The 10 Unwritten Rules of Working Remotely

I’ve mentioned this on this blog before: I’m working remotely. It’s becoming quite popular. It started out as people being offered to work from home, often also called telecommuting, and has since expanded. I’ve never set foot in the Katoka offices. I live and work in a different city. And even though I’ve only been doing it for a few months, I’ve learned quite a bit about working remotely. So here are the Ten Unwritten Rules of Working Remotely – some quite obvious and some lessons I personally learned the hard way.

Write All Ideas Down

I’ve found that when I’m working outside an office, I tend to think about work more. That can be very annoying when you are having dinner with friends, but quite often, I get new ideas while doing something else and in that case it’s always handy to have a notebook ready to write it down quickly. Not only will you remember it that way, but you can actually safely put the work thoughts out of your mind once you’ve written them down.

Allow Yourself Room to Breathe

This may not apply to all people working remotely, but if you are doing anything that is the least bit creative, you need to allow yourself a moment every now and again to step back, look at it from a different perspective, and just breathe. It’s very tempting to rush through your work hoping to get it done quicker, but the effect on the quality is disastrous. So don’t. Take a breath and take the time to edit your work a second time.

Discover What You Can Do When and Where

Working remotely often means that you are not just working from home, but also working while you are travelling, either for (other) business or pleasure. It’s important to discover early on what you can do while on the road and what simply won’t work. For me that means that while I’m happy to write on a trip, research and fact-checking need a more stable environment.

Dress to Work and Show Up on Time

In an article on how to work from home, Kevin Purdy stresses the importance of “looking the part”. If you don’t dress nicely and start your work on time from day one, you are just going to let things slide. It doesn’t have to be a suit, but working in your pyjamas quickly loses its appeal once you look in a mirror. You truly can’t be professional without looking the part.

Close the facebook Tab. And Twitter. And the News Sites.

When I’m working on my own computer, opposed to a work pc, I always like to keep a few tabs open for easy browsing. Facebook, Twitter, a news site and maybe my personal e-mails. This is a really bad idea. You get distracted so easily that it’s hard to get any work done. So close those tabs and rather allow yourself a few minutes every now and then to check what is going on in the world.

Find Ways to Stay Motivated and Care About Your Work

Motivation is always the key to doing a good job. And if you are working remotely, there is nobody there to motivate you but yourself. No boss to tell you to hurry up. No co-workers to give advice. So finding whatever works for you to motivate yourself and ensure that you care about your work is tantamount to your success. It’s not always easy when you can’t personally observe the impact of your input, so doing that remotely as well is a good first step.

Realise When You Are Procrastinating

I read an article about why procrastination is actually a good thing a while back and it made me rethink my whole stance on it. I’ve always been somewhat prone to procrastinate when any unpleasant or simply difficult task lay ahead. And when you are working on your own computer, it’s even easier to do this then when you are in an office. Don’t start to finally sort through your holiday snapshots when you are supposed to write a new blog post. Sure, it’s a good thing to finally get that done as well, but it’s not what you’re getting paid for. Keep the procrastination for your free time.

Don’t Even Think About Enjoying the Sunshine and Working in the Evening

It never works. Everybody hates working when the weather is just perfect and it would be so much nicer to take a stroll through the park or hit the beach. But don’t convince yourself that now you are working remotely you can actually do that. Postponing your work, even for just a few hours, is never a good idea. Stick to the times you are supposed to be working and you will actually have a chance to enjoy your time off. It will be much better than tanning during the day and then desperately scrambling to get everything done before you head to bed.

Find a Place to Work and Just to Work

A lot of this advice is going in a similar direction and this might be the most important part of it. A friend of mine working for a major business consulting company was very excited when they offered to let him do his “office days” from home. Basically, he thought that he could get a new computer – which he was allowed to use privately as well – with the employer paying for it. But once this avid gamer started working from home, he realised that it wasn’t quite that easy. Now when he wanted to play games on the computer, he couldn’t stop thinking about work. And when he was working, he couldn’t stop thinking about the games he wasn’t playing. In the end, he had to get another computer and another desk, just to keep the two separate and be able to enjoy his time off again. When you are working remotely, find a place to do just that and nothing else.

This is actually a really bad idea.


Find a Substitute for the Co-Worker Chat

When you get stuck in your work in an office, it’s very easy to just ask a co-worker for advice. Or just to chat about what was on television the night before. It’s a great way to set your mind at ease for a couple of minutes before you hopefully return to the task at hand with a new mindset. When you are working remotely, chances are you are working alone without anybody around. So find a substitute that you can use. Listen to a song. Doodle on your sketchpad. Read a page from one of those horrible joke books. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you are focused on something else for a minute or two before returning to the matter at hand. Personally, I’ve found that composing nonsense Tweets (for my personal Twitter, naturally) works wonders.

Are you working remotely? Have you experience similar problems or do you need completely different unwritten rules? I would love to hear from other people about this in the comments below.


About Christoph Hartwig

After getting a business degree in his native Germany and a law degree in the United States, Christoph is currently travelling around Australia doing work he truly enjoys. And nothing is quite as satisfying as following current trends, pratices and developments and writing about them for Katoka.

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