by Alexandra Douwes
Remote working is on the rise. Last year, Gallup estimated that 43% of employed Americans spent at least part of their time working remotely. This number has more than quadrupled since 1995, and it doesn’t even account for the growing number of freelancers in the United States, many of whom often prefer to work from home.
There is increasing evidence that flexible work policies can provide meaningful advantages for companies. Higher productivity levels, lower absenteeism, and improved morale, are just a few of the benefits cited in a recent study by PGI. The remote employees themselves also report feeling happier and experiencing lower stress levels as a result of a flexible schedule.
But like anything, there’s a dark side to this freedom. A recent study by Buffer found that loneliness (21%), collaborating and/or communicating (21%), and distractions at home (16%) are some of the biggest challenges remote workers face. Not surprisingly, many of these struggles are shared by freelancers as well.
In an office environment, it’s easier to feel a sense of belonging. You’re surrounded by colleagues who share the same goals and are working towards the same outcomes, as long as your leadership team is doing their job that is. As a remote worker or freelancer, it is often more difficult to cultivate this sense of purpose, but it might be even more important as you don’t have colleagues or after-hours activities to distract you.
Whether you are a part-time remote worker, or enjoy full-time #WFH status, here are some tips on how to cultivate a greater sense of purpose throughout your day:
- Start your day with learning. In an office environment, you’re often surrounded by activity: people talking about what they did over the weekend or articles they’re reading, lunch-and-learn sessions, conferences, affinity network gatherings, the list goes on. When working remotely, however, it’s important to be intentional about making time to build in opportunities to learn and stay inspired. Freelancer and blogger Lindsay Ashcraft says she starts her day by browsing Feedly, a news aggregator, “to read the latest on my industry and source fresh ideas for the day ahead.”
- Leave the house. According to Buffer, 78% of remote workers claim that their home is their primary place of work. While it can be incredibly tempting to stay in your pajamas all day (especially if you’ve recently transitioned from an office environment), it can begin to wear on you. The process might be slow and subtle, but over time you may notice your energy levels dipping or you might find it harder to be creative. Make it a daily practice to leave the house at least once, whether it’s to get the mail, to buy groceries, or to work from a coffee shop for the afternoon. It will give you an excuse to get dressed and get out!
- Take a vacation. The same Buffer study found that 55% of remote workers take fewer than 15 days of vacation per year. Perhaps this is fueled by a sense of responsibility to go above and beyond to prove that working remotely doesn’t impact the work quality, or perhaps remote workers need less vacation because they aren’t as easily burned out by the office grind. Regardless, taking time off is essential for long-term productivity and performance. In fact, remote workers might even need vacation more than their counterparts, as they have fewer opportunities to escape home life and the daily chores that come with it. It can help to view vacation as an opportunity. A vacation can serve as a motivator to work extra hard in the lead-up as you have a clear financial goal in mind, but it also presents a great excuse to evaluate what parts of your business can be outsourced or automated.
- Celebrate wins. Just because you can’t high-five a coworker when you hit a deadline, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least high-five yourself. Celebrate your victories by rewarding yourself with a solo lunch date downtown, or ask a friend to meet you for Happy Hour on Friday. Pausing to acknowledge a job well done is essential to staying motivated.
- Be disciplined about your work schedule. It can be difficult to feel any pressure to perform when you don’t have a boss or colleague breathing down your neck. Moreover, many remote workers have the freedom to set their own hours, so you aren’t bound to a nine-to-five schedule. Of course this is the beauty of working remotely, but it can also make it challenging to get anything done. A helpful strategy here is to be disciplined about your daily work schedule and set clear deadlines for tasks. If you worry about your ability to follow through, consider using a free task management app like Asana, Trello, or Wunderlist.
- Start a separation ritual. Another consequence of a flexible schedule is that it can be difficult to know when to power down your laptop for the day. Remote workers will often find themselves putting in more hours than they did in the office, simply because they become accustomed to working anytime, anywhere. Establishing a daily ritual to separate your work day from your family or solo time can be a helpful practice. Go on a walk, get a workout in, watch a TV show, or cook a meal. Whatever it may be, acknowledge this ritual as the end of your workday so you can refocus your energy elsewhere.
- Find a community. Working remotely can be isolating. It’s no surprise that the rise in flexible work arrangements has led to an explosion of coworking spaces around the country. If you’re unable to join a co-working space like WeWork, there are plenty of other ways to build a community. Reach out to other remote workers in your network or find them through a local Meetup; join a CreativeMornings chapter; schedule coworking dates at each other’s homes or a local coffee shop; finally, if you have a mentor, reach out to set up standing weekly or monthly check-in calls or meetings. These interactions can not only help avoid feelings of loneliness, but it can also provide some much-needed inspiration and fresh thinking.