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9 Strategies for Remote Employees: How To Stay Engaged and Inspired

Seattle’s my hometown, and I work for Bresslergroup which is based in Philadelphia.

This arrangement isn’t new for Bresslergroup, but it’s new to me. So when I started I was excited to discover a blog post written by my colleague, Mark Clark, about how he stays engaged and inspired as a remote employee. (Mark lives in Portland, Oregon.)

I thought Mark’s seven ideas were excellent and they got me thinking about the ways I balance working remotely with staying engaged with my co-workers on the opposite coast. I’ve learned that working remotely requires some shifts in how you operate, but it’s important not to lose yourself in the process. In addition to Mark’s advice, I have some tips of my own:

Ask Yourself, ‘How Do I Work Best?’

What works best for someone else isn’t going to be what works best for you, and vice versa. Think about how you work best, and adjust your routine and space accordingly.

Analyze the way you work, and play to your strengths. I’m a task-oriented person, so it always helps me to create a plan and stick to it. I create daily to-do lists (on large Post-Its) or schedule time on my calendar for specific tasks. Scheduling time on the calendar ensures I don’t fill up my time with meetings, which can leave me feeling like I didn’t accomplish much at the end of the day.

Think back to things that affected your productivity when you were working on-site, and try to re-create as much of that at home as possible. For me, there are three things that are vital to my productivity: 1) I like to switch between sitting and standing. So, even in a temporary office space, I make sure to create a ‘system’ where I can do so easily — even if this looks like a make-shift setup with piles of books under my laptop! 2) It’s absolutely critical to my productivity to have an extra monitor to be able to work on prototypes and large spreadsheets. 3) I like to make my workspace fun, which means plenty of colorful pens and stationery. I also sit on an exercise ball and I love the flexibility (quite literally) of using it!

Make Meetings Work for You

Be as strategic as you can about when and how you meet — think about the types of exchanges you’ll miss by not having a physical presence at the office and how you can compensate for that.

Schedule regular “state of the project” meetings with team members. This might sound like a mundane thing to point out, but it can be the difference between a successful collaboration and a frustrating one. Regular conversations about the health of a project will help you stay up to date on the hallway conversations that often lead to unexpected developments — and could later lead to miscommunication. Even better, a weekly team meeting where you can see your team members via Web cam and feel connected with them is also great! It helps you make a personal connection and reminds everyone you’re part of the team.

Set up recurring check-in meetings with your manager. Brief weekly check-ins help keep your channel of communication open with your manager, and they provide an avenue to share thoughts and ideas that might not merit dedicated meetings.

Time Management, Time Management, Time Management

This is what gets talked about most in articles about working remotely, and for good reason!

Time management is your friend (or enemy). The trouble with working from home is the great temptation to never clock out both mentally and physically. This can be overcome by mapping out a schedule— both for work and personal time — and being disciplined about sticking to it.

Initially I thought I was effectively ‘flexing’ my hours, but I soon realized I swung heavily between very long days that started with East Coast meetings and ended with West Coast meetings, and days when I took such long refresher breaks that I ended up not being focused on my tasks. So, it’s important to create a schedule and stick to it. Like all new routines, it takes time to get used to.

When possible, schedule whole days around individual projects. Frankly, this is true whether you’re in the office or working remotely. There are times when I require chunks of time to either ‘dive into’ data and get into the analysis for a few hours or spend time with interaction design and creation of wireframes. These tasks are not as effective when performed in smaller time allotments.

Setting aside an entire day to work on a specific project is one way I give myself ample space to get into my ‘zone’ and make good progress. One benefit of working from a home office is fewer distractions.

Communication Matters

The way you communicate with colleagues will be a little bit different when you work remotely.

Communication needs to happen early, often, and clearly. Ensure that roles and responsibilities on projects are clearly spelled out. Documents, versioning, and collaboration need to be well communicated. Which tools will be used, and what’s expected from each team member? We use Google Docs and Microsoft Teams a lot, and I’ll check in with team members using these tools one to two times a day (based on the extent of collaboration on the project) to ensure we all know the status and next steps at all times. These check-ins don’t need to be elaborate or time consuming — more like timely and crisp, like scrum meetings. They’re primarily to discuss progress and upcoming goals.

Master the art of e-mailing from afar. It might sound silly, but emailing as a remote worker is different from emailing when you’re sitting in the same room as your co-workers. Try to be as timely as possible in keeping up with emails as well as thorough in your communication to allow less room for misinterpretation. Assume positive intent whenever there is doubt. It’s often difficult to read tone and voice in emails. Communication is asynchronous, so turn work around as soon as possible to allow for different time zones and additional time for collaboration from all team members.

Find Creative Ways To Stay in Touch

Seek out local interest groups to help you stay in touch with your industry. Local meet-ups can be a helpful way to connect with like-minded professionals, and to get the in-person professional camaraderie you crave. In Seattle, I like seaDUXX: Seattle Women of Design and UX and Design For Healthcare. The former provides great opportunities for building confidence around presentation skills, and the second hits my domain-specific sweet spot: the intersection of design and health care. These and listening to podcasts are great ways to continue to learn and stay motivated.

Bake cookies! Be creative about finding ways to participate in company culture. In his post, Mark wrote about watching the Bresslergroup shuffleboard tournament championship match via livestream. For Bresslergroup’s recent Bake Off, I made company-themed cookies (pictured, below) and shipped them from Seattle to Philly. (As an avid baker, I just had to be part of this one!)

Finally, if you’re new to working remotely, be patient. You’ll find your way. Like any new endeavor, this one comes with a learning curve.