Try this: Walk into a room full of professionals and ask if anyone has ever telecommuted or has some kind of arrangement to work from home. With over 62% of employed Americans engaging in remote work in 2019, you’ll probably get an earful.
As you’ll hear from enthusiasts, remote work offers incredible opportunities for personal and professional growth. But being a team player and building a career outside of a traditional office setting also comes with a unique set of challenges. That’s why we want to open the conversation about both the opportunities and hurdles of distributed work.
“Embracing remote” is a company value that means we witness, acknowledge, and support the range of experiences and emotions people might have when working remotely. Thanks to the honest group discussions of remote work at Trello, our team has developed some valuable insights about the ups and downs of making remote work, work.
From Social Butterfly To Social Butterflunk
At the outset, moving to a home office or working in a solo space can feel quiet—even lonely. If you’re an extrovert by nature, talking out loud to your cat instead of an office mate can deliver less-than-satisfying results.
But ask yourself this: How much of your socialization at the office is merely chance encounters at the snack bar? When you’re remote there’s no physical communal snack spot, so you need to be more intentional about when, how, and why you’re communicating with others. The thing is, being more mindful of your social interactions at work will deliver more satisfaction overall, remote or otherwise.
The first step is to shift the perception that work communication tools should only be used for work. Technology is enabling remote work, and should be used to foster the best possible environment for team-building of all types. Studies have shown that small talk at work will improve your decision-making skills, how satisfied you are with your job, and build psychological safety for you to share your best and brightest ideas.
For example, set up threads in your chat tool to talk about hobbies, world events, travel, kids, cooking… you name it! Do not feel guilty for chatting about your favorite LaCroix flavor or best summer vacation memory on work time. A great way to get more comfortable with this is to poll your co-workers for recommendations on things you want to buy, places you want to visit, or what to eat for lunch. It’s easy to get people talking about things they love!
Seeing as up to 10,000 non-verbal cues can be exchanged in one minute of face-to-face interaction, video meeting tools are essential for building relationships with others. You can set up team-building activities over video that play into the strengths of remote work, like sharing your office view or introducing your cat to your coworker’s cat and watching the furry friendship unfold.
Video meetings don’t need to be time-bound. Often enough, Trello team members will simply co-work over video on Friday afternoons, chatting (or not) when it feels right.
Outside of your immediate teams, the added time you’ll have ditching the commute could be used for group fitness classes, local meetup groups with other professionals, or chill time with friends. Set up weekly recurring events, or simply make a personal rule to venture out with others a few times a week. Intentionally interacting with others means you can reap the rewards of choosing the best activities and conversations for your personality and social comfort level.
Dirty Dishes… Netflix… Squirrel
Working from home means you can throw in a load of laundry between meetings (yay!). It also means that you can throw in a load of laundry between meetings (er..nay). The advantages of multitasking work and home to-do’s can also be pitfalls when you want to procrastinate writing a less-than-savory report for an impending deadline.
Just as with socializing, intention comes into play with setting boundaries between work and home. We strongly encourage people to set up their work station in a place where they can shut the door, put on some headphones, and have a dedicated space to concentrate.
If you want to take it a step further, there are ways to customize your workspace to boost your productivity. Plus, you won’t have corporate restrictions putting a damper on your scented candles or neon green accent wall!
Context switching is a pitfall for both co-located and remote employees. It can take up to 25 minutes to regain focus after a distraction, so use that as a check each time you feel yourself wanting to get up and check the mail: Can you afford this unplanned 25-minute break?
If you’re just having a foggy brain day, try some focus exercises to get back on task. If you find yourself getting constantly interrupted by family or coworkers, set aside regular “maker time” and communicate that you don’t want to be interrupted or attend meetings at that time.
Working remotely is an adjustment for everyone in your life (including little ones), but if you’re consistent (and reasonable) with your work schedule and productivity requirements, people will adapt and accommodate.
Bringing Work To Bed
The flipside to being distracted by personal tasks while working remotely is neglecting to shut off work when it’s time to be present with family and friends.
The biggest enabler of extended workdays is your smartphone. Especially if your team’s workday is extended because you’re all distributed across time zones, it’s very tempting to check your chat app or collaboration tool first thing on waking up or right before bed, “just in case” someone needs something.
As productivity expert Tim Ferriss explained to us in a recent interview, balancing work and life requires a shift in thought about what the word “balance” really means:
“I am a strong advocate of work-life “separation” as opposed to work-life “balance.” The concept of work-life “balance” is a dangerous one because “balance” is often mistaken to mean blending, where work and personal tasks are alternated in the same environments, or where one activity is expected to provide both work and life.”
One Trello team member sets workday boundaries by simulating a commute: At the beginning of the day, a quiet walk around the block sets the mood for focusing on work. At the end, the same walk in the opposite direction brings the routine full circle.
Use your shared calendar tool to communicate your “online” hours and try to stick to them. If you’re all distributed across time zones, use a map or chart to list out who lives where and be mindful when choosing how to communicate with coworkers during their off hours. Just because you can be connected at all times doesn’t mean you should.
Languishing In A Networking No Man’s Land
Choosing to live outside your industry’s physical hubs can provide a more affordable cost of living or the flexibility to be near family, but it can also be a nerve-wracking move when it comes to your career. After all, you can’t attend all the same industry events or happy hours as your peers.
Remote work is shifting that compromise, as it allows you to make an ambitious career choice without sacrificing your location. Just as technology is enabling you to work remotely, it’s also creating different, and equally valuable, networking opportunities. Virtual networking isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s a best practice to have an engaging online brand that people can discover regardless of where you live.
Interactive moments like Twitter chats or commenting on a connection’s latest Medium article all tally up as networking efforts. Find online groups and communities where your peers are interacting, be authentic, and build meaningful value for people in your industry using channels like email or a video meeting.
Follow the virtual networking tips found here, and the next time you’re all at the same conference, it will feel like you’re already old friends.
Living On A Diet Of Cookies And The Couch
Eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising are all good habits regardless of where you work, and being remote means you have the opportunity to excel at your self care. It also means you can get lazy because you only have to walk from your bedroom to your home office and can put pizza delivery on speed dial without sharing a slice.
You are as productive as what you eat, and working remotely often means that the task of keeping a selection of enticing meals and drinks on hand falls to you instead of a super-organized workplace experience manager. It’s infinitely harder to be valuable at your team’s morning meeting when all your fridge contains is ketchup and nail polish.
While you will need to be more responsible about stocking your pantry, the reward is that you’ll perform better at work while having the opportunity to use your full kitchen to create delicious snacks and meals whenever you want.
Set up a remote lunch club at work and challenge each other to try new ingredients. Batch cook and prepare lunches the night before just like you would if you were heading to an office. Or even take a proper lunch hour and go out to eat. Bottom line, respect your work and your ability to enjoy it by taking the time to feed yourself.
The same goes for exercise and motion. You might have to work a little harder at getting in your daily steps without the commute, but you’ll have more time to stroll the block. Set intermittent reminders on your calendar or find a remote buddy to check in with about your fitness goals, and make it an excuse to take a break and get away from your screen.
Feeling Like A Lesser Contributor To The Company
This last remote work challenge can be the hardest one to overcome mentally. The FOMO (fear of missing out) that can come with remote work is an emotion that can set in deep and undercut every interaction with your team.
In particular, having team members split between remote locations and a central office requires extra attention to inclusionary best practices. Having a shared collaboration tool like Trello where you can update each other in real-time on tasks, ideas, meeting agendas, vacation calendars, questions, etc. is half the battle.
Any habit of disseminating information which can exclude people is one to avoid. For example, we share meeting agendas in Trello ahead of time and then both record the proceedings and take notes on the meeting agenda cards so if someone is unable to attend, they can catch up later.
Leading a team to embrace remote also requires a company culture of keeping information and conversations open to everyone, documenting actions and plans so that they’re available asynchronously for every team member. We have particular HQ-to-remote rules to live by that keep all Trello team members connected. The reason they work is because we have 100% buy-in on adhering to them.
On a personal level, it’s important to focus on delivering results rather than time in your office chair. Aligning with your team on goals and objectives at the outset and then baking in video meeting time to collaborate and review progress together all contribute towards a more inclusive process of getting things done. Get in the habit of sharing everything, even works in progress, and you’ll be surprised at how much more connected you’ll feel to your team.
And if you just can’t shake that FOMO feeling? Talk about it with your coworkers! Remote work is a practice that is continually evolving as new tech and even newer theories about how we work best come into play. Exploring the boundaries of distributed and asynchronous teamwork means that some processes will be a smashing success, and some will need to be thrown out and revised.
Make remote work a skill in itself to develop and perfect, and it will feed back into your satisfaction with it tenfold.