Making the transition to remote work isn’t as easy as it may seem for companies, or for individuals. For the many professionals who have grown accustomed to the hustle and bustle of a daily commute, regular office chatter, or face-to-face meetings, it can be downright isolating. And (at times) painfully quiet, or, alternatively, louder than a house party.
After founding my consulting business in spring 2013, I found that I craved human interaction—so much so that come August, I was interviewing for an adjunct professor role teaching communication at a local university.
Trust me: nothing will help you shake your day-to-day loneliness OR fear of public speaking quite like a roomful of disinterested teenagers! But that was a temporary solution for a part-time remote role. Just what would life be like, I wondered, once I took the plunge and went full-time?
In early 2014, I found out. Through much trial and error, I eventually settled on a routine that worked for me—incorporating both time outdoors and work in public places in order to maintain my sanity. I also discovered which personal traits are important to cultivate. Knowing that I’m not the only one out there with advice on the subject, I reached out to a few other folks in the remote work community to see what worked for them.
Here are thoughts from experts on making the transition to remote work:
Jon Narong, Principal Analytics Consultant, 33 Sticks
Left Silicon Valley to Live All Over the World
It has been nearly three months since I started my location-independent lifestyle, and every day has been so very exciting. It’s an amazing thing to be able to switch up your reality whenever you like; that said, it definitely has been more challenging than I expected. Not to say that the pros haven’t outweighed the cons, but each day has been a learning experience. And just as I enjoy optimizing experiences for work, I’ve also really been enjoying learning how to optimize my daily life.
- Experiment with time and task management methodologies. I always thought of myself as an organized person, but without any sort of default structure to your day, you have to take it to the next level. In an office, it’s easy to rely on the “normal routine” (get in at nine, take lunch at 12, leave at five). But now, you’re on your own. With incredible flexibility also comes incredible responsibility. Knowing the context of where you’ll be (café, home, airplane) might also impact what you can get done.
- You’re not on vacation. Traveling for leisure can be very different from effectively moving your home base. At a minimum, it probably involves having a stricter budget and less time to just hang out. But it also means the normal aspects of your day become fun adventures.
- Try to immerse yourself in the local happenings. Try to remember why you’re traveling and get involved. Talk to people, follow local news, understand local issues. One tactical thing I literally just started doing is following a variety of local serious and hip news outlets on Twitter whenever I get to a new city.
- Plan your workplaces in advance. I try to research where I’m going to work at least the day before so I’m not wasting time the day of, trying to figure out what spot might have a productive ambiance and reliable WiFi.
Kristen Vogt, Knowledge Management Officer, EDUCAUSE
Traded Onsite Work for Better Work-Life Balance
When I tell people that I work remotely full-time, they almost always ask me if I get distracted by laundry or the like. But I have found that actually, the opposite is true.
I began working remotely when my kids were toddlers, and they were my structure. Dropping them off and picking them up from daycare signaled when I started and ended work. I kept the laptop closed and the phone turned off when they were home. As time went on, I could break the rule when I really needed to, but the structure helped me keep a healthy balance right from the start. That said, here are my tips for others making the switch:
- Find structure that works for you. This is critical in order to keep your work from taking over all of your waking hours. If you don’t have toddlers demanding your attention, find signals that keep you balanced.
- Set up short one-on-one meetings with your co-workers, even those you won’t interact with often. Find out what they do for the organization, ask them for advice on transitioning to remote work, and get to know them as people and not just a voice on the other end of a conference line. It’s the virtual equivalent of walking down the office hallway and introducing yourself to the people around you. Building those individual relationships is priceless.
Phil Hudson, Founder and Full Stack Engineer, Purple Goldfish
Software Engineer Turned Digital Nomad
I firmly believe that humans were not designed to sit in front of a screen all day— and, let’s be honest, usually aren’t very productive doing so. Remote work newbies are often in for a lot of surprises in the way life changes, but I’ve found that the challenges involved are manageable as long as you stick to some ground rules.
- Get out of the 9-to-5 mindset as fast as possible. Before starting work for the day it is important to prioritize and focus on your top tasks—those that will drive your next project forward. Once your task list is complete, go home. Simple, right? Use whatever time savings you have to develop other professional skills, or simply to enjoy life.
- Focus on what adds value to your career and your life. Recognize that sometimes, tasks that add little value (and aren’t urgent) are unavoidable. In this case, I usually let them stack up and batch them, wrapping them up in one day or one session. Or even look to outsourcing them. It’s important that you try to only focus on what adds value.
Julian Stewart, Content Engagement Manager, Workfrom
Recently Relocated Remote Team Member
I moved from Portland (where the rest of our team is) to the Los Angeles area about a month ago. As the company’s first (and so far only) fully remote employee, the transition has been reasonably smooth on the whole, but not entirely free of complications.
- Get accustomed to over-communicating. For example, a couple of weeks ago two of my colleagues came up with a new project idea during a lunch meeting, and the information wasn’t shared with me until well after the fact; they were so used to having me around that they’d forgotten I hadn’t been at lunch with them! It was a good reminder for all of us that deliberate, ongoing communication is vital to the success of remote teams.
- Set clear boundaries. This is incredibly important in my case, as I’m temporarily living with family. When you’re around the house, there can be a natural assumption on the part of relatives, significant others, etc., that your physical presence equates with availability for conversation and other socialization. Gently help them understand that work time is off limits.
- Carve out a dedicated workspace. This has helped me a great deal. I’ve also been sure to scout out a few local spaces (coffeehouses, a public library, a co-working space) where I can go when the home environment is just too chaotic.
Ryan Wheaton, Creative Director at SynMedia, and freelance designer
Remote Employee for Over Five Years
- Project management systems are key. EVERYONE should be posting and communicating project updates via written channels and project management apps, such as Asana, Trello, Podio, Google Docs, etc. Regular video meetings and check-ins are also helpful to get that face-time you miss out on as a remote employee, and chat services like Slack can really help with team communication as well.
- Find a community around you. Once you’re working remotely and no longer in the office, it can become REALLY lonely. You can’t just go grab lunch with your coworkers, you can’t yell across the room when you need something, you can’t crack jokes at the water cooler. It takes some time to get used to working by yourself; you do get the hang of it eventually, but there is a real hurdle to get over. My suggestion? Go to Meetups or any group activity that share your interests to get that connection with people. You can possibly find a co-working space—these sites often also host events and online forums—but desks or offices can be a bit pricey.
Dakota Arkin, Senior Editor at Upward Magazine, Blogger at Maidstone Buttermilk
Freelance Writer and Editor on the Road
The trajectory I took from a secure corporate job to life on the road pursuing a passion for writing and travel began with a few small steps, followed by a giant leap into the unknown.
My travel blog began as a hobby and eventually I garnered the courage to pitch local publications in New York. With a few pieces published and an amalgam of reasons and opportunities, my fiancé and I packed our life into a storage unit and headed out for a cross-country adventure.
- Dive into the (independent) unknown. You can prepare, and study, and line things up—and that’s great, but then you need to jump in. Remember that there are no days off, no day where you can stick earbuds in and have a light workday and get the same paycheck. It’s hard. It’s uncertain. It means that I can’t ever settle into one project or one client; independence means total accountability to yourself.
- Believe in what you’re becoming. Transitioning takes diligence, hustle, and consistency. It’s about being a student of your new chosen craft and devoting yourself to improvement. Perhaps the hardest part of the transition is believing you are this person you’re becoming and overcoming imposter syndrome.
There you have it; whether you’ve already begun designing your own remote adventure or are still somewhere in the process of determining exactly which remote worker profile suits you, you’ll have a head start with this hard-won advice on making the transition to remote work.