When I last tried explaining what I do for a living to my grandma, she was completely baffled by the fact that I work from home. Trying to get her to understand that I still see my co-workers every day, thanks to technology, was a totally foreign concept for her. It was through this conversation that I was really struck by the fact that I’m part of the generation that has not yet, and may never hold a job that requires me to commute into an office.
When I started working remotely, I quickly found that it comes with a set of unique challenges.
I’m convinced that remote is the future of work. And you shouldn’t just take my word for it; there’s a rapidly growing body of knowledge and research that says employees and employers alike are embracing remote work. Companies like Buffer, Zapier, InVision, Gitlab, Stripe, and Automatic, to name a few, are prime examples of teams, alongside us here at Dribbble, that have opted to build fully distributed teams. And employees are asking for companies to adopt remote-centric policies! 99% percent—I’ll say that again—99% of respondents in Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work survey said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.
But all that said, when I started working remotely, I quickly found that it comes with a set of unique challenges. Thankfully, I’ve found them to be easily overcome, but if you’re thinking about taking a remote job, I believe it’s important that you ask yourself a few of these questions to assess whether or not it will be an environment that you can really enjoy and work successfully in.
1. Am I intrinsically motivated?
Remote work doesn’t necessarily mean working alone because technology still offers the opportunity to connect and collaborate virtually online. But, it does mean that you won’t be working in an office with a manager peering over your cubicle to see whether you’re busy.
For remote teams, the emphasis is on work-output and productivity, rather than hours put in at your desk or in front of your computer. Remote teams look for people that they can trust to get their work done without needing to be supervised all the time, and seek to hire people who are intrinsically motivated. If you need someone else to frequently monitor your progress and keep you on track and productive, remote might not be the best choice for you.
Remote teams look for people that they can trust to get their work done without needing to be supervised all the time.
If you find that you can work successfully in a more self-directed environment but miss the social atmosphere that an office provides, consider checking out a local co-working space or setting up a scheduled time to work from a coffee shop with some friends on a weekly basis.
My personal remote-work hack when it comes to combating loneliness or isolation is to never eat at your desk. Close your laptop and schedule a social activity over your lunch hour, or even just get out of the house for a walk around the block. Having a change of pace during your day can give you the extra energy boost you need to stay fresh and focused during your work hours!
2. Am I highly disciplined?
Working remotely generally means you’re able to set your own schedule which can require quite a lot of discipline. While this is a huge benefit, it can also be a bit of a double-edged sword. Not only can you choose your preferred workspace, you might also find yourself facing several tempting distractions—the laundry that needs to be folded, the fridge full of snacks just a few feet away, your TV and couch beckoning from the living room… the list is endless, and there’ll be no one to discourage you from being pulled away from work but yourself! This style of work calls for a high degree of discipline to ensure you get your work completed on a reasonable schedule.
This style of work calls for a high degree of discipline to ensure you get your work completed on a reasonable schedule.
However, discipline isn’t the only requirement to get your work done on a remote team. You also have to commit to enforcing your own personal work-life separation, and be disciplined about setting up boundaries too. A great way to find that balance is to create a dedicated office space within your home that is reserved just for work, that is as distraction-free as possible. This also helps to communicate with others in your household that when you’re in your office, you’re unavailable! I also encourage remote folks to try and set work hours for email and Slack notifications (especially on your phone!), so your personal time later in the day isn’t needlessly interrupted and you don’t get dragged back into your inbox. The struggle is real!
3. Do I have stellar communication skills?
Working remotely requires relying heavily on text-based communication tools like Slack to collaborate with your team. Being able to write strong documentation for projects or product process is also a skill you’ll likely need in a remote work environment—especially if your team or company is highly asynchronous or spread across multiple time zones.
Being able to communicate clearly in writing is a key remote work skill, as is being able to identify when it may be time to get on a video call rather than hashing things out over Slack.
Being able to communicate clearly and directly in writing is a key remote work skill—as is being able to identify when it may be time to get on a video call rather than hashing things out over Slack. Something I’ve come to realize during my years of full-time remote work is that text-based communication is inherently flawed; we lose the ability to judge body language and tone, and accurately interpreting nuanced situations becomes more challenging. While Slack is so great for giving us a central hub for communication, when it comes to complex situations or conversations, it may add to the confusion or make communication more laborious. In these circumstances, I highly recommend a quick video call because it’s usually much more efficient!
I know this may seem like a shortlist of questions, but ultimately, I believe that productivity in a remote work environment is a skill that can be learned, just like any other. These are by far the most crucial questions to consider prior to going remote.
If you do choose to make the leap to full-time remote work, just remember to give yourself grace and self-compassion during the transition period. It may take a few weeks of adjustment, and you should be prepared to experiment and go through some trial and error to get into a routine that works well for you. But in the end, I think you’ll find the freedom and flexibility that remote work offers far outweigh any potential challenges that it may initially present.