I’ve been a remote worker for 13 years. I left my office in April 2007 and never looked back. You might even call me a pioneer — I was the first in my business unit to strike out into the great unknown. To make it happen, we combined existing best practices of the time (VPNs, a VoIP phone) with some creativity – for example, inventing procedures for magazine layout and editing, which was at the time still a very hardcopy-based process — that I still use to this day.
So my point is, I’m good at this. I’m experienced. And right now you’re probably reading a lot of tips for working from home and may be experiencing it for the first time. But there is really no one-size-fits-all rulebook for remote work — we’re all individuals and your mileage will vary. But, look, life is weird right now, so let me offer some thoughts on some of those common pieces of advice.
On having a dedicated workspace
One of the first things you’ll hear is how critical it is that you have a dedicated office space. Don’t work from the couch, they’ll say. Set aside a space and have it solely devoted to work. My take on that? It’s very dependent on the situation and what I’m working on at the time. If I’m doing something that requires a large monitor — magazine layout, specifically — I like to be at the desk. But I’ve found I have a hard time getting creative at that same desk, and if I need to write, I’m more likely than not to bring the laptop to a comfy chair, curl up and let the ideas flow. Meetings — particularly meetings with clients — I also prefer to do from my desk, but for brainstorming and other more informal calls, I may be wandering around the backyard. There’s just no one right way to do things — it may take some experimenting, but it’s all about finding what works for you. The takeaway here is that it’s a case-by-case and project-by-project call.
On boundaries and set hours
Set boundaries, say all the articles. Have a start time and a stop time. OK – sure. Did you have that when you went into the office? The truth is that mobile technology has already blurred those lines for us. Many of us find ourselves emailing or doing work outside of regular office hours, and while I’m not saying it’s healthy, I am saying it’s not different just because you’re in your home. Rather than trying to set new boundaries based on your new reality, do what you’ve been doing — unless you view it as an excuse to make some badly needed changes.
I’ve also seen recommendations for not trying to work during the time you’d normally be commuting. And again, circumstantially, that might be good advice. But if you’re a morning person, you may find a whole new level of productivity emerging when you’d normally be in a car or on a train. Personally, 7-9 a.m. are some of my most productive hours of the day – I can cross a lot of small tasks off my list during that highly-caffeinated time. I almost never take a set lunch break, which is another bad habit according to all the articles. It’s never bothered me, and instead, I may jump on the treadmill or elliptical trainer for half an hour when the mood strikes. It’s all a balancing act.
On communicating with coworkers
So many articles talk of the importance of getting on video calls and showing your face to your coworkers. However, I think that is a very specific recommendation and is probably good advice if you’re the lone remote worker when everyone else is at the office – it’s easy to be forgotten. But in a situation where everyone is remote, it may not be as important. Communication is more important than ever, though, and email isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to miss the casual conversations you had with coworkers throughout the course of the day, and email is just not a casual medium. IM, Slack, Hangouts — which you probably use anyway — are great for quick questions and casual thoughts. But I’m going to go really old school. There is one person in the world I speak to by phone regularly, and it’s not my mother or my husband. It’s my coworker. It gives us the immediacy and personal connection you’d get in an office setting, but with the bonus of more boundaries – there isn’t the distraction of the office mate who drops by your office and talks for half an hour when you’re in the middle of a project. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, to be honest.
This again is a very situational item and will depend so much on your job role and responsibilities and your personality. If you’re in sales, you’re probably used to a lot of human interaction and you will probably still get that via phone or video call (the phone is still the salesperson’s No. 1 tool, after all). For others, it isn’t a requirement of the job but it may be a requirement of your personality — another common recommendation in normal times is to get out of the house and go to a coffee shop or other communal area to work. Obviously, in these strange times of social distancing, that’s not a good option. Unfortunately, I’ve never experienced that need — I’m perfectly happy to be alone with my dogs for days on end, but this is certainly an area where technology can help. Even if your work doesn’t require you to hop on a Google Hangout call, do it anyway, and get some face time with your coworkers or friends who may be feeling the same way.
On office attire and showering
One rule I will agree with is that you should shower every day. It really is a good rule of thumb. It’s not just about hygiene – it wakes you up and makes you feel alert, and just a little generally better. But as for the people who tell you to get dressed? Well – sure. Change out of your pajamas. I won’t go so far as to say you should put on office wear, though, or even jeans. Let’s face it — pants are highly overrated. Leggings feed creativity.
Is this the end-all guide to remote working? Absolutely not, and it shouldn’t be taken as more than a slightly tongue-in-cheek opinion piece that may lighten the mood and make you feel less alone. The opinions within are mine and mine alone, and I’d love to hear your tips and ideas, whether you’re an old pro or entering uncharted waters.
is editorial director of BPO Media’s publications Workflow and The Imaging Channel, and senior analyst for BPO Research. As a professional writer and editor, she has specialized in the office technology industry for the last 20 years. Prior to that she worked in public relations and has a master's degree in communication arts.