If you’ve been pushing your boss to let you have an opportunity to work remotely, you might think that the biggest challenge you’ll face is figuring out which pair of fuzzy slippers to wear to walk from your bed to your desk. But you’ll quickly learn that there are some distinct challenges to working offsite while the rest of your team is shoulder-to-shoulder in the office.
Review the following three common challenges that many first-time remote workers face, and learn recommended strategies for quickly overcoming these potential stumbling blocks:
Challenge #1: Not stopping to take breaks.
For all of the annoyances of working in an office, one benefit of doing your job on company grounds is that there are reliable cues from others around you about when it makes sense to take a break. Office colleagues may routinely gather in the kitchen for coffee klatches and leave promptly at noon for a half-hour or more as a restorative break from sitting at a desk.
They may also walk around more by nature—for example, collaborating with someone down the hall on a project, or going back and forth to the fax or copy machine—which provides a natural pause from staring at a screen and typing for hours on end.
When you’re working from home for the first time, you may find yourself glued to your chair. You’ll likely be communicating with colleagues via email throughout the day, and you may fear missing out on something if you step away for more than a few moments. It’s unhealthy, though, to work straight through without taking proper breaks during your workday.
Setting some structure at the beginning of your remote arrangement can help keep you on track toward regular breaks in your workflow. Schedule breaks into your calendar like you would any other important appointment. For example, if you start working at 9 a.m., you could create two 15-minute “coffee break equivalents” at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.—plus commit to taking a 30-minute lunch break at noon—to approximate the rhythms that your colleagues are enjoying in the office.
Challenge #2: Falling into the interruption trap.
One reason you may want to work remotely is to have improved ability to focus on your projects and tasks. Working in the office means interruptions aplenty, many of which are completely out of your control, such as coworkers dropping by to chat about their weekend while you’re trying to finish writing a report on deadline, or being expected to attend meetings that aren’t that relevant for you just because you happen to be physically present.
But virtual workers have their share of interruption landmines to avoid as well. You might find yourself getting hijacked into answering the door when UPS rings the bell to deliver a personal package, being on call for the plumber to arrive, or being the parent who is called to come pick up a sick kid since you’re the one working from home.
To dodge these bullets and stay focused, you need to commit to some advance planning and proactive communication with those who are home with you. Since working from home is new to you, it’s also new to any family members with whom you may share the space, so you’ll need to be clear about what this arrangement means. A spouse may assume if you’re on the premises, it’s fair game to tap you to run an errand, or kids may think that weekdays you are home are the same as weekends—unless you explain what’s different.
Be sure to manage expectations up front with your family about the fact that you’re at home to work on the days that you’re being paid to do so. Explain the ramifications you’ll face if you fail to meet your deadlines, and that avoiding interruptions is as critical as it would be if you were in the office. In some cases, when it comes to interruptions while working virtually, you may be the problem and not other people.
If you find that it’s difficult for you to stay focused on business while working in your home environment, consider taking your laptop to a more neutral workspace, like a library, coffee shop, or co-working office.
Challenge #3: Working around the clock.
Those who have never worked from home may be envisioning that they’ll have much more freedom to balance different aspects of their lives more seamlessly, and that they’ll simply have more free time. The reality, though, is that many people who work remotely end up working longer hours than their colleagues in the office, and may have a hard time “shutting off” work at the end of the day, instead staying tethered to their devices practically 24/7.
In addition to taking breaks as described above, remote workers can avoid a habit of overwork by designating an “office” area that’s only for work, to separate it physically from their personal life and make it less tempting to just keep going. Also helpful is making a commitment to put away your work phone and laptop for the evening—no random “checks” just to be sure you haven’t missed something.
It may sound like a lot to master, but taking the time early on to prepare for your new life as a remote worker can go a long way toward success. Soon, you’ll wonder how you managed to get anything done before you went virtual!
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