Thoughts from a Remote Office

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Recently I asked a coworker about the dress code for an upcoming company party that I would be attending and he snidely responded that it was “normal business attire, so in your case, you are welcome to wear your PJs!” – which then became the inspiration for this blog post.  I’ve been working remotely from my home for six months now, after a move from North Carolina to Denver, and thought it was about time to sit down and assess the world of the “Remote Office”. What works, what doesn’t?

  1. Get the highest quality and fastest Internet and phone connections available– I had been a Vonage customer for many years, but when it came down to great voice quality for conference calls, VOIP just didn’t cut it.  I had to go with the old-fashioned land line and have been much happier with the quality.  For Internet access, I opted for a cable broadband rather than DSL for the faster speed.
  2. Separate your work day from your personal day– Despite the temptation to take a coffee break with my husband or start a load of laundry, I find that I’m much more focused if I reserve personal tasks and responsibilities for before or after my official work hours.  Far too easy to ease from a load of laundry, to ironing one shirt, to emptying the dishwasher, when my priority in during the day is my work duties.  Along the same lines, though, when the work day is over, you’ve got to peel yourself away.  It is so tempting to keep working on that overdue proposal while the kids are telling you about their day, but not very satisfying for either party.
  3. Resist the temptation to drag yourself straight from bed to the office chair– For me, this means getting dressed, making my bed, making a cup of coffee and then “going to the office” (at the other end of the house).  Except for the rare 6 a.m. meeting (due to clients in EST) where I’ll admit to unbrushed hair and pink fleece PJs, I find that I am much more alert and prepared if I’ve gotten up a little earlier and put myself together.  As this article states, “People who get dressed properly each morning tend to have higher productivity and feel better about themselves.”
  4. Have many ways to be accessible– “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a pleasant experience when it comes to the business world.  In my case, I’m always available via email, land-line phone, cell phone and instant messenger during my business hours, so if one isn’t working (darn you, road construction crew that took out my Internet!), the others will keep me “in touch”.  I have considered adding a fax machine to the mix, but so far scanning and email has worked sufficiently, so I haven’t made that investment.  I also have mapped out several local spots that have free wireless Internet, so if all else fails, I can evacuate to the local coffee shop for Internet access (yum!).
  5. Make your availability and schedule very clear– Make sure that everyone is completely aware of your working hours and ways to contact you (both before, during and after business hours).  This goes for clients as well as coworkers.  Stick closely to those hours (no “early in, early out” attitudes!) and during those working hours, respond promptly to all communications so that there’s absolutely no doubt that you are online and open for business.
  6. Be a good and attentive participant in staff meetings– So very tempting to finish up that report and send a quick email while someone else has the floor at the staff meeting, especially if you are on “mute”, but your co-workers expect and deserve your full attention, so give it to them!
  7. Take very good care of your equipment– I’m 2400 miles from the company’s tech support, so I make sure that my laptop is in a safe environment (free of dust, heat, etc.) and is backed up regularly to an external source.
  8. Have your own space– It is generally not “ok” to abscond with the kitchen table for your office paraphernalia.  If possible, have your own space (mine is the unused formal dining room, converted to my personal office) where others can’t leave (and spill) half-open cans of soda.
  9. Figure out the time zones!– I will be the first to confess that I’m the WORST at time zones.  If it weren’t for DVR, we wouldn’t see any of our favorite TV shows, because I simply can’t figure out what is on when!  So, I have to pay special close attention to time zones when I’m scheduling meetings.  Outlook handles this pretty well, but make sure that you have time zones set correctly:

1.  On the Tools menu, click Options. 2.  On the Preferences tab, click Calendar Options. 3.  Under Advanced Options, click Time Zone. 4.  Choose a time zone from the drop-down list, and then click OK. 5.  Also also consider displaying another time zone in Outlook by selecting the “Show an additional time zone check box in the Time Zone dialog box”. The second time zone is used only to show a second time bar in Calendar view and does not affect the way Calendar items are stored or displayed.

For the truly time-zone deficient, like myself, also consider an extra clock on your desk, set to the same time zone as the office.

10.  Have some kind of social connection– The hardest thing for me personally to tackle was the lack of social interaction.  Not that I was much of the “water cooler” kind of girl before I moved, but I get tired of only hearing about the problems and miss the fun stuff like baby showers and the latest gossip.  Fortunately I have a great group of co-workers (that are also friends!) that keep me “in the loop”!  Since they may also be the only people that read my blogs– THANKS GUYS!!!

Some good resources I found while researching this article