Starting your first work-from-home job? Sure, it sounds like a dream, and in many ways it can be — as long as you know what you're doing.
For many professionals who sit in an office under fluorescent lights all day, working from home sounds like a dream. You get to ditch the commute and reclaim an extra hour of sleep. You don't have to pack lunch, and you can make your coffee as strong as you'd like. You can chill with your pet all day and pick the kids up from school. Heck, you can even stay in your pajamas or sweats (unless you have a video call).
But the truth is, working from home isn't always as easy as it might seem. It requires intentionality and a strict set of rules — at least at first.
So if you've accepted your first remote job, congratulations! Chances are, you're going to like working remotely — it just takes some tact. That's why it's important to use these nine work-from-home tips to set yourself up for success during your first week of telecommuting.
Tips for working remotely
1. Address the fact that you'll be sitting … a lot
Oh, you thought you were sitting a lot at your office job? Chances are, you'll sit even more when you're working remotely. That's one of the first changes Caleb Sanders, a senior director at Talent Inc., noticed when he started working remotely more than four years ago.
“I spend more time at my computer than I did in the office,” he says. He was no longer getting up to socialize, take phone calls, or go to meetings. “I needed a better work setup and to get myself out of that seated position more often.”
There are a few simple ways to remedy this issue: Set a timer on your phone to remind yourself to stand up and stretch every hour; invest in a Fitbit, which will automatically buzz when you've been sitting for too long; or take regular walks (with or without a dog).
And whatever you do, don't work from your bed or couch. You're just asking for some serious neck and back issues.
2. Master the company's technology and tools
Once you've figured out your work station and how to keep yourself from getting too sedentary, it's time to master your company's technology and tools. This is especially important when you're working from home since you can no longer tap your co-worker on the shoulder to ask questions.
Take your time navigating the company's training documents and onboarding materials. Walk yourself through each new tool — especially the ones that revolve around workflow and communication — and play around with them. You can even search for additional tutorials online.
Dedicating more time on this during your first week will help you save time — and avoid communication snafus — down the road.
3. Establish a strict schedule for yourself (at least initially)
Working remotely tends to mean more flexibility, which can be dangerous no matter your work ethic. That's why it's important to set a strict structure to your day, especially when you're first starting out.
“Start strict on yourself,” Sanders advises. “It's harder to build better habits once you've established bad ones. I went into this being hyper-aware that I could get behind really easily if I'm not realistic.”
The first part of this routine should center around habits outside of your work responsibilities: Wake up, get dressed, make breakfast, brew a pot of coffee, and settle into your workspace. At lunch, schedule time to get away from your desk and eat a hearty meal. Maybe even go on a quick run if you have the time. The second part of this routine should center around your work habits. Make lists, set your intentions for each day, and stick to deadlines.
“I structure my day around the tasks I need to get done. I want to get them done in my normal eight- to nine-hour day,” Sanders explains. If he gives himself too much slack, he'll lose his most productive hours of the day, which means he'll be stuck working when he's exhausted.
4. Create connections with co-workers, even from afar
For some, working from home can increase productivity. After all, you don't have the normal in-office distractions (ahem, co-workers). On the other hand, you might feel isolated — like you're working in a vacuum.
Because your company allows remote workers (or operates completely remote) it likely uses a communication software like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts. Use these tools to communicate with your teammates, even if it's not always work-related.
Sanders' team uses Slack. One channel is dedicated to work discussions, while another channel is purely for fun. There, they'll share whatever they want, from what they did over the weekend to cat pictures. Even though it's your first week on the job, don't be afraid to contribute to a channel like this. Share your favorite meme, a photo of your pup or cat, or even throw in a cheesy icebreaker.
“That was a lifesaver,” Sanders says. “It's less isolating. Even if you're not face‒ to‒ face, you're still interacting.”
5. Take steps to unplug and set work-life boundaries
You might be surprised how easy it is to become a workaholic when you're operating remotely. You wake up, open your laptop, and start pushing to hit your deadlines. Before you know it, the hours have melted away and you unintentionally skipped lunch and nearly missed dinner.
At 11 p.m., just as you're finally unwinding, you get a Slack notification asking for an additional document. The sender might not mean for you to answer right away, but you can't stop thinking about it, so you get back on your computer. Before you know it, you're feeling deeply burnt out.
Luckily, there are a few tips to keep this from happening:
Stick to the strict routine you created that balances both your needs and your company's needs.
Set boundaries with your co-workers. If you're working for a company that operates on no set schedule, communicate what hours you'll typically be online.
Use the company communication and workflow tools to your advantage. List the typical hours you're online and available for conversation, muting your notifications during your off hours.
6. Learn your co-workers' communication preferences
Just like you have your own preferences, your co-workers will too. As you get to know them, get to know their communication and work preferences. If you want, ask these questions upfront: “Would you prefer me to message feedback directly to you or post them in the document?” “If I have questions, do you prefer to me to message you, or do you want to set up a quick time to check in?”
You can also simply take notes along the way as you begin to work together and learn about their work habits.
7. Be an advocate for yourself
When you're working remotely, you might have to be more intentional about seeking feedback from your manager. In the office, it's easy to stop by your manager's desk and ask how everything's looking or ask a question. Online, that requires a message, phone call, or video chat.
Chances are, you'll set up weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings with your manager. That's the perfect time to check in and solicit feedback or ask questions. If, however, you feel as though you're floating out in a void, don't hesitate to touch base with your manager.
When Sanders started working remotely, he was actually navigating his new role as a manager. “I appreciated when I had somebody who would come to me saying, 'I think I'm doing OK, but can I get some feedback?'”
Don't be afraid to speak up and be your own advocate.
8. Have a back-up plan
At this point, you should be feeling pretty good about your first-week operating remote. You've got your workspace, your routine, your list of priorities, your communication channels … but don't get too settled.
It's time to address some what-if scenarios: What if your power goes out? What if the internet goes down? What if you simply cannot focus to save your life? What if all you can do is stare at your bed while longing for a nap?
These incidents are going to occur, so have a back-up plan in place. Whether your power's out or you're simply listless, know where you can go outside your home or apartment to work. Find your go-to coffee shop, a co-working space with open hours, or your nearest library. You'll thank yourself when the internet's down and you've got a meeting in 10 minutes.
9. Maintain your social life outside of work
Finished your first week on the new job? Congratulations! Invite your friends to happy hour, grab dinner with your partner, or head to the park with your family. Now that you're a full-time remote employee, you'll want to find excuses to interact with humans and not, well, your computer.