Remote work and telecommuting are becoming more common. Many roles today require knowledge work, which doesn't necessarily necessitate someone being in a specific location, and therefore offers more location flexibility to employees in those roles. Similarly, employees are seeking more work-life balance and integration, which means many teams and jobs are more open to telecommuting. Recent research from Stanford University has also indicated that companies also benefit from employees who telework, citing increased productivity and lower turnover among their employees. The reality is that more of us are working across a wide range of time zones and locations, so even those in office locations are engaging employees remotely.
However, even with the shift towards remote work and the myriad of benefits, many companies, managers, and employees hold unfair assumptions about colleagues who perform their job from home: that they’re secretly slacking off during the day or aren’t working as hard as those folks in offices.
I’ve been a remote employee, managed global teams of employees in different locations, and am a huge advocate for remote work where possible. Here are common mistakes employees make when they start working remotely—and how you can avoid them!
Common Mistakes of Teleworkers
1. Keeping the same routine
When you shift from an office role to a remote position, you probably shouldn’t keep the same daily routine. Things you’ll likely need to add to your calendar include intentional networking (because you won’t be bumping into colleagues in the hallway or elevator), in order to keep and develop strong relationships with your colleagues.
You may also need to add more frequent interactions with your manager to ensure she understands your priorities, can provide you with informal feedback, and keep you apprised of any office news that is important for your role.
To help you develop your remote routine, connect with successful remote employees in your organization to learn how they have adjusted their calendars to reflect their remote status.
2. Under-investing in senior relationships.
Demonstrating your expertise to senior leaders is part of building your professional reputation, as is ensuring they understand both the impact you have on the business and your professional ambitions. All of these become more challenging with remote work, since you’ll often face fewer opportunities to casually promote your great work to senior leaders.
When you’re remote, you have to be intentional about developing those senior relationships. Identify which relationships you need to keep healthy and which additional relationships you need to cultivate, and work to maintain and develop those connections.
If those leaders travel to your area, go out of your way to meet up with them when possible. When you’re in their geographic area, work to get some time with them to share updates on relevant projects, some industry issues you’ve been exploring, or simply shake their hand and let them know how much you’re enjoying your work—and which challenges you’re looking forward to slaying next.
3. Working without breaks.
The day can fly by when you’re remote—your colleagues can’t just swing by your desk to persuade you to join them for lunch. Make sure you’re taking time to stretch, move, hydrate, and eat throughout the day. It may sound basic, but employees in many types of work arrangements can struggle with remaining healthy and mobile in our desk-bound work environments!
Similarly, digital eye strain can result from too much time staring at digital devices, including computer screens, mobile phones, and tablets, without a break. Experts recommend a variety of tactics to reduce eye strain, including following the 20-20-20 rule—taking a 20-second break from screens every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away.
4. Using your couch (or bed) as a desk.
Having a dedicated space for your home office will allow you to keep your materials close at hand and ensure your bed remains a place for sleeping, not working. Unless your doctor recommends you remain on bedrest, or mobility challenges require you to be bed- or couch-bound, developing a separate space helps you set boundaries between your work-at-home space and your relax-at-home space.
5. Not investing in great headsets.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a conference call conversation with one participant on a poor connection. When you’re a remote employee, you can’t rely on your physical presence in a meeting to have an impact, and your contributions need to come across flawlessly to others in the teleconference.
Avoid losing your ideas to static by investing in a great headset or speakerphone and testing it with a few of your trusted colleagues. Ask your company’s IT or telecommunications team if they will provide phone equipment (or reimburse you). Even if they will not, it is worth a personal investment in effective equipment to ensure your participation is truly heard.
6. Assuming your current phone setup works fine.
Ensure your choice of voice connection is reliable. I had a coworker who used an internet phone (commonly referred to as VOIP phone), because she “didn’t want a landline.” Unfortunately, this person’s connection was often spotty, unreliable, and undermined their presence in virtual meetings. You may have occasional connection issues that you can’t control, which colleagues may forgive more readily than a steady, persistent challenge.
7. Ignoring conference call etiquette.
When you are a remote employee, you are often communicating more regularly on group conference calls. You can set yourself apart—and ensure your presence is welcome—by becoming an expert in conference call etiquette.
Some of the basics include:
• Managing your calendar so you can dial in a few minutes early, or at least on time
• Announcing yourself in meetings
• Coming prepared with everything you need to contribute to the meeting
• Load any screen-sharing and web conference software before the call, so as to not slow anything down
• Using your mute button so participants can’t hear you drinking your coffee or taking notes on your keyboard
8. Expecting colleagues to pick up on non-verbal cues.
Generally, communication is comprised of what you say, the tone of voice you use, and your body language. When you are remote, your body language is often impossible to read (when you are having a phone call) or limited by the transmission of some elements via video conference.
To engage with teammates and clients without the option of face-to-face meetings, you’ll need to work harder to monitor the tone of your voice and content get your points across clearly. If you disagree strongly, don’t let your silence “speak for itself.” Instead, share your concerns and rationale for others to consider. Practice talking in more succinct statements, or even telegraphing emotions more overtly, saying, “I’m very excited about Ani’s idea because…” or “What concerns me about the recent client feedback is…”
You can also ask a trusted colleague or manager for advice and feedback to ensure you’re communicating effectively when in a remote environment.
9. Working in pajamas.
There is a tremendous amount of advice (and judgment) around women’s clothing in and out of the workplace. For many, one of the benefits of remote working is a more flexible wardrobe. However, research suggests that our clothing influences our performance.
There’s no standard dress code for what is appropriate for all remote employees. I recommend you develop a neat and professional set of outfits that represent a work-from-home wardrobe and avoid items like pajamas or anything particularly unkempt.
My personal guideline has always been to ask myself, “If the CEO of my company needed me on video immediately, would I be comfortable doing so?” Button-down shirts, soft sweaters, and relaxed tunics can be incredibly professional on video, while also giving you a break from a more formal set of work clothing.
10. Staying at home.
Spending too much time alone in your home office can be a challenge for many remote workers. Over time, many remote workers report feelings of isolation when working from home. While each remote role differs, I recommend identifying opportunities to mix up your work-from-home arrangement as much as you might need to.
For example, if your role requires you to spend time doing deep thinking and individual brainstorming, you may want to book a study room at a local library or college to change up your space. Or, if you miss socializing with colleagues during lunch, make intentional efforts to meet others for lunch, or even take yourself out to a restaurant or coffee shop to give yourself space in your day.
You may have colleagues or friends nearby that also work remotely. To mix up your routine, you could rent coworking space together regularly or even rotate houses on a certain schedule to provide some opportunities to experience coworkers.
11. Multitasking during meetings.
When participating in a meeting as a remote colleague, it can be challenging to remain engaged in the discussion. This gets even more difficult when meetings are long and other participants are in the same physical space, while you’re one of the few people on the phone.
Multitasking, or engaging in two tasks simultaneously, really results in doing two or more things poorly. If a meeting is worth your time to attend, engage in the meeting by shutting down other tech distractions, as appropriate, and working to actively engage in the meeting. Ask clarifying questions, speak up when there are side discussions you can’t hear, and connect via video if the group is whiteboarding so you can contribute.
If the meeting isn’t valuable for you to attend, explore whether you could read meeting notes or capture a summary (as needed) instead of half-listening while half-working on another project.
12. Keeping quiet about your ideas to avoid interruptions.
When you’re participating with other colleagues in a remote environment, it can be hard to get your point across. There is plenty of research and writing on this topic, specifically on the phenomenon of men interrupting women.
Jessica Bennett, author of the wonderful book Feminist Fight Club, provided many techniques on how to avoid “man-terruptions” for Time Magazine, including the idea of creating a buddy system with a friend to call out (and redirect) interruptions.
However, in a virtual meeting, your ideas and participation are even more verbal, since you can’t rely on non-verbal cues like getting up to write an idea on a whiteboard, or even leaning forward and signaling you’re about to speak.
So, get more comfortable with appropriately interrupting. Think of it as actively participating in the meeting and ensuring your business gets the most out of your time in the session. While I’m not advocating for stepping over someone’s idea midstream, don’t wait for a long pause in the discussion before you feel comfortable speaking your thoughts.
13. Avoiding video.
Many of us shudder at the thought of a video conference. However, the reality is that video can provide a more engaging format for group discussions and serve as a powerful proxy for in-person sessions.
As women, it can be tempting to worry about our appearance on video, so we might decline video sessions or claim our “camera isn’t working today.” However, if your company or clients are using video to communicate and you’re not engaging, it can undermine your ability to connect with important stakeholders and grow your career.
Remember that most of us aren’t thrilled at watching ourselves on video, but the purpose is effective communication and not to worry about our appearance.
The Bottom Line
While there are many mistakes employees can make when working remotely, the benefits can be tremendous. In addition to company productivity gains, employees spend less time commuting (saving money while having a positive impact on the environment) and often reap the financial benefit of a less costly work wardrobe (with fewer clothes going to dry cleaning).
Many companies also reimburse for internet connections, phone lines, and other related expenses. Employees with demanding lives outside of work (and, isn’t that all of us in some way) often attain more flexible schedules when not tied to a specific office location.
With remote work comes great responsibility: to ensure your own productivity and improve the impression of the efficacy of remote working, so even more businesses embrace the option for their employees. If you’re curious about where you could go to find remote work, there are many resources to help you do so, right on the web.
The Feminist Financier is on a mission to help women build wealth and own their financial independence, by improving financial literacy and taking the mystery out of money. Ms. Financier is also a shoe addict, travel fanatic, and wine enthusiast.