Manager, Kaplan Test Prep
For an increasing number of Americans, the home is becoming the office. Flexible schedules, personal autonomy, no commute — working remotely has its advantages. For those considering remote work, the transition can be daunting. Teresa Douglas, a remote worker and manager of remote workers at Kaplan Test Prep, says that for the right person the benefits outweigh the challenges.
“Two years ago, I ran four half-marathons in a year,” Douglas said. “I did all my training during the day. I didn’t have to worry about coming into the office sweaty. I could do my run, come back, and do my job. You can’t do that in an office.”
Creating a routine
Douglas, who co-authored “Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams,” said that the first step for successful remote workers is to establish a disciplined schedule. “It’s easy to forget that you get a lot of structure in your day by going to an office,” Douglas said. “I do a lot of my focused work the first hour of the day, and I talk to people in the afternoon. Knowing that’s the rhythm of my day, I get all my focused stuff done before those calls start.”
“It sounds so basic, but if your boss is in New York and you have an employee in California and another one in Hong Kong, it’s good to set up expectations of when you would be talking to people,” Douglas said of managers working with remote employees. “Set up milestones and check-in times with your remote workers ahead of time. You don’t want to be too Big Brother-ish in the way you manage people.”
Remote workers who take the lead in this communication end up feeling the most freedom with their schedule, Douglas said. “As an employee, you can start by telling your boss, ‘good morning, here’s what I’m working on, here are the things I need help with.’ Just having that constant communication will give you accountability because people expect to hear from you at a certain time every day.”
Working remotely can also be isolating. According to a 2018 Buffer study on remote workers, 21 percent of remote workers struggled with feeling isolated. “One thing that has worked for me is learning the art of the outreach,” Douglas revealed. “Get to that point where you’re proactively reaching out to say, ‘you made a great comment in that meeting, or do you mind getting together with me for ten minutes so I can ask you more about that?’ I’ve never had somebody tell me, I don’t want to talk to you.”
As well as networking professionally, making time for a hobby is essential for a remote worker’s well-being. “It doesn’t matter what you’re into. There’s a group out there that meets to talk about it. It gets you out of your home. Leaving your home regularly, it can be a hard thing if you don’t have to, but it’s so important for your mental state.”
While remote work is not for everyone, if you’re clear about why you want to do it, the challenges will seem lesser. “If you know why you want to do it — because you want to travel more or spend more time with your family — then hang on to that reason. That will help you get through some of the more uncomfortable pieces of learning how to network and meet people when you’re working in your office-of-one.”
However, for Douglas, there’s no going back. “I don’t know what I would do if I had to go back to an office,” she said.