In recent weeks, many people who traditionally work in an office are transitioning to working from home, possibly for the first time. Shifting from an office-based environment to working from home full time — even if only temporarily — takes some getting used to. And we know, as most of us here at PSPDFKit made that transition for the first time when we joined the company.
To help those of you new to remote work, we plan to share tips to help you be more effective working from home, emphasize the importance of communication, and provide a list of tools we have found to be helpful in our company.
But first, to kick off this series, I will highlight a few of the struggles people face when working from home. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and everyone’s experience with remote work is different, but I found that the survey results of Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report offer a good starting place.
Struggles of Remote Work
Working remotely is great, as it often comes with the flexibility of working when you want, with no commute, and with fewer work distractions. However, remote work also comes with its own set of obstacles.
Unplugging After Work
If you’re working from home for the first time, you’ll soon start to realize it might be difficult to log off. You may find yourself constantly checking your work email outside of working hours. One reason behind this is the lack of separation between work and home (both geographical and temporal). Working in an office provides a physical distance, and the commute home gives you the temporal distance that allows your mind to transition from work to rest.
Staving off the feeling of isolation in remote work is something many of us have had to cope with. This may be less of an issue for those who have family members or flatmates living with them who are also working remotely. But in-person human connection is a very real physical and emotional necessity for most of us, and it can be jarring to suddenly lose many of those connections and small personal interactions that are taken for granted in an office environment.
Collaboration and Communication
If you have not telecommuted or worked remotely before, you may find that communicating with colleagues will be a much greater challenge. Collaborating on projects becomes more difficult when people can’t simply sit near each other and discuss tasks they’re currently working on. Having to schedule a call or type something to ask a coworker the same question that you would have just turned around and asked at the office can be a major effort and time sink, and it often results in the question never being asked in the first place.
Working from home means you don’t have to worry about distractions from colleagues coming to your desk to ask a question. However, if you don’t live alone, you might face distractions from family members or roommates who want to talk to you while you’re working. You may also find yourself distracted by small things, such as chores that need to be done or movement in your building or outside your window.
Staying motivated when you’re working by yourself for days and weeks on end can be especially challenging. Not having a structure in your schedule is one culprit. Another is the lack of inherent pressure to get things done, which often seems much more present when working in an office with colleagues. The level of satisfaction you feel when hitting targets as a team can seem diminished when everyone is physically dispersed.
Internet connection is something most remote workers struggle with when working from coffee shops or other public places. However, it is also something that remote workers face at home. Fast internet is required when downloading large files and especially when you’re on a conference call with many people. According to an article on Medium.com, effective video calls require download and upload speeds of 8 Mbps and 1.5 Mbps, respectively.
Advice to Counter These Struggles
The above examples are only a snippet of issues you may face when working remote. There could be more, or some of them could be more of a concern for you than others.
In my time working remotely for PSPDFKit, I’ve found a few strategies that have worked for me in countering the above struggles. Based on what I’ve learnt, my advice in starting your remote work journey is as follows:
- Find or create a defined workspace. This helps you to provide a physical separation from work and home, and it is highly valuable in helping you unplug when the work day is concluded.
- Work at defined times. Remote work comes with the flexibility of working when you want, but having clearly established work hours helps you mentally disconnect from work at healthy, regular intervals.
- Designate a work browser and a free-time browser. If your laptop for work and for play is the same, using (for example) Safari for work and Chrome or any other browser for play will help facilitate unplugging after work.
- Be clear when communicating with colleagues. Provide context and double check your messages before sending. Consider having a quick call if that would be easier than typing out a conversation.
- Make use of collaborative tools. We primarily use Slack, Basecamp, GitHub, and Google Docs when communicating in our work.
- Take breaks when needed. Go make a pot of coffee or take a walk alone when switching tasks or if you’ve been working uninterrupted for a long period of time. Allow your mind to recharge before you tackle the next thing on your list.
- Check your internet speed with fast.com. You might need to see if your home internet is fast enough to handle conference calls.
Another tip is to keep an eye on your posture. It’s really easy to fall into the habit of sitting on the couch, hanging out in bed, slouching, having your knees up, etc. when working from home. This could lead to back issues later. Sit in a proper chair or make your own standing desk to eliminate the risk of slouching.
Working from home for the first time is a grand adventure. It comes with a lot of excitement and frustration in figuring out how to best do the same work tasks at home and learning how to use new technologies to make remote work easier. We hope the advice above proves helpful. Please be sure to check back in for the next part in this series, which includes tips to help you work effectively from home.