At iDoneThis, we’ve got our team spread all across the world. Germany, Italy, New York, Wisconsin. The company has been remote from Day 1 and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Working from a home office or coworking space gives us the freedom to work how we want and — for the most part — when we want.
As of writing this, I’ve had four weeks on the remote team. Here are 10 things I’ve learned in the first month.
1. There will be no extra credit in this class
The biggest change, by far, that I’ve noticed has nothing do to with working in pajamas or any other number of remote work cliches. When you work remote you start to notice all the empty, meaningless extra credit points that fly around most offices. Bringing cupcakes on the boss’s birthday, buying an expensive necktie: all nonsense that has nothing to do with most jobs. But in traditional offices, you get a lot of pats on the back for that kind of thing.
2. Your entire mindset of productivity changes
Now that you’re not getting extra credit points for being the office jokester (believe me, I’ve been that guy. It’s awesome.), your entire mindset of productivity changes.
You start to realize the real benefit of remote work, the reason so many companies have had huge successes with it. All that counts is your work. Specifically, all that counts is the work you produce and the results it delivers. Showing up an hour early each day can help you only if it results in getting an extra hour of work done. Nobody’s going to see you working late and make a mental note that you’re “a real go-getter.”
In most jobs, actions speak louder than words. In remote jobs, actions don’t speak at all. Results do.
3. Working remote doesn’t come easy (despite what your friends think)
Work on a remote team and this is the phrase you’ll start hearing over and over: “you GET to work from home.” That’s because people assume it’s somehow easier. Nobody ever says “you GET to work in a nice office” or “you GET to fly to Akron for a conference.” You don’t get anything. Like any type of job, you earn it and you work hard to keep it.
People in your life are going to assume that working from home is a day at the beach. Let them have their fantasies. Working remote is a skill you have to practice. Never assume it will be easier, assume it will be different. Like anything different, it’s going to take a while to get used to.
4. Concentration is easier
Distractions from coworkers in an office are so common and trivial that we don’t even realize how quickly they add up. And research shows that even a small distraction can derail productivity for an average of 25 minutes. These distractions are even more common in the open-plan office style that’s so in fashion right now. There’s a reason you walk through these offices and see half the workers wearing big noise-canceling head phones.
Yes, there is still the tide of digital distractions and notifications, but working alone has a way of calming you. It is, somehow, more zen and peaceful. I’m not entirely sure why.
5. But so is procrastination
When you work remote, nobody knows if you’re actually working. They also don’t know if you’re playing FarmVille. Without proper discipline, you could throw an entire day away. You have to start shifting the way you think about your time. Would you blow an entire Saturday checking Facebook? Would you spend a whole vacation day chasing YouTube links? Probably not. So why do it during work?
Remote work involves shifting from thinking of time spent as Your Time instead of Company Time. Because it’s natural for anybody to subconsciously value their own time over company time (unless you own the company, then there really is no difference). Think of it as your own time. Work on things that matter and you’ll have more of it to spend on things you love.
That’s part of why we built and use iDoneThis. We make it easy to share your progress. And knowing that you’ll have to share with your team what you’ve gotten done at the end of the day gives you just the push you need to stay on task.
6. Routines become even more important
At your office job, a whole lot of routines are predetermined for you. You will have to be at this location at this certain time, therefore you need to take this method of transportation, therefore you have to be out the door at a specific time. On and on it goes.
Sounds like a drag, but here’s the thing about routines: they’re actually very helpful. They put your brain on autopilot for the boring stuff, so you can use your mental energy on the different, complicated, and fun stuff. But when you work remote, routines aren’t built in to the job. You have more freedom, which is nice. But it’s easy to burn up energy exploring that freedom.
7. Isolation is a real thing
Everything you hear about working remote being lonely is true. It can, at times, be painfully quiet. And the world can feel strangely opposite. Everyone else spends their day out in the world, surrounded by people. They just want to come home to some peace and quiet. Meanwhile, you’ve been at home with peace and quiet all day and want to get out into the world. Which brings us to …
8. Life can be more social and fulfilling this way
It’s true. Those feelings of isolation can be leveraged into a more social and fulfilling life. If you work for it. Here’s what you do: use that desire for human interaction to be more intentional about being social. For example, I have a friend who works remote as well — we’ll often meet for lunch, play tennis or go for a run in the middle of the day. Or I’ll just take my dog for a walk and chat with the retired neighbors out working on their gardens. Or go work from a coffee shop for a while. Many remote workers utilize a co-working space. The point is, when you know this is your window of opportunity for social interaction, you’re more intentional about it. And it can be a much more fulfilling experience. It beats getting your social time in by sitting in a cubicle next to someone you might not even like.
9. Scheduling regular face time with colleagues is essential
Likewise, it can be easy to slip into talking with colleagues only about work matters. If you’re not careful, the work relationships can become cold and dull. That’s why we each have a weekly Hangout meeting with a company founder to step back and have big picture type conversations. We can vent about goals, frustrations or just chat about how things are going. It makes it feel more like working with a friend, rather than just passing information into cyberspace.
10. You have more energy after work
It sounds crazy, but I’ve noticed I have more energy longer in the day. Maybe sitting in traffic is just that draining. But I think this is another product of the changing way remote work makes you think about time. Working in an office is like strapping a boulder to your back in the morning and unbuckling it when you walk through your front door in the evening. You feel this big energy shift and Work Mode falls off you like a bucket of concrete. You want to nestle into your home. This doesn’t happen with remote work. The days feel more your own. It gives you more energy.
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