3 Things I’ve Learned about Being Productive when Telecommuting

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Telecommuter. Remote Worker. Digital Nomad. Road Warrior. These are but a few of the names used to describe people who don't regularly see their co-workers face to face. I'm one of them. Perhaps you are, too.

The names can imply different things. A road warrior is someone who takes frequent business trips while a remote worker is (usually) someone who works from home. Measuring how many people telecommute is difficult.

Regardless, telecommuting comes with it's own set of opportunities and challenges. Let me share some things I've learned.

3 Things I've Learned -

  1. Find the Right Noise vs. Isolation Balance
  2. Communicate Frequently with the Office
  3. Know When to Quit

1. Find the Right Noise vs. Isolation Balance

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Common advice for remote workers is to "eliminate distractions". I want to dig a little deeper.

I find I need a balance between noise and isolation. Too noisy? I can't think. Too quiet? I start distracting myself with the desire to be near the action. I hate total isolation and I prefer instead to find the right kind of noise.

Having people around me creating LOW-volume noise is great because it makes me feel connected to life. Playing music between phone calls and even singing loudly can be great for my focus - it's a special Gen-X skill. ;-) Plus it's a perq for working from home!

Less ideal noise is my family deciding to blend a smoothie...right next to my desk. (My workspace is close to the kitchen and not very sound-proof). The point here is that I find a certain degree of noise to be a productivity boost. The trick is figuring out what noises personally distract you, and which ones help.

As a side note, I find coffee shops to be an ideal mix of low-level people noise and I'm usually very productive in that environment.

2. Communicate Frequently with the Office

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Geographic distance from co-workers can lead to getting out of touch with priorities. I might be churning out work, but it is it the right work? To be effective and not just efficient, keeping a strong communication flow to the office helps me stay on track and get excited about what I'm doing.

By communicate, I don't mean just checking email. I find it's vital to have regular phone calls (and video calls) to ensure my team is moving in the same direction. My colleagues and I practice the GTD method of maintaining Agenda lists leading up to our meetings. Then when we meet via phone, we can plow through the everyday items that require our mutual attention. Perhaps more importantly, we try for regular strategy meetings where we discuss the bigger picture.

Another trick we use is regularly CC'ing and BCC'ing each other on communications we send to other people, such as clients. (Private emails stay private, of course.) This way, everyone gets a better pulse on what's going on for our company. The key is that any email from colleagues that has a BCC or CC is considered "FYI only, just read and delete."

3. Know When to Quit

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One of my greatest challenges working remotely is finding the right work-life balance. It's not so much that I'm getting communications from my co-workers at all hours. It's that my work is constantly available and I know there are always important projects needing finishing.

What I'm finding is that I'm noticeably less productive after a certain number of hours in my chair. I start to mark time rather than really do work. So I (try to) break for a while, because it's more important to get things done than it is to log a certain number of hours.

One trick we use is setting our Skype status indicators (online, offline, away, etc.) to communicate our general availablity. Give yourself the freedom to set your personal status indicator to "offline" on a regular basis so you have the energy to be effective during your "online" hours.

What have you learned about telecommuting? Any tips or tricks to share?

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