How to go from office-based to remote working

Remote working, or working from home, is everyone’s dream. Over the years I’ve heard many people utter the words, “oh I wish I could work from home!” But while sitting in your back garden in the middle of summer completing a day’s work may sound massively appealing, it can very quickly turn into the worst career move you ever made. That of course assumes you’re in the kind of job where remote working is a possibility. Remote working is very much the Marmite of work places:

Either you can do it, or you can’t.

I spent the first fifteen years of my working life (since the day I turned 16, no less), working with people. In factories, fast food restaurants, supermarkets and offices. I’ve always been around people. For an introvert, it’s probably no surprise to some that I’ve struggled at times with those surroundings – which is really odd, as my career ambition has meant progression to management. My last long-term job saw me managing a team of four people with multiple work streams for a multi-million pound game development studio. Fast forward a few months, and I’m now working 100% remotely for a global risk management company.

Besides email and the occasional Skype call, my voice conversations are generally limited to family members, such as being told, “I’m not your princess, I’m mummy’s princess,” by my three-year old angel daughter. Or, “no Spot, get off my keyboard!” Cats are awesome, but they don’t write reliable computer software, I find. And because of this – and many other reasons – I’ve actually found it far more difficult to “handle” the transition from office to home than I thought I would.

So, what does it take to successfully make that transition?

The Essential Remote Working Survival Kit

  • Self-discipline. If getting up and grinding through the daily commute is a struggle for you then you’re probably not going to do so well here. There are so many distractions when you’re remote working it’s frankly ridiclous. It’s so easy to get caught up watching TV, doing jobs around the house, daydreaming on your comfortable sofa. Self-discipline is the first remote working hurdle – and potentially one of the biggest. However, if you’ve got self-discipline down to an art, you’re good to move on.
  • A dedicated space. If you don’t believe me, try working on your laptop from the sofa or the kitchen table 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s impractical, and doesn’t give you the psychological mindset of, “I’m at work.” It also makes it more difficult to separate work and home – although if you don’t have a separate room to shut the door and work in, it’s not game over. More on that in a minuteā€¦
  • Structure/routine. Just as you have this in an office, you must also carve a routine out when working from home. If you’re lucky enough to be able to set your own hours then it makes more sense for you to do so when you’re most productive. Some people are more productive in the mornings, some late at night. But it’s important to ensure you set yourself a routine – give yourself boundaries, and make sure you stick to them. It can be all too easy to really get into something and still be working three hours after you were meant to stop.
  • Know when to take breaks. Most people in an office don’t know how to effectively take breaks from their work – the general guideline for people working on computers every day is a 5 minute break from the screen every hour – but at least if you’re in an office, you’re more likely to stop when your colleagues hail you for a quick break in the kitchen to get a drink. If you’re remote working you don’t have the same luxury. So make sure you take frequent breaks to avoid burning yourself out.
  • Todo lists. Self explanatory, ’nuff said.
  • Getting out of those four walls. Sounds counter-intuitive when your remote working environment is within your house, but scoop up your laptop and spend some time working in a coffee shop once in a while. Or rent out a desk at a shared office for a day. It might seem like a waste of time and money but one of the hardest things about remote working is dealing with the loneliness factor. Even sitting around a bustling coffee shop and hearing other people can massively help, and there are studies starting to emerge about remote working and mental health. Not to say remote working shouldn’t be a thing – but you have to be a certain type to be able to pull it off.

The list above is what I would consider “the essentials”. I have probably missed off some items, and I have other things that I personally need:

  • Headphones. I’m an enthusiastic musician and love to get behind my drum kit and make some beats. However, my life would be intolerable without music. So I have a decent quality pair of Sony MDR-ZX7770 noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones by my side. I back that up with a pair of in-ear buds if I’m out and about, and just need a five minute boost of concentration to get a task done.
  • Playlists. I have a few, depending on my mood and the work I need to get done I might listen to some rock, pop, classical or even white noise. The last few days have been all about rain, thunderstorms, seaside and ASMR therapy videos to get me through some challenging tasks.
  • Hobbies. Sounds weird when talking about remote working, however my sanity is maintained through my various hobbies. Archery, music, photography, electronics, racing and flying are my main pastimes – the flying is more of an ambition at the moment as I need to buy a house before I can think about paying for flying lessons.
  • Dress code. For me it’s important to dress in a similar way to how I would in an office. Most days I’ll put on a shirt, but I’ll occasionally go casual with a t-shirt. It’s another one of those things that helps me get in the work mindset – and for me, it works.

It’s not an easy change – and no matter how easy you think it will be, it will be a challenge and one that takes time. But if you have what it takes and can overcome the initial challenge, there are definitely benefits to be had!

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