Almost two years ago I moved to Hamilton for personal reasons. Although I really loved my job at our Christchurch office, there was no Hamilton office to move to. Abley had been discussing the “future of work” for some time, and so I decided to see if Abley was prepared to “walk the talk” and enable me to keep my job. At this point we had one remote worker, but he had been working remotely well before joining Abley and was in a very different role (in the spatial & technology team) where remote working is more common. Luckily for me, the answer was yes – and in late 2019, I became a permanent remote employee.
With an increase in people working from home (on a part time or full time basis) post COVID, I thought it timely to reflect on my remote working journey, and highlight some tip’s and trick’s.
- Create a clear delineation between work life and home life.
When I first moved to Hamilton, I based myself in a co-working space while we were building our house. Now it is complete, I permanently work from home. This suits me, but I do find I need to be very careful about delineating work life and home life. This is a lesson I learnt during the COVID lockdown last year, before I’d moved in to our new-build. In my lockdown base, I often walked past my office setup which remind me of something I needed to do and it would drag me back into work in the evenings. Now, I’m very careful about not mixing the two environments for example, I don’t take work calls or set up my laptop in the kitchen/dining area and similarly, I don’t relax in my work space.
I also take this a step further with a philosophy on morning and evening “commute’s”.
- A morning “commute” for me often looks like a 30 min walk round the neighbourhood, or some yoga in the spare room. This time is really important to me, so I don’t end up just rolling out of bed and landing straight at my desk. But also, instead of potentially sitting in a car and getting frustrated with commuter traffic, I get the health benefits of being active. As an extrovert, I get energy from being around people. I also find that this connects me to the outside world and recharges my batteries ready for the day ahead.
- My evening commute is often a lot more simple. Now that I work from a purpose built office in my house, I’m lucky as my work space is fairly separate from the rest of the house. So at the end of the day I am really disciplined with “leaving” for the day, which I do by leaving my work cellphone on my desk and shutting the door behind me. . If you don’t have this luxury, then I’d suggest you add an “evening commute” or activity to help disengage.
- Importance of structuring your day and maintaining social connections
For many of us, most of our workdays are spent focussed on technical work with few (if any) meetings to break things up. Within the office environment, the physical presence of colleagues can add to your sense of purpose. Working remotely however can be isolating. Days without virtual meetings grant a sense of loneliness. On these days, I like to add some structure to my day by blocking time for specific projects, planning some exercise or ‘life admin’ tasks. These help to maintain concentration and motivation.
I’ve also learnt to ring people up ‘just because’. In an office, you have a lot of informal conversations with people – the ‘coffee machine’ chat is a really important part of staying connected in an organisation. When you’re remote – you suddenly realise how big a part this plays in making you feel part of the team. Working under a consultancy model where we all have to account for our time, I found it a big mental shift to accept that it’s okay just to pick up the phone and ring someone for non-work related chats. Luckily for me, about 6 months after I became a remote worker, one of my colleagues also took up remote working, so we’ve become each others’ “remote buddies” to fill that gap. If having a “remote buddy” is not an option for you, I’d suggest finding someone in your business who has similar interests or who you already have a good relationship with, and just being open about your need for regular informal chats. Since flagging the issue internally I’ve had lots of people reassure me they’re always there for a chat!
- Importance of making the most of face to face time
There really is no substitution to dealing with people face to face. The frequency of visits to the office will be different for everyone depending on proximity, project demands and the nature of your role. But something I’ve come to value is making sure to get the most out of an inter-office visit. This fundamentally comes down to prioritising time to just walk around the office and catch up with people. This might mean blocking off the day in your calendar. For me, booking out an entire day is generally not practical due to the nature of my client work, so I usually try and make trips 2-3 days long so I can balance workload with quality face to face time.
If possible, I also try and time visits with social events. This provides a good (leisurely) forum for catching up with colleagues personally and can be less overwhelming than being pulled into many different directions when you step foot in the office!
- The importance of adding having your camera on in MS Teams/Zoom calls
Turning on your webcam is not something most people are inherently comfortable with. I find it’s not so bad when you’re in a meeting room with others, but did feel self-conscious about it when I starting dialling in from home, knowing that my face was being blown up on the TV screen! But it is so, so important. About 3 months after I started remote work I popped down to our Christchurch office where a colleague of mine (who started after I left) asked who ‘the new girl was’. This was such a shock to me, because I’d been working quite closely with this person on a project and we’d had many (many) teams calls over the preceding month. Thankfully, post COVID Abley has made it company policy for staff to have webcams on in virtual meetings. The safety in numbers (many heads blown up on the big screen) is reassuring. But I have to say, you do eventually get used to it/more comfortable with it!
- Invest in digital events
One of the things I love most about Abley is the way it invests in building and maintaining our company culture. We have an employee activities fund (a company funded social club), and initiatives like baking day and end of month lunch (EOML). When you become a remote worker, you accept that you’re going to miss out on a number of these perks. But when all employees were forced to work remotely through COVID, we had some awesome virtual initiatives including Quiz nights and bingo session. Now, when the Abley office’s go out to a local restaurant for EOML. Our ‘remoties’ also have one – where we arrange our own meals from local café’s/takeaways and dial in for a virtual lunch. I’m also working with the social club committee to ensure whole company virtual events are embedded into the social calendar! These measures often don’t cost a lot of money, but can make a huge difference to making you feel part of the team.
If you’re contemplating making the plunge to remote work – please feel free to reach out. Always happy to discuss the good & the bad + other pro tip’s I might have picked up along the way (it’s definitely a journey!).