There are many articles out there that will (in trendy fashion) tell you The 6 Best Tips for Being Super Productive While Working Remotely or 3 Hidden Keys to Successful Communication as a Remote Team, which are great. But before you even get to that point, you have to consider the personal transition of leaving a traditional office job for a remote environment. What personality traits would help you work remotely successfully? Why go through the effort? What downsides should you look out for?
Well fear not! I made this exciting but nerve-wracking transition over the last year, when I started with Bitovi. Not only that, but I have also lived more life in the last 12 months than I had in the previous 2 years. Working remotely with Bitovi has been absolutely key to that personal conversion.
I will share with you the things I learned along the way. I’ll talk through the social and personal aspects of this major lifestyle change, and give you knowledge you will need to be successful in your own shift from fixed-location office job, to the flexibility of remote work. There are six challenges I’ve recognized over and over that represent the biggest hurdles:
1. Knowing Who You Are
The first step is doing some personal reflection, and really knowing who you are and what your boundaries are. Be honest with yourself. Being too optimistic (or flat out lying to yourself) is only going to start your career down a path of struggle, stress and failure. Remote jobs are not for everyone. That might be bad news, I know, but some traits are more important to success here than others. These include being:
This is hardly an exhaustive list, but these are the critical ones. Bitovi certainly requires these things from us, along with being flexible, personable, confident, accountable, and a good communicator. Depending on your industry and position, your mileage may vary.
2. Dealing With Distractions
The reason those traits are so important is because working remotely is working in a significantly less-structured environment. Most remote workers have offices (or at least desks) in their homes, which means there are always chores, hobbies, and potentially kids or animals to draw their attention away.
Staying motivated enough to be on-task can be a real challenge. Working at Bitovi means that my days don’t have to be traditional 8-hour marathons of self-discipline and focus, but I’d never get consistently full weeks of work in without some motivation and a sense of responsibility.
- Take breaks on purpose. I take special effort to walk the dog midday, and give myself permission (after I’ve achieved a pre-determined task) to scratch those social media itches.
- Control your environment to minimize distractions. I turn my music up to block outside noises, or even leave the house altogether to find a coffee shop with fewer personal traps lying in wait.
3. Being Isolated
Speaking of working in a home office, that typically means spending large swaths of time alone. For most of us, that’s great; I can turn chats off and really get nose-down in my work. No one swings by my desk or plays loud music I hate. But after a while, I start to feel a case of cabin fever coming on. The joy of having total control over my environment starts to get overshadowed by having only the dog to talk with.
The experience is like a slow, barely noticeable, boil toward forgetting social graces and spoken language skills. It’s too easy to not leave the house for days (or weeks) and then finding yourself having to readjust to public spaces without being too obvious that you nearly forgot how to wear pants. Being proactive about this kind of isolation is the best way to deal with it.
- Make plans with friends after work and outside the house.
- Go to meetups for both personal and professional interests.
- Spend time outside on weekends. Have occasional “work dates” with other remotely employed friends -- workfrom.co can help you find places to meet if you’re in a large city.
- Casually chat during the day with coworkers and friends. Ultimately it’s about getting out, stretching your legs, and staying in contact with the people in your life. Just because you work physically alone, doesn’t mean you have to be lonely.
4. Turning It Off
Working remotely not only lets me work whenever, but I can also work from nearly wherever. Several Bitovians have taken advantage of this: buying an RV to do some long-term travel, or flying to Europe and Asia for weeks. My best friend and I took a 10-day, 2,500 mile road trip down the west coast last summer, and I didn’t have to take any time off. We just worked during the day, and I drove in the evening.
This flexibility is probably my #1 favorite thing about Bitovi and remote work. But it has the downfall of making it hard to turn work off in my mind sometimes. There’s no “I can’t access our servers from here, I don’t have the right hardware/software” excuses.
- Setting boundaries and limits helps me pace myself, and really enjoy the upsides to not having a central office.
- Allow specific time for work and for mental breaks, just like dealing with distractions.
- Take control of your time management.
- The isolation solutions serve dual-purposes too. If I’ve got plans to meet friends at 6:30pm outside the house, that means I’m not only leaving the house and socializing, that also means I’m stopping work around 6pm.
- Sidenote: Having a hard stop-time also helps me stay on-task during the day. “I need to get this done now, because I can’t work late tonight.” is a great motivator.
- Limit most work days to 8-8.5 hours, even without plans. Literally turn off the computer and walk away.
Bitovi supports this as well, with a preference for no one burning themselves out. We all know the work will still be there tomorrow.
5. Keeping Up Good Communication
There is nothing more important in remote work than good communication. It’s so important I’m going to break it into two main areas:
A. Practical communication needs, because no one can see you/walk up to you, and B. Social communication needs, to avoid turning your job into a collection of creepy sad loners tied together for money.
A. Practical Communication
There are loads of articles about this kind of communication: how to do it, what tools to use to do it, and on and on. You have to tell coworkers and clients everything, because nothing is apparent. No one can peek over at your notes, see programs up on your screen, etc.
If you’re taking advantage of being remote by running errands or otherwise stepping away from your computer, you’re even less reachable than if you left your desk in an office. Because of this, when I started working for Bitovi I gave in and broke my old “never set up work email and IM programs on my phone” rule. In the past, I’ve always wanted to “leave it at the office”, but being incommunicado is the same as being a useless, invisible ghost when you’re working remotely.
- Being reachable by clients and coworkers keeps them happy, keeps your projects running more smoothly, and keeps expectations in a successful range.
- Installing chat and/or email on your phone so you can answer questions during business hours, even when not at your desk.
- Let your team know if you’ll have a major distraction/communication hole in the day, whether it’s air travel, construction in your house, etc.
- When transitioning workplaces (like to/from a coffee shop), let coworkers you’re actively working with know you’ll be away for a bit, and then when you’re available again.
- While you’re away, set a reminder so you don’t forget to follow up with someone who pinged you.
- Keep project tasks updated with appropriate statuses so even if you’re not around other team members can see what you’re working on.
B. Social Communication
Chatty, friendly conversations are just as important as official work emails are. I certainly work better, harder, and more creatively if I have a good repartee going on with my coworkers. But building that relationship remotely can be much harder.
The biggest thing I miss about office-based work is being able to go to lunch or happy hour with coworkers. It’s relaxing, it’s a nice way to blow off steam, and it’s good to know who you’re spending so much time collaborating with. Plus, building positive relationships with people you’re working alongside always makes road bumps or conflicts easier to resolve and move past.
- Put conscious effort into talking to coworkers about non-work related things. I’ve gotten so used to leveraging gifs and emoji for jokes, that I find myself wishing that I could use them when talking to people in-person.
- Aim to be mindful about tone. Text has none, so being explicit about emotions involved or hopping into a video chat can be super valuable to avoid conflict.
- Be quick to hop on a video chat if trouble arises. Seeing and hearing a coworker is a near-instant way to humanize them and talking a problem out is less frustrating than trying to type long trains of thought.
6. Trusting Others
I said sustainable flexibility and trust come from good communication. That trust is really the lynch pin of remote work. Everyone is trusting everyone else is doing their work, and staying on the ball, without being able to check-in traditionally. This is easier with coworkers because you get to know them and their work styles.
Bitovi’s culture makes this easier too. The general assumption is that everyone is intelligent and working hard. We know we’re all smart, capable people and so we trust that the system works. If the system isn’t working, it’s communicated and the trust can remain intact, even in the face of conflict.
Getting a client to trust you can be harder, and if a client doesn’t trust you they aren’t going to hire you again. Building rapport and an air of responsibility are critical to earning trust and keeping projects alive.
- When the work is output based, it’s easy to see if the work is done. In web development, that’s what pull requests and development tasks are all about.
- Set clear expectations. Take charge of what people are trusting you to do, and if you can’t meet a deadline, be up front about it as soon as possible.
- Embrace your communication skills, by following up from fuzzy calls or meetings with a summary, action items, etc.
- Start from a place of good faith. Your coworkers were hired (and remain employed) because they can be trusted and responsible. Probably.
- Be personally accountable yourself. I do my very best to deliver on promises and be the kind of person coworkers can readily trust.
What Does This All Mean?
This all comes down to remote work being a summation of knowing you’re capable of the kind of self-directed communication, trust, and personal care to enjoy the flexibility and convenience of not having to go into an office everyday. You can take advantage of no commute, flexible hours, and environmental control.
It takes a little more effort to be successful remotely: more communication, and better planning. With that comes the ability to be trusted, in control of your time, and free to pursue your own priorities. Working at Bitovi has given me control to live my life the way I want in a far greater fashion than any traditional office job has. If you think you have the internal drive to tackle the challenges, I highly recommend going for it.