How does working remotely work for me?
Over the years, the idea of a digital agency has evolved. Since we’re working primarily online building websites, apps or creating strategies for social media, agencies have the opportunity to be more flexible. This includes more flexibility in locations, time of day, and allows a company to go after the best talent without being bound to a geographic area.
Working remotely can definitely be a rewarding experience - but it comes with its own set of challenges that may not be a good fit for everyone. Working out of my Bangor, Maine office some 1,500 miles away from the Speak home base in Memphis, Tennessee for the past few years has definitely given me experience - but I still wouldn’t consider myself an expert.
With some help from my fellow remote Speak teammates, I’ve compiled a list of pros, cons, tips and tricks that may help you decide if you’re ready to embark on your own work-from-home (or work-from-anywhere) adventure.
Working Remotely and Company Culture
We have a great group here at Speak. We’re comprised of two brick-and-mortar offices located in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee. Beyond those offices we also have a few employees who work from their home office throughout the country. While our remote working success was not something that happened overnight, through time and experience, Speak has streamlined processes that not only allow us to collaborate and communicate regardless of the location - but allow us to do it well.
Weekly team meetings over video chat allow us to catch up as a group on company goals and general chat, while weekly stand-up meetings with our individual teams allow us to communicate what we’ve worked on and what we will be working on.
As we’ve mentioned on the blog before, team building is extremely important. Our annual “Speak Week” enables us “out-of-towners” some real face-to-face time with the entire team. It also allows us to experience all Memphis and Nashville have to offer, and helps us connect on a personal level to learn about the local culture so many of our coworkers live and breathe.
Creating and building relationships with your coworkers is more important than you think. As a practice, I make it a point to reach out to my other coworkers just to say hello, or schedule a short video chat with one of the other remote workers so we can get some face time. I’ve found that this time gives me a boost for the rest of the week and helps keep me motivated and on track.
Understand Expectations as a Remote Worker
Before starting a remote position, make sure you fully understand the expectations your employer may have for you as a remote worker. Most companies will have their expectations outlined formally; however, there may be instances where expectations may not be completely black and white. Asking questions about your schedule, who will pay for equipment, and how they will measure your contributions and productivity are all very important things to ask before you start your remote working adventure.
Create a Productive Work Environment
It’s important to establish a productive working environment to make sure that you can stay focused on work tasks and not let distractions get in the way. There are a few things that are non negotiable for our remote team, and truly help us stay focused throughout the day.
Dedicated work space
While working at the kitchen table or in another shared living space might work for some, over time I discovered that the more that I could separate my work space from personal space - the more productive I was. Having a space to focus on work only is helpful to limit those distractions.
Close the door - If you can
Having a door that you can physically close will allow you to create a boundary between your work life, and your home life - both physically and mentally. Not only will it serve its purpose to shield you from the rest of the goings-on of your home life while you work, it can also allow you to unplug a little easier if you’re computer isn’t staring at you from the other room.
Invest in a comfortable chair
Spend the extra money on a chair with good hydraulics. The last thing you’ll want is to be on the floor halfway through a video chat with a client. You’ll also want a quality chair that will be comfortable to work from and that will be long lasting.
Get a noise cancelling headset - with a mic
While there may be a better headset out there for you, I went through a lot of headsets before I found my match. You’ll be wearing your headset quite a bit so make sure it not only works well - but is comfortable.
Set boundaries at work and at home
Although they don’t always follow the rules, 99% of the time my kids know that when I’m “at work”, I am not to be interrupted unless it's an emergency. In the beginning, it was a lot harder for my kids to understand that I was actually working. Meeting some of my coworkers virtually (and some in real-life) enabled them to make the connection that actual people were counting on me to work and to get things done.
While it's important to set boundaries with your friends and family, it's also important to set boundaries with work. I’ve learned to create stopping points that, for the most part, I’m able to commit to. It’s definitely easy to keep going when you’re in the comfort of your own home. Just because you are home doesn’t mean you are “at home”. Unplug and remember that your friends and family are depending on you too - and they deserve your undivided attention.
Get Out of the House
When I first started at Speak, I would have definitely considered myself an introvert. After working here for a few months, I started to feel off - like something was missing. I was actually starting to miss the interruptions by real, live people that I had had at my previous job!
Scheduling social time away from the house is something that I’ve had to make a priority in order to keep my sanity - especially during the winter. While I don’t go crazy with my social interactions - I’m able to find a way that I’m able to recharge my social needs while not exhausting myself with too much social stimulation.
Since I’m not the only remote worker in our company, I thought it would be important to hear from other remote workers on what they had to say about the ins and outs of working away from a traditional office. Below is a few of their answers.
What has been your biggest challenge (or challenges) as a remote worker?
“Being a people person, I would say not having that face to face interaction on a regular basis. You can't walk down the hall to just sit and talk with a colleague.” - C.J. Jordan, Business Development
“For me, the biggest challenge is usually not having anyone to talk to and bounce ideas off of like local workers would have. Sometimes having that extra back and forth really helps move things along and brings new ideas.” - Steven Palomino, Mobile Developer
“Making sure I lay down ground rules for others in my house. If I'm on a phone call or video call, all sound must be at a minimum. I’ll text my husband to let him know the calls I have set up for the day, and he's very helpful and always respects the fact that I'm working, even if he's home.” - Nicole Davis, SiteWrench Support Specialist
“The biggest challenge is definitely the lack of face to face communication. There's no replacement for in person interactions. An easy solution is to call co workers, but it's something I just don't do often enough. The week gets busy and I don't find the time to connect. My professional challenge is trying to interrupt group discussions with the team. I feel like when I'm on the screen and muted it makes it more difficult to chime in or voice my opinion, as opposed to being there in real life.”- Michael Moran, Director of Creative Services
What, in your opinion, are some advantages to remote working?
“You control your interruptions. You can listen to whatever music you want, as loud as you want.” - C.J. Jordan, Business Development
“I know I listed this as a challenge, but not having someone around can also be an advantage. There's no one to distract you or pull you from what you're doing. Sure, people may chat you something, but it definitely decreases the amount of disturbance you experience." - Steven Palomino, Mobile Developer
“I'm so happy I don't have a commute. Now I can work hard and relax as soon as I get off work, rather than stressing about commutes. Our family was able to cut back voluntarily to a one car family because it’s not necessary for me to have a car 90% of the time. I like leaving a smaller carbon footprint behind and saving on car expenses. I love the minor details that make things more comfortable for me, like grabbing an extra sweater, adjusting the thermostat, or putting on fuzzy socks! I eat much healthier lunches now that I have the full hour to prepare a meal. Sometimes I even take a quick cat nap during lunch if I need an energy boost!” - Nicole Davis, SiteWrench Support Specialist
“I love being able to have all of the creature comforts that your home offers. I can control my own temperature. Change clothes if I'd like. Watch a show during my lunch break. I'm also able to help family life be more balanced by using my commute time to help cook or clean the house.”- Michael Moran, Director of Creative Services
If there was one piece of advice you could offer someone who is just jumping into remote working - what would it be?
“You must be disciplined to work from home. There is the temptation to take care of stuff around the house during the day, but you have to remember you are "on the clock." Do everything you can to limit your distractions.” - C.J. Jordan, Business Development
“Having a dedicated room or space you can work helps a lot. It helps you mentally prepare to work at the start of the day and also mentally unplug when it's time to clock out. I've also found writing down what you were working on last or what needs to be done helps start up quicker the next morning." - Steven Palomino, Mobile Developer
“Work extra hard and be honest with your time as a remote worker. You have the most desirable situation and it's a privilege to have that much trust bestowed on you from your company. It would not be fair to your employers or colleagues if you abused the fact that you work from home by slacking off or getting distracted.” - Nicole Davis, SiteWrench Support Specialist
“Create healthy routines. Make sure you dress like you're going to the office. Get out of the house at lunch. Go talk to real people. Make a clear separation between work and life balance. Don't creep into your office to do more work late at night.” - Michael Moran, Director of Creative Services
Remote working is a privilege. Finding the right work environment that helps you feel equal parts comfortable and productive will make all the difference. As the face of digital marketing continues to evolve, I believe we’ll see more agencies pick up on the trend.
I’m grateful to have been working remote for nearly five years, and to work for a company that sees it as a benefit to employ outside of their geographical location to ensure the best fit for the team. Having a boss who believes in remote working and trusts his employees is a great benefit and pushes our team to produce their best work -- no matter where we’re located.
Does your office allow you to work remote? What benefits do you see to remote working? Join the conversation over on our Facebook page.