Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been asked to work from home and many more have been laid off. As a result, you may find yourself working remotely for the first time, or looking for work that will allow you to do so. This will be a significant change for many, as working from home requires certain skills that are not always demanded in an in-office context. Fortunately, with focus and hard work you can be just as productive at home as you are in the office, if not more so. With this in mind, these five skills will be important for you to develop if you are to find success as a remote worker.
When you work from home, you no longer have the usual rhythm of office life to schedule your day around. There is nobody arriving at the office in the morning or leaving in the afternoon, there is no one reminding you of impending deadlines, and there is no one to go on your lunch break with. It is entirely your responsibility to keep track of your hours and make sure that you are meeting your deadlines and keeping your appointments. It’s true that one benefit to working at home is that you can set your own schedule and, for example, take appointments in the middle of the day, but you can’t let time get away from you.
Your calendar must become your best friend. You have to make sure that you aren’t sleeping past your alarm or letting your lunch breaks go on too long. You will also have to keep close track of any meetings; as a remote worker, you will have many video conferences and phone calls, whether they’re with important clients or simply to replace what could have been a quick stop by a coworker’s desk. Your coworkers are nowhere nearby, and your manager won’t be there to call you into the conference room, so you have to learn to expertly manage your own time.
It is also important to become conscious of time zones. If you are working for a remote team, some of them may be in another state, or even another continent. Make sure you know what time zone your deadlines are in, and when you schedule a call with a remote teammate, make sure you know what time it is on their end.
When you work remotely, you may begin to feel distanced from the rest of the team, especially if some or all of them still work in an office together. You won’t see your coworkers face-to-face, and you might begin to feel like you are on your own. To avoid this, it is important to stay connected, even if it takes a little more effort than it would in person. Scheduling video conferences, taking phone calls, and maintaining communication on an instant messenger can all help you stay in contact with everyone on your team.
This is important for two reasons. Firstly, staying in close contact with your team will help you keep up-to-date on projects and get your share of the work done. If your coworkers are still together in an office they may not remember to reach out to their remote teammates, and if the entire team is remote important changes could take place during a video call you weren’t a part of. You will need to be proactive to make sure everyone is on the same page at all times.
Secondly, staying connected is important to your mental health. Your well-being relies on being part of a team and feeling that you are important. If you don’t communicate with your coworkers you won’t feel valued, even if your job can be done without collaboration. Reach out to your coworkers and try to maintain relationships with them. It pays both personally and professionally to remind your coworkers that you exist once in a while.
Your manager won’t be looking over your shoulder when you work from home. This means that you will need to develop the ability to stay on-task and at your desk without anyone explicitly telling you to. Independence means more than simply maintaining a schedule and accomplishing your tasks on-time, however. You will also have to become comfortable with self-directed problem-solving and troubleshooting, as well making difficult decisions on your own. When you work by yourself, you may find that you have to be the one to make choices that might otherwise fall to a supervisor.
It is also important to remember that remote work requires not only working alone but being alone. Many people are jarred by the solitude they experience when they begin working from home for the first time and begin to feel stir-crazy. The absence of coworkers or any other outlet for socialization can begin to wear on people. It is important to develop the ability to spend entire workdays with only yourself for company.
If you’re a social person better suited to working with a group, you may find that working from home gets you down, even if you have taken steps to stay focused and productive. If this is the case, it is important to ensure that you are getting the social stimulation you need elsewhere. You might be able to do this by simply having an active social life outside of work, but if that isn’t enough try working at a coffee shop or at the library to find that feeling of having people around (once the pandemic is over, of course). And remember to keep in touch with your coworkers; video meetings, instant messaging, and phone calls can all be used to keep relationships going.
While setting priorities and juggling multiple projects at once are also important skills in an office setting, the management of these tasks becomes your responsibility when you work from home. In order to keep track of everything you are accountable for, you have to master your calendar and your to-do list. It is up to you to be conscious of everything you have to do each day, the scope and timeline of any ongoing projects, and what your long-term goals are.
Try to find a workflow that works for you. Any system that keeps you on-task and cognizant of your responsibilities is worth exploring. You may prefer to use a spreadsheet, a day planner, a calendar app, or good old-fashioned sticky notes. Make sure that your files are organized, both on your computer and at your desk, and that you know how to find and access any tools you will be working with. Having a clean workspace and clear goals each day will be integral to staying organized on the job.
Working from home requires more knowledge of internet technologies than an office job typically would. You will have to be able to communicate with your coworkers quickly and easily online, and if you don’t have the right software or are unable to use it, you may run into trouble.
There are many platforms that companies use to facilitate working from home, and it wouldn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with them. You have surely sent an email before, but if not, Gmail and Outlook are common in offices. Slack is a popular instant messenger, especially in the tech industry. You should also get to know collaboration and project management tools like Basecamp, Trello, and Asana, as well as document sharing platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox.
Some knowledge of hardware is also useful. You may need to use your personal computer when you begin working from home, and there is no IT department to turn to if something goes wrong. Make sure your computer is running and its camera and microphone are working correctly. Working from home will be difficult if you don’t have the right tools.
Ben is a writer and customer support specialist with 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume and the power of coffee.
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