Remote Work and Staying SaneBy Audrey Walker

It’s been nearly two years since I made the move from a 9-5 office job to a career where I can work from home.

The benefits are awesome.

Being able to do my work from coffee shops – or virtually anywhere – running an errand in the middle of the day, and saving time by getting rid of my commute are just some of the perks of having a remote work arrangement.

Gini Dietrich and her team have experienced some of the same benefits since they shifted to remote work back in 2011.

Remote Work isn’t Always Easy

But as the saying goes, “The grass is always greener…”

There’s a flipside to remote work. Often, the reaction I get from people when I tell them I work from home is, “How do you not just go do other things instead of work? There are so many distractions!”

I’ve always been pretty self-disciplined, so it hasn’t been much of an issue for me. The biggest change for me was not being around people. The lack of socializing in a physical office, and not having someone around to keep you focused, can make you a little crazy sometimes.

Here are some of my survival tips for staying sane while doing the remote work thing.

Follow a Routine

Let’s face it, for those of us who spend a majority of our time working on a computer, distractions are right at our finger tips. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, online shopping, fantasy football, and so on, are all time sucks that can easily get you side tracked and away from the tasks at hand.

You’re working from home, so be sure to add the TV, housework, and other family members to the list of things that can interrupt your workflow.

The solution is to have a daily routine and stick to it. It’s okay to block off time for social media or random internet surfing, but only allow yourself to do it for a certain amount of time.

Don’t revisit again until you’ve finished everything else on your task list.

This will help keep you focused, and your productivity level up.

You can use tools such as Rescue Time or Minutes Please to set limits on your site usage, and block those sites when your time is up.

Add in things such as showering, working out, and eating to your routine. Showering?!?

Yes, I actually have to tell myself to get up and shower every day before I start working. Otherwise, I’m usually so excited to start working, I go straight to it, get busy, and then realize at 5:00 p.m. I’m still wearing my purple sweatpants!

Obviously part of the benefit of doing remote work is the flexibility, so it’s okay to deviate from your daily routine every once and awhile.

Just make sure that if you take time out for something not in the routine, you find another block of time in your day to replace it.

Make Sure to Move!

This is a big one for me. I often get so into what I’m doing that I forget to get up and move!

My body is definitely going to hate me some day, and I’m already feeling the consequences with cold mouse hand.

I’ve added taking my dog for a long walk, and doing a 10 minute fat blasting workout DVD in the middle of my day to my routine. It not only helps break up the day and prevent cold mouse hand, but it gives me that extra energy kick when my mind starts to go.

It also helps when you have an “assistant” that makes sure you never sit still for too long (see photo above).

Have a Designated Office Space

Something that’s helped me with the distractions of working from home is having office space separate from the living space in my house.

When I work from the couch or bed, it’s easy to get distracted, and not be as motivated.

But when I head to my office, I know it’s the place where stuff gets done.

Having a separate office space will also help with your work/life balance. The two can easily blend together when you’re doing them both from the same place.

Get Out of The House

My biggest pain point of working from home is the lack of social activity.

When I say social activity, I mean IRL – REAL LIFE social interaction.

I can tweet, Skype, text, etc. all day long, but it doesn’t fill the void of being around actual people.

I can also go days without actually leaving my house – sometimes I feel like I’m Nell.

To fix this, I work at different coffee shops, the library, and co-working spots. I’ll meet up with friends who also work remotely.

This often results in some creative brainstorming sessions, and I walk away with new ideas and a refreshed view.

I know several remote working friends who pay for a desk at co-working spots a few days a week to make sure to fit in social interaction.

Maintain Company Culture

This one only makes sense if you have actual coworkers. If you’re a company of one, ignore this section.

One thing you lose when working remotely is the camaraderie of an office.

Make sure everyone stays connected and feels like they’re part of a team. Communication is key – we actually use our own software (double bonus) to keep everyone on the same page, and we Skype on a regular basis.

Use project management software such as Basecamp to both keep track of projects, and also up to date on what everyone is doing while they’re doing remote work.

We use technology to be creative and do fun things as a team, even if we aren’t always in the same zip code.

Gini and her team use the Jawbone UP to see who is walking around the most, making a contest out of something that is healthy and needed.

My team holds virtual Friday happy hours using Google Hangouts. We chat about mostly non-work things — sports, family, and everyone’s drink of choice.

Remote Work and Staying Sane

Remote work is only a drag if you let it be a drag.

I hope my list of tips will help bring some sanity to your virtual office, as it has to mine.

I’d love to hear additional advice and thoughts from those in remote work situations – about how you stay motivated, social, and maintain a work/life balance all while working from home.

Audrey Walker

Audrey Walker is the director of marketing for ShiftNote, makers of online employee scheduling software and management communication tools for the restaurant and hospitality industry. She’s also a Michigan State grad, professional traveler, co-founder of Drink Michigan, and a euchre dominator.

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