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When you’re working from home, it’s easy for the lines between your personal and working life to become blurred. But it is important to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism in all of your interactions with your peers, supervisors, and others in your business.
Being Accountable and Responsive
While remote work rejects the notion of presence as a measure of your productivity, it’s conversely easy to become virtually invisible when you’re working from home. Being accountable means that you do what you say you will, so your team can depend on you and not need to check in outside planned standups or asynchronous mechanisms they have in place. You can ensure your team knows you’re on track by:
Using the best channels for communications. We recommend following your team’s agreement or, if you don’t have one, asking your colleagues how they want to be communicated with. Ideally most of your communication will be asynchronous, but this will vary depending on your company.
Responding appropriately. This includes replying to emails, calls, and other communications according to your team’s agreed-upon protocols, and keeping your messages focused and on-point. You’ll want to keep an eye out for the ways your team asks questions or needs clarification on any work or projects in process, but it’s important to be careful not to overdo it. Many remote workers report overcompensating for fear of not being visibly available,* which could lead to pestering members of your team or distracting yourself from getting necessary work done.
Managing your role. This means maintaining a level of autonomy over your work, knowing when to involve a manager, and helping your peers if they’re struggling. You also will want to ensure you stay on track with everything you’re responsible for, meet your targets, and deliver to deadlines.
Be transparent about your hours. While you may thrive on taking advantage of the flexibility that remote work offers, it’s important that you don’t just disappear! While some all-remote teams operate almost entirely independently, it can’t hurt to let your team know if you’re off to walk the dog, have some family time, or run some errands. As long as you’re getting your work done, and your team knows they’ll get answers to any questions within whatever time frame you’ve all agreed to, you can be free to adjust your schedule as needed.
What accountability looks like will vary, depending on the type of company you work for. A remote-first company will have the expectation that the whole team will be remote, and have the necessary structure and documentation to support autonomous, asynchronous work. With traditional companies that are transitioning to remote working, you’ll need to pay particularly close attention to your accountability.
Projecting a Professional Working Environment
Even if you don’t have a separate home office, there are steps you can take to project professionalism when you’re working:
Dressing for your role. You might dress a little more casually than if you’re going into a traditional office, but putting on decent clothes each day can help with your mindset and image. You may also want to consider whether you’ll be talking with outside clients, interviewing candidates, or using other forms of external communication that would benefit from you looking more polished.
Keeping the background appropriate. You might need to join video conferences and be on webcam. It’s wise to make sure that you don’t mind your colleagues or supervisors seeing the background behind you.
Minimizing noise and distractions. You’ll want to try to limit distractions wherever possible, but that’s doubly important if you’re on a video call. It’s good to let others around you know you’re attending a meeting and ask them to keep extraneous noises to a minimum.
importantIt’s worth noting, however, that more companies are embracing remote work as a way to rethink traditional office perspectives on what is and isn’t acceptable. Remote work also provides a less demanding environment for people with physical disabilities and mental health needs such as anxiety and depression, and in many cases, this includes a reduced need for in-person or face-to-face communication. Companies will have their own standards and expectations (and ideally, a code of conduct) for whether people need to have their video turned on for meetings, and what is or isn’t “professional.”
story “Remote work provides a more inclusive approach that is an opportunity to break free of the sterile co-located environment. This means that working parents need not be mortified if their children pop into a meeting. Instead, celebrate that! Co-located spaces require you to check the real you at the door, which is a tragedy. With remote, you bring your full self, background and all, so long as it doesn’t infringe on a code of conduct. You shouldn’t be embarrassed if your background is a mountain range or a beach. It’s actually really hard to work on the beach, and takes an exceptional amount of focus, maturity, and drive.” —Darren Murph, Head of Remote, GitLab
Having a Backup Plan
importantIt’s important to have a backup workspace. If you lose power, the internet goes down, or you can’t work from your usual spot, you’ll need to have a contingency in place. It’s worth spending a little time seeking out other areas you can work from to reduce stress if there’s an emergency. In general, you should have a go-to list of other places you know you can work that have reliable wifi and the kind of environment you’ll need (for example, co-working space with booths or rooms for video calls and meetings).
Physically and mentally taking care of yourself is vital as a remote worker, and requires good self-management. We’ll explore the practical techniques you can use to stay healthy.
Remote workers have more freedom to take care of physical health than traditional, office-based roles. Much of the advice below applies to anyone really, but people with more flexible remote schedules hopefully are able to take better advantage of these opportunities.
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