According to Gallup, 43% of American employees worked remotely in some capacity in 2016 - up from 39% in 2012. As knowledge work moves to the cloud, the age-old mandate to always be physically near colleagues is becoming antiquated.
When Brant and Erin founded Slide UX in 2012, they saw the advantages of remote work:
It demanded less personal time from employees as commute times multiplied in their fast-growing HQ city, Austin.
It allowed teammates to focus in comfort vs. struggle in the too-cold, too-hot, too-loud, or too-quiet open floorplans that mark today’s tech offices.
Perhaps most importantly, it’d help them maintain balance between the work they loved and their personal time with family — a founding principle that remains strongly entrenched here at Slide UX today. In fact, Erin talks more about why we love remote work in this blog post from 2014.
The technology supporting the distributed workforce has progressed at a breakneck pace. Still, remote work has its challenges – and every Slider has learned a thing or two over the years. If you’re considering remote work (or looking to make your situation more effective), here are Sliders’ tips for successful remote work.
Create the proper physical and mental workspace.
The right workspace makes all the difference. Whether it's investing in a reliable Internet connection or a real chair, converting some of your personal space to a productive cocoon is huge. A majority of your waking day will be spent in the space you create.
Not only is the physical environment important, but so is the mindset. Getting and staying focused on work is one concern that arises for first-timers and old pros. Senior Producer Hanna O'Brien shares, “While the temptation to explore the Internet does still exist, I've been able to control the impulse by browsing during short breaks I take in the day. I've also installed a few apps like Self Control and RescueTime. These two help by preventing me from going to certain websites for a specified duration, and also to show me where I'm 'wasting' my time during the day.”
Take the extra step to communicate with your teammates.
Every conversation between teammates, whether big or small, builds trust and rapport. With less face-to-face time, remote workers must consciously exert the effort to form those connections with their teammates. Sam Meazell, UX Researcher, says, “Slack is the savior. When I started, I couldn't understand how these people had the time to find that hilariously perfect giphy. Now I realize, it's our lifeline as we each sail solo.”
For project and business communications, Creative Director Chad Currie advises jumping on a call at the earliest sign something important is getting lost. One step further is screen-sharing with drawing tools. He explains, “Slack screen drawing has been a big boon. That said, I do take extra effort as a remote worker to write up detailed briefs with lots of bullets and sub-bullets.”
Set up a routine to keep work and home separate.
When you can walk five feet to your work desk, Sliders stress the importance of having some sort of schedule. “While you may not know yet what will or won’t work for you, try a routine you are familiar with to start,” says Cat Battson, Senior Producer and UI Designer. “If you always got a cup of coffee and read emails when you worked at an outside job, keep that up. Then at the end of the day, turn off your computer, and 'leave' the office until the next day, meaning no checking work stuff after hours.”
Other physical cues can help your brain focus on when it's time to work or not like creating a to-do list or not answering the first email until you're ready to work. For UX Researcher Megan Baker, her computer stays on her office desk at all times. Unless she needs to make up time, Megan makes it a point to rarely use her computer during the evenings or weekends for work-related items.
Don't forget the outside world exists.
The beauty of remote work is no daily commute. The ugly side? You can go days without leaving the house if you let yourself. Sliders recommend taking breaks to walk outside or prioritizing social activities to get out of the home bubble.
Chad says scheduling repeated face-to-face breakfasts or lunches with team members, friends, or close professional contacts is beneficial. Repetition is important to remove any friction of negotiating and scheduling every time. He says, “If you orchestrate it right, you'll have some face time to look forward to almost every week. I almost always leave those meetings with some new point of view or inspiration I wouldn't get from [online] chat.”
Some employees have natural breaks when their families return home from work or school. If you live alone or you don’t socialize much with your roommates, it’s extra important to find social outlets to keep you connected to real people when you’re not on the clock. Consider social, fitness, hobby, or professional organizations that give you a reason to head out.
Be honest with what works for you.
It is important to remember remote work won't make sense for every job or organization, and the transition won't happen overnight. “Be self-aware and honest about what works for you,” says Creative Director Jeff Battson. “It can take some trial and error to get your flow dialed in. Once you’ve identified the things that work stick to them but also always be on the lookout for ways to improve.”
Associate UX Designer Darvinder Singh Kochhar highlights the importance of being with a company who can support you through challenges. He shares, “Be open to the challenges and changes you will need to go through. Choose your employer carefully. The right manager can guide you through the process and help you overcome challenges since they have gone through the same thing.”
Remote work can seem like a big change for first timers, but the best companies will equip remote workers to be engaged with both their work and teammates. Technology and company culture both enable more flexibility than ever before, so consider these tips and make the most of it!