5 habits every remote worker should build

Looking for remote work? If so, you might have searched the web for tips or called your freelancer friends to find out how they get things done while stuck at home. 

You’re not the only one.

As the number of telecommuters increases, many were not prepared to continue with the same productivity levels from the start.

Although remote work may appear intuitive, you need the right equipment and to use the skills you have in creative ways. The good news is, you can develop those skills to work from home, get things done, and demonstrate you can be an asset to your prospective company. What are some of those skills? Read on to find out.

1. Responsiveness

Don’t make your employers and teammates chase you around. Instead, prove you’re dependable and start by replying to your messages promptly—in most cases, in one business day, except on weekends.

When you need to take care of demanding tasks or time-sensitive projects, turn notifications off and schedule times to reply to messages. Don’t forget to update your status to let other people know you’re not able to respond right away. In fact, companies like Toptal advocate for asynchronous work, or team members sharing information and replying when they can. 

Over time, you will end up joining dozens of chats with teams and individuals. Luckily, most messaging apps let you mute individual channels or conversations to make sure you only receive critical news about the projects you’re working on in that moment.

Although you want to stay on top of your messages, setting up boundaries is crucial, too. Set up business hours and stick to them. Of course, sometimes you’ll need to work overtime and be available outside your shift, but do it only for emergencies.

It may look like replying to business emails on a Saturday night proves their commitment, but in reality it just says they cannot manage their time.

Replying promptly to messages and maintaining business hours speaks volumes of your communication and time-management skills, which are among the most sought-after soft skills for remote and on-site positions. So, stay on top of your messages, but establish a healthy work-life balance.

2. Keep your equipment in good shape

Raise your hand if you’re making do at home with an old, slow computer.

For years, I was, too. 

True, a new computer is a significant investment. It takes effort to find the right choice, and even the cheaper ones come at a high price tag sacrificing quality and performance.

Unless your machine is falling apart, it’s likely you need not buy a new one. Instead, keep your current equipment in top condition. You won’t be ready to work from home if your machine freezes every half an hour or is too slow for video calls.

With only a few simple steps—like keeping your computer clean, updating the software and deleting useless files and apps, running frequent backups, and taking it for repairs and hardware upgrades—, you can breathe new life into your old machine and make it work better for longer.

Take proper care of your home computer to save yourself the hassle and be ready to take on a new remote position.

3. Log your time

Keeping track of your time is vital to understand how your productivity changes throughout the day. After a few weeks logging your tasks, patterns will emerge—where distractions come from and when they start, which projects take you longer to complete, and how to pace yourself throughout the day. Consequently, it’ll help you create a schedule that works for you and will give you more accountability and insights about your work.

If you’re not working from home yet, track the time you spend on hobbies or personal projects. So, when you get a new remote job, you’ll have a system in place to log and report your hours and set up the right schedule for you.

One way to go about this is the Pomodoro technique,  which organizes your time in 25-minute intervals with 5-10 minute breaks in between. After four 25-minute blocks, you can rest for a little longer. The goal is to help you concentrate and give your brain a chance to assimilate new information before the next batch of work. I find 25-minute blocks too short, especially when I need few minutes at the beginning to focus, so I work in 35-minute intervals instead.

Log how many blocks you work every day and how you use them, and over time you’ll start seeing progress. There are, of course, plenty of apps for that—I like Forest)—or keep a journal.

Or, use a time tracker to log tasks automatically while working on your computer. The one I’ve been using is TopTracker, a free program created by the freelance agency Toptal to help freelancers and clients log time spent in projects. 

By learning how to manage your time, you’ll be one step ahead in the remote work job hunt and will be ready to tackle the challenges of your new position.

4. Upgrade your skills

In the year of our Lord 2020, it’s not enough to put “Advanced Microsoft Office skills” on your resume. 

Remote teams use a stack of tools to manage projects, so it’s vital to become familiar with them to show iniciative and adaptability. The quicker you learn new software, the faster you’ll adapt to your new position.

Keep your skills updated and stand out on your application by signing up for online courses. To find out which classes to take next, pay attention to the requirements on the job descriptions of the positions that interest you. Do they require skills you don’t have yet? Take note and start looking for courses.

Educational platforms like Coursera, EdX, and Alison offer a wide variety of topics, and many SaaS companies have courses specific to their services. For example, if you’re keen to learn online marketing, HubSpot offers courses not just on how to use their platform, but also on marketing and sales.

Create alerts on your Google account to keep up with news and trends on your industry and relevant tools, and don’t forget to share the knowledge with friends and colleagues at your new company.

5. Disconnect

When the physical division between work and personal time becomes the few steps separating your dinner table from your bedroom, it’s easy to work for too long or to get distracted. So, you need to bring some divisions back.

Working overtime for lengthy periods is detrimental for your physical and mental health—from stress and burnout to the negative effects of sitting around for extended periods.

Luckily, disconnecting is not as difficult as you may think. Start with designating one dedicated space to work—your home office, your dinner table, your balcony, a desk inside your bedroom, somewhere you can sit comfortably and focus on the task at hand. If possible, however, avoid working in bed.

If you’re using a personal computer, create a new, password-protected session just for work-related activities. This is not only safer, but will keep all your work files in one place without getting them mixed up with your tax files and holiday photos. At the end of your workday, close the session and use another one for personal matters.

Close Slack, email, and any other business communication platforms on your phone and computer. Any notifications will make you want to check your messages and log back in. If needed, add a note on your profile on most messaging apps to let people know when they can expect to hear from you. 

Instead of spending hours browsing through social media on your time off, schedule video chats or even good old-fashioned phone calls with friends and family if you’re unable to visit in person. You’ll also benefit from pick up a hobby that requires you to step away from your devices.

Working from home means building positive habits to take care of yourself, manage your time, and continue learning the skills that’ll make you an invaluable part of your team.

Are there other skills you think are important for remote work? Let me know in the comments below!  

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