has remote monitoring software, on your personal network, you open unnecessary opportunities for hackers or curious minds into your private life.
The internet routers today have the ability to create a “guest” network. By creating a guest network, you remove the ability for easy access into your personal computers and other devices on your private network. Technically it’s the same router, but someone would have to be an advanced hacker to find their way into your private network. Most hackers aren’t going to waste their time on cracking into your network for fun unless they know you have something they want. If you have something that sensitive and you believe someone with that expertise is attempting to access your devices, you may want to invest in a separate router and new network connection altogether.
Create a Routine, Discipline Yourself
Habit is the key to balancing your lifestyle of remote work. You don’t have to schedule your days down to the minute, but you should develop a routine for your week. There are plenty of apps and schedulers out there, and they’re easy to use. I personally like to use handwritten day planners. Everything we do when we work remotely requires technology, I enjoy the calming change of pace when writing the week’s tasks down and then crossing them off.
Start by building a routine around each day of the week. They all don’t have to be exactly the same but look at each day individually. Create time blocks for where you split your hours. Begin with generic blocks, such as work, exercise, eat, and free time. Then break those blocks even further down if you wish. Check out my example below.
Figure out what schedule works for you, adapt as necessary, and then start to create a habit around it. The less time you have to spend during your day focusing what you have to do next, is more time that you can invest in yourself.
When most people hear that you’re working from home, they picture you sitting on your couch sporadically checking your email. I speak from experience, while occasionally receiving the “did you put on pants today?” comment. Majority of the time, this was a response from those close to me. If the people around you aren’t aware of this new, remote work lifestyle, they may see it as not “real” work because you’re not traveling to go sit in an office or on-site.
Learn to establish boundaries early with those who are in your home or close to you. It’s hard enough for you to create a habit of working from home and juggling your days, but you also don’t want the people around you to think you’re on some sort of vacation. Everyone can start to become extremely comfortable with you working from home. Assuming they can call you all day, stop by your house, text you curiously wondering what you’re up to, and even ask you to come and help them do their chores or run their errands. Over time, you’ll start to become frustrated if you allow it to persist. If you’re not the type to constantly tell someone “NO!”, you’ll end up allowing them to deter you from the schedule you’ve worked diligently to create.
Have a conversation with those close to you as soon as you decide to inform them that you’ll be working remotely. Explain to them its meaning, and that it’s not an invitation for open conversations all day every day. They have to acknowledge that you’re still at work and you still have to produce.
On the other side of the spectrum, working from home also means your colleagues and managers aren’t able to walk up to your desk and start a conversation, which is good and bad. This means your messenger and phone will likely be more active, that’s just part of working remotely. However, with your constant online or phone availability, colleagues who work at night or on different schedules than you, may feel they can call you at any time. Some businesses are able to work around the clock on their projects, and if your co-workers want some information you might have, they won’t hesitate to contact you at all hours. Don’t let this get out of hand. Send out a message with your scheduled hours and availability. Explain to them that you will not answer messages outside of those times and you will not be fielding calls. Otherwise you open the door to calls late at night, on the weekends, or when you’re on PTO. Twenty-four-hour connectivity is an option we have, not a requirement.
Creating your own schedule and completing work on your terms is definitely a lifestyle everyone should experience. Modern technology affords us the opportunity to live this remote life and still satisfy our work requirements. When we hear the term “work-from-home”, one can’t help but wonder how much easier life would be if we didn’t have to commute or shove ourselves into uncomfortable clothing. We can sit comfortably in our home, dressed in relaxed outfits, unphased by the traffic reports, and still complete all the tasks assigned to us that day. The benefits for each person are unique and the list can grow longer with each day that passes.
As you explore the new way of working, I just want you to keep an open mind about how you spend your days. Allow yourself to enjoy the freedom but remember that the work does have to be completed. It’s extremely easy to procrastinate the work when no one is standing over your shoulder. This can lead to becoming overwhelmed attempting to complete and an extraordinary amount of work right before the deadline, or you procrastinate so long that it just never gets done. Build positive working habits and establish boundaries early into your new work situation. Diversify your office. If you become lazy working in the house all the time, head outside, and down to the nearest coffee shop. Spend a few hours working out of a different location. Experiment and settle on a schedule that benefits both your home and work life, and you’ll soon start to feel how amazing life can be when you lead the charge and take control of your time.