To work remotely, you’ll need high-speed internet and a quiet space. And your kids need a schedule
The pandemic has ushered in an era of remote work that’s likely to prove beneficial and challenging. Though remote work is flexible, it also requires unfamiliar skills and the ability to balance complex work-life commitments. How can you get and keep remote work without sacrificing your career, family life or sanity?
“We expected that remote work was going to be normal in three to five years. But the pandemic made it the new normal now,” says Shahar Erez, chief executive of Stoke Talent, a workforce management platform. “Everyone has to adjust.”
While companies will need to figure out new ways to measure productivity and communicate with a far-flung workforce, individual workers also need to pivot if they want to succeed in an increasingly digital world. From buying new tools to learning how to better “manage up,” the remote worker needs to create a professional online presence to stay on a decent career track.
Here are 10 tips to get and keep remote work — and thrive while doing it.
Get the gear
When you worked in an office, the only gear you needed was work-appropriate clothing and shoes. To work remotely, you need more.
High-speed internet is a must, if you don’t already have it. It’s also smart to invest in a ring light, microphone and webcam. This combination makes your voice and image clearer when you’re conducting meetings via Zoom, Skype or Google.
“Zoom is how we communicate today,” Erez says. “Spend $100 to make sure that people can see you and hear you the way that you want to be seen.”
Revamp your resume
Being an organized self-starter has never been more important. List these qualities on your resume and emphasize how they help you accomplish career goals, suggests Brie Reynolds, career development manager at job-search site FlexJobs.
Also highlight your written and verbal communication skills. (And make sure to proofread carefully. Nothing undermines your communication skills faster than having typos or misspellings on a resume or cover letter.)
If you are adept with technology, be specific about those skills. List any certifications you have, as well as the specific types of software, videoconferencing platforms and other tech tools you regularly use.
Some professionals may want to go a step further and create a personal website, adds Joe Mullings, chief vision officer for Management Recruiters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Your personal website can highlight professional and social aspects of your personality that might give you an edge.
Why might that help? In-person meetings often forge a bond between interviewer and interviewee because of nonverbal signals, like the strength of your handshake and your posture. These physical cues are largely lost in digital interviews.
“Design a way to create a positive bias about what represents you as an individual,” Mullings says. “You are more than just your resume.”
Whether it’s a corner of your bedroom or a full-fledged home office, find a quiet space to work and conduct video calls. This can be challenging if you’re sharing a small apartment with kids and pets, but chaos in your workspace is certain to show up in your work product. And background chaos on a Zoom call communicates unprofessionalism.
Even if you have to take meetings in the car, shut yourself in a walk-in closet or hide in the bathroom, do what it takes to find a peaceful corner where you can concentrate, Mullings advises.
Although never ideal, office managers tended to judge productivity by attendance in the past. That’s no longer an option. So it may behoove workers to help their managers find a better measuring stick.
Figure out a reasonable timeline to accomplish your tasks, or set reasonable activity goals that can be measured. Talk through these goals and timelines with your manager. Ask to define the goal posts that signal whether you’re meeting, exceeding or falling short of expectations.
By “managing up” this way, you help determine the standards by which you’ll be judged when you’re up for your next raise or promotion.
Make schedules for everyone
There are reasons people go into offices: It separates home and work, giving clear space and time for each. Combining the two can quickly devolve into chaos. Fight the chaos with schedules for everyone, even the kids.
Giving kids a schedule for chores, school and free time makes them part of your team. That’s important for their psychological well-being at a time when isolation is the norm. It can also help them develop empathy for the role you play as a parent and a breadwinner. Whether it’s making grocery lists or washing dishes, kids of almost any age can be helpful.
This also can take some weight off working parents, who are suddenly also expected to help with distance learning.
Parents can also note on the schedule when they have important meetings that can’t be disturbed and thus need someone else in the household to provide backup.
Find your rhythm
Even if you worked from 9 to 5 when you were in the office, that doesn’t necessarily mean those have to be your hours today. Employers are increasingly willing to accommodate odd hours if the employee shows the ability and willingness to get the job done.
“The opportunity with remote work is that you can find your own rhythm,” Erez says. “You have to be disciplined. But if you happen to be most productive at 10 at night, you can do that.”
There will be times you’ll need to be available during normal working hours to talk to your boss, clients or colleagues. But valuable remote workers often can call the shots on the specific hours that make up their day.
“There is a woman on my team who had a baby right before the shutdown happened,” says Scott Bonneau, vice president of global talent attraction at job-search site Indeed. “She now works in three 2.5-hour time blocks — one of them in the middle of the night. That schedule is what she chose for herself based on when she can be the most productive.”
If you’re in a two-income household with kids, the flexibility of remote work may also enable you to alternate schedules. One parent may choose to work from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m., for example, while the other takes the afternoon shift. That enables someone to be present for the kids at all times, and it allows each parent to have uninterrupted work time too.
A key to working effectively is communicating regularly with your boss and co-workers. They need to know what you’re doing, the progress you’ve made and the snags you’ve hit. If other people are waiting on your piece of a project, they need to know when to expect it.
However, not every conversation needs to be about the job at hand. Erez thinks it’s imperative that co-workers talk to one another about personal things to keep those connections alive.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to co-workers for guidance or pick up the phone to keep in touch, he says.
“One of the problems with the pandemic is that people get increasingly disconnected,” he says. “It’s healthy to just engage in conversation.”
Hire help if you want it
Parenting housebound kids is a full-time job. If you and your spouse are both holding down paying jobs too, you’re dividing three jobs among two people. That may be doable for a little while, but it can get overwhelming.
Schedule free time
Dedicated workers can become so focused on making sure they’re doing a good job, they fail to complete their remote workday at a reasonable hour. After all, when your office is your home, it’s pretty hard to leave.
“You’ve got to manage both ends of it,” Erez says. “Set boundaries on your job so you don’t lose all control over your life.”
Figure out what makes a good workday. Do it. Then shut down your computer, close the office door if you have one, and “go home.”
Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent site that reviews hundreds of moneymaking opportunities in the gig economy.
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