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The Keys to being Productive When Your Work Remotely

We are approaching the end of another school year. Students & teachers alike are clamoring for the sweet freedom that summer brings. When I was in middle school and high school I remember looking forward to summer so much that I told my parents I wish I could skip the school year and just have summer vacations. Of course like many kids my age, my short-sightedness got the best of me.

Not long after that final school bell my brothers and I would be out in the front yard when one of us would utter the 2 words that parents dread hearing: “I’m bored.” We were so focused on getting to summer break that we didn’t take much time to think about what we would do once we got there. The same thing could happen when you work remotely: just because you can go anywhere, doesn’t mean you can work anywhere. A little preparation will help.

Before we get started, I should clarify: when I say, “work remotely,” I mean working someplace other than where you would normally work. If that means working from home is the norm, working from a coffee shop would be working remotely. If you work from in an office, working from home would be working remotely. OK! Now that that’s out of the way…

A Perfect[ly terrible] Storm

On what seemed to be the first nice day in ages, I decided that I would go up to campus to do some work and enjoy the sun. The session, despite the amazing weather, was a bit of a bust. I was distracted, unproductive, and ended up more agitated than anything else because there were several factors I did not consider before choosing to work remotely:

  • It was the middle of the afternoon on a nice day at the end of the semester. What if students get the same idea?
  • What if I can’t find a table?
  • Will I be able to find some shade in-case I can’t see my screen or my computer gets hot?
  • Do I have any meetings or calls?
  • How reliable is the internet connection?
  • How much work do I need to get done?

These are all factors that led to my less-than-stellar work session. Students, like me, wanted to enjoy the weather. However, unlike me, they didn’t bring work to do. This made the area terribly distracting. Because there were lots of students, I couldn’t get a table so I had to take a seat on the lawn, back against a brick divider. Sun was shining directly on me, making my screen very hard to see (even with brightness all the way up) and making my computer run hot. The result is I was moving my computer around a lot.

I also had two meetings, which meant I had to talk to my computer in public, and that when I wasn’t muted, there would be a ton of background noise for the folks I was meeting with. Finally, while campus wifi is usually really reliable, I was in a pretty bad spot that wasn’t covered well and obstructed the signal. Browsing and listening to music was fine. Video calls were not.

This seems like an uncommon series of events to make this particular work sessions bad, and perhaps it is. But there are lots of times where conditions are counterproductive. Noisy coffee shops, shoddy cell service, and lack of desks/tables could all contribute. So how do we prevent remote sessions like this?

Define Your Needs when You Work Remotely

I’m not saying never work remotely. I can work anywhere as long as the work is done. That’s my favorite part about working at a distributed company. But you should try to identify & prevent pitfalls. Try asking yourself these questions:

  • How is my workload today? It takes time to pack up your stuff, travel somewhere, and get settled. If you’re crazy busy you might want to reconsider, especially if you’re trying someplace new. Test the waters on a day where you have a light load.
  • Do I have a lot of meetings today? Don’t be that guy (or girl) who goes to a public place and then is on the phone the whole time. It’s frustrating to the people around you as well as the people you’re talking to. If I have a lot of meetings, I stay home or go someplace where I know I’ll have a quiet place to work.
  • Will I be comfortable? Perhaps a better way to phrase this is, “Will there definitely be a spot for me to work?” It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to find a table when I went to campus, and it bit me. I could have gone inside (I eventually did) but I was hoping a table would open up. If I wanted to work inside, I would have stayed home!
  • Is the internet reliable? Or, “Is there work I can do without a reliable internet connection?” I can’t, so a good connection is a must for me. One year I went on vacation with my fiancee’s family, but I had to work for part of the week. Working near the beach would be perfect; except that the rental house didn’t have wifi. I ended up tethering to my phone for those days, which was manageable enough but very frustrating.
  • Do I have enough power? Being close to a power outlet isn’t a given & some devices have terrible battery life – make sure you’re charged up!
  • What is my backup plan? If you’re number one place won’t work for some reason, what will you do? This is especially important if you’re travelling away from home. Make sure you have a place where you can definitely work.

The ability to work just about anywhere is a modern miracle to me. However, just because you can go anywhere doesn’t mean you’ll be able to work from there. Be sure to ask yourself the right questions when you work remotely to ensure a good session. Your productivity will thank you.

Do you have any horror stories from when you tried to work remotely? Share them in the comments!