For most of us, remote work has lasted over a year now. Many of us are facing a future where remote work is here for a long while. According to Gartner, “a hybrid flexible workforce will be the future of the work, with both remote and on-site options as part of the same solution to optimize employers’ workforce needs.”
Here, we share our tried-and-true advice for another year —or more— of working from home.
Tips for staying motivated with remote work
Work when you feel the most focused.
Don’t lock yourself to your desk from 9-5. Remote work should be flexible. If you’re more creative and have a better focus in the early morning or late at night, work those hours into your schedule.
Often, we are most jazzed when we’re in a state of flow. However, if you’re constantly in a state of flow, you’ll begin to burn out your energy supply. Notice when you’re overworked, and take a half-hour to think about anything else but work. Go for a walk, take a nap, or do something non-work related.
Pump the jams.
One of the benefits of remote work: no headphones. If your space and “co-workers” allow it, make a playlist for each of your work tasks. Blasting “Songs for Cold Emailing” while mail-merging makes the task much more fun.
Explore professional development.
When remote work from home began, most of us were trying to keep our heads above water. We back-burnered new skill development to keep the ship afloat. Now that we’re in this for the long haul, don’t sacrifice your professional growth. Take a course, join a networking group, and focus on learning something new.
Build a new relationship.
Simulating the water-cooler conversation over Zoom is tough. Yet, we are all missing the work friendships that bloom outside of our direct responsibilities. It takes a little effort, but reach out to someone at your organization who you don’t regularly talk to. It is a boon to personal motivation to hear about the successes of another team or share tips on overcoming challenges.
How to focus while working remotely
Created a dedicated workspace.
We don’t all have the luxury of a built-in home office. Yet, we all need a space to focus and think only about our tasks at hand. Do all you can to build your remote workspace as your custom productivity den. You shouldn’t be looking at your unfolded laundry while you try to run a business operation.
Use alerts, reminders, & alarms.
Dedicated focus time should have a start time and an end time. And, you shouldn’t be glancing at the clock every five minutes to see if your focus time is up. For example, you can use Google Calendar notifications to fire whenever your next block is two or five minutes away. This way, you’ll know when to wrap up and get ready for the next thing.
Another hard one for marketers. Why is it so hard to close a tab that I *might* need later? I tend to remind myself that only one thing can be done at a time. Closing out of all non-current tabs, tasks and apps makes this a little easier.
You can also try the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused and complete specific tasks. Pick a task and work on it for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and then return to the next 25-minute working session. If you finish your task in the middle of a session, use the remaining time to review or learn something new. After four working sessions, take a longer 15-30 minute break before moving on to the next task.
Bake social media time into your day.
Spending 20 minute scrolling Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter used to be the ultimate way to slack off. Now, it may be the only social ‘interaction’ you even have in a day. Don’t beat yourself up for taking a social media break. Just make sure you’re using it as an actual break, and not a distraction. Set a time limit on your phone, so you don’t lose track of time.
Prioritize items on your to-do list.
We are so reliant on our to-do lists. These never-ending litanies are the anti-project management system. As you start your day, pick the top three or five tasks you absolutely have to complete that day. Move the rest to the “future” list. By making your to-do list shorter, you’ll see how easy it is to finish.
Remote working recommendations for ultimate productivity
Scope your time.
For marketing professionals, conventional wisdom suggests you to under-promise and over-deliver. Meaning, if a request will take an hour, scope out four hours and provide an even better deliverable. With remote work from home, this doesn’t fly. For those of us balancing work and home priorities, accurate scoping goes a long way. Estimate the amount of time something will take, and then stick to that timetable.
Slack is an amazing productivity tool for remote work. It’s kept us connected and GIF-ing throughout the entire pandemic. But, as soon as you sit down to get something done, it’s inevitable that you’ll hear the recognizable ‘ping.’ If you’re trying to work uninterrupted, do a hard “Quit” of the Slack app and get back to your messages later.
Limit your email time.
Like Slack, email can be a black hole of distraction. There’s always something new that needs your attention. Consider blocking out 30 minutes for email when you start your day, and 30 minutes when you end, or whenever you are the least focused. You’ll get to everything urgent, and can leave the non-urgent messages for the next day.
Ask for help.
Before remote work, asking for help was as easy as popping your head into someone’s office. It was easy to tell if someone could find ten or 20 minutes to teach you an Excel formula or chat about an upcoming event. Now, asking for help is tougher. We don’t have a great concept of our co-workers’ free time. For ultimate productivity, it’s crucial to ask for help when you need it. Instead of waiting for a one-on-one or team meeting, normalize reaching out at the time you need help.
Adjust your expectations & your deadlines.
Even though we may be ‘used’ to our situation, that hasn’t made remote working any easier. I’ve found most co-workers and stakeholders to be more flexible with adjusted deadlines. Marketing remotely does not have to feel like a pressure cooker, but you need reasonable deadlines to keep things moving.
Effective communication tips for remote work
Start with kindness.
‘Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle’ is a cliche, but it could not be more true. With unprecedented death, illness, and economic turmoil, this tough year has affected everyone. There is no excuse for curtness while we continue to navigate our global situation.
As noted above, asking for help has become tough during these times. When speaking to your stakeholders, it’s worth taking a moment to ask for their questions. By clarifying that they understand you (and vice versa) you avoid miscommunications and create a more collaborative virtual team.
Use Zoom if you have to, avoid it when you don’t.
Zoom has kept our entire world afloat this year. Yet, we’ve become reliant on it for every communication instance. Consider whether each of your meetings would pack the same punch if it were an email or a phone call. If so, consider these options instead. This makes each Zoom rarer and more valuable.
Avoid small talk, but embrace chit chat.
Over the past year, I’ve missed catching up with my work friends about their lives, families and pets. What I haven’t missed is the awkward conversations about the weather or the commute. Ask your co-workers interesting and thought-provoking questions about their lives. Skip the mundane and give that time back.
Texting is your last resort.
Email. Slack. Zoom. You basically live in your co-workers’ computers. You don’t need to live in their personal cell phone as well. Unless it’s emergency-level urgent, use the work-approved communication channels.
Tips for managing remote employees
Check in daily.
You would say ‘good morning’ to your employees every day in the office, why wouldn’t you now? Even the smallest daily touch is a good reminder that you are a team.
Are there software solutions that can make your remote team’s work smoother and easier? Now is the time to invest. Your employees should see that you value your time, even when they’re out of the office. By investing in the proper tools, like CRMs, they need to get their job done, you show how much you value them.
This cannot be said enough. Employees have stepped up this year to still succeed at their jobs under unprecedented circumstances. They may ask for extended deadlines or rescheduled meetings. Just by asking, you can know they are still prioritizing work even during these trying times.
Understand emotional needs & respect confidentiality.
We’ve all experienced loss this year and some of us more than others. Employees may need extended bereavement or mental health days. Consider allowing them without additional explanation or excuse.
Celebrate when you can.
We haven’t just lost in-person work. We’ve lost birthday lunches, baby showers, and holiday soirees. Many companies have had historic successes and some have had huge comebacks. Consider a Zoom party, gift basket, or even a celebratory email thread to celebrate life’s good parts.
Tips for being managed remotely
Check in daily.
If you don’t hear from your manager, send a brief update or follow up on specific tasks. These conversations often increase rapport and build trust between colleagues.
Report on your successes.
It’s up to you to prove your value to your manager, which is harder to do during remote work. If you have a win, make sure you share it with your manager and team right away.
Take things off of your manager’s plate.
Free up your manager’s time to focus on what’s important to your remote workforce. You can handle the weekly team agenda or send out the Zoom links. This builds trust and can relieve some of the stress of working remotely.
Prioritize your professional development.
If you’re early in your career, time hasn’t stopped. Make sure you are still learning and growing your skills for career development. Work with your manager to incorporate professional development into your 2021 plan.
Embrace the phone call.
Sometimes talking on the phone allows people to be clearer and more candid than they may be over Zoom. Without the self-conscious nature of a video call, you can get a better picture of what your manager needs.
Techniques for work-life balance
Take days off.
During a global pandemic, we all worked more. Instead of investing in our own self-care, we spent more time on our computers. This year, take your vacation time when you feel like you need a break—you don’t need a better excuse than that.
Invest in the things that make your life easier.
I wish we could all hire a laundry/grocery/childcare/dog walking/dinner-cooking service. That’s not realistic, but there are a few affordable COVID-safe services as options. The space that outsourcing household tasks creates in both your brain and on your schedule has great value.
Don’t forget about your friends.
There were long stretches during the pandemic where I only talked to my immediate family or my co-workers. When the only channels for chatting with friends are the same as those you use for work, it can be exhausting. Yet, keeping up these relationships is crucial for your mental health. They are the one thing that isn’t work or home—cherish it!
Take your lunches.
When your kitchen table is also your office, it’s easy to work with a sandwich in-hand. Try to avoid this: our lunchtime is ours, and it’s a built-in time in the day to step away from your work.
Shut down your computer at the end of the day.
Don’t log off or put it to ‘sleep.’ When I hit that shut down button, it’s a wave of relief from the day. Your computer doesn’t need to be glowing in the background of your personal time.
How to make the most of remote work
Spend your commute time doing something you love.
It might be getting an extra hour of sleep. Or, it might be reading, doing a puzzle, or chatting with friends. You’ve gained this time back into your life—use it for something good.
Dress comfortably and for yourself.
Even if your workplace had a relaxed dress code, it probably was not as relaxed as working from home. Pursue your original style in your remote-work wardrobe and find a ‘uniform’ that makes you comfortable.
Connect with your new “coworkers.”
They might be your spouse, your kids, or your neighbors or pets. Take time during your day to treat your new “coworkers” like you would your work teammates. Check in about their day, share a snack, or go for a walk (dogs like this one best).
Explore a new space.
If you’re safely able to, consider working from a new location. Many remote workers have been able to explore the world while maintaining their jobs. This unprecedented lifestyle was once on the fringe, but is now accessible for anyone able to travel safely.
Make it yours.
For the entire history of the modern workplace, workers have played by their company’s rules. When to work, where to work, what to wear: this was all determined by one person in charge. Now, this power has returned to employees. Consider what truly makes you happiest in your work life, and pursue it.
Forecast Analysis: Remote Work IT Spending, Worldwide. Ranjit Atwal, Neha Gupta, Dean Blackmore, Christian Canales, Grigory Betskov. Gartner. January 31, 2021
9 Tips for Managing Remote Employees. Mary Baker. Gartner. January 4, 2021
The Psychology of Flow. Kendra Cherry. Very Well Mind. January 13, 2021