The Pleasures & Perils of Working Remotely: 7 Tips for Staying Productive

I never thought of myself as a trendsetter, though if I look at trend lines today, the ‘remote worker’ is being carefully watched as the wave of the future.

As reported in the magazine Fast Company, 34% of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London last fall said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020, with that number being higher for a smaller segment.  In many ways, this isn’t surprising in that technology is enabling all but a handshake to occur virtually. You can email documents, text images in real time, hold conference calls via Skype and turn phone calls into face-to-face meetings via FaceTime.

Companies save on office space, which is increasingly expensive, especially in larger cities, and employees gain back time and eliminate the stress of commuting.  It all sounds idyllic but as someone who has been working remotely for 8+ years, I know it takes self-discipline and a master plan to avoid the pitfalls and reap the benefits.  Here’s my short list:

Learn to shift gears

I’m a tri-coastal employee, alternately working out of 3 locations and serving clients across as many time zones. Thus my day can begin at 6am and not end till 9pm.  It doesn’t mean I’m working 15-hour shifts but it DOES mean I need manage my personal life around those of my clients.  I don’t see this as a burden but as a necessary compromise to enjoy a diverse business experience. Give & take – it’s the name of the game.

Be accessible

Because relationships are maintained remotely doesn’t mean you can live by email alone.  It’s important to dialog with your colleagues as well as your clients to discover what’s really going on… to get the insights that only live conversations can offer.  The phone becomes your water cooler, so work it!

Stay motivated

You may not always feel like getting up and going, tackling that project without the pressures of a visible team.  But you must.  Self-discipline is a vital component to successful remote work, as is good organization.

Keep it simple…I use the 4W formula: wake – wash – water – and whip that computer on!

It is very easy to be distracted where you are “home”. Morning becomes late afternoon quickly. Trust me, there are days I still have my pj’s on at 4pm but I still have a big smile on my face and feel sexy! Organize your days, set your priorities, streamline your workload and do the right thing for your clients.

Maximize face time

Since you’ll be seeing people less, it’s important to treat the time you spend together with purpose. Explore possibilities, brainstorm on upcoming projects, share opportunities that they may not have considered Find out about what is important and don’t make it all about me and what I can do for them. Be truly interested, not for business but because you have true interest. Enter their thinking and engage thoughts – your input becomes valuable with clarity and thought. This immersion helps you understand not just the customers you serve but the communities they live in.

Have a dedicated workspace

A big mistake to working remotely is thinking you can cozy up with laptop in bed and get the job done.  I guess it’s possible but it’s not ideal.  Create a designated space where ideas can blossom, thoughts can be actualized and the items and references you need are within reach.  I have an open office environment set up at every home – No clutter and Feng Shui design elements. The openness keeps me away from home distractions and focused on my day to day business objectives. The elements keep me grounded with what is important.

Become a time-management expert

Knowing when you’re most effective – at writing, at conversation, at research – is vital to increase efficiency and avoid burnout.  Segment your day to tackle different types of projects when you’re at your peak.  Working remotely allows this luxury so take advantage of it.

Get outside

As human beings, we require connections with others and also time to recharge.  Don’t become a slave to your computer.  Plan regular breaks into your day and explore your neighborhood. Speak to local merchants.  Meet a friend for lunch.  You’ll jump start your energy and maximize your output.

Working remotely is not for everyone, but I love it.  I find the changes invigorating and feel fortunate to be able to broaden my world through this experience.  It takes courage, stamina and a sense of adventure, but it’s never boring.  It keeps me sharp and informed, qualities I need to be of greatest benefit to my clients.

What about you? Are there tips or suggestions you would make to those entering or considering a remote position? Please share in the comments below.

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Mary Jo Pittera
Mary Jo Pittera is Executive VP, OOH Media & Strategic Partnership at EMC Outdoor. She may be a workaholic strategist but in her soul, she is an artist. While listening to David Bowie, she is singing and creating her next garden or home design. Mary Jo's current goal is getting back to playing the piano.

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