A useful survival guide for remote workers

People feel differently about remote working, it’s a topic that divides opinion. For some, it’s highly productive, liberating and great for their work-life balance. For others, it brings uncertainty and worry about the practical and social aspects of working from a study or kitchen. Where one person is productive, another may fall into procrastination.

If you suddenly find yourself working remotely, how can you make sure you stay on top of things? Here are some technical tips, and a bit of lifestyle advice, to help you stay happy and productive when you’re working remotely.

Everyone is different. If you’re new to remote working, you’ll get loads of advice on what works best. Everything from the type of keyboard to use to what coffee machine you’ll need at home. Not necessarily the advice that fits you and your specific situation. Be prepared to decide what suits you best, and choose the tips and tricks that contribute most to your productivity and well-being.

This is work, baby

Remote working doesn’t equal: “not working.” You have the same workload, and the same people are still depending on you. And you’re still assessed on your delivery. Remote working just means you’re more likely to squeeze in a school run in the middle of writing a presentation.

For some, this is easy. They just put their heads down and get on with it, anywhere. Even at a table in a café, as long as the coffee is good. For others, the lack of an actual office is a handicap. They need a strategy and habits to make them feel like they are at work so they can maintain their focus.

That strategy could include getting up and dressing in your best business outfit and fancy shoes and getting to “work” at the same time each day. “Work” might actually be a laptop and smartphone on the kitchen table, but you treat it with the same seriousness and preparation as you would a regular office.

Other remote workers will happily spend the working day in their nightwear or in a well-worn college t-shirt and some oversized tracksuit bottoms. They might look dishevelled, but they’ll have no trouble delivering like professionals in the office.

As I said at the start, we’re all different.

Early bird vs. night owl

If you speak to a dozen remote workers about their work routines, probably only one will tell you they work nine to five. That’s not to say the others are not putting in a full shift, they simply choose the hours to work that suit them best. Your agenda will never be completely at your beck and call, since meetings and collaboration could dictate your schedule to a great extent, but most remote workers do find it possible to get a bit of extra flexibility into their work routines to fit their lifestyles and personalities.

Some remote workers enjoy a very early start, sitting down at their desks at dawn and getting two or maybe even three hours in before breakfast. Others might be later to their desks but continue working when evening comes. This is one of the great advantages of remote working. Your professional schedule can better match not only your lifestyle but also your body clock, enabling you to work when you personally feel sharpest.

Stay organized, stay disciplined

No matter which type of person you are – an early bird or a night owl – routines are important. Keep a timetable, work with to-do lists and stay organized. Be disciplined. Don’t allow friends and family to assume that working from home means not working. This can be one of the most challenging parts of remote working: explaining to people around you that, although you are at home, you’re not available for a rambling chat and coffee. Similarly, be firm if asked to give a family member a lift somewhere in the car, even though you’re at home and not away in a distant office. Sure, you can be a bit more flexible when working remotely, but if you allow others to take advantage of that flexibility, your productivity might suffer.

Procrastination isn’t a problem exclusive to remote workers. Office workers have the water cooler or coffee machine to help them avoid their next tasks. But there’s not much denying that working from home can provide a lot of opportunity for work avoidance strategy. There’s that fridge that needs a deep clean or the endless search online for the perfect desk lamp.

A good strategy for dealing with procrastination is a to-do list, particularly if it is timed. Be clear about what you need to get done and by when. Be realistic, not stupidly optimistic, which will only make you stressed when you can’t meet unrealistic expectations.

If you know you are inclined to procrastination, definitely use a timed to-do list. Ease the pain by rewarding yourself with a coffee break as you punctually tick tasks off the list.

Avoid distraction by signing out of personal social media platforms and turning off their notifications on your phone. Keep the TV off and tune into talk radio instead, or even use a music player. But be sure to turn them off for those conference calls!

Are you sitting comfortably?

Some people like to work informally with a tablet in a café, whereas others like to replicate their office environment within their home. Whatever you prefer, the place you work is important, and getting it right is a big part of surviving remote working.

If remote working means you work regularly from your own home, then setting up a permanent workstation is a good idea – if space allows. For example, urban dwellers are unlikely to have a room they can dedicate to work. If space is a premium for you, try to at least set yourself up where there are no distractions. Settling down on the settee next to your kids as they watch cartoons on the TV won’t be the best way to focus on that presentation you need to finish. Perhaps a corner in the bedroom can be used during the day; the café types might work happily at the kitchen table. Having a quiet, undisturbed place to work is especially important if you have to make a lot of video calls.

Whatever seating option you choose, it’s worth paying attention to your posture. A lot of thought goes into the ergonomics of a modern office in an effort to be sure everyone’s comfortable while at work. You have to think just as carefully about your comfort while working from home.

Getting the ergonomics of your workstation right is important as well. Set your screen at the correct height, and use a good office chair with proper lumbar support and a good range of adjustability.

Getting connected

Your corporate IT is configured to enable you to connect to your company’s secure network and keep your data safe, while giving you on-demand access to a suite of usually cloud-based tools. Unplugging yourself from this environment can bring many challenges. Fortunately, connecting remotely, securely and reliably to your corporate network doesn’t have to be one of them. Mobile working technology is now so mature that accessing your corporate network and applications is usually easy.

A virtual private network, or VPN, will be your frontline tool for creating a secure connection to your corporate systems and data. A VPN is easy to use, and it’s secure and reliable. You simply connect your computer to your Internet service and then connect to your company’s VPN, typically using some type of strong authentication. Once connected, you have access to the same tools and data that you use while in the office.

Access to your corporate systems may also be available via tablet or mobile phone, as organizations work to ensure their most popular tools can work on mobile operating systems.

Remember the personal connections

Connecting to the network is an intrinsic part of your work, but connecting with people is also vital. Remote workers must collaborate with their teams to ensure the work gets done, but also to keep the human connection alive.

Today, there’s an array of collaboration apps that help us work together, such as web chat, videoconferencing and document collaboration and sharing. Solutions like Microsoft Teams bring together these tools and apps to provide a seamless connectivity and collaboration experience within teams. However, even with these sophisticated collaboration tools, picking up the phone for a voice call still has great value. Sometimes a problem that you couldn’t solve with a slew of emails gets sorted in a few minutes on person-to-person phone call.

Take a break

It’s easy to be sedentary when working from home, and you could find yourself sitting in one place for hours on end. Take regular breaks and make them part of your routine. Go for a short walk or even a cycle ride. Change your surroundings and get your blood flow going.

It’s not only your body that needs a regular change of gear, your eyes do, too. Keeping your focus fixed on a screen for long periods without rest or change can cause eyestrain and even headaches. It’s good practice to regularly change your focus by looking away from your screen at something further off. Perhaps gazing out of the window during class isn’t such a bad habit, as the teachers claim.

Your daily routine should also include a clocking-off time. Set yours and stick to it, shutting down tools on time whenever possible to avoid blurring the line between professional and private time. Otherwise you might still be answering emails and working on that presentation until very late into the evening.

Relax and enjoy your work

Whatever type of remote worker you are, from café surfer to corporate-style home-office worker, it’s important to find what suits you best and allows you to get into the groove of working off-site.

The setting in which you work, the technology that you use, the people with whom you interact, the schedule you keep – they'll all impact your productivity and well-being. If you get all the elements right, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your remote working experience.

Glenn Le Santo
Glenn Le Santo

Editor in Chief, International, at Orange Business Services. I'm in charge of our International website and the English language blogs at Orange Business Services. In my spare time I'm literally captain of my own ship, spending my time on the wonderful rivers and canals of England.