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While a lucky few have never known the drudgery of office life, many of us spent years at a 9 – 5, packed in with hordes of people on the subway in rush hour or sitting in traffic for hours every day.
Transitioning into a work-from-home role, then, can feel like a dream true. You get to ditch the commute and enjoy working from your home office or a cozy cafe.
But once you start working from home, you realize this remote setup poses its own challenges. You’re completely accountable for managing your time, for example, as well as for finding an environment where you can be productive and get stuff done.
How to be a successful remote employee: 9 skills to cultivate
Whether you’ve already made the switch to remote work or are considering whether it’s right for you, here are nine essential skills you’ll need to develop to be a successful remote employee.
1. The ability to avoid distractions
One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is shutting out distractions. To be a successful remote employee, you have to be able to focus in on your work, despite the temptations of Netflix or “procrasti-cleaning.”
At the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself if focusing in and being productive is a challenge — it’s hard for everyone! There are days you’ll feel like you’re crushing your to-do list, and others where you feel like you can’t even think about work.
What can help is coming up with systems that work for you, whether that means carving out specific chunks of your day to work and take breaks or using anti-procrastination apps to help you concentrate.
As with any ability, you can grow and get better at avoiding distractions and beating procrastination. So identify the habits and routines that work for you, and try your best to hone this skill for work-from-home success.
2. Self-awareness about when you work best
Some of us are morning people; others are night owls. Although you might have deadlines, working from home often means you have the flexibility to set your own schedule.
So think about when you work best, and when you need to take breaks. Experiment with different routines until you find one that works for you.
If you’re juggling a bunch of clients, use a calendar to track your deadlines and time off. That way, if you get additional requests, you can communicate your availability right away.
And remember to draw a line when the workday ends, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly plugged in to assignments and deadlines. You may no longer have a commute, but it’s still important to have some mental distance between your job and your personal life.
3. Accountability to your clients or team
Even though you might never meet your clients or team in person, you’ll have to be accountable to them. Whether you’re a writer meeting deadlines, a developer designing apps, or a project manager leading a team, it’s up to you to stay on task and deliver what you said you would.
Fortunately, a lot of remote companies develop a close-knit company culture, even though their team members are scattered across the world. With this sense of teamwork and collaboration, it’s easier to feel connected with your colleagues.
But even if you don’t have that strong company culture or are a freelancer, you’ll need to develop a strong sense of accountability, reliability, and responsiveness to be a successful remote employee.
When you don’t work in the same place as your colleagues, sometimes it pays to over-communicate. Hop on Slack, sign into Google Hangouts, open up Zoom, or use whatever other communication tools your team relies on to stay connected.
If you’re working an odd schedule, let your team know when you’ll be available and when you won’t be. Even in a remote work situation, collaboration and teamwork are often important, so take time to reach out to your colleagues and make your presence known.
And if you do need extra time for a deadline or assignment, make your request in advance so you don’t have to worry about your boss thinking you disappeared.
5. Enthusiasm and curiosity
Whatever your role, you’ll be a more successful remote employee if you approach it with enthusiasm and curiosity. Express your interest, ask questions, and take initiative when you can.
Maybe you can dedicate time during to brainstorming new ideas or proposing out-of-the-box projects. Working from home gives you the chance to mix up your routines and get a fresh perspective, so take advantage of this freedom by following your curiosities and seeing where they take you.
And if you’re a freelancer, this enthusiasm is sure to help you impress clients, who will want to keep coming back for your positive energy and optimistic attitude.
6. Strong sense of organization
As you can tell, working remotely requires you to be independent and self-directed. Besides developing systems to track your schedule and manage your workload, it’s also helpful to stay organized in your workspace.
Even though you might be tempted to work from your bed or couch, this setup probably won’t help you be a successful remote employee for long. Instead, try setting up a space in your home that’s specifically designated for work.
Ideally, you have your own room with a door and can shut out distractions. This home office will put you in a work mindset, as well as establish a boundary between your work time and home life.
Staying organized will also help you get in the right frame of mind to be productive. By bringing order to your external space, you can cultivate a greater sense of inner calm and focus.
7. Proactive approach to gathering the right tools and equipment
Along with setting up an organized workspace, it can be helpful to gather the right tools and materials to be successful in your job. When you work from home, you have the freedom (and added responsibility) to choose your own home office design and equipment.
Set up a desk, gather any office supplies, and design a workspace that helps you focus. It can also help to invest in ergonomic home office equipment, such as standing desk and external monitor, if you’re going to be spending lots of time on the computer.
8. Dedication to continuous learning
Since working from home often helps you be more productive (and of course, say goodbye to your commute), you might feel like new pockets of time have suddenly opened up in your week. Consider taking advantage of this extra time to invest in yourself and your education.
Look for ways to enhance your knowledge in your field, network with colleagues, find a mentor, or take courses to improve your skills. Learn about new apps or technologies that could help streamline your work processes.
By investing in yourself, you’ll be an even more successful remote employee or freelancer. Plus, you’ll have even more to bring to the table next time you want to book a client or interview for a new job.
9. Commitment to your health
You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking, as all this sitting around on computers is seriously bad for our health. But when you work from home, ideally you can take mid-day breaks to go for walks, head to the gym, take a yoga class, or engage in whatever exercise you like.
Plus, instead of running to Starbucks during your lunch break, you can take time to meal prep or cook healthy options in your kitchen (or the kitchen of your coworking space). When you work from home, you have greater agency over your choices, so take advantage of this freedom to be intentional about caring for your physical and mental health.
Successful remote employees make the most of their freedom
Working from home has both great perks and unique challenges. On one hand, you have the freedom to design your schedule and workspace without a boss looking over your shoulder. But on the other, you have the added challenge of finding systems and routines that help you be productive (and not spend the day on the couch watching the Food Network).
One of the keys to being a successful remote employee is enjoying this freedom, rather than being overwhelmed by it. It’s totally natural to feel overwhelmed or disappointed at times, but hopefully your satisfaction over getting to direct your own work-life surpasses that.
And as with anything else, you can get better at working in a remote situation over time. So be patient with yourself as you experiment with your schedule and habits, and remember to enjoy the journey along the way.