Be A Telecommuting Hero With Our 39 Golden Rules. Do You Work From Home In A Global Team? Ensure You Deliver Results, Drive Your Career & Be Successful
Working from home may seem strange at first. So many people have told me “oooh I could never work from home, I would miss the social contact”. But when you try it, you will realize that it is completely awesome and liberating. But it will only be great if you do it the right way.
I have compiled my 39 tips over my 13 years of experience of remote working, leading teams and growing my career in management. I hope they help you because ultimately as a professional knowledge worker, working from home is the future, great for the environment and great for you.
There are 3 key areas you will need to focus on to continue to be successful in your career, business, and personal life when working from home:
- Being Awesome As A Remote Worker
- Develop Great Working Habits
- Creating A Kick-Ass Working Space
Section 1: Being An Awesome Remote Worker
Be Crystal Clear On Goals
When working from home it is even more important to be crystal clear on your goals. Many low-grade managers typically want to micro-manage their staff and dish out small tasks one by one. When you are remote to your manager the only way of working is to understand your goals clearly.
- Know the outcome: Increased sales, better customer satisfaction rating, new products developed.
- Measure the outcome: 10% increase in sales, 2-point shift on customer satisfaction, 3 new products developed
- Know the timeline: 10% increase in sales in 6 months, 2 points on customer satisfaction in 12 months, 1 new product every 3 months.
Now that you are clear on your goals you need to keep your boss and team updated on the goals. If you feel you need support to achieve the goals, ask for support, from your manager or even your team.
Deliver On Your Goals
If you are going to be trusted to work from home and even be considered for promotions and career development, you have to be clear on your goals and deliver those outcomes.
In my experience of Silicon Valley corporations, you are only able to work from home if you are senior enough, professional enough and deliver on your targets. Most corporations do not care whether you work from home or in the office. If you are the one that delivers results you can literally work where the hell you like.
And if you deliver the results, you are usually going places.
Deliver On Your Goals The Right Way
It is not enough to simply deliver on your goals. If you hit your targets and are disrespectful, inconsiderate or in any way intolerant of others, this will damage your career.
- You need to be patient and consider other people’s viewpoints and situation.
- Never ever cross the line by being too intimate, personal or discriminating in any way
- Never be rude
- Never ever, ever RAISE YOUR VOICE
This translates into “do not be a dick”.
[Related Article: The Pros & Cons Of Telecommuting]
Build Trust With Your Manager & Team
If you are the type of person that starts fires rather than helps put them out, you will have problems. Ultimately, all but the most egotistical of people want to have a good working environment where everyone gets along.
Build a good relationship with your manager by being the “safe pair of hands”. That means you are the one that does not drop the ball on an important task or deliverable. If you communicate enough with your manager, you will understand the state of the business and also understand their goals.
Additionally, with any good working relationship, you will understand how they tick, meaning how they operate and like to do business. The more in-tune you are with your boss the more you will be empowered to make important decisions without consulting them. You build trust by ensuring that when an important decision needs to be made and you are not 100% sure of the right decision, then you call your boss and discuss it to clarify the point. Don’t just ask what to do, simply state the problem and what decision you think is the right one, if they agree or tweak it a little you build a bond of a trusted team member.
Organize Regular One On One Meetings With Your Boss
If your boss has not already done it, ensure you have a regular one on one meeting to sync up on goals, targets, and progress. It is a valuable opportunity to get feedback on your performance and support for areas of difficulty. Regular valuable communication is the key. Do not meet if you have nothing to say, meet for a purpose.
Be Super Prepared For One On One Meetings
If you really want to impress, be ready for meetings with your manager. The best situation is to have a notebook on your desk, or an excel spreadsheet always open so that you can note down topics as they arise during your working week that you need to discuss with your boss. Topics will include things like new business ideas, new staffing, updates on critical meetings, difficult customers, new business wins and inputs on important decisions.
If you do not develop the habit of capturing them when they occur, then you will forget them by the time your one to one meeting happens.
So, when the one to one meeting happens, it is 5 minutes of “Hi how are you, how are the family” and then 25 minutes of powering through 10 different topics. No time wasted and maximum results. Your boss will love you for that.
I ran a high-performance team for many years and had a one to one meeting for 30 minutes with each of my 35 staff every 2 weeks. I had an excel sheet tab for every person where I noted my topics for them and their topics and actions for me. I was super organized and was able to deliver what I needed to, to help them be successful. But what I loved the most was when someone was really organized and maximized the value of my time, that made me respect them even more.
[Related Article: One On One Meetings That Inspire]
Be Available In Your Instant Messaging System
When you are in the office, everyone can see you sitting there. When you are at home, the only thing people can see is if you are available on the instant messaging system. So, make sure your status is green and available. If you are in the office and someone wants to know “where do I find the latest powerpoint on this topic” they will simply ask you. It is the same for instant messaging, be available and respond.
Be Available To Call And Call People Often
Nothing wastes more time than someone sending you an email to arrange a good time for you to be able to answer a few questions. It might take you 6 hours to finally see that email and then you need to go to your calendar and give them a time to talk.
If you need to talk, talk. Call people, make it quick and let them hear your voice. It enables you to build a rapport and get things done. Don’t simply be another item in their inbox be a human being.
Attend Team Meetings & Speak Up
As a telecommuter, it is easy to sit inside the four walls of your office and say nothing in a team meeting, but over time you will be slowly forgotten. To be successful you need to do the exact opposite. If your manager is good they will usually make time for a team round-table to enable everyone to share their progress and updates to the team.
Be ready for the team meeting, have at least one topic to raise on the round-table and be a speaker regularly on the fixed agenda. This does not mean speaking just for the hell of it, make it meaningful and value adding, and you are on the right path.
It took me a while to work this out and I learned this from my staff in our year-end performance reviews. When I asked for 360-degree feedback about myself and my performance, many people said that I was such a great communicator. When I probed further, they meant I spoke at a steady rhythm and that I spoke very clearly and pronounced.
This is an important skill I stumbled upon. You see I am English, in fact from a place in middle England called Warwickshire. In this part of the U.K., we do not have a strong regional accent, in fact, it is a relatively posh accent.
This means that when I spoke on Skype or in video conferences every nationality had a chance of understanding me. In fact, I always take the effort to spell out clearly important points.
If your team are non-native English speakers, you really need to take your time and be clear when you are talking.
Speak With A Smile On Your Face
When I was 17 years old at college I landed a tough summer job. I was being paid to go door to door trying to sell double glazing windows. In the late 1980s double glazed windows were like the electric car in terms of innovation…yes it is sad.
Suffice to say, the people who answered their door to a snot-faced, pimply teenager who was trying to sell them windows where not the most polite people. It was a miserable job, but what I did learn was to put a big smile on my face at the beginning of any interaction. A big smile and a firm, energetic and friendly voice make for a great remote office worker. Do this with every one of your co-workers and you will do just fine, it could be worse you could be trying to sell them double glazing.
The best compliment you will ever get from a British person is they will say you are a “good laugh”. The British love humor, that does not mean they are all funny, it just means that even trying gets you bonus points.
Inject a little humor into your interactions with people and they will warm to you. I do not mean telling jokes, just trying to see the lighter side of life.
When I want to get an important point across I always use a visual. A visual is a graphical representation of the key points you are trying to make.
Important points warrant pulling up a PowerPoint presentation. But in team meetings, it is simply worth sharing the meeting agenda and minutes so that the audience can see (even if they join late grrr) what the topic is and who the actions belong to.
The visual side of the brain is a lot more receptive than the audio receptors. As they say “a picture paints a thousand words” and this is as true in remote team meetings as it is in an art exhibition.
Push For A Face To Face Team Meeting
If you have never met your team in person it is worth asking in a team meeting if getting together is possible. While working from home is a luxury and it can be done effectively, it is no replacement for getting together in a face to face meeting.
For me, it can be as simple as having a coffee and a chat with someone. But in reality, good relationships are formed on a team night out. A few glasses of wine to loosen everyone up and tell some stories and listen to other’s stories, the time flies by.
Do Not Ramble On About Nothing
The number of times I have joined a conference call and a few people on the call have wasted the first 10 minutes talking about the commute to work, their dog is sick or something nonsensical. No one cares, and if you are on a call with 20 other people and you waste 10 minutes of 20 peoples time you have wasted 200 minutes of human life, those 200 minutes could have been used on sitting in traffic or caring for their sick pets.
Perhaps I am a little impatient on this because I have literally spent thousands of hours of my life on conference calls.
Section 2: Develop Great Personal Working Habits
Establish Do Not Disturb Rules
It is easy, if not completely natural for your family members to think that because you are in the room upstairs that they can come and talk to you whenever they want. The fact is that when you are at work, in the office or at home you need time to get in the zone. In the “zone” means you have entered that state of optimal creativity and productivity. You are churning out the work and you are having creative ideas. You may even simply be in conference calls.
Explain patiently to your family that when the office door is closed it means do not disturb. And if they must disturb, they should knock quietly so as not to be heard on your conference call.
A lock on the door is also a serious bonus, so when they forget they do not just burst in shouting “Dad what you want for dinner” when you are presenting on an all-employee meeting conference call… err did that really happen to me…maybe.
Establish working hours
I worked for many years leading a global team of people from Costa Rica and the USA to Australia and everywhere in between, so what do working hours really mean, when your team is scattered around the globe. Well, it means striking the balance of what best meets the needs of your team and your own needs to meet your goals.
I for example scheduled my Australia meetings at 8 am Central European Time and my USA meetings from 2 pm through 6 pm. My European meetings occurred mid-morning to mid-afternoon. You have to be strategic about it.
Also, one of the great things about working from home is no commute time. That means you can save from one to two hours per day of your life. The problem is you inevitably spend that saved time by working more. I worked too many hours in the day, in fact, I could not even report my hours in the system because Germany has legal requirements on maximum hours of work and if I reported them I would have been breaking the law. So, I worked around it by taking unofficial time off when I needed to.
What is my point? You should try to create a normal working regime where you start and finish at a specific time and don’t do emails on your phone in bed while ignoring your partner you loser.
Do Not Burn Yourself Out
I remember starting out in the corporate world and seeing my manager or work co-workers still at the office late in the evening. I saw those very same people ending up in divorce or complaining that their children that did not even know them anymore. Why, because they gave too much.
I always swore to myself not to be that person who loses their family because of work. But believe it or not, it is a trap that anyone can fall in to.
The problem with doing a good job is that you get more work and more responsibility.
Why is that a problem? Well if you are like I am, you enjoy it and take on more work, then at some point you are working long hours and you might feel the weight of the world is on your shoulders.
But you want to keep your track record of high performance, so you keep on hammering away taking more work and sacrificing your personal time.
Eventually, you have people relying on you and so much work that you become overwhelmed, then you may face burnout. Do not let that happen to you. I came close a few times, too close for comfort. If you have a very pressured work life, try reading this article on managing a crisis with integrity.
Take Breaks / Move Around
There are two types of worker.
- Type 1: Breakers – Sensible people who will work for 30 minutes and take a quick break, have a chat and restart work fresh.
- Type 2: Immersers – People who when immersed in the “zone” are so deep that they can hold their attention span for hours to completely nail a topic.
I am a type 2. The problem with type 2 Immersers is that while it is really rewarding and super creative to find that intellectual depth to a topic, it can be very negative physically.
If you have ever stood up after 2 hours of immersion and you feel like your feet are tight in your shoes or your bones ache, it means you are too focused. Take more breaks people.
If you wear a fitness tracker watch or use your phone to track your steps, you know your goal is usually 10,000 steps for the day then you are successful. That is great for normal humans, most people can actually achieve that without thinking.
You get up, make breakfast, walk to your car, drive to work, walk around the office walk to lunch, walk to meetings slowly but surely you can with a little effort get to 10,000 steps.
As a telecommuter, this is not the case. You take 50 steps you are at the office, you do not walk to meetings, a big expedition for you it to walk to the coffee machine in your kitchen.
This is a serious problem.
10,000 steps is not a target for fit people, it is the target for a human being not to rust up their joints.
If you telecommute you need to exercise. But the joy of it is that whenever you have a gap in your agenda you can jump into your shorts and go for a run for 30 minutes. Do 45 minutes jogging and you will hit 10,000 steps.
Need to clear your head go for a long walk, take your next meeting on skype on your phone with a Bluetooth headset whilst walking in the forest. It is all possible, technology is your friend.
Block Your Calendar For Important Personal Events
Because you are remote working people assume that you are available through the working day, even if they are in a different time-zone. You need to block out our calendar for important personal events.
What is important?
Well if you have children it is being there to cook and have dinner with them in the evening. If you have a pet, then walking the dog. What is important is up to you, the main thing is to get ahead of the game. It happened so often to me that I have team meeting running in the afternoon and it is my kids’ birthday party hmmm… cancel the meeting.
Get birthdays and other critical family events in the calendar ahead of time.
Be Flexible & Optimize Your Time Outside The House.
I have seen advice on the internet of people working from home and saying when you make an appointment to visit the doctor do it like a regular person and arrange the appointment after working hours. Frankly, I have never heard anything so crazy.
One of the great benefits of working from home is that you can also do everything outside the house at off-peak Times:
- Visiting the doctor with your child at 11 am means a 15 minute waiting time – at 5 pm this is 90 minutes
- Go Food Shopping at 10 am there is no queue, this means a 20-minute excursion – at 6 pm with long queues and crowds, it is 1 hour.
Literally, all appointments during the week are so efficient during working hours you can save months of wasted time which you can make up earlier or later in the day.
Be Super Productive In The Morning
Just because you work from home does not mean you should lounge around in bed until 8.55am and the report into work at 9 am in your pajamas having brushed your teeth with a cup of tea.
Be serious about your work ethic and it will pay off. For example, you can see the kids off to school in the morning and still start work at 7:30 am. Others are still slogging their heart out on the highway trying to get to work for 9 am and you have already hammered out 90 minutes of work. By 15:30 your day is done already, and you do not even need to drive home. You could, of course, take a few hours out during the day to mow the lawn and run personal errands and still clock off at 5:30 pm to welcome the wife back home with a glass of Pino Grigio.
Get out of bed late and it is all wasted.
Do Not Work Just Before Bedtime
Because your office is 10 steps away, it is tempting to work all the hours’ god sends. One of the downsides is working into the dark hours. According to the Sleep Foundation, you need to have at least 30 minutes or more break from the computer screen before you go to be to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Section 3: Invest In Your Home Office Setup
Create A Separate Working Space
For exactly this reason.
Source: Ray Wenderlich
Ideally, you should have a part of the house that is separated with a door and the door is lockable. In “Big Corp” and working across organizations and functions 99% of people do not know you work from home. The fact is home workers are considered less serious than those who drive into an office. So, there is no reason to broadcast the fact that you work from home. In fact, don’t talk about it, just get the job done. A dog barking or your child screaming gives the game away and you will not be taken seriously after that.
Make sure you have a private room, we all know the phenomena, on a conference call and someone is working from home in the kitchen where you can hear a crying baby or the wail of police sirens. To maintain the air of professionalism whilst in meetings you need a quiet private room with no disruptions.
Make Your Office Nice
The fact is you will be spending on average 1,976 hours per year in your home office, that is the same time you spend in bed or even in the rest of your house or outside world. Make it nice, make it a place you want to go, not a dingy corner under the stairs.
Must haves are natural light & fresh air, this an is an important part of life and your work environment. Locking yourself up in your cellar or in the tiny back room with no windows is the quick road to depression.
It is more important to have light and air than a lot of space. You do not need to take over the biggest room in the house as you are mostly looking at the screen, but having enough space to walk around a little is recommended.
Put a plant in the room and pictures on the wall but not in view of the webcam.
Use Natural Light
If the sun shines let it in. Unless you have no other choice do not choose your cellar as an office. Plenty of natural light will make you feel good during the day and you will feel at one with the world. My office for many years was on the top floor of my house, with huge skylight windows. This was amazing during spring, autumn and winter. But at the peak of summer, it really got hot, but it was worth it for the sunshine…oooh yeah. In summer it was so hot in my office I was forced to present at our all-employee meetings conference calls in my underwear, thank god it was not with video. Sorry everyone 🙂
Use Ambient Lighting
Perhaps I am just fussy, but I literally detest the fluorescent lights installed in most offices, I find them soul destroying. In fact, I cannot stand a bright man-made lighting anywhere except for a sports arena. Ambient lighting can turn a horrible office into a cozy space of productivity and joy, tune your lights for a great place to work.
Get A Large Desk
Maybe it is just me, but when I see people working on a single laptop on a tiny desk I just think how is that efficient, productive or even comfortable.
Get a large desk with enough space for your equipment and for you to spread out with paper, pens and other office equipment.
Get A Great Chair
As mentioned previously you will be spending nearly 2,000 hours sitting on your butt in this room. How much did you spend on your bed, spend the same amount on an office chair and your back will thank you?
Use A Real Keyboard And Mouse
Now here is the thing, the image at the top of this post is alluring. A nice woman, sitting on her bed drinking coffee and working on her laptop. But the reality is, if you want to be effective and productive you seriously need a proper keyboard and mouse. Connect them via Bluetooth and you can hit maximum words per minute and not waste time.
Even more importantly, use a real mouse, not the touchpad on your laptop. There is literally nothing more effective than a mouse, not touchscreen and certainly not a trackpad.
Get A Wireless Headset With A Mute Button
Now to try and reduce the 2,000 hours per year you spend chained to your desk, you should invest in a wireless headset. As a remote worker, all of your conversations mean you are chained to your PC. With a wireless headset, you can get up and roam around your house and still have that conversation. It is better for your body and I found that when I am walking around and gesticulating when I talk my voice and presence is much more effective.
Need a coffee during a meeting, just get up, go to the kitchen, put yourself on mute and make the coffee. Super productivity people…
Get a Microphone
Tired of having a headset clamped to your head every day?
You can go one step further, get a decent quality studio desktop microphone, run the sound through your speakers and you can have all your conversations headset free.
This is actually how I do it most of the time unless it is a long meeting where I know I need to walk around the house, then I use the headset.
Multiple Monitors On Your PC
After such a long time working from home, it actually annoys me to go into the office. I love the office for the people and the face to face meetings, presentations, personal contact and having a laugh. So, when I go into the office I literally do not do anything but people stuff.
Because when you go into the office, the only productivity tool you have is your laptop, with its tiny screen and touchpad mouse. It is such a backward step I literally leave the computer work until I get back home. Even email bores me on such a device.
Because at home I have 3 huge monitors connected to my work machine. Even 2 screens are 5 times better than 1 screen. Most laptops can support multiple monitor setups, simply buy the extra screens and plug them in. Then you can have your email and Skype running on one screen and your Excel and PowerPoints running on another.
Combine that with a full-size keyboard and mouse and you have productivity heaven.
Get The Right Software
Microsoft Office is still the king of the corporate working world, I have created thousands of PowerPoint presentations over the years and it certainly helps to get the message across visually. When it comes to Excel, you would not believe how even the largest companies in the world are still basically run on excel.
The integration of Skype, Outlook & Microsoft Exchange means you have simply the best way of scheduling meetings, managing your calendar and connecting to conference calls with a single click.
Use The Cloud
Whether you are at home or in the office, it is always beneficial to have your key working documents in the cloud. I use OneDrive with Microsoft Office 365, but Dropbox is also a great solution. Instant document backup and accessible from everywhere the cloud is your friend.
Get A Good Coffee Machine – But Not In Your Office
A big advantage of working from home is you can buy a good coffee machine and not have to suffer the pig swill they dish out for free in the office. Some Lavazza coffee beans and my Italian Krupps coffee machine makes me revel in the joy of life every single morning.
I have thought about putting a coffee machine on my desk in my office, but that would mean two things.
- I would drink way too much coffee
- I would literally never have a reason to leave my desk
Leave your coffee machine in the kitchen and make regular expeditions to hunt down your coffee like a true office based hunter-gatherer.
Remote Worker / Telecommuter Success Plan – Cheat Sheet PDF Download
Remote Worker / Telecommuter Success Plan – PDF Cheat Sheet Contents
Section 1: Being An Awesome Remote Worker
|Be Crystal Clear On Goals|
|Deliver On Your Goals|
|If you are going to be trusted to work from home and even be considered for promotions and career development, you have to be clear on your goals and deliver those outcomes.|
|Deliver On Your Goals The Right Way|
|Build Trust With Your Manager & Team|
|Organize Regular One On One Meetings With Your Boss||It is a valuable opportunity to get feedback on your performance and support for areas of difficulty.|
|Be Super Prepared For One On One Meetings|
|Be Available In Your Instant Messaging System||Make sure your status is green and available|
|Be Available To Call And Call People Often||If you need to talk, talk, don’t email. Call people, make it quick and let them hear your voice.|
|Attend Team Meetings & Speak Up|
|Speak With A Smile On Your Face|
|A big smile and a firm, energetic and friendly voice make for a great remote office worker.|
|Share A Little Humor|
|Inject a little humor into your interactions with people and they will warm to you.|
|Push For A Face To Face Team Meeting|
|While working from home is a luxury and it can be done effectively, it is no replacement for getting together in a face to face meeting.|
|Do Not Ramble On About Nothing||No one cares if your dog is sick, or a parcel never arrived, get to the point.|
Section 2: Develop Great Personal Working Habits
|Establish Do Not Disturb Rules|
|Establish working hours|
|Do Not Burn Yourself Out|
|Jogging, Nordic Walking, Walk the Dog|
|Block Your Calendar For Important Personal Events|
|Plan up front for birthdays, anniversaries, school runs|
|Optimize Your Time Outside The House.||Shopping, Doctors, anything, arrange at quiet times.|
|Be Super Productive In The Morning|
|You can save a lot of time in your day early in the morning, and free up the afternoon for errands or appointments|
|Do Not Work Just Before Bedtime||This can cause sleep disturbance|
Section 3: Invest In Your Home Office Setup
|Create A Separate Working Space|
|Make Your Office Nice|
|Get A Large Desk||Space for your equipment & technology|
|Get A Great Chair||For overall well-being and comfort|
|Use A Real Keyboard And Mouse||For Productivity|
|Get A Wireless Headset With A Mute Button||Encourages movement and maintains professionalism|
|Get a Microphone||Give your headset and ears a rest|
|Multiple Monitors On Your PC||Multiple Monitors Rock & Improve Productivity|
|Get The Right Software|
|Use The Cloud|
|Backups available anywhere|
|Get A Good Coffee Machine||But Not In Your Office|
Now it’s over to you, I hope you enjoyed the article, but did I miss any great tips? Let me know in the comments below.