The Challenge: You recently joined the 13.4 million Americans who work remotely at least once a week. The flexibility is great – but home office pitfalls are numerous: How do you stay sane and productive sans cubicle and co-workers?
The Wonk: Hannah Emple, Policy Analyst, Asset Building Program
The Tip: “Remote” doesn’t have to mean isolation.
After three years living and working in Washington, D.C., I moved to San Francisco in January and have been working on my remote working skills ever since. Here are my do’s and don’ts:
DO find people to spend time with during the day. By far the hardest adjustment for me has been the absence of co-workers to bounce ideas off of and exchange pleasantries with throughout the day. New America is a think tank after all, and talking through ideas out loud is one way I work most effectively. Now, in the absence of coworkers, I’ve begun to compile a list of friends and acquaintances who I can schedule “work dates” with. We pick a coffee shop and spend three to four hours “co-working” (all the rage out in California right now). Sure, we spend some of that time talking about non-work related things, but the upside is having an opportunity to explain a project to someone who is working in a completely different field. That has forced me to make sure my ideas are especially clear.
DO leave the house. The temptation to stay in pajamas and make elaborate breakfasts can be quite strong, but getting out of the house is probably the best way to ensure you will actually stay on task for the day.
But DON’T make the mistake of “commuting” at peak hours. Office workers who have to be in their physical office are going to clog up your region’s public transportation system until at least 9a.m. I’ve avoided the melee by swapping my first few hours of work with my commute – instead of spending 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on a bus or a train, I spend that time getting started on work at home. When the commuter rush has died down, I hop on transit and zip to my destination.
DO find some “good-ole-standbys” for work destinations, but also take advantage of the flexibility to see new places. I’ve made it my personal mission to work from every one of San Francisco’s 28 public library branches. (I’ve made it to 12 so far.) Plus, the library has free Internet – and a scanner! Get your library card and the world can be your oyster.
DO switch to tea if you’re currently a coffee drinker – mostly because it can be cheaper (think vanilla latte vs. chamomile), and could reduce your cost of entry to work at a local coffee shop.
DO talk out loud before getting on an early conference call. If your coworkers are three hours ahead of you, like mine are, a 9 a.m. Eastern Time phone call can be disastrous. Speaking to yourself before you pick up the phone will ensure you don’t sound like Kermit the Frog.
DON’T mention that the weather in your area is 70 and sunny when all your coworkers just battled a horrible snowstorm to get to the office. (I learned that one the hard way.)
DO make up for your physical distance by being as attentive and responsive to your coworkers as you can. Maybe that means swapping anecdotes from the weekend over email, but more likely it means reviewing someone else’s most recent work and giving them constructive feedback – just like a real-live co-worker.
Hannah Emple is a policy analyst with the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation. She provides research, analysis, and programmatic support on a range of topics related to household economic security and federal asset building policy. In particular, she focuses on U.S. housing policy, racial wealth disparities, and strategies to improve public benefits programs to promote the financial stability of low- and middle-income families. This article was originally published in The Weekly Wonk, New America‘s digital magazine.
*Image of “woman and laptop” via Shutterstock