A few months ago, (February 3, 2014 to be exact), I began a new position as a Subject Matter Expert with Cartegraph. Part of our discussion regarding my employment was the fact that I would be working remotely, from my home. It was the first time in my life I had ever been a remote employee, so I was curious as to how it would work and what it would feel like to work from a home office. I was not too concerned with becoming lazy, as I have always been intrinsically motivated. I like getting things done, being productive and helping others achieve success. So, the only real question was, "What will this look like everyday?" I travel about 50% of the time to speak and meet with clients, so I am not always home, but when I am I like to maximize my productivity. Here are a few lessons I have learned to make that happen:
1. Coordinate Your Hours with the Home Office
One of the best decisions I made early on, was to coordinate my work hours with my home office. In my case, that means 8:00 a.m. for them is 6:00 a.m. for me. They are on Central Time and I am in Arizona. Despite the time difference, it has been tremendously helpful to have the same schedule. Though this may not apply to you as far as the time difference, it has been a tremendous help for me (with meetings, calls, WebEx sessions, and emails, etc.) because everyone knows that when they are in their office, so am I. Speaking of being in the office...
2. Dedicate an Office Space
Regardless of its size, be sure to make a space that is uniquely your own. Mine is actually in my son's room (he is in college). I have all my equipment set up and my desk faces an amazing view of the mountains. Though it is small, it is "mine" and I love it. I have written blog posts, consulted with clients, hosted webinars and demonstrated our software all from that little office space. Everything I need is right there, and I treat it like a "regular" office, just as if my boss were in the next room.
3. Get Ready for the Day
I treat my morning the same as if I was travelling to work. I shower, get dressed, and go into my office. The only difference is that my commute is 20 feet instead of 20 miles. For me, I found that getting ready in the morning, as if I was commuting, tells my mind that I am getting ready for work. My mind is focused and that prep time gets me ready for work.
4. Communicate...Often!
My manager and I chat just about every day, whether it is by phone, IM chat, or email. He knows he can speak to me whenever something comes up because we are always communicating. This develops and maintains closer working relationships, as well as trust. I would also encourage remote employees to communicate often with co-workers at the home office throughout the day. A brief email, IM chat or phone call doesn't have to be disruptive or lengthy. Touching base with others and maintaining relationships makes you feel less disconnected, plus it has the added benefit of avoiding the "out of sight, out of mind" issue.
5. Respond Quickly
One effective way to assure people that you are on the job during office hours (there will always be cynics who believe otherwise) is to respond to emails, phone calls and IM chats instantly! My average email response time is less than 5 minutes. Unless I am traveling or in the middle of a phone call or meeting, I respond to everything as quickly as I can. I want everyone in my company to know that I am here and working during office hours. I also open my calendar for anyone to see. I know some will disagree (some vehemently), but it is my personal preference. Everyone can see my schedule and it keeps me disciplined to keep my calendar up to date.
6. Produce Amazing Results
To be perfectly honest, to be seen as an "A" player, those of us who are remote employees will have to overproduce in order to receive recognition. When you are not around the home office where others see you on a daily basis, you need somethingthat will remind people at the company of your value. The best way to do this is to produce superior work. For me, that meant the above-mentioned priorities, as well as taking on extra projects (I write blog posts and client success stories for our company's website, as well as created and administrate a "think-tank" group on our company's internal communications portal). Being willing to go above and beyond your normal duties and serving your company a heaping helping of excellence every day will increase your value. Be positive, be encouraging to others and make it a priority to be the person people want to talk to every day.
7. Be Thankful
As a remote employee, you have been handed a tremendous amount of trust. Your employer is trusting you to be unsupervised all day, every day. Express appreciation for that trust. Show them it was a great decision for you to be a remote employee by the great work you produce. Be thankful you don't have to deal with the traffic, the expense of driving the car, and for the privilege of living where you want to live. Cartegraph is based in the Midwest and I live in the beautiful Sonoran Desert of Arizona. While they are sliding around on the snow and ice to get to work in December, I am sitting in my home office, looking out at the desert, while the sun shines brightly and temperatures are in the 70's. I am thankful for that! I have been afforded the opportunity, by the mercy of geography and the technological age in which I live, to work from home. That is never lost on me. I am truly grateful.
In conclusion, there are advantages and disadvantages to each situation. I do miss the daily conversations with my friends. I miss the product and business knowledge that is gained by the daily in-person interaction with my co-workers. I miss the good food people often bring in to the office for birthdays or other celebrations. However, I also enjoy the fact that when I DO make a trip to the Midwest, arriving at the the home office is a happy and celebratory "reunion" with my co-workers that always brings a smile to my face. Finally, I am grateful to be in a position to do what I love, at a company I love, living in a place that I love. Being remote may not be for everyone, but I have found it to be perfect for me.
Since I know my list is neither perfect, nor exhaustive (I have only been a remote employee for 8 months), I would enjoy hearing what other remote employees have found to be helpful to them.