If you were to poll the average 8-to-5 office worker bee, I would expect that the idea of “working from home” would probably look a lot different than the actual experience of working remotely for an extended period of time. As a former Virtual Assistant and current Social Media Coordinator, I have been working virtually for the past two-and-a-half years and I could not be happier.
Working from home (albeit I am part-time) really works for me. As a mom of two little kids, working virtually gives me the time and space to do school pick-ups, library runs, and infinite loads of laundry; while also allowing me to contribute to our household and converse with people who are over the age of five during the day. It keeps me sharp; I can keep up my skill-set and even acquire some new chops. It's a win-win all around.
However, working from home is not all about snack time and sleeping in. In fact, it takes discipline and planning to set yourself up to successfully work virtually.
You’re there to work. Fact is fact: your job needs to be done and nobody is going to pay you to marathon episodes of The Real Housewives of Whatever. Get up. Get dressed. I don’t work in my pyjamas often because, after a while, it starts to feel depressing. Give yourself a workspace- great if you have a home office, but any room works as long as you’re comfortable, your chair is supportive and the lighting doesn’t strain your eyes. It doesn’t need to be fancy; in fact, I work from my dining room. I have my laptop, an app on my phone that tracks my billable time, and an adhesive whiteboard on the wall (this is an amazing tool! Very thin and low profile, it sticks to the wall so I can write notes and keep track of projects without being a huge decorative burden. On Amazon or in office supply stores for under $10). That’s basically all I need.
I love to start my day with a task list. Knowing what needs to be done first thing in the morning helps me plan out my whole day. Then, battle the beast that is procrastination - tackle projects as soon as you can. If you anticipate having an hour-long project but you don’t start it until 4:00 pm and it turns out to be a 3-hour project...well, you’re going to have a bad time.
But one of the perks is, you can work when you want. This is especially true for freelancers. During a particularly nasty bout of insomnia, I worked a client’s tracking spreadsheets at 3:00 am. Sometimes I get up a few hours before my kids and tackle some to-dos before the chaos of the day starts. To me, this is like having “found” time - making use of hours that are otherwise unproductive and don’t cut into your day. Having the flexibility to work when you want is key, however, give yourself downtime or you may feel like you’re constantly on the clock.
Limit household distractions. Being able to throw in a few loads of laundry, run the dishwasher or pop dinner in the oven mid-afternoon is a glorious thing! It gives our weekends as a family so much room for activities that are not related to housekeeping. But I reiterate - find balance. Washing a load of sheets is ok, but spending five hours scrubbing your kitchen cupboards out may not be what your boss had in mind when you agreed on a virtual position.
Find your tribe. Working from home can be very isolating. You don’t have access to the traditional office setting for group lunches, team building events, or grabbing a colleague for an afternoon Starbucks run. Luckily, we have a great team of experienced remote coworkers. We can lean on each other for collaboration support, help with editing, bouncing ideas off one another, or simply just to say hi if we’re feeling lonesome. Slack and Google Hangouts are great tools to keep in touch throughout the day with your colleagues when you don’t have the ability to simply peek over a cubicle wall to chat. Strong communication is key - we do a quick phone call every morning to check in, get on the same page, and discuss our to-do lists.
But maybe you’re a freelancer who doesn’t have a coworking team? Networking events or meetups with other self-employed people are great ways to build a group of contacts that you can reach out to for a weekly coffee date or to brainstorm ideas with.
The ability to work remotely has come a long way. I remember my mom, who worked in oil and gas software, having to log in from home for New Years Eve Y2K in 1999 to ensure that the company’s data changed over to the year 2000. It was a huge undertaking that took multiple weeks of practice runs. Dial-up internet was slow, the network had security concerns, and it took a server the size of a filing cabinet to run. Now every morning, I simply open my laptop and check my work email. What an amazing thing! The flexibility to work when and where you want (want to log in from the beach? As long as you have wifi you can!) along with other benefits such as savings on parking costs, lowered carbon emissions, lower overhead for companies that work without an office space, and the work/life balance is a tremendous gain for companies and employees alike.