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How To Be Effective When Working Remotely

 

The transition from being an office worker to a remote worker introduces various new challenges that can easily frustrate first-time remote workers. For example, when you and your colleagues are all in the same office, managing the various situations that arise on a daily basis is relatively straightforward. You can meet with colleagues face to face and discuss ideas, debate differing points of view, and bring everyone together to share thoughts with relative ease. This can be relatively simple when working remotely, however, it typically requires a fresh approach given the casual “walk-up” option is no longer available.

It’s not unusual for first-time remote workers to become frustrated as they adapt to their new style of working. For some the transition to remote working will feel natural, however, it’s important not to “leave anyone behind” on the transition or risk facing staff attrition challenges. Similarly, new employees can quite easily feel “left out” as they miss out on the opportunity to become part of the culture and atmosphere of an office environment. this too can lead to new employees feel like they are an “outsider” to the organisation.

While remote workers can be incredibly productive and working remotely can be highly rewarding, it needs to be approached correctly both by the organisation offering remote working options and by the individual embracing a remote “work-style”. One of the benefits that many remote workers like to enjoy is the ability to modify their work environment. Many remote workers prefer “change-up” their work environment by shifting between working from home, their favourite cafe, the local park or from a co-working space. By doing so they have the advantage of social interaction, which can go a long way to reducing the psychological impacts of cabin fever.

Remote workers frequently report that they feel more productive when working remotely as they are afforded the ability to focus with little to no interruption. Beyond the feeling of increased productivity, it’s important for remote workers to be important contributors to the team and the business overall. To do so there are several skills that should be practised to increase the effectiveness and mental well-being of individuals working remotely.

Communicating Effectively

When you are a remote worker even greater importance needs to be placed on communication. Your communication style needs to be more efficient and succinct, compared to the approach taken when located in an office. Without being able to tap the person on the shoulder and discussing a particular topic, a remote worker needs to rely on the communication tools that are made available to them. For each formal meeting ensure you state what you’re looking to get out of the meeting, and invite others to share the same. This will ensure that your communication and meetings are purposeful.

Balance your formal meetings with informal catch-ups as it’s important to maintain camaraderie and a sense of belonging within the team, even when you’re remote.

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“Virtual coffees with colleagues are a great way to chat less formally and feel part of a team”

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Focus time is necessary

As much as communication is important, it’s equally important to get work done! Having a strategy in place that allows you to focus blocks of time to the task or tasks at hand, will not only improve your throughput but also provide a sense of accomplishment. If you’re struggling with this, I strongly recommend the Pomodoro technique

Here’s how the Pomodoro technique works:

Work in 25-minute intervals

You break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks. Set a timer and work non-stop during the 25-minute period with no interruptions. The key is to focus on the task until the time expires and then take a break.

When I do this, I shut my door, close my web browser and turn off all notifications on my computer. I have also found that tools from Google offer extensions called StayFocusd and Block Site that can block chosen Chrome websites for specific periods of time, so you don’t get distracted. Additionally, turn your phone onto silent and put it in a place where you can’t see it.

Take 5 minutes to clear your mind

When it’s time for your five-minute break, it’s important to give your brain a well-deserved time out. I use my breaks to help clear my mind. I go for a quick walk, get something to eat, make a coffee, or do a few stretches by standing up and moving a bit. Something else I enjoy is creating playlists on Spotify. I have found it’s a great way to increase my energy when I hear a great song and then I can listen to it when I begin to focus on work again.

Repeat the pattern

You can repeat the pattern until you have completed four Pomodoros then you take longer breaks of about 15 to 20 minutes. Try this for 30 days, even if it is just one round a day until you can build up to another and then another. Track if you are able to accomplish more than you typically do in your workday, or that you were able to cut down some of your overtime hours.

If you find that 25 minutes is too challenging, begin with a shorter work time (like 15 to 20 minutes) and longer rest breaks (10 minutes) until you get more comfortable with the cycle and feel you can accomplish what you set out to do.

These work-rest intervals are referred to as “Pomodoros.” Think of it as interval training or short bursts of exercise that you do at the gym, except this is a mental exercise of focus and control over what you are working on, so you can complete it.

In this day and age of more and more automation, it’s important that we teach our brains not to rely so much on technology or wait to be stimulated by notifications and alerts. We have to practice how to connect to our thoughts and ensure we focus on the task at hand by our own initiative and cognitive ability.

Remember, you don’t need to work longer to be more productive. The key is to work smarter, and by focusing on mindfulness at work, you can better utilise your full mental capacities, to do more in less time and feel better overall.

When you work remotely you need to set aside time for yourself, so that you can work peacefully without getting interrupted. You need to be open about your time so that your colleagues do not interrupt you. This helps to maintain your concentration and do not get distracted.

Plan Ahead

When you work remotely, structuring your plans and work is an important aspect. Planning ahead helps all the other team members cope up with the work and understand the future scope of the work. Remote workers also tend to miss out on the subtle feedback cues that often exist in an office environment to recognise progress, therefore having a plan with a schedule and deadlines is necessary to measure output and effectiveness for Remote Workers. This same approach makes it possible for Remote Workers to plan and schedule their days effectively so they can figure out the time for work, communication, and their personal lives as well.

Use technology to your advantage

Remote workers have a large dependency on technology for their work, as well as for their communication. Mastering the technology you use when working remotely is a great skill to practice. Not only will it allow you to be efficient in scheduling meetings and managing your time, but it will also improve your confidence as a Remote Worker. It might appear trivial, but confidently knowing how your webcam, microphone and speakers or headphones work will save you from the embarrassment and frustration that often affects those working remotely for the first time.

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“Stop wasting the first 10 minutes of every video call figuring out the technology!”

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Beyond understanding the hardware you use, make a list of the important software you use in your role as a Remote Worker and set time aside to master the use of this software. This could likely include tools such as Microsoft Team, Zoom, Go To Meeting, Slack, Trello and others. Practice with your friends. Invite them to a video call, share your screen, mute them, draw on the virtual whiteboard. Knowing how to do this effectively and effortlessly will make a significant difference in your professional confidence at working remotely.

Schedule regular check-ins

Regular check-ins are necessary when it comes to remote working. Although you are available daily in group chats, setting up regular and frequent video conferencing check in’s is a good idea. Personally I like to schedule one a day for 30 minutes to bring the distributed team together. It helps everyone to stay on the same page and gives them an outline of their responsibilities. I also remain available for the following 30 minutes if anyone in the team wants to discuss anything with me directly. We’ve all heard of an “open door” policy. When you’re working remotely from everyone, it’s important that the team know they can come to you any time and by allotting a specific time, it both reminds and encourages the team members that you’re available. Having an allotted time also has the additional benefit of minimising the “out of the blue” calls and ensures I can have my own focus time to work on my own tasks.

Summary

When you first transition to remote working, it may initially feel like you’re doing the same work but from a different location. However, you’ll quickly encounter the differences between working in an office and working remotely. Developing the skills, habits and techniques to Be Effective Anywhere will make a huge difference in the levels of fulfilment, satisfaction and enrichment you feel when working remotely.

 

Author: Jason Ferguson – 9th April 2020