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Written by Melissa Filich
Up until recently, working remotely was looked at as an easy way of life. “Yeah, but you work from home!” - a sarcastic sentiment I have heard many times over the past 15 years I’ve spent working remotely. It was assumed that my job was somehow easier because I was performing my daily work requirements from within my own home. Sure, my morning commute is far easier and I don’t have to worry about the most recent watercooler drama among my coworkers, but that is where the simplicity ends.
Working remotely brings on a whole new set of challenges. Dogs barking, kids screaming, the kitchen sink filled with dishes, the laundry piling up, the sun shining, and the lure of being outside on the back patio instead of working. The list of distractions can be overwhelming. Remote workers must have superhero level focus, organization, and outlets that help maintain a modicum of sanity.
In my many years of working in a home office, I’ve perfected my remote working do’s and don’ts. Am I guilty of all these mistakes? Absolutely! I’ve made each of these mistakes time and time again, and each time I have gotten the same results - a less productive workday!
Here are my top 15 mistakes to avoid while working remotely:
1. Working in a common area
Working in a common area welcomes too many distractions. Sure, you can work from the couch while marathon watching whatever great made-for-TV Netflix show just came out about kings and tigers, but should you? NO! Doing this turns your normal 8-hour workday into a 16 hour day as you space out watching and wondering, did she really kill her husband (she totally did!)? Meanwhile, that report that was due an hour ago still isn’t done and now you are working late into the night to make up for the time spent wondering, would that hairstyle look good on me (no, no it would not!)?
2. Breaking too much or not breaking enough
Don’t break too much but on the flip side don’t forget to take enough breaks. A good rule to live by in the remote working world is to implement the Pomodoro Technique into your daily routine. Work for 25 minutes, get up and stretch, work for 25 minutes, get up and get another cup of coffee, work for 25 minutes, get up and switch the laundry, work for 25 minutes, step outside to get some fresh air, and before you know it your workday is over. Don’t believe me? Hear it from the most productive person I know, GreenRope Marketing Director, Alessandra Gyben.
3. Trying to multitask work and home simultaneously
You’ve got a back to back meeting today and a dirty stove begging to be cleaned. Doing these things simultaneously sounds easy, but when you get asked an unexpected question you aren’t prepared for and everyone now sees you sitting shoulder-deep in the oven, your co-workers might start to question your mental stability. So save large house tasks, like cleaning the oven, for after work. Instead, treat smaller house chores like rewards. I know, treating a work task with a house chore sounds oxymoronic, but think of it this way, instead. After you have responded to all your emails or written out all your reports, it is time for a small break (remember, taking small frequent breaks is beneficial). Use that small break time to water your plants or wipe down your kitchen counters. These small house chores act as both mental and physical breaks from your workday, while also taking after work tasks off your plate giving you more time to enjoy the evening.
4. Raiding the fridge
Having a personal cafeteria at your beck and call is probably the hardest part of working from home for everyone. When you get up to take your short breaks you may find yourself lingering in the kitchen. Pacing in front of the chilled keeper of treats, opening it and closing it, leaning into it to get a better view of the secrets it's keeping in the back. Finally, the temptation wins and you’ve settled on a bowl of sugary sweet marshmallow cereal and head back to your desk. Instead, prepare meals just like you would if you were going to an office. Create a meal plan made up of healthy snacks and lunches that will help fuel your focus throughout the day, and never EVER eat at your desk!
5. Not defining your daily schedule
You need to set a schedule. Whatever that schedule is, you need to define it and stick to it. If you work Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm with an hour for lunch then stick to it. Use a project manager to help you track your hours and when the clock strikes 5pm - DISCONNECT! I cannot stress this enough. Don’t just get up from your computer, turn it off completely. If you don’t you’ll end up overworking which can lead to a lack of sleep and daytime fatigue, depression and anxiety, and so much more!
Defining your work hours also helps prevent the occasional, and often unexpected, stop-in from friends and family that know you are home, after all, you’re always home! Constantly telling the people in your personal life that you have to work until a certain time eliminates any false lack of work commitment illusions they may have about your working schedule.
Being disorganized is the kryptonite of any remote worker. You need to be organized because you are the only one that knows where you put those files, notes, contact details, etc. I know this can be hard to do at times, with the ever mounting number of daily tasks and projects. This reason alone is why it is even more important to implement a complete CRM such as GreenRope to help keep you on track and organized. On that same token, it is just as important to keep your workspace tidy. There is no janitorial service at your home office, so be sure to empty your garbage and put away your coffee cups!
7. Not having an emergency backup plan
When you work in a big office building, chances are they have backup generators for when the power goes out. What is your plan? Do you have a generator or a mobile hotspot? What if the phones go down too? A local cafe or library? It might seem odd to think about. but when you are part of a remote team everyone is in different locations and on different electrical grids and weather patterns. When you’re experiencing outages you’re likely the only one, which means the work doesn’t stop and a backup plan is required. So your power is out, you don’t have a generator, you’ve jumped in your car and ran up to the local cafe. You’ve ordered your latte and muffin and you're about to sit down to finish your work, but now you’re on a public network and maybe you are dealing with private information. A VPN is an absolute necessity! No matter your industry or your role in the company, having a VPN enabled is crucial when working outside your secure network. In addition to a VPN here are some other great security tips brought to you by GreenRope.
8. Not keeping your programs/apps/electronics up to date
There is probably nothing worse than being on the verge of starting a meeting only to have your computer force an upgrade. Update your programs and apps on a regular basis to avoid embarrassing situations.
There is no IT department living in your basement ready to spring into action when your equipment goes down so be prepared to set up, install, fix, replace all of your equipment yourself and be prepared to do it quickly. Have a backup computer. I once worked on a tiny 11” netbook for a week while waiting for a new computer to be delivered after my previous one died suddenly. It was terrible working on such a tiny screen but I made due and didn’t miss an email, meeting, or deadline thanks to the tiny backup.
9. Not staying properly connected with your team
When working in an office it is easy to pop up over your cubicle wall to ask a question, get help, or talk about the latest juicy inner work relationship drama. Aside from watching your daily stories about the young and restless in the days of our lives, staying connected with your team can be a challenge. Utilizing a chat system such as Slack, Google Hangouts, or GreenRope’s internal chat system allows you to stay more connected about work and life. The key is to not be a remote remote-worker, this is especially true for those new to remote working. It is easy to fall into an isolation spiral resulting in depression and unhappiness that easily flows into your home life since your work and home life are so intimately intertwined now. Reach out, get to know your remote co-workers. After all, they know EXACTLY what you are experiencing.
10. Isolating yourself from the outside world
It is hard to not become isolated when working remotely under normal circumstances, toss a pandemic into the mix and it is virtually impossible. How are you supposed to socialize during a time when socialization isn’t recommended? Get out and take a walk, take a drive, look into things you can do outside the house based on which phase of reopening your county/state is currently in. The beaches and state parks just reopened near me, I’ve been spending every day after work sitting in the sun whenever I can - while still socially distancing yourself from others doing the same thing.
My personal record for not leaving the house, even to get the mail, is 13 days! That was years before the pandemic. The worst part is that I didn’t even realize I was starting to become such a work/home hermit. So get outside, even just to check the mail in the pouring rain! It will help clear your mind and recharge your work attitude.
11. Getting too comfortable
Get up and get dressed, in real clothing, every day. To answer your question, no, yoga and sweatpants are not “real clothing”! Limit your slobby house clothes to just once a week. Casual Fridays went from Khakis to Kaftans, and there isn’t anything wrong with that! Splurge a little, let yourself relax from time to time. After all, it is your HOME office, just don’t do it every day so you can maintain your professional remote mental headspace.
Your comfort level also applies to how you act with your coworkers and clients. Just because it is Kaftan Friday doesn’t mean it is okay to chomp away on your chips or carrots during an internal conference call. Dogs barking in the background is uncontrollable but your clients still deserve your professional respect, even if they are working from home now too.
Comfort also comes in the form of your workstation. Take the time to invest in a quality chair and desk, you will be spending a lot of time in your home office so make it an enjoyable experience that allows for optimal alignment to keep you healthy and feeling good. For some more tips on proper working positions and equipment check out these tips from OSHA!
12. Overusing Social Media
Social media can be a great tool for increasing your brand awareness. However, when working remotely it is easy to log into your personal accounts and venture down the rabbit hole, before you know it, hours have passed by and while you now know the goings-on of every ex and high school nemesis you’ve ever had, you haven’t actually gotten any work done. Instead, focus your social media efforts on finding new ways it can impact customer buying intentions.
13. Forgetting to stock up on treats.
No, not the kind that will have you raiding the fridge every day or crunching in the ear of your clients during a zoom meeting. We are talking about treats for Fido and Little Johnny. Kids and dogs make up most of the background noise heard during calls and meetings. As we move into a remote working world we will likely become desensitized to them, but nonetheless have a few chewy treats for both your four and two-legged babies just to busy their mouths when you need them to be a little quieter than is in their nature.
14. Not understanding the difference between working where you live and living where you work
Repeat after me: I work where I live, I do not live where I work!
The difference between working where you live and living where you work is especially important to understand. It is easy to “take work home with you” when your work is literally just a few feet away from where you eat, sleep, and relax. Working from home can often lead to feeling like you can’t take sick days, vacation days, or enjoy a holiday without checking in. Would you sleep under your desk in a cubicle on the 23rd floor of an office building? No, you probably would not! So don’t work when you are sick and need to rest, don’t work on company recognized holidays, take that long weekend vacation to the beach just like you would if you weren’t remote working. Turn off the computer, unplug from the day, close the door to your office to help identify the ending of your workday and the beginning of your personal life each day.
15. Forgetting that working from home is AWESOME!
Working remotely, from the comfort of your home office is hard, but it is also an amazing experience. It has personally allowed me a unique opportunity to raise my children at home while still being a full time working parent. Working remotely with a toddler is a whole different topic and list of dos and don’ts! If I am being completely honest there are times I miss working in an office setting. Although, I don’t miss the cubicle walls, endless hours in my car commuting, or spending money on the latest and greatest power suit. Though I do recommend a power pose before every meeting to invoke confidence and strength.
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