5 Rules of Working Remotely Learned from 5 Years of Telecommuting

Everett SizemoreI have been working from home full-time for the last 5 years. Before that, I had spent several years traveling through Australia and Southeast Asia while operating a business remotely.

Prior to this month I had been living in rural southwestern Virginia for about 4.5 years, working for three different Colorado companies (at different times), in addition to being a part-time Moz Associate, occasional freelancer and conference speaker.

As of December, 2015 I am once again living in Colorado. My home is in Bailey, a small mountain community about 1.5 hours west of the Inflow offices in Denver.

Here are the most important rules I’ve learned over the last few years when it comes to being a remote worker:

Rule #1 – Get Results

Working from home (or any remote location) is a privilege. It can, and should, be taken away if your performance suffers as a result. Always be clear with your employer about what your success metrics are, and ensure these are accurately tracked and reported on. One way or the other, results speak for themselves. So bust your but to keep this awesome privilege!

Alternatively – Take a Pay Cut

I prefer to live in rural areas, which makes telecommuting a “must” for me. I have, at times, sacrificed significant cuts to my salary in exchange for this arrangement. A pay-cut can be useful to leverage in the short-term, such as when negotiating terms with a new employer, with whom you must first gain trust.

Rule #2 – Don’t Miss Meetings!

There was a time when I resisted the smart-phone urge. I wanted to “live off the land” and be as unplugged as I could. The problem can be summarized in one anecdote: My first meeting wasn’t until 11am and I planned to work late that evening so I could mow the lawn. It was 8am. No problem. Plenty of time to mow the lawn.

As any homeowner can relate to, naturally, the string broke off when I pulled (or the battery wouldn’t start, etc.) and I spent the next hour just trying to get the thing started. By 10:30am I was finished mowing, but the UPS truck came down the drive, my wife needed help moving something, and I was all sweaty and greasy so I had to wash up… And the meeting totally slipped my mind.

It was an important meeting with a client and, because of me, it was a total clusterfuck. #NeverAgain Now I keep my calendar on me at all times, everywhere I go.

Whether it’s a client, employer or teammates, it is rude and unprofessional to have them waiting around on the phone for you to call-in or pick up. If your presence is needed in the meeting that means it’s not just your salary that gets wasted, but everyone else’s.

Have you ever calculated the time-cost in dollars for a meeting with a marketing executive, a designer, and a developer – let alone the SEO guy who was too busy cutting his lawn to get to the meeting?

Rule #3 – Separate Personal from Work Time on the Calendar & In Your Mind

If you don’t work specific hours, but just hop on and off throughout the day and evening, and on weekends,  then pretty soon it will feel like you are working your ass off, but for some reason you’re not getting results and are not enjoying your job.

Work will be on your mind all day, all night, all weekend… This destroys your focus and burns you out, even while you’re actually spending less “time” sitting down at the computer and focusing long chunks of time on completing important tasks.

There has to be a clear separation between being “at work” and being “off work” when working from home.

You can’t have family interrupting you all the time during work hours, and you can’t have work on your mind all the time during family hours. When I finish up whatever project I’m working on for the day, clean up my emails, look over my calendar and prepare to shut down for the day, I yell “Shutting Down!” which my wife and son can hear (but it’s more for myself).

And when I close the lid on my laptop and the door to my office I yell “Off Work!” so my family knows it’s now OK to ask questions, start discussions, tell me about their days… But, more importantly, so my mind knows it’s time to switch from analytical, detailed work-mode to creative, loving family mode.

It is OK to have a little flexibility in your schedule, as long as it is planned for.

Rather than taking 3 hours out of every work day (15 hours per week!) for the commute, I designate 2 “core” days in the office every week, and 1 “optional” day. Most of my meetings tend to happen on those 2-3 days, though I call-in to them regularly from home as well.

Rule #4 – Don’t Miss Deadlines

The missing of a deadline sucks for everyone involved, and there are few faster ways to lose work-from-home privileges, or your clients’ trust, than to miss an important deadline. Just as with meetings, always put these on the calendar, always set up alerts, and always check your calendar before beginning your day or planning off-work time.

Rule #5 – Be Communicative

Ever heard the saying “out of sight, out of mind”? When it comes to raises, who gets skipped in the next round of layoffs, career promotions and similar opportunities – it’s best to stay on your employer’s’ radar. We also lose a lot of nonverbal communication signals when not speaking face-to-face, which makes good communication even more important for the at-home worker.

If you were feeling overwhelmed in the office I might be able to pick up on that through a break-room conversation. Not so with email. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed with work from your home office, be sure to communicate that clearly. Likewise with tools and resources.

Does the intercom mic. in the meeting room suck? Speak up! (in the meeting, as well as afterward) to get the tools you need to do your job.

One of the most important things I’ve learned isn’t a “rule”, but something that I’ve found works best for me. I like to spend a few days in the office each week – even if I don’t have to.

Though I probably “could” work from home (or cafes, beaches, RVs…) full time like I’ve been doing for years, I would be sacrificing in-person interactions with everyone else in the office, and would be partially alienated from the culture. It’s much easier for me to feel like I’m part of a cohesive team when I’m in the office.

These five rules apply generally to most, in my experience. However, every employee, position, organization and situation is going to be different.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or plan for working from home, or allowing remote-working privileges for your employees.

By reading the Q&A series from Remoters you should be able to formulate a custom approach that works for your unique circumstances.


Guest post by Everett Sizemore, Director of R&D at InFlow. You can find him in Twitter and LinkedIn 

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