Getting things done — for your company and for your customers — is the outcome we care about most. And we find that fostering a remote workforce brings out the best in our employees. With a conscious approach, perhaps working from home can work well for you, too.
Working from home isn’t all about flexible schedules and pajamas — though in the right circumstances, those are definitely potential perks. In reality, working remotely (and having a remote workforce) offers benefits to your company beyond wearing fuzzy slippers to the office.
To delve into the challenges and positives of working remotely, we got two of our own work-from-home employees to share their outlooks. Cathy Freels, the VP of Accounting, has worked for over 7 years from her home near Chicago. And Joan Thompson, the Payroll Tax Director, manages our payroll tax processing for more than 800 clients in 42 states, all from her home in Mancos, Colorado.
Cathy and Joan have some tried-and-true tips for how to make working from home work efficiently for you and your company.
Fake Yourself Out
Perhaps the biggest key to working from home effectively is to trick yourself.
“I learned a long time ago that you have to fake yourself out a little bit,” Cathy says. “I have a pair of work shoes, and when I put those shoes on, I’m working. I don’t allow myself to do anything else.”
That ritual keeps Cathy focused by putting her in the working mindset. The details of the ritual don’t matter as much as the importance placed on it. You can put on a working hat, or steep a cup of tea in your office mug. The physical act can help you distinguish work from home when the two things are otherwise in the same place.
That’s the other magic trick of working remotely: You may be working from within your house, but once you start working, you are not at home.
To pull off this act of illusion, Joan finds that having a work space that is separate from the rest of her life is critical.
“The one thing you have to have is a dedicated office area,” Joan says. “It’s not an office and a bedroom. It’s not an office in the kitchen. It’s not an office in the living room. Your office is all it is.”
Creating that committed space is the one piece of advice Joan gives anyone venturing homeward for ASAP’s remote workforce.
“Make sure your office and your home environment are two mutually exclusive things,” she says.
Whether you put on work shoes or lock yourself in your home office, a serious challenge to working remotely is to limit your distractions.
“I’d never worked from home before,” Joan says, “so at first I thought, ‘Well, this is pretty cool; I can do work things and home things.’ But you really can’t. They didn’t hire me to vacuum the house. They hired me to work.”
Joan stresses the importance of balancing her work and home life. Once she made the effort conscious, she says, it didn’t take her very long. She uses her lunch break to get outside, take a walk, or take care of niggling chores. But then, when lunch is over, she’s back to work.
It’s one thing to keep yourself distraction-free, though. It’s another to get everyone else in your home to respect your work hours as much as you do.
The temptation to socialize will be there. “You’re cut off from your coworkers,” Cathy points out. “A lot of people have a hard time with the isolation.”
A helpful rule of thumb here is to consider how you would act if you were at work in a company office. Would you go play fetch with the dog, or wait until work was over? Would you be taking care of your kids, or trusting them with a childcare provider?
You’ll know the right answers for you and your company, and we’re not saying that your spouse cannot ever call you between 8 and 5. But “working from home” is not synonymous with “available for home life.” Everyone will be happier once you make that boundary clear for yourself.
The Upsides of Working Remotely
Handled effectively, a remote workforce can have benefits for both individual employees and your company as a whole.
“It’s a benefit, a perk, and a privilege,” Joan says. “I don’t have to spend the gas money to travel to work. I can wear a t-shirt and jammies if I want to. I don’t have to spend money on makeup. I can do everything from home, and I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Cathy echoes these sentiments. “My upside is I don’t have to commute,” she says. “That’s time I can be productive instead of spending time traveling.”
Employee morale may be difficult to quantify, but some of the upsides for your company are immediate and tangible.
Cathy points to the underlying costs of maintaining a physical office. ASAP has ten remote employees, and she recognizes that a brick-and-mortar space for them would result in higher rents and utility bills — costs which could alter a company’s opportunities for growth.
And neither Joan nor Cathy sees any significant opportunity costs to working remotely. “I haven’t noticed a change to the clients being able to reach out to me if they need to, or me to reach out to them,” Joan says. “We have the technological capability to have a conversation with each other. Easily.”
To make working remotely work for your company, Cathy recommends having employees work primarily in your office space for at least a year. That way, they’ll understand the company’s culture, and you’ll understand the employees’ working styles.
Because your job is all about serving your customers and clients, ensuring that your team is on board with your mission is a significant foundation to a successful remote workforce.
“The ability to work from home appears to be a positive to our culture at ASAP,” Joan says. “Even if we’re not sitting in front of each other in an office, we are still able to communicate and get the things done that we need to get done.”
To learn more about remote workforce management tools, check out this LinkedIn news feed.