Working Remotely: 4 Tips for Staying Motivated and Productive

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Despite several recent high-profile policy changes against it, working remotely is becoming more and more widely accepted. That’s not to say it still doesn’t present its challenges. uSamp‘s Lauren Sozio shares her experiences transitioning from company headquarters across the country and offers four tips for staying motivated and in-the-loop.

There has been a lot of controversy about telecommuting. It started earlier last year with Marissa Mayer pressing reset on Yahoo!’s work culture, which meant overturning the underperforming org chart and doing away with remote employees. The reaction? Working mothers backlashed and Forbes posed the regression question, “Back to the Stone Age?” On the flip side, big box retailers followed suit, and perpetuated the stereotype about pajama-clad working-from-home employees. Instead of sparking a productive discussion on how to make remote work more effective, it stunted much of any at all.

Three months ago, I moved from our company headquarters in Encino, CA back to my hometown of Boston. Suddenly, I was a one-man show. Gone was the ping pong and stimulation  of working in an open office environment. In were the Nor’Easters and a heavy dose of solitude. To think I used to complain about getting pulled into meetings all day. Now I had to hold myself accountable and strengthen a muscle I really hadn’t used since college — internal focus — stretching it out for extended periods of time. It was a major adjustment. I realized I had forgotten what it was like to just sit still and generate my own motivation instead of feeding off other people’s energy.

Facing the Challenges of Working Remotely

There were also the negative-three-hour hurdles. Not too far in, I realized that I had begun to work east coast mornings through west coast evenings, going for hours without moving position.

My new-found flexibility switched to an “always on” mode (which Brown of Mack Web Solutions terrifically articulates). I felt compelled to respond to every email, text or call the second it flew into my data universe. I felt the need to work twice as hard, speak twice as loud, send twice as many emails as everyone else in their OCD state of hitting “send” just to remind everyone that I was still a part of the club.

Of course, it didn’t help that all my interactions with my colleagues were now always accompanied by the awkward lurking threat of technical difficulties — the fuzzy polycom, the dropped call, the frozen Skype screen. But it wasn’t that the technology to sustain long distance relationships wasn’t there or didn’t work. It was that there were a myriad of platforms to choose from. There were conference calls and dial in’s, join.me’s, screenshares, UberConference calls — you name it — and often communication threads were falling apart as email went to text went to IM.

After a while, I learned how to develop latent skills — like how to be a good moderator. That becomes key when you are leading calls and trying to move the needle. And then, slowly, surely, I started to compile running list of things to help me (and anyone else in my shoes) work better remotely.

4 Working Remotely Tips: Staying Motivated & Productive

1) Set Up Daily Touch Points

  • Like office hours in college, it is imperative that you make it clear when your team can reach you. Just as important, however, is that you set boundaries for when they can’t.
  • Beware of batteries and dead zones: Being out of pocket when you have to be available can be avoided. Mophie or Wifi Hot Spot your way into the datasphere.
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest collaboration software.
  • Pick your medium wisley. Avoid the multi-media conversation threads. Reserve IMs for quick pings, emails for longer threads that you need to document, and Skype chats for some much-needed face time. Speaking of which…

2) Show Some Face

  • I am a big believer in the face-to-face, and I am extroverted by nature. I’m Italian and Greek and emphatically use hand gestures. After moving, however, I noticed my interpersonal skills and innate ability to read people had fallen by the wayside. That’s why it can be important to plan “in person” visits. Take advantage of your location — are there vendors or agencies nearby that you can stop by? Other office locations that may warrant a bit of drive but help you feel that connective tissue?

3) Get Out of Your Home Every So Often

  • Building off the last point, it’s important to get out and about. You don’t necessarily have to go to that nearby coffee shop (unless you are a screenwriter in LA), either. Communal office spaces for remote workers are popping up in many cities across the country.

4) Keep Laundry Lists and Engage in Extracurriculars

  • Keep yourself motivated with daily tasks (i.e. we have an AM “scrum” that keeps me on target).
  • Get some exercise. It helps the brain and the A.D.D. that creeps up on you
  • Dip into local resources: Discover community meetup’s, learn from counterparts in your industry, look into seminars that help you improve your skill set, etc.
  • Last but not least, let’s address that pajama-talk — make it a point to do get dressed (which, by the way, doesn’t mean that you can’t invest in some Wicked Good Moccasins).

Do you work remotely? Do you have any other tips to add to the mix?

Photo by: Kevin Hutchinson

  • well said lauren! controlling face time with your team will make a positive impact. have begun leveraging google hangout as a tool to synthesize face time without leaving my remote working environment. fewer people use it, but with the ubiquity of the google gmail application and its stability, more remote workers may begin catching on.

    joining a coworking space within your community can also provide creative juice and meeting / work space away from the home; likewise, you could invite your team, suppliers, or your boss down to your collective space to meet outside corporate headquarters and outside your home.

    cordoning off your home office environment helped me manage remote work with my stay at home wife at the time and our baby boy a couple of years ago. family distraction can seriously hurt productivity, and create hurt feelings as well, if not properly discussed and outlined far in advance.

    what a fantastic and relevant topic for our information age economy!