Not too long ago, working remotely seemed like an exotic, exception-to-the-rule idea. Today, that's no longer the case. Since 2005, the amount of non-self-employed individuals working from home has grown by a whopping 140 percent. And with communication tools like Slack and cloud-based productivity software like Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite becoming increasingly popular, these numbers are only going to increase.
It makes sense. When successful, remote working is dually beneficial for the employer and the employee. From the side of the employer, a remote workforce cuts down on operating costs and widens the pool from which they can select talent. From the employee's point of view, there are the obvious benefits of working from the comfort of one's own home, and a commute that consists of walking from the kitchen to the computer.
But, like all good things, there are also drawbacks. With risks such as decreased productivity, to ergonomic pitfalls, to solitary ennui, it takes finesse to get the working remote thing right for all parties involved. Let's take a moment to go over some tips that will lead to a happy and effective experience of working from home.
Master Your Software, Stay Active Online, and Be Hyperpunctual
When you work from home, you can't afford to be a novice at the software you're using, especially when it comes to programs related to your core job functions. Chances are, you at least log into either G Suite, Office 365, Office Standard — or any combination of these — every day. Learn to use these tools to their highest potential. Working from home is all about maintaining your ability to collaborate effectively with folks in the office as well as other remote employees.
In addition to productivity tools such as these, if your nonprofit uses a work management tool such as Asana or Wrike, be sure that you are comfortable performing all the tasks you need to do in the program. And if you're not, either ask a co-worker, take an online course, or watch educational videos on YouTube. While it's always important to be able to use software effectively at work, it becomes a sink-or-swim situation when you are on your own and rarely interacting with people in person.
To this point, it's also crucial to remain active online during your work hours. If you use a communication tool like Slack or another type of messenger, be diligent about responding to requests right away, even if it's a simple "hey, can't talk right now." People in the office can't see that you are head down in a project, and you don't want to get the reputation that you are difficult to reach. It's not just about bad optics, either. Working from home has lots of benefits, but it also has a different set of responsibilities, which includes an increased commitment to being available to your team when they need you.
Which brings us to our last point: Become maniacally punctual as a remote worker. For whatever reason, being two minutes late to a conference call just feels longer than being two minutes late to an in-person meeting. Always do everything in your power to stick to meeting times and deadlines. If you know you will be unavailable for a certain chunk of the day, alert everyone early so that they can plan around your absence.
Optimize Your Workspace
While everyone might have different working styles, if you are a full-time employee operating from home, it's a good idea to designate a specific workspace in your house or apartment. Of course, it's always fine to do some light tasks from the kitchen or out on the porch if it's sunny. But choosing a place to go to really get things done is important for deeper concentration. It also helps create a more defined work-life balance. If your entire home is a "workplace," it's easy to feel like you're always at work. Even if you live in a studio apartment, carve out a corner of the room as an office. It makes a difference.
But perhaps the most pressing reason to identify a specific workspace has to do with ergonomics. Generally, office spaces provide comfortable chairs and a working environment that's mindful of the health dangers associated with sitting for long periods of time at a computer. But there's no HR department at your house, and unless you take it upon yourself to secure a comfortable chair, optimal lighting, and perhaps even a standing desk, it's easy to end up sitting for hours on a big droopy couch or an old folding chair in the kitchen. This can spell disaster in the form of back problems, repetitive stress injuries, and more.
Take the time to make a nice place for yourself to work. It pays off, and honestly, it just makes the day a bit more pleasant.
It's important to take good care of yourself when you work remotely. An office environment, while it has its ups and downs, is ultimately a critical social nexus in your life. Working with others forces you to dress at least halfway decently, walk outside to get coffee from time to time, and, perhaps most importantly, talk to other human beings. Working from home is ultimately a solitary pursuit, and that means it's on you to build in some lunch breaks with other people that work remotely, or at the very least, just go outside a few times a day. Another pro tip is to actually dress like you're going to work. It seems silly, but it adds a certain gravitas you don't feel when you're wearing sweatpants.
Also, be sure to discuss things with your co-workers online that aren't work-related. Don't overdo it to the point where it's distracting or taking the place of things you should be doing, but sharing photos of your dog, asking how their garden is doing this year, or even just sharing a funny YouTube video will help you feel connected to your nonprofit, no matter how far you away you are.
Lastly, and although this might go against the argument for designating a workspace at home, see if you can get some work done in a coffee shop or library from time to time. Depending on your personality, a periodic change of scenery might be a positive thing and solve the problem of accidentally becoming a hermit. But be honest with yourself about your productivity level in these scenarios. Just because it's more fun, it might not be the best thing to do from a work perspective.
Additional Resources: Working Remotely
- Get some tips for Office 365 collaboration.
- Learn How Zoom Can Improve Collaboration at Your Nonprofit.
- Become effective at managing documents in the cloud.
- Meet up with other nonprofit tech workers in your area through NetSquared.