How to Make Working at Home Work

Lack of visibility is one of the biggest career challenges facing young professionals that work at home.  Photo Credit: Lindsay Singleton

Lack of visibility is one of the biggest career challenges facing young professionals that work at home. Photo Credit: Lindsay Singleton

At one time the perception that people didn’t really "work" from home was rampant. Now that more people are doing it that myth isn’t as prevalent as it once was. The average worker telecommutes two days a month, and this work at home trend increased in popularity by 80% over the past decade. Regardless, there’s still doubt in the minds of many, primarily those that don't work from home and never have. And, while some people take advantage of their remote office freedom, most don't, despite a lack of training on how to telecommute well or how to succeed in a remote job. 

In the beginning, it's easy for the sparkle and shine of your new arrangement and freedom that comes with it to be a little intoxicating. But, if you don't sober up pretty quickly, bad habits and a lackadaisical attitude can catch up with you. You don't want to put your sweet little gig at risk, or you at risk of getting a good talking-to from you-know-who. And, let's face it, no one wants one of those. So, take Your Office Mom's advice on how to be productive and project a professional image when you have a remote job.

Have a designated work space

Don't assume you can work from a messenger bag and your bed and expect long-term success. You're going to need a designated work area with a chair and stuff. There's a lot of beauty in mobility, but even a small designated space that reminds you of work provides structure, a bit of organization, storage options for a few gadgets and makes you feel like a grown-up during meetings. It is something you're likely to appreciate over time. Like when you're still employed, and others aren't. 

Be clear about expectations

Make certain you understand what your boss and team expect when it comes to your availability and responsiveness. The hours you work and how quickly you respond to a flashing IM, a new Cisco Spark post, or an email are two different things. You will know how to use all the collaboration tools at your fingertips but ask your boss or team lead how and when they are utilized and the ones people prefer. With independence, you need to be clear on your goals, know your priorities, keep your boss informed, ask for help when you need it, and share bad news whenever there is any. You don't want to be a nuisance about meaningless crap, but this is anything but, so prepare questions and ask them. 

Perception is everything

If you're part of a distributed team using web or video conferencing, or use it for client meetings, do a sound, light and background check. You may not like video, but when you control these elements, you control your message. And, if you do this right, it can be a great message. You don't want to sound hollow, so adjust your volume. Is that an open door to your bathroom? Beer bottles on the counter? Glare from a window darkening your face? And what about that picture of you and friends wearing flower crowns? You look a tad drunk. In full-screen things are so much bigger and nosy ass people look around. Keep that in mind because perception is everything. Figure it out.

Keep a regular schedule

The company may set your work schedule, but if you have flexibility, set your own, or, aren't tied to your desk, keep a tight schedule yourself.  Set expectations and goals and make them high. Get out of bed more than 10 minutes before your workday starts. You need structure in your work day if you expect to keep your job, stay current on skills and compete with others for the best opportunities. If you have office based peers with a daily commute don’t be late or unprepared for morning meetings. You can roll your butt out of bed, turn on the laptop and be ready to go. You have no excuse.

Define your WAH dress code

Having a dress code, casual as it may be, will keep you focused on work and reflect a professional image. Pajamas don't always do that. Try yoga or other athletic wear, or jeans paired with t-shirts and tops with comfortable shoes or sandals to stay relaxed and ready to go (for coffee or lunch). During video meetings with clients or important internal customers, amp up your look by adding a blouse or button down to your ensemble.

Be visible

It won't take long for you to become invisible if you don't make an effort to stand out from the crowd. Whether you have peers working at an office location, or everyone is remote, look for ways to make sure that doesn't happen. Consistent email communication, volunteering for projects, a quality work product and speaking up in meetings are ways to keep your name out there. If you expect to compete for future opportunities bring your A game, and add visibility so people can see you playing.

Why remote workers are being called back into the office indicates that the most obvious and biggest concern (41%) is being noticed. “Even though communication has largely shifted to digital mediums, face time is still a highly-valued part of business,” said CyberLink CEO Jau Huang. “Remote workers don’t have a physical presence in the office, so their colleagues may be under the impression that they bring less to the table or aren’t a member of the team, even though that’s often not true.”

Create social outlets

Working remotely can be isolating, especially in some roles. It's easy to get focused on work and forget all about people. Build social interaction into your day-to-day routine.  Start your day off by checking in with your team and favorite contacts on IM. Add a virtual lunch to your calendar to catch up with peers. Much as we like to rely on IM, pick up the phone and talk to others too. If you're lucky enough to have co-workers nearby, try to meet up for lunch, coffee or drinks after work.

Don't be a jerk

If some team members are stuck in a conference room,  and you're placing another order with the barista, make sure you're on mute. And, don't ever go off mute and say "Oh sorry. I didn't hear you. I was talking to the barista and ordering another almond cherry oat bar. Have you ever had one of those?  They're amazing."  Some things are better left unsaid.

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Now get back to work!  You don't want people to think you're a slacker! ;)  But, before you go, add your WAH tips.