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The ultimate guide to remote working

The ultimate guide to remote working

image courtesy of mskelslevy 

PART I: WHAT IS REMOTE WORK?

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What is remote work?

Remote work applies to someone who works from anywhere other than a traditional office. It encompasses a variety of workers including freelancers, digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and remote employees.

It also applies to various situations; from an employee that spends only a few days working away from the office, to someone who never sets foot in a traditional workplace. A company might only employ remote workers, called a remote workforce, while another might offer flexibility to its employees regarding where they want to work and how often.

Remote workers have the possibility to work (almost) anywhere, but a study conducted by Buffer shows that 80% primarily work from home. Other options include coworking spaces, coffee shops, and libraries. The concept of ‘third space’ is also on the rise: a place, other than the office, and their primary workspace, where remote workers spend a considerable amount of time.

While the term ‘work from home’ solely applies to a worker that - yes, we know, obvious - works from home, the definition of remote work has also been applied to the terms telecommuting, telework, flex place, and mobile work.

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Is remote work the new normal?

Working remotely has been on the rise for over 10 years: the number of people who telework at least once a week has grown by 400% since 2010. Work flexibility, which includes remote work, will be the future of HR and recruiting, according to 72% of talent professionals surveyed by LinkedIn. And almost 70% of millennials would trade other benefits for flexible workplaces.

The aforementioned data was collected before the Coronavirus outbreak, so we expect these figures to grow exponentially this year as people were required to adapt to working from home. The University of Chicago identified that 37% of U.S. jobs can be entirely done remotely. While this pandemic might have made the transition to teleworking bumpy - to say the least - many have discovered its benefits. Almost 60% of the adults polled in the United States would like to continue to work remotely as much as possible, even once public health restrictions are lifted, according to a study conducted by Gallup at the beginning of April 2020.

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Benefits of remote work

Working remotely provides a range of benefits for both the employees and employers.

Increased productivity

A big advantage of remote work is the capacity to concentrate deeply on a task. Research shows that 77% of remote workers believe they are more productive when they work from home, and 76% would prefer to avoid the office entirely if they need to concentrate on a project. This 2015 study even found that remote workers at a Chinese travel agency were 13% more efficient than those working in the office.

Interruptions at work can cost you up to 6 hours a day. So if you have a job, or task, that requires a high level of concentration and problem solving, working remotely will save you time by restricting the number of interruptions you face in a workday.  


Increased job satisfaction

Flexibility in the workplace is becoming increasingly important to employees, making remote work attractive to both current employees and potential hires. According to a pool conducted by Buffer, the top 2 benefits of working remotely are the ability to have a flexible schedule (32%) and the flexibility to work from anywhere (26%). With each additional hour that people spent working remotely (up to 15 hours per week), job satisfaction increases. Research from the University of Michigan also showed a reduction in work-related stress. Consequently, reducing employee turnover by over 50 percent, as shown by a report from Standford University. 


Reduced costs for employees and employers

Reducing employee turnover lowers costs for employers as the average cost of onboarding a new employee is almost $4,000, according to Deloitte. It could also mean reducing the cost of real estate. With more and more people working remotely, companies will need less space to house their employees. In a paper published by Harvard Business School, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office estimated that they saved more than $38 million in 2015 by reducing their office space.

Employees and remote workers also save money by working remotely. By saving on gas, public transit, and daycare, people could save on average between $2,000 to $6,500 per year, according to Global Workplace Analytics. But be mindful of other costs remote work could incur.


No commute

Less time commuting means more time to spend with family and friends, work out, or develop new hobbies. Commuting to work by car and getting stuck in traffic costs the average American 54 hours per year, as shown by an analysis by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute conducted in 2019. Not having to commute came in third as in Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report, with 21% of people listing it as the biggest benefit to working remotely.


Better for the environment

No commute means reducing the use of petrol and diesel consuming vehicles on the roads. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle travel could be reduced by 51 million metric tons a year if everyone in the United States started working from home half of the time. Less traffic also means less wear and tear on the infrastructure, thus less energy required to maintain it. Additionally, company office spaces are also part of the 4th largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and with more people working remotely, less space is needed in offices. While on a smaller scale, remote work also encourages the digitalization of office needs, reducing the use of office supplies like paper and ink cartridges.


Increased safety and accessibility

The coronavirus pandemic has proven that offices can act as a breeding ground for communicable diseases. Even once this particular pandemic is over, people will be more willing to work remotely when they develop symptoms of influenza or other easily transmittable diseases.

Remote work also provides more career opportunities for people with disabilities. Certain needs can be difficult to fulfill in a traditional work environment: stair lifts, medical diets, reduced amount of noise or light, etc. Remote work gives people more control over their workplace to fit a variety of demands. With the retirement age constantly changing, remote work can help keep older generations in the workforce longer.

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Challenges of remote work

While an increasing number of solutions are being developed to tackle them, remote work comes with its challenges.

Miscommunication and lack of collaboration

Without face-to-face communication, a lot can be lost in translation. Collaboration and communication come in first, with loneliness, as the biggest struggle remote workers face. Without body language, it is difficult to get the right intention, the right feeling across. And with the many channels companies now use, it is easy to miss important information. Different time zones and glitches in technology add to communication challenges. You can’t just get up from your desk, walk up to your coworker’s desk, and resolve an issue. Everything takes longer and is less straightforward, and not everyone is comfortable with digital communication channels.

Collaboration is also less organic among remote workers. Research shows that people who work physically close to each other, in the same room or office, tend to solve problems faster than remote collaborators. Creativity and innovative thinking are better fostered in offices where spontaneity and random interactions happen than through telecommunication.


Loneliness

Office relationships account for most of the social interactions people have during the week. According to Buffer, 20% of remote employees report loneliness as their biggest challenge when telecommuting. Social isolation can take a toll, and video conferences are often not enough to replace in-person interactions. Over half of remote employees reported that they feel disconnected from in-office employees in a survey conducted by CoSo Cloud.  Remote workers must make sure their social needs are fulfilled elsewhere, or consider other ways to include them in their workdays.


Mistrust and the “distance bias”

The physical distance between remote workers and their employers brings challenges for both parties. On the one hand, employers can lack trust in their remote employees, which can lead to micromanaging and unhealthy relationships, especially if the company’s performance metrics are unclear.

On the other, there is a stigma around remote workers: a study done by Jabra U.K. shows that 55% of office workers think remote work breeds mistrust. Concluding that some office-based employees believe remote workers don’t work as hard as them, and that they often undertake personal tasks when working from home. Consequently, remote workers are often the source of negative office gossip.

While these numbers are likely to change now that remote work is increasingly common, what doesn’t change is the invisibility of remote workers. Since they are physically not in the office, they can be easily forgotten. This has been called “the distance bias” by the NeuroLeadership Institute. Teleworkers need to be mindful of how they can stay visible to have influence in the company and be consulted for decisions and future projects.  


Difficulty setting boundaries

Flexibility comes with its benefits, but it is often a double-edged sword. Creating boundaries between your work life and your personal life is already complex. But without the physical and psychological separation of a traditional office, its complexity is heightened for remote workers, especially for those working from home.

While doing home chores or taking care of your kids during your workday hinders your productivity, it is often the reverse that happens: 23% of teleworkers work longer hours than they would in an office, according to CoSo Cloud. Unplugging after work comes in third in a survey about top challenges for remote workers, with 18% saying that creating boundaries is their biggest struggle. This puts remote workers at a higher risk of burnout.


Detrimental effects on company culture 

Allowing for flexibility does have a positive effect on company culture. But managing a remote team can make it hard to foster this company culture, and make everyone feel included. It is crucial to motivation and employee retention because it releases tension, builds trust and camaraderie, and creates a more humane work environment. Because of the physical distance, it is easy to overlook this aspect, which leaves people to feel disconnected and lonely and can lower productivity and collaboration. There are, however, ways to continue to build your company culture remotely.


PART II: REMOTE WORK: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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Is remote work for you?

The first question you need to ask yourself when you consider remote work is: what remote work challenges am I personally going to face? Here are a few things to consider:

1

How disciplined and self-motivated are you?

Without a strict schedule, coworkers working around you, or a manager making sure you are doing the work, sticking to a schedule can be challenging if you lack self-discipline. To efficiently work remotely, you have to be able to motivate yourself to get the work done and be able to block the temptation to watch TV, do laundry, or go play outside with your kids.

2

Are you able to clock out and keep a healthy work-life balance?

You might be able to keep distractions at bay during the workday, but are you able to shut down your computer once 5 o’clock comes? Remote workers are at risk of burnout if they are not able to disconnect from work at the end of the day. It’s more difficult not to bring your work home if your home is also your workplace.

3

How much social interaction do you need?

Loneliness is one of the pitfalls of working remotely. Many of us need interaction with colleagues to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. While telework might make you more productive by limiting distractions from fellow workers, you might need these interactions to stay active and creative.

4

How good of a communicator are you?

To successfully telecommute, you need to be a skilled and organized communicator. Without body language to convey your intentions, you need to make sure you’re able to get the information across accurately, with the right tone, through emails and phone conversations. With all of the new communication options (text, emails, apps, etc.) you must be organized, so you don’t miss out on important details.

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What are the costs involved?

Yes, you might be saving on commute costs, but you also need to consider what kind of expenses comes with working remotely. Working from home? You will need a strong internet connection and a good home office setup. Planning on working from coworking spaces? Memberships to such places can be expensive. According to a survey done by Buffer, about 80% of employers didn’t pay for home internet or costs incurred by working at coffee shops, and 72% didn’t pay for coworking memberships or cell phone bills. If you are a freelancer, these costs might be deductible from your taxes. If you are a remote employee, consider talking about this to your employer to see what they are willing to pay.

That said, adjusting to working remotely is a process. It’s a skill you can develop. You also don’t have to work outside an office full-time: think about how many days a week or month could work for you. And if your only experience of remote work is during the COVID-19 pandemic, read this article on why this time might be different. Try it out, be patient with yourself, and check out our tips below to help you through the process!

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3 different types of remote workers

Remote work is a term that includes many types of workers. Let’s take a closer look at 3 of them.

Remote employees

Remote employees are people that are hired, either full-time or part-time, at a company that allows them to work outside a traditional office. Depending on the company, these people can always work remotely, or a few days a week or month.

If you’d like to work remotely, but your employer does not allow it yet, click here for advice on how to convince your boss that it can benefit you both!


Freelancers

Freelancers are not employed full-time or even part-time at a company. They are self-employed and fulfill contracts for different companies and organizations. They often work on many projects and for different companies at once. While freelancing jobs used to be found mainly in creative fields, like graphic design and photography, the work industry is shifting towards a contract-based workforce, which means more and more jobs will be accessible to freelancers.

The nature of the role means a great deal of flexibility. The majority of freelancers have the freedom to decide when and where they work, making them remote workers.


Digital nomads

Digital nomads are people that incorporate work in their nomadic lifestyle. They travel to different cities and countries, staying in short-term rentals and are constantly on the move. Digital nomads used to mainly be freelancers, but with the rise of flexibility in the workplace and improvement of telecommunication software, remote employees can also be digital nomads.

Combining work and travel can have its particular challenges, like adjusting to time zones, making sure you have the right visas, and not being too distracted by new environments. Organizations like Remote Year can help you in the process of becoming a digital nomad. And Doist created a thorough guide to make sure you are ready for adventure.

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What kind of jobs and companies allow remote work?

The types of jobs that can be done remotely are on the rise. Upwork projects that 73% of all departments will employ remote workers by 2028, as stated in their Future Workforce Report. Sales, computer programming and developing, customer service, writing, translating, and teaching are all common in the remote working world. Even doctors and nurses can find jobs online.

In terms of companies, Owl Lab identifies the following 3 types:

  • Fully remote companies: they don’t have traditional offices and all their workforce is remote.  
  • Hybrid companies: they offer both remote and in-office options, and employees can alternate between the two.
  • Companies that do not allow remote work: all work needs to be done on-site, whether in an office or other traditional type of workplaces.
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Where to find remote jobs online?

In need of a job and would like to try remote work? Here is a list of websites that can help you find the right match:

  • We Work Remotely: This site has one of the largest pool of job listings that can be done remotely.
  • AngelList/Remote: Angellist is a platform for startups that help lists thousands of jobs, including 20K remote jobs. To date, they have matched 4 million remote workers with the right employer.
  • Remotive: A job listing with the mission to help tech professionals go remote.
  • Flexjobs: With over 50 career categories, FlexJobs offers a variety of opportunities to a wide range of remote workers.
  • DynamiteJobs: This website will do some of the work for you, curating jobs that fit your profile.
  • Upwork: A platform for freelancers and those who want to employ them.
  • SolidGigs: An email service that sends you weekly freelancing job listings directly to your inbox.
  • Remote Year: For helping you find a remote job that allows you to travel the world.
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How to recognize scams when looking for a remote job?

Unfortunately, the increasing demand for telework means dishonest people are taking advantage of the situation. Between 2015 and 2019, more than 58,000 consumers complained to the Federal Trade Commission about false opportunities to work remotely or launch a business. The AARP advises to be on the lookout for the following warning signs:

     1. A job ad claims that no skills or experience are required.
     2. It offers high pay for little or no work.
     3. A company promises that a business opportunity is surefire and will pay off quickly and easily.
     4. You're required to pay upfront for training, certifications, directories or material

Follow this link for more information regarding fraudulent remote work opportunities.


PART III: GETTING ORGANIZED TO WORK REMOTELY

The coronavirus pandemic forced a lot of people to set up a makeshift office at home in order to work remotely. If you plan on working remotely long term, however, even if it is only a few days a week or month, organizing a comfortable and efficient workspace is crucial.

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Choosing a workspace

A remote work lifestyle requires you to have a workspace where you can focus on work, and only work. While 80% of teleworkers decide to work from home, you can also opt for a coworking space, a library, a café, or wherever you can find quietness and a reliable internet connection.

Before delving into how to set up an office at home, let’s look at coworking spaces, as their demand is exponentially increasing. By 2022, it is estimated that there will be almost 26,000 coworking spaces worldwide. A coworking space is a workspace that is shared by a number of different professionals, from remote workers to small startups in need of space. They are said to combat a lot of challenges remote workers face, like loneliness and lack of collaboration. These shared spaces also encourage networking and are known to fuel innovation and creativity. They can, however, be expensive, but in addition to memberships, many coworking spaces offer day passes and have open house events. Want to try it out? Coworker is a great tool to help you locate one near you.

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Setting up an ergonomic office

Making sure you are working comfortably is a crucial step in keeping a healthy relationship with work. When you are working in an office, you have little control over the kind of setup available, but when working from home, you can create a workspace that is optimal for your productivity and well-being.  

First of all, decide where to set up your workspace. If you don’t have a designated office in your home, find a quiet spot where you are the least likely to get interrupted. If you have a busy household, we recommend investing in quality noise-canceling headphones so you can tune-in to motivating playlists or hop on a teleconference call without distraction.

Next up: office furniture. We are, of course, big proponents of ergonomic office furniture. A life spent sitting in a chair at your desk has been linked to serious health risks. And because you are not getting up to go to meetings, or asking a question to your colleague one floor up, you spend even more time sitting in your office chair when you are working from home, putting you at higher risk of developing these disorders. Here are our recommendations:

  • Sit-stand desk: If you are thinking of investing in a quality desk, consider buying a standing desk. Their height is adjustable, making sure it adapts to your particular height and allowing you to easily alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day, preventing back pain and keeping you alert. If you already have a desk, here are some quick fixes to make it more ergonomic.

  • Ergonomic chair: Even if you have a standing desk, you will still spend half of your workday sitting in your chair, so it is crucial that you invest in a good one. There is a lot to consider when buying an ergonomic chair, so here’s a guide to help you choose the right one, and to convince you it’s worth it! In the meantime, you can always adjust the one you have at home with these tips.

Once you have the basics down, think about your decor. What color keeps you awake and focused? What mood would help you relax? If you are into essential oils, add a diffuser to your space. For us, plants are major add-ons, they are everywhere in our office! If you are looking for inspiration, we created a Pinterest board just for you.

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Technology and security

Different types of jobs will require different kinds of technological equipment: a computer, monitors, a high-quality webcam, a headset with an integrated microphone, specific software, etc. Before spending the money, check with your employer to see if they are willing to provide you with the required equipment for your home office. For freelancers, look into what is deductible from your taxes. There is, however, a few other things to consider when setting up a home office:

Internet speed
The WiFi speed you need depends on your job and how many people in your household are using the internet. Here are a few questions to ask yourself, and the megabits-per-second (Mbps) recommended:

1. How many people or devices will be using your WiFi?
- 1 to 2 devices: Up to 25 Mbps
- 3 to 5 devices: 50-100 Mbps
- 5 and more devices: 150-200 Mbps

          2. What type of activity will you be doing?  
          - Communicate via emails and social media: Up to 25 Mbps
          - Communicate via messenger or video chat platforms, and watch HD or 4K videos: 50-100 Mbps
          - Download and upload large files: 150-200 Mbps

To check the internet speed you currently have, you can use this test from SpeedTest. If your internet is too slow, the first thing to do is to make sure your router is located as close to your office as possible, while still being able to access the rest of your house. Then look into ways you can boost your Wifi signal, and talk with your internet provider.

* If you feel like only certain websites are slow, check on Downdetector if the service you are using is down or having problems.  


VPN and access to company files

If you are a remote employee, working at a company that allows remote work, chances are they have some sort of way to connect their remote workforce to their servers. The most common one is a VPN or virtual private network. Installed on your computer, it creates an encrypted tunnel from wherever you decide to work, to the work network in the office. It allows you to access your files just like you were sitting in the actual office. Additionally, a VPN increases your security, disallowing hackers to peek at your work or your company’s data. Talk to the IT department at work, or to the office administrator, to install one on your computer.


Security
Speaking of security, a VPN is not all you need to look into to work safely at a remote location. Less than half of remote employees receive proper internet security training even though they regularly handle confidential business data according to a study conducted by Get App. This Todoist security checklist will help you make sure you encrypt all your devices, tell you why you need to update your software, teach you good password hygiene, and more. This step is not to be taken lightly, as hackers attack on average every 39 seconds, says a study from the University of Maryland.

A few concluding tips on technology when working remotely: First, always have a plan B! Technology fails us at the most unfortunate times, so have a second, even third, device standby, like a phone or tablet, especially if you have a deadline or an important meeting. And know where to go if you lose internet connection or power: a library close to your home? The local café? A trusty friend or neighbor? Be prepared in case something goes wrong during your workday.

Second, keep your personal internet presence and your work internet presence separate. When working remotely, it’s easy to forget there’s a separation between work and leisure, but you don’t want your colleague to see what you're shopping for or what you're looking at during your downtime on your screen during a screen-sharing presentation. So consider getting 2 computers, or creating a work profile separate from your personal profile if your computer allows it. It will also help restrict distractions and create a boundary between your work life and personal life.

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Apps, platforms, and software

To be able to communicate effectively, keep track of deadlines and meetings, and be productive while working remotely needs some organization from the get-go. Plenty of apps exist to help you with that! We’ve listed below tools to assist you with productivity, project and time management, communication, and file-sharing. There are numerous options on the market, so it might take you some trial and error to find the ones that work for you.

Productivity tools

Chrome Remote Desktop
Easy to install, Chrome Remote Desktop allows you to access your computer from your phone, tablet, or another computer.

Serene
An app you can download on your computer (macOS only, for now) that helps you plan your day and block distractions and notifications.

Zapier
Zapier creates connections between your apps and automates workflows by moving information between them. Saving you time and taking care of boring, repetitive tasks for you.

Pomodoro Technique
This technique helps you take small breaks between periods of concentration to keep you motivated and productive all day. Many apps recreate the timer needed for the Pomodoro Technique, we particularly like the Be Focused one.

Organizational tools

Project management

Monday
Monday lets you track and manage projects and tasks by letting you plan multiple projects, manage ongoing tasks, organize events, track orders, chat between users, and more. You can also integrate a variety of other apps into the platform. It is the project management tool we use at ergonofis for its clarity and versatility.

Basecamp
With over 3 million registered accounts, Basecamp is one of the most popular remote work platforms. With this app, you can create do-to lists, include files, chat with your group, create message boards and schedules, and more.

Asana
Another project management platform, Asana helps with timelines, workloads, portfolios, forms and requests, and has a newly integrated automation feature.

Thoughtflow
Popular among creative teams, this platform creates visual maps that include ideation, planning and team alignment, databases, mindmap, and more.  

Time management

Google Calendar
Easy to use, a straightforward calendar that connects with all of your other Google features seamlessly.

Doodle
The simplest way to schedule a meeting: attendees can click on which time slot(s) works for them so you can see at a glance when everyone is available.

Toggl
This app tracks in real-time how much time you spend on what tasks and activities. (Free or Premium versions available)

Rescue Time
Similar to Toggl, Rescue Time tracks in real-time where you spend your time. It also creates detailed reports, trends, and insights. And can block distracting websites during productive hours.

Everhour
Free for up to 5 users, Everhour is another time tracking app that also helps with budgeting and client invoicing.

Communication tools

Everyday communication

Slack
Designed to be the primary method of communication for companies, Slack is a chat application where you can exchange with individual colleagues or take part in chat rooms on different subjects. It also shows you who’s connected and available to talk. This is the platform we use at ergonofis!

Chanty
Another chat platform, Chanty is more affordable than Slack, but also acts as a messaging app for everyday communication.

Troop Messenger
A one-to-one and group messaging app in which you can also add vendors and suppliers (with restricted access).

Group meetings and presentations

Zoom
Zoom’s popularity has soared since the COVID-19 pandemic, with everyone from K-12 teachers to multinationals using it. It’s what we use at ergonofis as well. It can support up to 1000 participants and is very user friendly. It is also affordable.

Google Meet
Integrated into the G Suite, Google Meet (formerly Google Hangouts) is accessible and simple.

Microsoft Teams
Another chat-based and videoconference collaboration tool, but that can be integrated with the Microsoft Suite.

 

GoToMeeting
A very mobile-friendly video conference tool. And attendees don’t need to download anything to their desktop, tablets or phones.
 

Skype
One of the pioneers of video conference, Skype has lost some popularity in recent years, but is still a valued platform with great reviews.

File-Sharing tools

Google Drive
Highly rated and part of the G Suite, Google Drive is an easy choice for sharing files online.

DropBox
File storage and easy uploads with a shortcut directly on your desktop.

OneDrive
File sharing integrated into the Microsoft Suite.

WeTransfer
Easy to use, send a link or an email by uploading your files directly from the WeTransfer website. It’s also possible to integrate it into a number for different apps.


PART IV: ADVICE FOR REMOTE WORKERS AND THEIR EMPLOYERS

Adapting to remote work comes with its challenges, and takes an adjustment period, whether you are the employer or the employee. We’ve compiled some advice to help you face challenges of telework you might already be struggling with, or will likely face in the future.

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Advice for employers of remote workers

Whether a company is fully-remote or hybrid, managers working with a remote team need to set clear guidelines and expectations for their workers. They need to have a way to measure productivity and performance levels, without them in the room to make sure everyone is working. But one of the risk challenges a company faces with remote workers is the degradation of company culture.

Set expectations and norms

The first thing a manager needs to do is set norms and expectations, says Sacha Connor, Founder, and CEO of Virtual Work Insider. The main ones to set are communication norms and availability norms, then adds the one that applies to your field or company.

You might want to set up structured weekly or daily check-ins with your team. You can also ask everyone to be available to chat from 10 am to noon every day (don’t forget about time zones!). Or decide meetings should only be scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And provide them with the tools to do so effectively.

Once you’ve set your ground rules, ask your team what rules they propose to help everyone work remotely in the most efficient and agreeable way possible.


Fight mistrust and rethink time checks

One of the stigma teleworkers face is the belief that they are not actually working when working from home. Because managers are not physically present to check on their employees’ productivity, you have to be mindful to let your employees know you trust that they can be productive without in-person supervision, while avoiding micromanaging. Sacha Connor advises: “By them showing their vulnerability, that will invite the vulnerability of others to be able to speak up and say what's going on with them and ask for what they need.”

Part of this mistrust rises because while telecommuting, you lose the everyday signals about time that you would typically see in an office: someone coming in early, another deeply concentrated for hours on end, etc. These signals are crucial in showing how, and how much you work, and they disappear when people work out of the office. This article from the MIT Sloan School of Management explains why they are important, and how to apply them to remote workers. Among other propositions related to communication norms, they suggest paying attention to output instead of time: “Judge what people do, not how quickly they respond [...] Focus on what they are producing.”


Encourage company culture

As mentioned previously, company culture can be difficult to maintain when most or all of your employees work remotely. But it is crucial to your company’s image, identity, and employee retention rate. So you need to create a plan to foster company culture inside and outside the office. Create space in your videoconference for water-cooler talks, or split teams into small groups in the middle of a meeting to take a break and chat. Apps like Donut can help, by pairing people together the time of a remote coffee. Have virtual happy hours and maybe even send your employees chicken wings. Here, we love to play Scattergories, an easy game to play remotely. Encourage creativity and humor. Send gifs, emojis, and (safe for work) memes. And if possible, get your team physically together once in a while to do a team-building activity.

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Advice for remote workers

Remote work comes with a great amount of flexibility and enviable benefits, but it does come with its challenges. It can be difficult to stay motivated, but also to detach yourself from work at the end of the day. It tends to be lonely and takes extra efforts to communicate and stay on the radar of your coworkers. So let’s look at how you can overcome these challenges.

Stay motivated and productive

When you work from an office, you have no choice but to go to work on Monday morning, and while you're there, then why not get some work done. But when you work remotely, the motivation to start your workday can be hard to find sometimes, negatively affecting your productivity. While it is important to know what productivity means to you, also know what is expected of your employer in terms of output, availability, and productivity markers when working remotely.

Then, go about your day as if you were preparing to go to the office. Do not fall into the sweatpants trap, put on comfortable work clothes (click here for inspiration!). Set up a designated area in your house, if working from home, where you will be able to work undisturbed.

Organize your week: set aside time for focused work, for meetings, for check-ins with your coworkers, and for socializing. Take breaks. (We are big fans of the Pomodoro Technique.) But resist the temptation to use these breaks to catch up with household chores, and lay down rules around who is allowed to pop in, and when.

Set short-term and long-term goals, make to-do lists. Hold yourself accountable and value what you’ve accomplished. If you need extra motivation, pair up with a colleague or friend that is in the same situation as you, and check-in to make sure your partner is doing what they’re supposed to do, and vice-versa.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself, find what works for you, and make sure your relationship with productivity is healthy. If you want to learn more about how to be more productive, we suggest you read one of these books.


Over communicate and come prepared

So many things can get lost in translation when working remotely. You’re not able to get up and ask your colleague a question and get a direct answer anymore. So you need to make sure you get your message across the right way, and that you see every information that is meant for you. Over communication is the word when it comes to remote work.

First, check with your employer what kind of communication tools and guidelines are in place to facilitate communication. Know what channel to use when: when to use emails, chat apps, project management or time management tools, and when to pick up the phone and call. And write your messages clearly. Be mindful that body language and sarcasm doesn’t make it through remote communication channel, so emotionally proof your messages to make sure it's in the right tone.

Second, join online meetings prepared. Videoconference meetings can be long and draining, so it helps to have a defined purpose for each meeting. It can also be hard to have your voice heard, especially for women. Clearly communicate your plan, and get your messages and questions across efficiently. This might also be one of the few times your coworkers get to see you during the week, so think about what you want your appearance and body language to reflect.


Stay visible

Because remote workers are not always present, or never present, in the office, they can easily be forgotten, consequently, not included in decisions and projects. It is crucial that you make a plan to stay visible in the organization you work for. Sacha Connor, Founder and CEO of Virtual Work Insider, calls this a virtual influence plan: “mapping out your sphere of influence, prioritizing key stakeholders, understanding their communication preferences, and determining tactics you’ll use to reach them.”

Make sure to participate in team-building exercises like virtual happy hours. Take advantage of moments dedicated to getting to know other colleagues in videoconference meetings. Share your insights, wins, and failures with your team. Advance ideas and take part in company-wide programs or teams. Make the most of the tools your employer provides you. And if possible, pop in the office once in a while!


Fight loneliness

Even the most introverted of introverts can find remote work lonely at times. It’s one of the biggest challenges remote workers have to face. Of course, checking in with colleagues and participating in virtual team building activities can help with that, while keeping you visible at work. But you can also use the flexibility of telework to your advantage: plan lunch dates with a friend or family member, or take a group exercise class at your gym in the morning. Go work in different places, like busy cafés or libraries once they reopen. Or get a membership to a coworking space. Join a book club or an amateur sports team. Office workers fulfill a lot of their socializing needs at work, without really realizing it, so make sure you compensate for these interactions. Buffer created a great guide on conquering remote work loneliness based on knowing yourself and what works for you.


Set boundaries

Remote workers have been shown to take shorter breaks, fewer vacation and sick days, and find it harder to have a healthy work-life balance than office-based workers. So setting boundaries are vital to keeping you sane and preventing burnout.

Ask yourself: how can I clearly disconnect from work at the end of the day? Maybe it's physically closing your computer or the door to your office. Doing a specific activity like meditation, a workout, or a walk around the neighborhood. Apps like Daywise can help you mute work notifications after your workday is over. Author Cal Newport says a “magic phrase” at the end of the workday: “Schedule shutdown, complete.”, and once that is said, he lets go of any work-related worries. You need to know how to sign-off at the end of the day, and setting an after-work ritual, whatever you decide it to be, can help you do that.


Take care of your health

Lastly, take care of yourself! Make sure you work in the safest workspace possible, one that will remind you to incorporate movement in your workday. Take a look at these tips to stay healthy at work. Practice good sleep hygiene. And take advantage of the time you gain by not commuting to do a fulfilling workout or spend quality time with your family.

 

We want to know: How do you approach remote work? What changes would you like to see in the future of remote work? What helps you overcome teleworking challenges?

PART I: WHAT IS REMOTE WORK?

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What is remote work?

Remote work applies to someone who works from anywhere other than a traditional office. It encompasses a variety of workers including freelancers, digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and remote employees.

It also applies to various situations; from an employee that spends only a few days working away from the office, to someone who never sets foot in a traditional workplace. A company might only employ remote workers, called a remote workforce, while another might offer flexibility to its employees regarding where they want to work and how often.

Remote workers have the possibility to work (almost) anywhere, but a study conducted by Buffer shows that 80% primarily work from home. Other options include coworking spaces, coffee shops, and libraries. The concept of ‘third space’ is also on the rise: a place, other than the office, and their primary workspace, where remote workers spend a considerable amount of time.

While the term ‘work from home’ solely applies to a worker that - yes, we know, obvious - works from home, the definition of remote work has also been applied to the terms telecommuting, telework, flex place, and mobile work.

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Is remote work the new normal?

Working remotely has been on the rise for over 10 years: the number of people who telework at least once a week has grown by 400% since 2010. Work flexibility, which includes remote work, will be the future of HR and recruiting, according to 72% of talent professionals surveyed by LinkedIn. And almost 70% of millennials would trade other benefits for flexible workplaces.

The aforementioned data was collected before the Coronavirus outbreak, so we expect these figures to grow exponentially this year as people were required to adapt to working from home. The University of Chicago identified that 37% of U.S. jobs can be entirely done remotely. While this pandemic might have made the transition to teleworking bumpy - to say the least - many have discovered its benefits. Almost 60% of the adults polled in the United States would like to continue to work remotely as much as possible, even once public health restrictions are lifted, according to a study conducted by Gallup at the beginning of April 2020.

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Benefits of remote work

Working remotely provides a range of benefits for both the employees and employers.

Increased productivity

A big advantage of remote work is the capacity to concentrate deeply on a task. Research shows that 77% of remote workers believe they are more productive when they work from home, and 76% would prefer to avoid the office entirely if they need to concentrate on a project. This 2015 study even found that remote workers at a Chinese travel agency were 13% more efficient than those working in the office.

Interruptions at work can cost you up to 6 hours a day. So if you have a job, or task, that requires a high level of concentration and problem solving, working remotely will save you time by restricting the number of interruptions you face in a workday.  


Increased job satisfaction

Flexibility in the workplace is becoming increasingly important to employees, making remote work attractive to both current employees and potential hires. According to a pool conducted by Buffer, the top 2 benefits of working remotely are the ability to have a flexible schedule (32%) and the flexibility to work from anywhere (26%). With each additional hour that people spent working remotely (up to 15 hours per week), job satisfaction increases. Research from the University of Michigan also showed a reduction in work-related stress. Consequently, reducing employee turnover by over 50 percent, as shown by a report from Standford University. 


Reduced costs for employees and employers

Reducing employee turnover lowers costs for employers as the average cost of onboarding a new employee is almost $4,000, according to Deloitte. It could also mean reducing the cost of real estate. With more and more people working remotely, companies will need less space to house their employees. In a paper published by Harvard Business School, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office estimated that they saved more than $38 million in 2015 by reducing their office space.

Employees and remote workers also save money by working remotely. By saving on gas, public transit, and daycare, people could save on average between $2,000 to $6,500 per year, according to Global Workplace Analytics. But be mindful of other costs remote work could incur.


No commute

Less time commuting means more time to spend with family and friends, work out, or develop new hobbies. Commuting to work by car and getting stuck in traffic costs the average American 54 hours per year, as shown by an analysis by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute conducted in 2019. Not having to commute came in third as in Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report, with 21% of people listing it as the biggest benefit to working remotely.


Better for the environment

No commute means reducing the use of petrol and diesel consuming vehicles on the roads. Global Workplace Analytics estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle travel could be reduced by 51 million metric tons a year if everyone in the United States started working from home half of the time. Less traffic also means less wear and tear on the infrastructure, thus less energy required to maintain it. Additionally, company office spaces are also part of the 4th largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and with more people working remotely, less space is needed in offices. While on a smaller scale, remote work also encourages the digitalization of office needs, reducing the use of office supplies like paper and ink cartridges.


Increased safety and accessibility

The coronavirus pandemic has proven that offices can act as a breeding ground for communicable diseases. Even once this particular pandemic is over, people will be more willing to work remotely when they develop symptoms of influenza or other easily transmittable diseases.

Remote work also provides more career opportunities for people with disabilities. Certain needs can be difficult to fulfill in a traditional work environment: stair lifts, medical diets, reduced amount of noise or light, etc. Remote work gives people more control over their workplace to fit a variety of demands. With the retirement age constantly changing, remote work can help keep older generations in the workforce longer.

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Challenges of remote work

While an increasing number of solutions are being developed to tackle them, remote work comes with its challenges.

Miscommunication and lack of collaboration

Without face-to-face communication, a lot can be lost in translation. Collaboration and communication come in first, with loneliness, as the biggest struggle remote workers face. Without body language, it is difficult to get the right intention, the right feeling across. And with the many channels companies now use, it is easy to miss important information. Different time zones and glitches in technology add to communication challenges. You can’t just get up from your desk, walk up to your coworker’s desk, and resolve an issue. Everything takes longer and is less straightforward, and not everyone is comfortable with digital communication channels.

Collaboration is also less organic among remote workers. Research shows that people who work physically close to each other, in the same room or office, tend to solve problems faster than remote collaborators. Creativity and innovative thinking are better fostered in offices where spontaneity and random interactions happen than through telecommunication.


Loneliness

Office relationships account for most of the social interactions people have during the week. According to Buffer, 20% of remote employees report loneliness as their biggest challenge when telecommuting. Social isolation can take a toll, and video conferences are often not enough to replace in-person interactions. Over half of remote employees reported that they feel disconnected from in-office employees in a survey conducted by CoSo Cloud.  Remote workers must make sure their social needs are fulfilled elsewhere, or consider other ways to include them in their workdays.


Mistrust and the “distance bias”

The physical distance between remote workers and their employers brings challenges for both parties. On the one hand, employers can lack trust in their remote employees, which can lead to micromanaging and unhealthy relationships, especially if the company’s performance metrics are unclear.

On the other, there is a stigma around remote workers: a study done by Jabra U.K. shows that 55% of office workers think remote work breeds mistrust. Concluding that some office-based employees believe Comment start remote workers don’t work as hard as them, and that they often undertake personal tasks when working from home. Consequently, remote workers are often the source of negative office gossip.

While these numbers are likely to change now that remote work is increasingly common, what doesn’t change is the invisibility of remote workers. Since they are physically not in the office, they can be easily forgotten. This has been called “the distance bias” by the NeuroLeadership Institute. Teleworkers need to be mindful of how they can stay visible to have influence in the company and be consulted for decisions and future projects.  


Difficulty setting boundaries

Flexibility comes with its benefits, but it is often a double-edged sword. Creating boundaries between your work life and your personal life is already complex. But without the physical and psychological separation of a traditional office, its complexity is heightened for remote workers, especially for those working from home.

While doing home chores or taking care of your kids during your workday hinders your productivity, it is often the reverse that happens: 23% of teleworkers work longer hours than they would in an office, according to CoSo Cloud. Unplugging after work comes in third in a survey about top challenges for remote workers, with 18% saying that creating boundaries is their biggest struggle. This puts remote workers at a higher risk of burnout.


Detrimental effects on company culture 

Allowing for flexibility does have a positive effect on company culture. But managing a remote team can make it hard to foster this company culture, and make everyone feels included. It is crucial to motivation and employee retention because it releases tension, builds trust and camaraderie, and creates a more humane work environment. Because of the physical distance, it is easy to overlook this aspect, which leaves people to feel disconnected and lonely and can lower productivity and collaboration. There are, however, ways to continue to build your company culture remotely.


PART II: REMOTE WORK: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

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Is remote work for you?

The first question you need to ask yourself when you consider remote work is: what remote work challenges am I personally going to face? Here are a few things to consider:

1- How disciplined and self-motivated are you?

Without a strict schedule, coworkers working around you, or a manager making sure you are doing the work, sticking to a schedule can be challenging if you lack self-discipline. To efficiently work remotely, you have to be able to motivate yourself to get the work done and be able to block the temptation to watch TV, do laundry, or go play outside with your kids.

2- Are you able to clock out and keep a healthy work-life balance?

You might be able to keep distractions at bay during the workday, but are you able to shut down your computer once 5 o’clock comes? Remote workers are at risk of burnout if they are not able to disconnect from work at the end of the day. It’s more difficult not to bring your work home if your home is also your workplace.

3- How much social interaction do you need?

Loneliness is one of the pitfalls of working remotely. Many of us need interaction with colleagues to feel fulfilled at the end of the day. While telework might make you more productive by limiting distractions from fellow workers, you might need these interactions to stay active and creative.

4- How good of a communicator are you?

To successfully telecommute, you need to be a skilled and organized communicator. Without body language to convey your intentions, you need to make sure you’re able to get the information across accurately, with the right tone, through emails and phone conversations. With all the new communication options (text, emails, apps, etc.) you must be organized, so you don’t miss out on important details.

5- What are the costs involved?

Yes, you might be saving on commute costs, but you also need to consider what kind of expenses comes with working remotely. Working from home? You will need a strong internet connection and a good home office setup. Planning on working from coworking spaces? Memberships to such places can be expensive. According to a survey done by Buffer, about 80% of employers didn’t pay for home internet or costs incurred by working at coffee shops, and 72% didn’t pay for coworking memberships or cell phone bills. If you are a freelancer, these costs might be deductible from your taxes. If you are a remote employee, consider talking about this to your employer to see what they are willing to pay.

That said, adjusting to working remotely is a process. It’s a skill you can develop. You also don’t have to work outside an office full-time: think about how many days a week or month could work for you. And if your only experience of remote work is during the COVID-19 pandemic, read this article on why this time might be different. Try it out, be patient with yourself, and check out our tips below to help you through the process!

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3 different types of remote workers

Remote work is a term that includes many types of workers. Let’s take a closer look at 3 of them.

Remote employees

Remote employees are people that are hired, either full-time or part-time, at a company that allows them to work outside a traditional office. Depending on the company, these people can always work remotely, or a few days a week or month.

If you’d like to work remotely, but your employer does not allow it yet, click here for advice on how to convince your boss that it can benefit you both!


Freelancers

Freelancers are not employed full-time or even part-time at a company. They are self-employed and fulfill contracts for different companies and organizations. They often work on many projects and for different companies at once. While freelancing jobs used to be found mainly in creative fields, like graphic design and photography, the work industry is shifting towards a contract-based workforce, which means more and more jobs will be accessible to freelancers.

The nature of the role means a great deal of flexibility. The majority of freelancers have the freedom to decide when and where they work, making them remote workers.


Digital nomads

Digital nomads are people that incorporate work in their nomadic lifestyle. They travel to different cities and countries, staying in short-term rentals and are constantly on the move. Digital nomads used to mainly be freelancers, but with the rise of flexibility in the workplace and improvement of telecommunication software, remote employees can also be digital nomads.

Combining work and travel can have its particular challenges, like adjusting to time zones, making sure you have the right visas, and not being too distracted by new environments. Organizations like Remote Year can help you in the process of becoming a digital nomad. And Doist created a thorough guide to make sure you are ready for adventure.

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What kind of jobs and companies allow remote work?

The types of jobs that can be done remotely are on the rise. Upwork projects that 73% of all departments will employ remote workers by 2028, as stated in their Future Workforce Report. Sales, computer programming and developing, customer service, writing, translating, and teaching are all common in the remote working world. Even doctors and nurses can find jobs online.

In terms of companies, Owl Lab identifies the following 3 types:

    • Fully remote companies: they don’t have traditional offices and all their workforce is remote.  
    • Hybrid companies: they offer both remote and in-office options, and employees can alternate between the two.
    • Companies that do not allow remote work: all work needs to be done on-site, whether in an office or other traditional type of workplaces.
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Where to find remote jobs online?

In need of a job and would like to try remote work? Here is a list of websites that can help you find the right match:

  • We Work Remotely: This site has one of the largest pool of job listings that can be done remotely.
  • AngelList/Remote: Angellist is a platform for startups that help lists thousands of jobs, including 20K remote jobs. To date, they have matched 4 million remote workers with the right employer.
  • Remotive: A job listing with the mission to help tech professionals go remote.
  • Flexjobs: With over 50 career categories, FlexJobs offers a variety of opportunities to a wide range of remote workers.
  • DynamiteJobs: This website will do some of the work for you, curating jobs that fit your profile.
  • Upwork: A platform for freelancers and those who want to employ them.
  • SolidGigs: An email service that sends you weekly freelancing job listings directly to your inbox.
  • Remote Year: For helping you find a remote job that allows you to travel the world.
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How to recognize scams when looking for a remote job?

Unfortunately, the increasing demand for telework means dishonest people are taking advantage of the situation. Between 2015 and 2019, more than 58,000 consumers complained to the Federal Trade Commission about false opportunities to work remotely or launch a business. The AARP advises to be on the lookout for the following warning signs:

1. A job ad claims that no skills or experience are required.

2. It offers high pay for little or no work.

3. A company promises that a business opportunity is surefire and will pay off quickly and easily.

4. You're required to pay upfront for training, certifications, directories or materials.

Follow this link for more information regarding fraudulent remote work opportunities.


PART III: GETTING ORGANIZED TO WORK REMOTELY

The coronavirus pandemic forced a lot of people to set up a makeshift office at home in order to work remotely. If you plan on working remotely long term, however, even if it is only a few days a week or month, organizing a comfortable and efficient workspace is crucial.

Choosing a workspace

A remote work lifestyle requires you to have a workspace where you can focus on work, and only work. While 80% of teleworkers decide to work from home, you can also opt for a coworking space, a library, a café, or wherever you can find quietness and a reliable internet connection.

Before delving into how to set up an office at home, let’s look at coworking spaces, as their demand is exponentially increasing. By 2022, it is estimated that there will be almost 26,000 coworking spaces worldwide. A coworking space is a workspace that is shared by a number of different professionals, from remote workers to small startups in need of space. They are said to combat a lot of challenges remote workers face, like loneliness and lack of collaboration. These shared spaces also encourage networking and are known to fuel innovation and creativity. They can, however, be expensive, but in addition to memberships, many coworking spaces offer day passes and have open house events. Want to try it out? Coworker is a great tool to help you locate one near you.

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Setting up an ergonomic office

Making sure you are working comfortably is a crucial step in keeping a healthy relationship with work. When you are working in an office, you have little control over the kind of setup available, but when working from home, you can create a workspace that is optimal for your productivity and well-being.  

First of all, decide where to set up your workspace. If you don’t have a designated office in your home, find a quiet spot where you are the least likely to get interrupted. If you have a busy household, we recommend investing in quality noise-canceling headphones so you can tune-in to motivating playlists or hop on a teleconference call without distraction.

Next up: office furniture. We are, of course, big proponents of ergonomic office furniture. A life spent sitting in a chair at your desk has been linked to serious health risks. And because you are not getting up to go to meetings, or asking a question to your colleague one floor up, you spend even more time sitting in your office chair when you are working from home, putting you at higher risk of developing these disorders. Here are our recommendations:

  • Sit-stand desk: If you are thinking of investing in a quality desk, consider buying a standing desk. Their height is adjustable, making sure it adapts to your particular height and allowing you to easily alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day, preventing back pain and keeping you alert. If you already have a desk, here are some quick fixes to make it more ergonomic.

  • Ergonomic chair: Even if you have a standing desk, you will still spend half of your workday sitting in your chair, so it is crucial that you invest in a good one. There is a lot to consider when buying an ergonomic chair, so here’s a guide to help you choose the right one, and to convince you it’s worth it! In the meantime, you can always adjust the one you have at home with these tips.

Once you have the basics down, think about your decor. What color keeps you awake and focused? What mood would help you relax? If you are into essential oils, add a diffuser to your space. For us, plants are major add-ons, they are everywhere in our office! If you are looking for inspiration, we created a Pinterest board just for you.

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Technology and security

Different types of jobs will require different kinds of technological equipment: a computer, monitors, a high-quality webcam, a headset with an integrated microphone, specific software, etc. Before spending the money, check with your employer to see if they are willing to provide you with the required equipment for your home office. For freelancers, look into what is deductible from your taxes. There is, however, a few other things to consider when setting up a home office:

Internet speed
The WiFi speed you need depends on your job and how many people in your household are using the internet. Here are a few questions to ask yourself, and the megabits-per-second (Mbps) recommended:

1. How many people or devices will be using your WiFi?

  • 1 to 2 devices: Up to 25 Mbps
  • 3 to 5 devices: 50-100 Mbps
  • 5 and more devices: 15-200 Mbps

2. What type of activity will you be doing?

  • Communicate via emails and social media: Up to 25 Mbps
  • Communicate via messenger or video chat platforms, and watch HD or 4K videos: 50-100 Mbps
  • Download and upload large files: 15-200 Mbps

To check the internet speed you currently have, you can use this test from SpeedTest. If your internet is too slow, the first thing to do is to make sure your router is located as close to your office as possible, while still being able to access the rest of your house. Then look into ways you can boost your Wifi signal, and talk with your internet provider.

* If you feel like only certain websites are slow, check on Downdetector if the service you are using is down or having problems.  


VPN and access to company files

If you are a remote employee, working at a company that allows remote work, chances are they have some sort of way to connect their remote workforce to their servers. The most common one is a VPN or virtual private network. Installed on your computer, it creates an encrypted tunnel from wherever you decide to work, to the work network in the office. It allows you to access your files just like you were sitting in the actual office. Additionally, a VPN increases your security, disallowing hackers to peek at your work or your company’s data. Talk to the IT department at work, or to the office administrator, to install one on your computer.


Security
Speaking of security, a VPN is not all you need to look into to work safely at a remote location. Less than half of remote employees receive proper internet security training even though they regularly handle confidential business data according to a study conducted by Get App. This Todoist security checklist will help you make sure you encrypt all your devices, tell you why you need to update your software, teach you good password hygiene, and more. This step is not to be taken lightly, as hackers attack on average every 39 seconds, says a study from the University of Maryland.

A few concluding tips on technology when working remotely: First, always have a plan B! Technology fails us at the most unfortunate times, so have a second, even third, device standby, like a phone or tablet, especially if you have a deadline or an important meeting. And know where to go if you lose internet connection or power: a library close to your home? The local café? A trusty friend or neighbor? Be prepared in case something goes wrong during your workday.

Second, keep your personal internet presence and your work internet presence separate. When working remotely, it’s easy to forget there’s a separation between work and leisure, but you don’t want your colleague to see what you're shopping for or what you're looking at during your downtime on your screen during a screen-sharing presentation. So consider getting 2 computers, or creating a work profile separate from your personal profile if your computer allows it. It will also help restrict distractions and create a boundary between your work life and personal life.

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Apps, platforms, and software

To be able to communicate effectively, keep track of deadlines and meetings, and be productive while working remotely needs some organization from the get-go. Plenty of apps exist to help you with that! We’ve listed below tools to assist you with productivity, project and time management, communication, and file-sharing. There are numerous options on the market, so it might take you some trial and error to find the ones that work for you.

Productivity tools

Chrome Remote Desktop
Easy to install, Chrome Remote Desktop allows you to access your computer from your phone, tablet, or another computer.

Serene
An app you can download on your computer (macOS only, for now) that helps you plan your day and block distractions and notifications.

Zapier
Zapier creates connections between your apps and automates workflows by moving information between them. Saving you time and taking care of boring, repetitive tasks for you.

Pomodoro Technique
This technique helps you take small breaks between periods of concentration to keep you motivated and productive all day. Many apps recreate the timer needed for the Pomodoro Technique, we particularly like the Be Focused one.

Organizational tools

Project management

Monday
Monday lets you track and manage projects and tasks by letting you plan multiple projects, manage ongoing tasks, organize events, track orders, chat between users, and more. You can also integrate a variety of other apps into the platform. It is the project management tool we use at ergonofis for its clarity and versatility.

Basecamp
With over 3 million registered accounts, Basecamp is one of the most popular remote work platforms. With this app, you can create do-to lists, include files, chat with your group, create message boards and schedules, and more.

Asana
Another project management platform, Asana helps with timelines, workloads, portfolios, forms and requests, and has a newly integrated automation feature.

Thoughtflow
Popular among creative teams, this platform creates visual maps that include ideation, planning and team alignment, databases, mindmap, and more.  

 
Time management

Google Calendar
Easy to use, a straightforward calendar that connects with all of your other Google features seamlessly.

Doodle
The simplest way to schedule a meeting: attendees can click on which time slot(s) works for them so you can see at a glance when everyone is available.

Toggl
This app tracks in real-time how much time you spend on what tasks and activities. (Free or Premium versions available)

Rescue Time
Similar to Toggl, Rescue Time tracks in real-time where you spend your time. It also creates detailed reports, trends, and insights. And can block distracting websites during productive hours.

Everhour
Free for up to 5 users, Everhour is another time tracking app that also helps with budgeting and client invoicing.

Communication tools

Everyday communication

Slack
Designed to be the primary method of communication for companies, Slack is a chat application where you can exchange with individual colleagues or take part in chat rooms on different subjects. It also shows you who’s connected and available to talk. This is the platform we use at ergonofis!

Chanty
Another chat platform, Chanty is more affordable than Slack, but also acts as a messaging app for everyday communication.

Troop Messenger
A one-to-one and group messaging app in which you can also add vendors and suppliers (with restricted access).



Group meetings and presentations

Zoom
Zoom’s popularity has soared since the COVID-19 pandemic, with everyone from K-12 teachers to multinationals using it. It’s what we use at ergonofis as well. It can support up to 1000 participants and is very user-friendly. It is also affordable.

Google Meet
Integrated into the G Suite, Google Meet (formerly Google Hangouts) is accessible and simple.

Microsoft Teams
Another chat-based and videoconference collaboration tool, but that can be integrated with the Microsoft Suite.

GoToMeeting
A very mobile-friendly video conference tool. And attendees don’t need to download anything to their desktop, tablets or phones.

Skype
One of the pioneers of video conference, Skype has lost some popularity in recent years, but is still a valued platform with great reviews.

File-Sharing tools

Google Drive
Highly rated and part of the G Suite, Google Drive is an easy choice for sharing files online.

DropBox
File storage and easy uploads with a shortcut directly on your desktop.

OneDrive
File sharing integrated into the Microsoft Suite.

WeTransfer
Easy to use, send a link or an email by uploading your files directly from the WeTransfer website. It’s also possible to integrate it into a number for different apps.


PART IV: ADVICE FOR REMOTE WORKERS AND THEIR EMPLOYERS

Adapting to remote work comes with its challenges, and takes an adjustment period, whether you are the employer or the employee. We’ve compiled some advice to help you face challenges of telework you might already be struggling with, or will likely face in the future.

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Advice for employers of remote workers

Whether a company is fully-remote or hybrid, managers working with a remote team need to set clear guidelines and expectations for their workers. They need to have a way to measure productivity and performance levels, without them in the room to make sure everyone is working. But one of the risk challenges a company faces with remote workers is the degradation of company culture.

Set expectations and norms

The first thing a manager needs to do is set norms and expectations, says Sacha Connor, Founder, and CEO of Virtual Work Insider. The main ones to set are communication norms and availability norms, then adds the one that applies to your field or company.

You might want to set up structured weekly or daily check-ins with your team. You can also ask everyone to be available to chat from 10 am to noon every day (don’t forget about time zones!). Or decide meetings should only be scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And provide them with the tools to do so effectively.

Once you’ve set your ground rules, ask your team what rules they propose to help everyone work remotely in the most efficient and agreeable way possible.


Fight mistrust and rethink time checks

One of the stigma teleworkers face is the belief that they are not actually working when working from home. Because managers are not physically present to check on their employees’ productivity, you have to be mindful to let your employees know you trust that they can be productive without in-person supervision, while avoiding micromanaging. Sacha Connor advises: “By them showing their vulnerability, that will invite the vulnerability of others to be able to speak up and say what's going on with them and ask for what they need.”

Part of this mistrust rises because while telecommuting, you lose the everyday signals about time that you would typically see in an office: someone coming in early, another deeply concentrated for hours on end, etc. These signals are crucial in showing how, and how much you work, and they disappear when people work out of the office. This article from the MIT Sloan School of Management explains why they are important, and how to apply them to remote workers. Among other propositions related to communication norms, they suggest paying attention to output instead of time: “Judge what people do, not how quickly they respond [...] Focus on what they are producing.”


Encourage company culture

As mentioned previously, company culture can be difficult to maintain when most or all of your employees work remotely. But it is crucial to your company’s image, identity, and employee retention rate. So you need to create a plan to foster company culture inside and outside the office. Create space in your videoconference for water-cooler talks, or split teams into small groups in the middle of a meeting to take a break and chat. Apps like Donut can help, by pairing people together the time of a remote coffee. Have virtual happy hours and maybe even send your employees chicken wings. Here, we love to play Scattergories, an easy game to play remotely. Encourage creativity and humor. Send gifs, emojis, and (safe for work) memes. And if possible, get your team physically together once in a while to do a team-building activity.

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Advice for remote workers

Remote work comes with a great amount of flexibility and enviable benefits, but it does come with its challenges. It can be difficult to stay motivated, but also to detach yourself from work at the end of the day. It tends to be lonely and takes extra efforts to communicate and stay on the radar of your coworkers. So let’s look at how you can overcome these challenges.

Stay motivated and productive

When you work from an office, you have no choice but to go to work on Monday morning, and while you're there, then why not get some work done. But when you work remotely, the motivation to start your workday can be hard to find sometimes, negatively affecting your productivity. While it is important to know what productivity means to you, also know what is expected of your employer in terms of output, availability, and productivity markers when working remotely.

Then, go about your day as if you were preparing to go to the office. Do not fall into the sweatpants trap, put on comfortable work clothes (click here for inspiration!). Set up a designated area in your house, if working from home, where you will be able to work undisturbed.

Organize your week: set aside time for focused work, for meetings, for check-ins with your coworkers, and for socializing. Take breaks. (We are big fans of the Pomodoro Technique.) But resist the temptation to use these breaks to catch up with household chores, and lay down rules around who is allowed to pop in, and when.

Set short-term and long-term goals, make to-do lists. Hold yourself accountable and value what you’ve accomplished. If you need extra motivation, pair up with a colleague or friend that is in the same situation as you, and check-in to make sure your partner is doing what they’re supposed to do, and vice-versa.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself, find what works for you, and make sure your relationship with productivity is healthy. If you want to learn more about how to be more productive, we suggest you read one of these books.


Over communicate and come prepared

So many things can get lost in translation when working remotely. You’re not able to get up and ask your colleague a question and get a direct answer anymore. So you need to make sure you get your message across the right way, and that you see every information that is meant for you. Over communication is the word when it comes to remote work.

First, check with your employer what kind of communication tools and guidelines are in place to facilitate communication. Know what channel to use when: when to use emails, chat apps, project management or time management tools, and when to pick up the phone and call. And write your messages clearly. Be mindful that body language and sarcasm doesn’t make it through remote communication channel, so emotionally proof your messages to make sure it's in the right tone.

Second, join online meetings prepared. Videoconference meetings can be long and draining, so it helps to have a defined purpose for each meeting. It can also be hard to have your voice heard, especially for women. Clearly communicate your plan, and get your messages and questions across efficiently. This might also be one of the few times your coworkers get to see you during the week, so think about what you want your appearance and body language to reflect.


Stay visible

Because remote workers are not always present, or never present, in the office, they can easily be forgotten, consequently, not included in decisions and projects. It is crucial that you make a plan to stay visible in the organization you work for. Sacha Connor, Founder and CEO of Virtual Work Insider, calls this a virtual influence plan: “mapping out your sphere of influence, prioritizing key stakeholders, understanding their communication preferences, and determining tactics you’ll use to reach them.”

Make sure to participate in team-building exercises like virtual happy hours. Take advantage of moments dedicated to getting to know other colleagues in videoconference meetings. Share your insights, wins, and failures with your team. Advance ideas and take part in company-wide programs or teams. Make the most of the tools your employer provides you. And if possible, pop in the office once in a while!


Fight loneliness

Even the most introverted of introverts can find remote work lonely at times. It’s one of the biggest challenges remote workers have to face. Of course, checking in with colleagues and participating in virtual team building activities can help with that, while keeping you visible at work. But you can also use the flexibility of telework to your advantage: plan lunch dates with a friend or family member, or take a group exercise class at your gym in the morning. Go work in different places, like busy cafés or libraries once they reopen. Or get a membership to a coworking space. Join a book club or an amateur sports team. Office workers fulfill a lot of their socializing needs at work, without really realizing it, so make sure you compensate for these interactions. Buffer created a great guide on conquering remote work loneliness based on knowing yourself and what works for you.


Set boundaries

Remote workers have been shown to take shorter breaks, fewer vacation and sick days, and find it harder to have a healthy work-life balance than office-based workers. So setting boundaries are vital to keeping you sane and preventing burnout.

Ask yourself: how can I clearly disconnect from work at the end of the day? Maybe it's physically closing your computer or the door to your office. Doing a specific activity like meditation, a workout, or a walk around the neighborhood. Apps like Daywise can help you mute work notifications after your workday is over. Author Cal Newport says a “magic phrase” at the end of the workday: “Schedule shutdown, complete.”, and once that is said, he lets go of any work-related worries. You need to know how to sign-off at the end of the day, and setting an after-work ritual, whatever you decide it to be, can help you do that.


Take care of your health

Lastly, take care of yourself! Make sure you work in the safest workspace possible, one that will remind you to incorporate movement in your workday. Take a look at these tips to stay healthy at work. Practice good sleep hygiene. And take advantage of the time you gain by not commuting to do a fulfilling workout or spend quality time with your family.

 

We want to know: How do you approach remote work? What changes would you like to see in the future of remote work? What helps you overcome teleworking challenges?



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