How early career pros like me can thrive in remote and hybrid environments
As the pandemic continues to drag on, one thing should be obvious to employers: most employees really enjoy having the freedom to work from wherever they choose. (Don’t believe me? According to a HealthEquity survey, 77% of workers polled don’t want to return to the office full-time.)
Having worked remotely for close to two years now, I have no doubt about this fact. As I write this, I’m sitting in the cool blue haven that is my room in the vibrant city of Nairobi, Kenya, where I’ll one day have a canine companion (I hear they make excellent coworkers).
In this way, working each weekday on my terms, technology has really delivered its best shot—both for those outside of major cities and people like me who are launching their careers. It has become a great equalizer for talent.
The boom in remote work happened out of necessity, of course. Still, this newer way of working continues to upend even the most traditional and old school industries. Kate Lister, a remote work expert and president of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that by 2025, 70% of the workforce will work remotely for at least one week per month.
The future is here. And it's impacting younger workers like me more than ever.
Being in the early stages of my career, this time has presented my first taste of many experiences—most notably better work-life balance in the form of quality time spent with my family and on favorite hobbies. The work from home ‘mood’ has enabled me to be more refreshed, alert, and productive despite the hours I put into my craft.
The reality, however, has not been quite that simple.
When I first saw my former manager’s email about working from home back in spring 2020—which feels like a decade ago now—I was unsure how that would pan out. In the first few days, I dealt with anxiety and generally felt left out. Worse, I was continually calling my colleagues just to be sure I was doing the right thing. On most occasions, I volunteered to have an in-office shift and would turn up for physical meetings more regularly.
It seemed like I’d never settle in. (Maybe you’ve felt the same?) After researching some strategies for working from home, I vowed to make this new arrangement work.
To get into a rhythm, I had to make a few adjustments.
One involved an investment. For a long time, I had thought quality desks were for the office, and I never imagined having one in my house, let alone my bedroom! Unfortunately for me (or perhaps I should say for my wallet), I had to invest in a good and comfortable office desk. Its value outweighs the cost; after all, can you put a price on good posture and a dedicated space to get things done?
To efficiently deliver on my work, three things take center stage in my planner every day:
What should I be working on *right now*?
Which tasks are on my plate for this project?
What are the team’s deliverables for this project?
Each of these questions has a purpose.
The first one helps me to prioritize. Working in a traditional office offers you the privilege of knowing what everyone else is working on. However, an explicit marker stating “Yes, I am actively working on this task right now,” can introduce a similar timely feel to remote work. Call it execution, productivity, or operations—this is the ‘doing’ question with an underlying sense of urgency.
“What is on my plate for this project?” ties into my responsibilities and associated milestones. Remote work undoubtedly requires some level of back-and-forth on every team and in every context. It is, however, good to know who to ask if you want to overcome a hurdle or need some help with finalizing your tasks.
Knowing the team’s deliverables helps to put a project into further context. Getting the big picture of all the moving parts speaks to the ‘why’ behind the work.
For me, though, team communication was the most intimidating part of working remotely. And it came with unwelcome consequences: I nearly failed to fully deliver on a project because of an apparent lack of communication. But this, I learned, will only become an issue if you let it. So I have built new routines in order to prevent it.
Research has shown that when employees work remotely, productivity rises by 47%.
This requires strong communication, as one needs to be more explicit; none of your colleagues truly knows that you're working unless you tell (or show) them. So I do my best to over-communicate.
It may sound a little extreme, but asking for help if you’re stuck on a task or sharing progress updates can be a lifesaver! An example can go something like this: “Hi X, I am currently working on the [abc] project and here’s what I have prepared so far. I will share the rest of the project later today. In the meantime, let me know if you have any feedback for me. Thanks!"
To maintain a proper back and forth, you can discuss the best way to communicate: email, Slack, Trello, WhatsApp, or a combination of these or other tools. There are nearly endless options; what's important is that you choose what works for you as a dedicated communication platform and use it consistently.
Working from home is not ‘easy,’ but it can be simple. It can be a slightly new experience for many of us but you can make it work with the tips I have shared with you. They continue to work for me; you can borrow a page or two from my work-in-progress journey to enhance your remote working experience.