Effective remote work hinges on a disciplined awareness of the remote experience, exceptional communication habits, and a willingness to embrace technology. The staff at Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE), a leader in innovative online educational delivery, are well versed in using virtual platforms to collaborate across teams and have long recognized the benefits of working from home.
While it can be just as – if not more – productive, working remotely does have nuances that set it apart from an office setting. Although remote work boasts flexibility, it also poses challenges such as audio and technical difficulties, potential exposure to unsecured networks and ransomware, as well as limitations with nonverbal cues, like body language. It's important to be aware of these challenges and be prepared to quickly adjust communication styles or workflows if something isn't working.
However, the ability to work remotely can also provide several benefits, both to employee satisfaction and overall team productivity. When done well, working from home can create frictionless workflows, reduce office conflict, and build collaboration and trust across teams - not to mention saving on office space costs for an employer.
Whether you are new to this concept or have been working remotely for years, here are a few suggestions from the experts at GTPE on how you can ensure your efforts are successful.
Getting your work done is important, but staying healthy – mentally and physically – is just as crucial for at-home workers. You are in control of your working environment, and it's important to set boundaries between your professional and personal life.
The right office space will set the tone for your work day. Designate a physical area in your home that is quiet, distraction-free, and encourages you to stay focused. Ideally, this is a space that is used solely for working purposes.
Our Academic Programs Manager, Lindsey Laney, chooses not to work from spaces in her house that are designed for rest (i.e. the bedroom), while Carla Hendricks, executive assistant, finds it helpful to keep her home desk similar to her desk at work.
Without the buzz of the office, it can be easy to lose track of time, so it's important to build routines that account for your well-being. You may also find yourself working in the evenings and weekends, which can offset a work-life balance.
Rashimi Dawadi, senior business intelligence developer, makes a point to maintain the same working hours as when in the office, and Shayla Hill, assistant director of digital strategy, is vigilant at keeping an eye on the time.
"When the end of my work day comes, I leave my office and close the door. This serves as a great transition for me back into my personal life, it's my afternoon commute down the hall."
It's also important to take breaks, as you would in the office, so you remain refreshed and ready to start a new task. At home you often don't have cues for lunch breaks, so London Cox, human resources coordinator, suggests scheduling time to eat and hydrate throughout the day, while remembering to stretch, breathe, or stand when you've been sitting for long periods.
A practical command of available technologies and tools along with a robust knowledge of your applications are essential when working remotely. "You have to be fearless when it comes to technology," says Dominique Ennis Sierra, director of operations.
"You may be using a platform that’s not your preference, but you still need to get your message across succinctly and clearly to your audience."
In addition to practicing good cyber-hygiene, a strong internet connection, along with a combination of cloud-based business applications and file sharing systems, will allow teams to work synchronistically while making the move to a new location or device a seamless process. Some of our favorite digital tools include Bluejeans, Dropbox, Sharepoint, and Microsoft Teams.
Likewise, you should embrace virtual meetings as the new norm and approach each meeting with purpose and respect. Avoid multi-tasking, test the technology, arrive prepared and on-time, and assign a facilitator.
Our Digital Projects Manager, Tia Durham, also notes that video conferences are most effective when others can see your facial expressions and body language, and therefore it's important to be cognizant of how you present yourself. "It's easy to forget that other people can see you since you are not in the room, so I make sure I have the video portion of others in front of me so I don't forget."
As many organizations transition to remote work for the first time, they may lack established guidelines and policies. Working with your supervisor to set these ground rules and determine best practices around work schedules, response times, and availability will ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Reserve emails for single messages, such as setting up video meeting times or sharing files. Instant messaging should be used for discussing a project casually or having brief catch-ups with a colleague. For more in-depth conversations that require a lot of back and forth, make a call via phone or video conference.
To minimize the need to frequently follow up for additional details, and to help facilitate more thorough responses, Reshan Baqi, marketing research associate, finds it useful to include any discussion materials ahead of time and request a virtual meeting instead of an email.
Since remote work is often non-verbal, misunderstandings are inevitable. Plan regular face-to-face meetings at a cadence and format that works for everyone, and be mindful of including others in decisions or information that is shared. On text or other electronic communication mechanisms, address the person you are communicating with prior to asking a question, and utilize animated GIFs and emoticons to convey emotion.
If you feel like an emotional response is coming up from a virtual communication, Laney suggests picking up the phone or video calling that person directly whenever possible.
"It may feel uncomfortable, but it is better than letting a potential miscommunication get out of hand. It always helps to talk voice-to-voice or face-to-face."
For some, working remotely might be a new experience, but ultimately, it can be a positive one. "Going forward, workplaces will become increasingly digitally focused and globally connected in order to keep up with the rapid pace of technology," said Nelson Baker, dean of professional education. "It will be vital for working professionals to regularly embrace new techniques and acquire additional skills in order to acclimate."
Incorporate some of the approaches reviewed here and you will equip yourself with deeper problem-solving skills and more agile working techniques ready to take on the future of work. Stay tuned for additional articles that will help you address the current reality, like the additional pressure of homeschooling and digital boundaries.