“Wow. You’re so lucky.”
That’s something that’s not necessarily said to me often, but it’s nearly always the response when I tell somebody that I have a career working primarily from home.
If you’re not already, someday soon you might be in the same boat (or apartment, condo, house or even self-driving car). After all, if we still have jobs after the artificial intelligence takeover, I think it’s likely that a significant number of them will be home-based, if not at least partially remote.
So it seems like a good time to share my inside scoop on this way of working. Whether you’re a leader or communications professional who’s already working from home or will be soon, this advice will ideally help you maintain open channels of communication with your colleagues and direct reports.
For context, I’ll share a bit of my remote working journey. After three years in a role that required being at my desk at a downtown office daily and during set hours, I began working remotely full-time in 2015. My wife had landed an amazing career opportunity in the Chicago area for a year that we had to pursue.
Meanwhile, I’d been building a growing marketing career in Cleveland, Ohio, at the regional center of a global professional services firm. I’d invested a lot into the organization and didn’t want to leave that behind.
Fortunately for me, the leaders at my company were supportive. They understood that, in today’s ever-competitive workforce, it’s not necessarily about where your employees work — it’s about supporting your people to do their best work in a variety of working arrangements.
So rather than having to find a new job, I was able to keep growing at a company I had a deep passion for. Today, my wife and I live back in Ohio. I still work primarily from home, as I’m an hour-plus from the office, but now I have the flexibility to go in a few times a month. It’s the best of both worlds.
My first tip for leaders and communications professionals who work from home is to treat it as a normal job. Get up, get dressed and go to a dedicated space in your home solely for work. Don’t take advantage of the setup — avoid working from your bed or from your couch.
While working from home isn’t necessarily the stress-free fun and games it’s often believed to be, it’d be disingenuous to say that there aren’t some perks. For instance, there’s no commute. And it can offer you the opportunity to get some stuff done around the house, meaning rather than taking a break at the water cooler, you’re occasionally doing laundry in between calls, or you’re able to every so often run errands midday that a typical job may not allow. But you may have to make up the time you spend running a quick errand by working earlier in the morning or into the evening.
That said, try to keep relatively consistent core hours, and treat it with the same kind of rigidness and routine you’d have if you were required to be at an office every day. It’s important that your colleagues around the world and those you do business with know when you’re available. You can’t just disappear because that can affect your ability to communicate with them effectively, which means you may not be trusted to work remotely for long.
It’s equally important that your colleagues know when they can’t reach you — just because you’re always near your home office doesn’t mean you should be expected to be always on the clock, or at least not any more than any employee in today’s always-connected world is. It’s important that you set boundaries. If you’re working into the evening because it’s convenient and you have stuff to catch up on, maybe don’t respond to emails or take calls then.
One of the major work-from-home challenges is staying in touch with the business at large and networking internally. Internal networks are often the gateway to successful project completion, new internal opportunities and possibly roles outside of the organization, when someone you’re close with leaves for greener pastures. But if you’re isolated at home, you may run the risk of becoming completely disconnected.
Therefore, make a conscious effort to stay connected with those you work with. Schedule regular times to keep in touch. Since you can’t run into co-workers and peers in the halls or by stopping by their desks, you must be very intentional about it. If you want to use technology, such as video chats, to amplify and personalize, that can be a good option (however, you may find that people are less willing to use video than they are to chat face-to-face or via text/phone, especially remote worker to remote worker, possibly because of the stereotype that we all work in our pajamas).
Staying connected is especially important if you manage people, whether they too are remote or in an office somewhere. If you fall off the map from their perspective, you run the risk of them feeling isolated, which can lead to dissatisfaction and poor job performance. So no matter how busy and “head down” you become — something that can happen even more easily from home — always set aside time in your weekly schedule for communicating with people outside of the regularly scheduled conference calls. Check-ins are important, even if there’s nothing pressing to cover and it winds up being a brief window of chitchat.
Maintain communication with those you work with, and you can not only make the most of a flexible working arrangement, but you also can set yourself and your team up for continued growth in the future of remote work.