Working remotely is becoming a more and more prevalent practice as we become an increasingly connected world. Rather than coming into physical office spaces, workers are making offices where they are, whether in spare bedrooms or at kitchen tables, in coffee shops or public parks.
We’re seeing the emergence of a mobile workforce that at first seems strange. Isn’t that something that freelancers do? Real employees come into the office, don’t they? Truth be told, the practice of hiring workers with a flexible location is becoming more and more commonplace. Being a remote employee sounds incredible—no commute, no office, and no managers hanging over your shoulder.
What most people don’t realize is that working remotely comes with its own unique challenges and demands. It takes a special person and, more importantly, a special discipline, to effectively work outside of a traditional office environment.
All of us, whether we’re at the top of our respective professions or in entry-level positions, can learn a lot from remote workers and apply it to our own professional lives.
5 Insights to Gain from How Remote Employees Operate
1) The ability to ask for and accept honest feedback.
When a worker is largely isolated from colleagues, it can be easy to become insulated from any real feedback on their work. They can continue to operate on routine without ever pushing themselves to improve or address their weaknesses. An effective remote worker acknowledges that they often operate within a bubble and that they have to reach out to their manager and actually ask for honest assessments of their performance. They want and need critique in order to be the best employee they can be.
All of us need this sort of honesty. We all should welcome productive and constructive criticism in the name of personal and professional growth. We can often grow blind to our own weaknesses, especially when we feel that we’re operating within our field of expertise. Allow yourself to not only take criticism but ask for it.
2) The ability to be self-directed and personal accountability.
Not everyone can be successful at working remotely, and this is largely because it demands such a high level of personal accountability and self-direction. There’s no one standing over them and checking in on their progress, no one keeping their schedule, no time they have to be in the office, and no one making sure they keep their lunch break down to an hour.
While this may sound idealistic, it can be challenging if one lacks discipline and personal accountability. If you lack self-control, can you get it all done? Can you prioritize your own tasks? You have to be able to take the initiative and keep yourself in check to fulfill your duties.
Where we can learn from this is in going that extra step. Are you the kind of worker who always has to be asked to do things, or do you take initiative? When you go the extra mile, it can only help you professionally. And on a basic level, being consistently accountable for your own work and its quality is always a great reflection on your reputation as an employee and as a person.
3) Top-notch communication skills.
For the remote worker, communication demands mastery. If you don’t communicate clearly and consistently with “home base,” you’re likely to get off track in one way or another. Those channels of communication, be they through e-mail or over video chat or the phone, need to be open.
For us, we have to learn to initiate communication and how to communicate better. The art of communicating is full of nuance and demands practice to get better. Most of us aren’t that great at it if we’re honest. We misread other people and don’t get our message across as clearly as we could. We don’t reach out as often as we should and we miss out on a lot of vital information. From the remote worker, take this piece of information: prioritize communication.
4) Command your schedule.
If you’re working in isolation and not tied down by a corporate schedule or the ebb and flow of the office, you have to have a firm grip on your schedule. Getting up on time, planning out when to work on what, and when to stop working are all in your hands.
For us, this is also valuable. Too many of us work in the office and still insist on taking our work home with us. Whether we have a need in our lives to better prioritize the work we have while we’re in the office or need to better define the lines between work and home, we could all use a firmer command of our schedules.
5) Eliminate distractions.
Lastly, remote workers more than anyone have to nip distractions in the bud. When you’re working from home or in public, distractions are everywhere. It might be the temptation to multitask by doing a load of laundry while you work or in the hustle and bustle of the public space around you. It might just be that there’s no one over your shoulder so you can check Facebook that many more times.
Either way, a productive remote employee knows that they have to have a firm policy on distractions.
For us, we have to learn to do the same if we’re going to excel in our work. Distractions are there for us, too, and if we begin to grow complacent in our work, they will take over and kill our growth potential.
What insights have you gleaned from the other employees around you in other capacities or industries? Share the best lessons you've learned in the comments.