The pandemic has ushered in an era of remote work that’s likely to prove both beneficial and challenging to American workers. While remote work is flexible, it also requires unfamiliar skills and the ability to balance complex work-life commitments. How can you get and keep remote work, without sacrificing your career, family life, or sanity?
“We expected that remote work was going to be normal in three-to-five years. But the pandemic made it the new normal now,” says Shahar Erez, chief executive of Stoke Talent, a workforce management platform. “Everyone has to adjust.”
10 Tips to get and keep remote work
While companies will need to figure out new ways to measure productivity and communicate with a far-flung workforce, individual workers also need to pivot if they want to succeed in an increasingly digital world. From buying new tools for far-flung offices to learning how to better “manage up,” the remote worker needs to create a professional online presence to stay on a decent career track.
Here are 10 tips to get and keep remote work — and thrive while doing it.
Get the gear
The only “gear” you needed was work-appropriate clothing and shoes when you worked in an office. To work remotely, you need more.
Such as? High-speed Internet is a must, if you don’t already have it. It’s also smart to invest in a ring light, microphone and webcam. This combination makes your voice and image clearer when you’re conducting meetings via Zoom, Skype or Google.
“Zoom is how we communicate today,” says Erez. “Spend $100 to make sure that people can see you and hear you the way that you want to be seen.”
Revamp your resume
Being an organized self-starter has never been more important. List these qualities on your resume and emphasize how they help you accomplish career goals, suggests Brie Reynolds, career development manager at job-search site FlexJobs.
Also highlight your written and verbal communication skills. (And make sure to proofread carefully because nothing undermines your communication skills better than having typos and misspellings on a resume or cover letter.) Finally, if you are adept with technology, be specific about those skills. List any certifications you have, as well as the specific types of software, video conferencing and other tech tools that you regularly use.
Some professionals may want to go a step further and create a personal website, adds Joe Mullings, chief vision officer for Management Recruiters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Your personal website can highlight both professional and social aspects of your personality that might give you an edge.
Why is that necessary? In-person meetings often forge a bond between interviewer and interviewee because of non-verbal signals, from the strength of your handshake to your posture. These physical cues are largely lost in digital interviews.
“You have to design a way to create a positive bias about what represents you as an individual,” says Mullings. “You are more than just your resume.”
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a corner in your bedroom or a full-fledged home office, you need to find a quiet space to work and to conduct video conference calls. This can be challenging if you’re sharing a small apartment with multiple kids and pets, but chaos in your work space is certain to show up in your work product. And background chaos on a Zoom call communicates unprofessionalism to everyone you’re talking to.
Even if you have to take meetings in the car, shut yourself in a walk-in closet, or hide in the bathroom, do what it takes to find a peaceful corner where you can concentrate, Mullings advises.
In the past, office managers tended to judge productivity by attendance. That was never ideal. But now, it’s not even an option. It may behoove workers to help their managers find a better measuring stick.
Figure out a reasonable time line to accomplish your tasks — or reasonable activity goals that can be measured. Talk through these goals and timelines with your manager. Ask to define the goal posts that signal whether you’re meeting, exceeding or falling short of expectations.
By “managing up,” you help determine the standards by which you’ll be judged when you’re up for your next raise or promotion.
Schedules for everyone
There are reasons why people go into offices. It separates home and work, giving clear space and time for each. Combining the two can quickly devolve into chaos. Combat the chaos with schedules for everyone — even the kids.
Giving kids a schedule for chores, school and free time makes them part of your team. That’s important for their psychological well-being at a time when isolation is the norm. It can also help them develop empathy for the role that you play as a parent and a breadwinner. Whether it’s making grocery lists or helping with the dishes, kids of almost any age can be helpful.
Naturally, this also takes some weight off of working parents, who are suddenly also expected to help with distance learning.
Meanwhile, each parent can note on the schedule when they have important meetings that can’t be disturbed and thus need the other parent — or older kids — to provide household backup.
Find your rhythm
Just because you worked from 9 to 5 when you were in the office doesn’t necessarily mean that those have to be your hours today. Employers are increasingly willing to accommodate odd hours, if the employee shows the ability and willingness to get the job done.
“The opportunity with remote work is that you can find your own rhythm,” says Erez. “You have to be disciplined. But if you happen to be most productive at 10 at night, you can do that.”
Certainly, there will be times when you’ll need to be available during normal working hours to talk to your boss, clients or other colleagues. But valuable remote workers often can call the shots on the specific hours that make up their work day.
“There is a woman on my team who had a baby right before the shutdown happened,” says Scott Bonneau, Vice President of Global Talent Attraction at Indeed.com. “She now works in three 2.5-hour time blocks — one of them in the middle of the night. That schedule is what she chose for herself based on when she can be the most productive.”
If you’re a two-income household with kids, the flexibility of remote work may also allow you to alternate schedules. One parent may choose to work from 5 a.m. until 1 p.m., for example, while the other takes the afternoon shift. That allows someone to be present for your kids at all times, and allows each of you to have uninterrupted work time, too.
A key to working effectively is communicating regularly with your boss and co-workers. They need to know what you’re doing, the progress you’ve made, and the snags you’ve hit. If other people are waiting on your piece of a project, they naturally need to know when to expect it.
However, not every conversation needs to be about the job at hand. Erez thinks it’s imperative that co-workers talk to each other about personal things to keep those important personal connections alive.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to co-workers for guidance, or simply pick up the phone to keep in touch, he says.
“One of the problems with the pandemic is that people get increasingly disconnected,” he says. “It’s healthy to just engage in conversation.”
Parenting house-bound kids is a full-time job. If you and your spouse are both holding down paying jobs too, you’re dividing three jobs among two people. That’s doable for a little while, but overwhelming over time.
Don’t be afraid to hire help, whether that’s tutors or babysitters for the kids, or someone to cook or clean for you.
If there’s a bright side to the pandemic, it’s that it’s been easy to spend less thanks to the shut-down of travel and many forms of entertainment. You can use that money to buy yourself some help.
Schedule free time
Dedicated workers can become so focused on making sure they’re doing a good job, that they fail to complete their remote work day at a reasonable hour. After all, when your home is your office, it’s pretty hard to leave work.
“You’ve got to manage both ends of it,” says Erez. “Set boundaries on your job so you don’t lose all control over your life.”
Figure out what makes a good work day. Do it. Then shut down your computer, close the office door, and “go home.”
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