So It’s Your First Day Working Remotely… What Do You Do?
Whether your company is going on lock-down due to a virus scare or it’s your very first day at an all-remote company, typically remote first-timers start with 2 emotions. First, there’s a feeling of exuberance. You’re excited that you get to sleep in a little longer tomorrow and you don’t have to deal with coworkers interrupting your flow every 5 minutes. For a second, working from home feels very positive, but then comes the fear.
- How will you stay focused?
- How do you get unblocked when you’re not in the same office as everyone else?
- How can you be a contributing member when you work in a different time zone from most anyone else?
- How will your boss know you’re getting your work done?
- How do you avoid feeling lonely and isolated?
With worry taking over for excitement, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by how to get started. No need to fear, this guide will take you through the basics of how to have a successful first day of working remotely. So take a breath and let’s get started!
Expect a Learning Curve
Most likely, you’ve spent most of your life going to class in person and then once your schooling was done, going to work in person. This means that you have decades of habits ingrained in you that serve you well in a different environment, but may need to be tweaked for this new work style. Be patient and be open to doing things differently.
Set Up Your Work Environment the Night Before
Your environment is the foundation behind having a successful work day. It’s important that you find a place that you are comfortable in. If you’re not comfortable, then half your mind will be taken up just thinking of your own uneasiness. This is why the commonly held belief that you need to put on professional work clothes and shoes is entirely false. Don’t fall for it. The most important thing is that you are comfortable in what you’re wearing, where you’re sitting, and all other elements of your environment, so that your full attention can be on your work.
List Your Top 3
Logging onto a virtual job for the first time can be overwhelming. There’s so many things that need to be done, and it’s hard to know where to start. Take a deep breath then list the top 3 things that absolutely need to get done today. Be specific and prioritize them in order. Start on the first task and once it is done or blocked, move onto the second thing. Continue the process until everything is complete and then start it all over again. This technique will help you stay focused. You’ll also be spending the most time getting the top effective things done and not just putting out fires.
Communicate More Than You Think Is Necessary
Most communication in virtual positions is via written word. People read things in different ways and you don’t know what their situation is. They may be overwhelmed or distracted at the moment of your message and only catch half of what you’re trying to get across. You’re also most likely working with some people where English isn’t their first language and you need to ensure that everything is understood appropriately. Everyone is human and they need more than one opportunity to make sure the most important items are listened to and internalized.
Communicating more than you think is necessary means being verbose, communicating in more than one method, saying what you’re trying to get across in multiple ways, and asking questions to see if your message is coming across correctly. In a practical sense, there are many ways to do this. A couple of ways include:
- Going into a meeting with a meeting agenda defined and distributed with proper notice for review from all participants
- Ending a meeting with important decisions that were made and any action items that specific people need to take and by when
- Follow the meeting with a write-up of the information listed above
- Managers should list the team priorities to a public communication channel (like Slack) at least on a weekly basis and tag specific people who are responsible for each objective
- They should then follow-up throughout the week in public and private chats
- Task distribution should always follow-up with questions like: “Does this make sense?”, “Do you have any questions about why we’re doing this?”, and “What are your thoughts about this decision?”
- Use emojis if appropriate in your work environment to help convey the tone of your message
Asynchronous Is Your Friend
One of the number one differences when working remotely is that your team is usually working at different times from each other. They are typically not working on the same tasks at the same time. This may be the hardest difference for a newly remote person to get used to, but it can also be the best thing for their productivity and mental health. When it comes to asynchronous work, the most important things you can do are:
- When you come to a point in your work where you feel like you need feedback, decide if the requested feedback 100% blocks your work or whether there are tasks you can take care of while waiting for a response
- Make sure to do the ‘List your top 3’ step above. That way if you are 100% blocked, you have an immediate next task to work on
- Communicate early and often. If you wait til the last possible second to request feedback from another person, you run the risk of them not being able to reply to you immediately and end up missing your deadline. Keep the communication flowing with everyone involved in your work so that they know what is needed from their side and can take care of it when they are available.
- Start your day by unblocking others, and end your day by sending your own blockers to others. In most cases, you will log on the following day and start your work fully unblocked. The power of working in a remote team across multiple time zones is that the business engine is running almost 24/7 rather than strictly during standard business hours in one time zone. Take advantage of this.
Remote work can come with a fear that your team doesn’t think you’re working hard. This can lead to overdoing it on being instantly available. Which means not being able to get into a flow, spending all your time in Slack conversations without actually getting any work done, and becoming overwhelmed. Avoid this by setting clear boundaries. You can do this by setting specific times that you will be available to check and reply to Slack correspondence. You can also use the Pomodoro Technique where you do dedicated work for 45 min and then take 15 min to check in on communication tools. Experiment with different methods and do what works for you. The most important thing is explaining your boundaries to your team and communicating your availability.
Outside of making schedule boundaries, it’s also important to set virtual boundaries. Many people working remotely are using the same computer for their personal life and for their work life. It’s very easy to get distracted when all your favorite websites are already logged into and your bookmarks are right there. This can also encourage a blurry line between work and personal time. Luckily, there are a few simple tricks that can help with this in a big way:
- Use separate browser profiles for your work and personal life. This allows for different bookmarks and separate browser histories
- Use separate password managers for work and personal life. This provides extra friction if you attempt to check Facebook while in your work profile or a work email while in your personal profile.
- Use separate desktops in your computers task view for work and personal life. When you’re trying to keep separation outside your browser, this is the best way to do it. This simulates the experience of having separate computers and makes a huge difference especially if you’re the type to leave browsers/programs open for multiple days.
Lastly, be clear with yourself on start and end times for your work day. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of scrolling through your work email as soon as you wake up, and keeping work going in the background when you should have finished for the day. Don’t do this. Don’t open anything work related until your official start time, and when you end for the day, have a routine where you close out of everything. Working all day every day will just burn you out and keep you from performing your best.
You thought you lived a sedentary life before with your office job, but working from home will make the little exercise you did do walking across the parking lot go poof. During your first couple months working remotely, you need to schedule in times for movement. Walk around the block for lunch, get up from your desk to stretch every hour, and find a fitness activity for after work so that you’re not sitting at your desk during all off hours too. If you’re planning on investing in some at-home equipment, I highly recommend getting a rowing machine. I only spend about 5 min a day on it, but it works out my entire body while keeping me toned. For those who hate exercise, it’s a magic machine.
Take Advantage of the Benefits
Finally, for the fun part! Like we talked about in the first item of this guide, most likely, you’ve spent most of your life going to class in person and then once your schooling was done, going to work in person. So there are decades of habits ingrained in you that now have the opportunity to be altered for your own personal health and happiness. You don’t have a commute anymore, so you can switch your wake up time. Or if you don’t want to sleep in, you can use that time for a hobby you love.
Most remote workers can also create their own schedule, so if you work better late at night, then do that. If there’s an afternoon fitness class you’ve been always wanting to go to, or you want to be able to pick up your kids from school everyday, you now have the opportunity.
If you like working with music blaring, do it. If you like to work in different areas of your house throughout the day, go for it. If you’ve been meaning to eat healthier, but the downtown office restaurants were always so tempting, you now have full control of the food in your immediate vicinity. If you’ve always wanted to foster a dog or cat, but didn’t feel like you were home enough to do it before, now is the time.
There are so many benefits that open up when your job provides more flexibility. Naturally, you might fall into the same rhythm you’ve been doing for the last many years, but I’m here to tell you that you have the chance to change all that. You have the opportunity to personalize your routine and life, and make it work for you.
Through implementing these 8 basic techniques you’ll be on your way towards a healthy and productive remote work life.
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