08 Feb The View from Chicago: Working Remotely in the Age of Technology
In today’s age of ever-present technology, with super-computer cell phones, communication apps like Slack, video conferencing, and old-fashioned email, we’re more connected than ever before. This is good news for public affairs professionals as we are expected to deftly maneuver through various client priorities, juggling strategy development, communications, event planning and anything else thrown our way with ease.
It’s also good news for business in general: now we can interact with individuals, companies, and clients regardless of location or time zone – allowing greater choices in who we work with and opening new doors.
As technology improves, it’s no longer necessary for professionals to work in a centralized office. In fact, the amount of people who work remotely (even in part) in the U.S. has been on the rise in the last few years. But while the location where your company is domiciled may no longer matter as much, your work environment does. As industries transition to this new normal of flexible schedules and telecommuting, it’s important to embrace the benefits while mitigating the downfalls of remote work.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I work remotely for Sterling from Chicago. Most of the people I interact with for my job do not know this, and they’re surprised to find out I’m not in the Lansing office daily. As a public affairs professional, this is great to hear – clients expect connectivity and responsiveness – and active communication is key to making telecommuting work.
However, to be effective professionals while remaining healthy and happy in our personal lives, remote workers must balance this availability with much-needed downtime with family and friends. It’s easy to let your work and personal lives blur together when you work remotely – especially if your “office” is where you live. Working remote often requires more discipline to physically and mentally separate your professional and personal lives.
Here are some tips to make the most of your remote working (and living) situation:
Create a routine and actively schedule your days. Whether that means going for a run before work, setting aside 30 minutes in the morning to check email and read the news, or finishing your day drafting a to-do list for the next, it’s important to add structure to an otherwise atypical work schedule.
Get ready in the morning. While those pajamas are tempting, you’ll be more productive if you prepare for the day as if you’re going into an office. You don’t have to wear a suit – but the physical act of changing will help you shift into work mode.
Introduce a commute. While I do not miss driving to work each day, I do miss the opportunity my commute allowed me to reflect on the day ahead. To better distinguish between your personal time and work, and to get in the right mindset prior to sitting down at your desk, take some time to enjoy a brief walk, grab some coffee, and mentally prepare for your daily tasks. Likewise, shut down your computer at the end of the day and physically separate yourself from your work space – this will help you unwind and switch mental gears.
Designate a specific working space. Like the previous tips, designating a separate work space will help motivate you and lead to increased productivity. If you work from home, avoid working in comfortable spaces like your bedroom or couch. And you don’t need a separate room in your home for an office space – my desk fits just fine in a studio apartment.
Find alternative work spaces. Sometimes you just don’t feel motivated in your work space. When your creativity (and productivity) is stifled, change up your scenery. Go to your favorite coffee shop to work for a few hours. Co-working spaces – places where you can rent a desk and have access to office resources – are increasingly popular and may also be a good option.
Seek out social outlets. When working remotely, you often lack the face-to-face contact and daily social outlet that colleagues provide. To mitigate this, actively seek out alternative social outlets – join a recreational sports team, attend a book club, or network with other professionals in your industry.
Find a mentor or friend at work. Working remotely can be isolating. It’s important to find a mentor or friend at work who can continually push you to grow professionally and personally and provide a new perspective when needed.
And most importantly, actively keep open various lines of communication. Check in often with your colleagues through email, text, and phone. Working in the office part time each month will also help you effectively manage your relationships.
While working remotely is not for everyone, it does have its benefits. For instance, with the absence of office distractions, you’ll find you are often more productive each day (although you’ll probably miss those spontaneous moments of bonding with your colleagues). There’s also more flexibility in your day, partly due to a lack of a commute. Take that “extra” time to grow professionally and personally – dedicate a lunch hour to read a book or take a fitness class to relieve stress.
Making a few small changes to your remote work routine and environment in the New Year will pay dividends in productivity and increased happiness.