I've worked as a remote employee for most of the last decade or so. I like to work from home. For the most part, it's been fantastic. I love not having to drive to work, and having the flexibility to change my hours on occasion is a huge benefit.
But over the years, I've learned that my biggest struggle comes from my state of mind. I work by myself, and so my thoughts can be all over the place. Some days I feel empowered, others I am overly anxious.
It has less to do with my employer and more about how I tackle each day and which thoughts I dwell on.
The Secret to Success When You Work From Home
I've talked a lot about how communication is critical in increasing your value as an employee.
It becomes even more critical when you work from home. Your co-workers have to know you are getting work done, even when they can't see you at your desk or come into the office.
The idea of reliable communication might seem obvious. But I've found that few people prioritize communication, and end up causing issues that ripple through the company.
And communication is not just about writing or saying “words.” It is about what words you speak, and when you say them. For example, if you work on a project, bringing up possible issues early on can prevent more significant problems from coming up later. It also involves taking notes and asking solid questions.
When people can look at you as reliable and effective, it will increase your value as a remote employee. You may not be the best in your field. But having finely tuned and effective communication can make you more valuable.
Setting Boundaries When You Work From Home
To go to work, I just need to walk downstairs to my basement home office and turn on my computer. It doesn't get any easier than that!
But this easy access to working at any time means that the line between “working” and “being at home” is incredibly gray. Some days I could easily end up working 10-12 hours and not even notice. Or end up spending most of the weekend working on a project that has a tight timeline.
Getting burned out and taking time away from what matters most to you is a massive risk when you are a remote employee.
My goal is to optimize my 40-hours per week dedicated to my job as much as possible, and only work extra when I have to.
Some times things will come up that require more time, but it should not be a regular occurrence. It might require that you say no in some cases that require an unrealistic amount of work in a short period.
You don't want to come across as unreasonable, but if your employer understands the value you bring to the company, they will respect your boundaries. But you can't expect them to respect your boundaries if you don't have any. And this risk is higher when you are a remote employee.
Taking Time Off
Just because you work from home doesn't mean you don't need to take vacations.
You need to be fully taking advantage of your paid time off. And it isn't just about going on vacation. It is about unplugging from your day-to-day work schedule — which involves having times when you don't think about work!
The time you are getting paid to work should be when you focus 100% on what you need to do for your job. Outside of this time, you need to be enjoying your life outside of work. Just because you are a remote employee, doesn't mean they control 100% of your time at home.
The more you can refuel while you have time off, the more valuable you will be when you go back to work. And it also helps prevent you from getting burnt out.
I love my remote job, but I don't love it more than I love my family and making happy memories with them.
Prioritizing My Health
I'm not doing a great job prioritizing my health. There have been times where I was working out regularly, taking more walks, and spending more time outside, but I haven't been doing a great job this year.
We decided to purchase a Peloton exercise bike last week. I know, I know! These bikes are super expensive. But everyone we know that has one speaks highly of them, and we hear the classes are fantastic. Having this in our house will allow me to work out any time, and I'm excited to start using it.
It's easy to go on autopilot and not prioritize your health. But moving your body, sweating, and burning calories do more than just get you in shape. It also can increase your energy level and improve your problem-solving skills.
Sitting at my desk all day is not beneficial to my health. I'm concerned that if I don't start exercising regularly, my health is going to start deteriorating over the next ten years. I want to have the energy to spend time with my family and be the best version of myself. But I also want to be the best version of myself for my day job.
The benefits of exercising have a considerable number of benefits, such as sleeping better, lowering my anxiety, increasing energy levels, etc. It really should be a top priority, and I need to stop pushing this to the side.
Managing Stress Level
Most of the Stress I experience regularly is usually from myself. But sometimes, my anxiety can be triggered when I take on more than what is reasonable.
This idea has a lot to do with communication and setting boundaries. Making sure your team understands what you can reasonably tackle with a given timeline is vital.
You probably aren't the only one who works at the company. If there are a bunch of priorities that have popped up on your schedule, and you don't have time to get everything done, you should ask for help or make it clear what you can reasonably get done.
If you make a habit of working through these scenarios every time, by working 50 hours per week, you are doing a few things that will hurt you:
- Donating some of your free time to your employer (assuming you are on salary)
- Having people get used to how much extra you work, where they start looking at this as the “normal” situation
- You begin building resentment towards your company, given how much you are working
- Creating unrealistic expectations in what you can get done every week
- Increasing the risk of burn-out
If you are setting realistic expectations and communicating clearly, and are still experiencing a high level of stress, then you might have to take a look at the thoughts you are harboring that are causing this anxiety. The good news is that in this case, this problem is something you can work on.
Taking a Deep Breadth
Sometimes I just need to stop whatever I am doing and take several deep breaths.
Often the anxiety I am experiencing is exaggerated. I might be making a big deal about something small. Or I'm spending too much time thinking about what “might” go wrong.
Sometimes I need to stop and create a rough plan of attack for the current week. Slowing down and gathering my thoughts tends to deflate the situation. This process allows my mind to realize that I do have a handle on the situation, and I can work through this.
Breaking Larger Problems Down
When I'm tackling a significant problem, I can easily get overwhelmed in thinking about everything I need to do.
But if I stop and break down the problem into smaller pieces, it becomes easier to digest. And it allows me to tackle each problem one-by-one.
Breaking down your more significant problems also provides the opportunity to have other people tackle some of the issues if you need help. You can go to your manager and tell them that you can knock out these tasks this week, but you need help with some other jobs to hit the timeline.
This idea is part of effective communication.
Lower Your Expectations When You Work From Home
At times I feel like I expect myself to be perfect. That I will solve every problem instantly, and not encounter any roadblocks.
But like everyone else, I'm human. I don't know everything, and at times I make a terrible decision.
When I don't meet these lofty expectations I've set for myself, I can feel like a failure. It's like I expect myself to be some super-human, and when reality sets in, my confidence shatters.
There is a point where setting a high bar for yourself can motivate you to do your best work. But it can also have the opposite effect. You need to be okay with sometimes failing, as long as you learn from your mistakes.
Sometimes we need to give ourselves some grace. We know our value, but we also aren't perfect and can grow.
Don't Underestimate the Value of Sleep
When I worked in the office, the additional stimuli I encountered throughout the day made it easier to work through being a little tired.
But when working as a remote employee, even being just a little tired can be hard to work through. Maybe it is because my home office is more comfortable, or that I'm not physically interacting with as many people. But some days, it can be incredibly challenging to focus on what I need to do.
Getting a solid night's rest makes so many things more manageable. And it isn't just about the time you work, but also the time outside of work. I'm more patient overall and less anxious. I don't get overwhelmed as quickly, and life is more enjoyable.
When you work from home, it means you have to be hyper-aware of what is going on at your company. Stay focused on the projects at hand.
You can't ignore issues that you are involved with, or they can grow into more significant problems. Or they might replace you with someone who can solve these problems. You don't need to be paranoid about losing your job. But you have to be aware of what is going on around you.
The more problems you can solve with everything you touch, the more you increase your value. You will end up earning more money, and people will want you to be a part of the team.
With that said, you need to be careful about not making problems that don't exist — or making every issue into a significant problem. That could end up increasing your stress level, and you might be spending too much energy on something that is not a big deal.
Don't Over Stress
Do what you can to do your best work, but don't let stress and anxiety take over your life.
Most things aren't as big as they seem at first. When you think through these problems, you might realize they are not as crucial as they appear. You may even find them easy to fix.
Working as a remote employee is a huge benefit, and this is becoming more common as technology improves. I'm learning most of the problems I encounter come from my mindset and not letting my anxiety take over my thoughts.