Working remote or “remotely” working? It’s wild that remote work catches that stigma. The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a remote worker is finding the confidence to let my work speak for itself. I used to clock 70 hour weeks because I was afraid that if people didn’t “see me on the job,” I’d get a rep for mailing it in.
In 2015, I was the first and only remote full-time team member at Lingo Live – in those early days, we had no precedent or policies for remote work. Every new employee wants to make a good first impression when we start a new job… now try doing that 2800 miles away from headquarters.
It took over a year to figure out how to maintain a better work-life balance. I couldn’t have done it without an encouraging environment (thanks, team!) but it would have also been impossible without developing one totally-game-changing healthy habit: Communicating my schedule to my team. I’m talking eye-rolling “too many posts about what my friends ate for lunch on my news feed” style communication… Current status? “Offline. Writing a blog post, back at 4:30 pm ET.”
It might seem like an overkill of information “no one cares about,” but transparency about when I am available—or why I’m not—shows the team that they can count on me to be there when I say I will. It also prevents them from wondering, “What’s she really doing with her time?”
Pop a message on the group chat, update a status, send an email or block time on the calendar. Detail is important. Don’t simply put “unavailable.” Make it clear that this is a dentist appointment or a dedicated “offline” hour for focused concentration on a project. Include an estimated time of return and follow-through on that by checking back in with co-workers at that time.
There is an added benefit to this seemingly simple habit: multitasking is a major productivity killer and notifications are a major multitasking temptation. Just like on-site employees, we need uninterrupted focus time to do our best work, but the idea of “going offline” is scary for remote employees. Our only lifeline to the company is through these virtual channels, so we often fall into the trap of being on-call all the time in fear of being perceived as slacking.
Blocking “offline” time on my calendar for specific projects and communicating why I’m unavailable eases the anxiety as to what co-workers will think if I don’t respond immediately. (Seriously. My teammates are located in Asia, Europe, and throughout the US, so there’s no time of day that someone’s not awake and pinging about something…) Remote workers also need guilt-free focus time for strategy, organization and project completion! It’s okay to be offline because my team knows what I’m working on and when they can expect me back.
Offering details humanizes us and gives context to our absence. If I were physically in the office, these details would emerge naturally. I’d say “I’m going to the dentist, I should be back in 2 hours.” They’d see me leave and see me return. Likewise, they would be able to look through the conference room window and know that I’m heads-down in work, zeroed in on my laptop. They would know I booked the space privately for the next hour and see that it’s not a good time to jump in with a quick question. My coworkers don’t need the ins and outs of my root canal, but I do try to paint a clear picture as to why they might not hear from me for a few hours.
For the sake of your own mental health, let go of the idea that you have to be available at all times in order to make your presence felt at headquarters or to be perceived as a hard worker. Manage how your team perceives your work ethic—not by time spent online, but by taking the offline time you need to produce quality work.
— Alyssa Conley, Director of Coach Community
Interested in learning more about working remote? Check out our blog and hilarious video series on the frustrations of remote work.