Working from home may seem like the dream. There's no commute, no boss hovering over you and — if you're really lucky — freedom to work whatever hours you want.
Thanks to the rise of the gig economy, more workers have the luxury of never setting foot in a soulless office building again. Up to 30% of the working-age Americans earn income outside of traditional employee roles, according to a 2016 McKinsey survey. Another 3.7 million people, or 2.8% of all employees, spend at least half the workweek out of the office, according to 2016 statistics from Global Workplace Analytics.
But as anyone who works at home knows, all that freedom comes with new challenges in terms of staying focused and communicating with your coworkers in cubicles.
Here are three essential work habits all remote workers need:
1. Be disciplined and set a schedule
Scheduling should be a priority for remote workers who don't have someone telling them what to do face-to-face all day long. One way to manage your time is by writing down your action plan for the week before it starts, Cali Yost, CEO and founder of Flex + Strategy Group told Mic in a phone interview.
"Write down your priorities for the week and plan in advance," Yost said. "Include the tasks you need to accomplish with uninterrupted focus, even phone calls and scheduling time for the gym."
No need to get fancy about making your list. Just block out time on your Google calendar, make notes on your phone or whip out an old-fashioned paper planner — whatever works for you.
Break vague goals into steps. Instead of writing, "I want to finish writing my article," for example, Entrepreneur suggests explaining how you will finish the article by detailing that you will write it in three sections and spend no more than one hour per section, for instance.
Planning your day in detail also maximizes productivity and focus. "You won't greet the day unfocused or without intention," Yost says. "And you can make the most from remote working time."
2. Keep distractions to a minimum
Off-site work also means you should treat your remote office the same way you would an on-site location. "Distractions you wouldn't normally have in the office should be eliminated," Yost says. "That means if you have dogs that bark, you should consider doggy daycare."
If pop up email notifications onscreen becomes a distraction, disable them in the app or browser or download a pop-up blocker like Freedom, Jacqueline Whitmore, business etiquette expert and founder of Protocol School of Palm Beach suggested to Mic in a phone interview.
"Another way to stay on track is to set a timer for the amount of time you plan to work solidly on a project, with no distractions," Whitmore said. "When the time is up, reward yourself by checking social media or answering emails."
"Also, the people in your life need to understand that when you are working, you should be treated like someone working at an on-site location," she added. The well-meaning neighbor who thinks you are free to hang and chat during office hours needs to understand that although you're home, you can't participate in the coffee clutch.
Although you aren't physically in the office, maintaining a regular professional presence with coworkers or clients is critical to remaining viable as a telecommuter or home-based worker.
"You must proactively communicate with your team and colleagues," Yost advised. "When you are in the office, people see you and will automatically reach out. But when you are remote, you are the one who needs to reach out and make the effort to ensure everyone knows you are on task and available."
Use the company's internal communication system to be more accessible. Whether it's chat, email or conference calls, make sure you're always in the loop. Also be sure to schedule meetings or projects on the company's internal calendar, Yost added.
Face-to-face meetings are important too, however occasional. "If you can't go into the office or meet with clients in person, Skype is helpful or keep in contact by phone as opposed to email," Whitmore said. That way, your coworkers can finally put a face to your disembodied voice or emails — and they'll never forget you're on their team.
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