With new work from home opportunities emerging every day, it’s possible to survive and thrive as a remote worker.
In this article, learn how a veteran of a work from home situation does it. Whether you work from home once a week or permanently, these answers to common questions and essential work from home tips and tricks will help you be more successful.
Work from Home – An Overview
Making your new work from home arrangement actually work is tough. I’ve seen people try and fail to work from home. I’ve seen others succeed and grow. In this article, I’ll share how I do it. I hope that what I share here you can apply to your work from home situation, whatever it may be.
Did You Know? While some people scoff at working from home as all perks and no responsibility, it’s really just like anything else: it has it’s pros and cons, and doing work from home successfully is very hard work.
Over the years, I’ve worked very hard to make my work from home arrangement a happy, productive, and rewarding stage of my career. Successfully working from home in a fast-paced, high performance, results-oriented company like Quicken Loans is not easy. Yet over this time period, I’ve created new initiatives, lead a team of 12 and project teams of 75, worked with all sorts of Clients, managed external partnerships and lead several different high-profile projects all from central command: my home office.
Work from Home – FAQ
Here are answers to the five common work from home questions:
1. Is it realistic for me to think I could work remotely?
It depends. Are you really self-motivated or do you (consciously or unconsciously) rely on others to help direct your day, priorities, and projects? Can you handle being alone and only interacting via phone, email, and instant messaging (IM) for long periods of time? Are you open to changing your work habits to match the styles of the people you work with, even if it may be a minor inconvenience to you? Are you open to accepting criticism and changing your approach quickly? If you answer yes to these questions, then you can work from home! If not, you’d have to seriously consider whether or not you can make it. To work from home successfully you need to master lots of different communication techniques, be open to continuously improve yourself, practice extreme flexibility with those you work with, and hone your instincts about what is happening at the office that you cannot physically see.
2. My big concerns are about communication; is it possible to stay in the loop while remote?
Yes. However, it takes a multifaceted approach to stay in the loop. Since you are not physically in the office, you have to find other ways to have “physical presence,” the non-verbal factor that makes up 90% of communication. Without it, you have only the words you say and the tone you deliver it in (the other 10% of communication). Be sure to check out the Work from Home – 20 Tips and Tricks section below for ideas to overcome physical presence and be a great communicator.
3. What are the challenges of having good communication with your Clients and meeting their needs?
The single biggest challenge about working remotely is you miss out on the intangible conversations: passing someone in the hall, over hearing a project team talking, getting pulled into a conference room as you walk by, etc. It’s possible to recreate some (but not all) of these scenarios while remote, but it takes extreme flexibility in how and when you can be reached to make it happen. See the Work from Home – 20 Tips and Tricks below for more info.
4. Do you spend so much time on overcoming the communication hurdles that it negatively impacts your productivity?
No. If you are committed to it, the amount of productivity you can have when you work from home is extreme (even without working too many extra hours, which is very easy to do). In fact, I believe the skills you learn while working from home actually improve your productivity. You learn how to effectively manage your work, your team, your Client relationships, etc. without physical presence. These skills are useful and reusable whether you are working from home or not.
5. Would you recommend working remotely to someone else?
I definitely recommend work from home opportunities to other people, but only if you can honestly answer yes to the 4 questions in #1 above. Working from home can be a very rewarding experience for those who can make it work.
Work from Home Guide - 20 Tips and Tricks I’ve Learned
1. Start your day off right. Get up, have breakfast, take a shower, put on something other than pajamas, etc. – you get the idea. Remember, how you treat yourself on the outside reflects what you are thinking on the inside. Be good to yourself and it will show in your communications. Remember, when you work from home you only have your voice and tone, so everything you say and do will be scrutinized.
2. Create a dedicated work space with a door you can shut. You need a place where you do work that you can leave at the end of the day. To work from home successfully, you need to maintain a strong mental focus on what you do. You don’t want to have your work everywhere around your house, and you definitely want a door you can shut when needed. It’s also a good idea to conduct a home audit to assess those often overlooked projects that need to be done in your home or workspace.
3. Buy a headset with a good mute function. You want the headset so you can still have both hands-free while on the phone. A good mute function (i.e. it works, and others cannot tell when you switch mute on) will be an asset for you. It’s critical that your co-workers do not hear other noises in the background. That can disrupt important meetings and build resentment that you are at home.
4. Use a cordless phone. It’s hard to sit in the same spot in your house all day. Also, people who work from home generally work more (i.e. during times when others are commuting, etc.), so you need to be able to get up, stretch, do some things around the house, etc. A cordless phone, including a headset with a good mute function, is key.
5. Use two monitors with your computer. There are studies and articles that show adding a second monitor will boost your productivity 20-30%. It’s totally true. A second monitor is critical to anyone who wants to work from home.
6. Leverage a web cam. One of the things you can do to regain physical presence in your communications is use a web cam. A web cam plus an instant messaging tool allow others to see you and for you to see them. This is critical in building rapport and communication with others. I highly recommend at least your team (if you manage one) and the person you report to have web cams.
7. Partner with your Team Leader (i.e. who you report to, some people use the term “boss”). The person you report to is a critical component in your work from home success. You should meet with this person once per week via phone to review what you have accomplished in the previous week, and what you plan to accomplish next week. It’s also critical that you make yourself available to this person whenever necessary. If they are going to trust you to work from home, you have to be transparent and accessible to them.
8. Develop key relationships with your team. You need eyes and ears in the office because you don’t have them. If you have effective work relationships with team members, work with them to support you while you are remote. Calling team members just to check in (i.e. without a specific need) is a helpful way to do this.
9. Master your phone system and conferencing tools. Phone conversations, conference calls, and voice mails are three critical tools in your work from home toolbox. All three of these tools allow you to inject tone into your communications, something that is lacking in email and IM. Each of these scenarios is an opportunity to create memorable communication experiences with the people you work with. Most phone systems have additional, rarely used features (like scheduling voice mails) that you can leverage to your advantage. Be sure to check the Dot Connector 10 Tips to Improve Your Voicemails for other ideas to help you.
10. Master your instant messaging (IM) program. IM is a useful tool for communicating with folks quickly and orchestrating events in the office. Need someone to jump into a conference room to join a meeting? Use IM to coordinate that. Knowing the full capabilities of your IM program can help you leverage it effectively. Be careful, however, not to use acronyms and abbreviated words too frequently. Not everyone will know what you are saying, and when you work from home, you need to be a clear communicator, not a confusing one.
11. Master your email program. Email will be a lifeblood of your work at home expereince. However, it’s important to remember that if you “match the medium to the message” (i.e. email is not appropriate for every message) in your communications, there will be times to use email and times not to use it. Check out the Dot Connector Email Management Series to get control of your email.
12. Leverage a screen sharing program. There are several tools that let you share your screen with people in the office, and vice-versa. This is a crucial technique for participating in meetings, as you can follow the presentation slides on your screen or present your slides just like you were in the room. These tools also help you train others on how to use other tools, websites, etc. and vice-versa.
13. Go back to the office regularly. It’s up to you to define how frequently you need to revisit the office. Some folks go back twice a year, some every quarter, and some even go back monthly. It all depends on your unique situation. However, it’s critical that you do have face-to-face time with people you work with.
14. Be memorable when you are in the office. Be animated in discussions and meetings, walk around the room in key meetings, and volunteer to give presentations to large groups. The key is to create experiences and situations where the people you work with will remember you when you are not there. Also, by doing this you create visuals in people’s minds that can augment your lack of presence in your communications when you work from home.
15. Go out to lunch. You need to leave the house. Going out to lunch is a great way to take a break, interact with other people, and refresh your mind for the afternoon. It is great to save money on lunch by eating at home, but forcing yourself to go out will help freshen your perspective.
16. Drive conversations. You have to tell your story, or someone will tell it for you. It’s critical that when you work from home, you make your point in discussions and meetings. People will forget that you are on the phone. They will talk over you and sometimes not hear what you say (especially if you are on speakerphone in a conference room full of people). Therefore, it’s critical that you are assertive in your speaking and focus on getting at least one major point/idea in each discussion.
17. Match the timezone of your co-workers and Clients. To make the transition to work from home easier, it’s important to match time timezone of your co-workers and Clients. For example, if they are primarily in the Eastern time zone, work and take breaks similar to business hours for Eastern time.
18. Stay organized. Staying organized is another key to successfully working from home. If you get too disorganized your productivity can drop exponentially, since you don’t have co-worker interactions to help change your attitude and boost your focus. Keeping accurate to-do lists and a strong mental focus can help you stay focused and organized.
19. Send hand-written cards to people. Not only is this a great thing to do in general, but for people who work from home it’s a critical tool. This is another way to make up for your lack of presence in the office and make yourself memorable to your co-workers and Clients. When you work from home, it can be easy to slip into “doing mode” and forget the intangible communication tools you would use if you were in the office: asking how people are doing before you “talk business,” saying thank you when someone does something for you, and reaching out to people just to see how they are.
20. Match your sense of urgency to your co-workers and Clients. It’s very easy to be “over urgent” when working from home. Issues sometimes seem bigger than they are. Sometimes it seems you are getting inundated with co-worker communications. Your workload can seem insurmountable. When you get these feelings, it’s time to get organized, re-prioritize your work, take a break, and have a discussion with someone in the office to get a sense of the “vibe” there.
Bonus Tip #21. Create a virtual “stop by to chat” scenario. If you lead a team remotely, one of the hardest things to recreate is being able to have your team stop by to chat. To solve this, call into a conference line at the same time every day (say, at 3pm for an hour). Then, let your team know they can reach you at that time. This will help create a “stop by” and chat opportunity while you work from home.
Bonus Tip #22. Dig deep to compare and understand potential internet service providers. Costs and promotions for internet service and wireless internet can very widely. I’ve also found that actual infrastructure for delivering the high speed signal can vary widely too. So, be sure you make the investment in researching both wireless internet service and traditional internet service providers.
Work from Home – Additional Reading