Although working remotely can sound like a dream come true, the truth is that not everyone is cut out for it. In an office setting, you likely have your manager or boss sitting nearby and regular in-person meetings and check-ins with them. But when you're several or even thousands of miles away, you need self-discipline to be productive, stay on track and meet your deadlines.
As more and more companies are allowing their employees to work remotely — there was a 159% increase in remote work between 2005 and 2017, according to a recent report— it's important for workers to consider the type of work environment that's best for them.
"Remote work is increasingly popular and it's natural for commute-stressed professionals to think working from home is the end of all their troubles," Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at Remote.co, told Business Insider. "But to be successful working remotely, you have to be well suited to this way of working."
There are certain traits and skills that are essential to remote work, she said, from being openly communicative to being process-improvement oriented.
"The good news is that they're also traits you can build and strengthen, and they'll help you be a better professional regardless of where you work," she said.
Here, Reynolds and two other experts reveal traits you need to be an effective remote worker.
Remote workers should prioritize clear communication when emailing and messaging co-workers.
"Good remote workers understand the importance of communicating clearly with their team in any medium they're using," Greg Caplan, CEO and cofounder of Remote Year, told Business Insider in an email. "It's much harder to swing by a co-worker's desk to ask any questions they have about a request, so they make sure to include any relevant details and context along with any communications they send."
He said that at Remote Year, their top performers all share the same trait of being intentional and specific with all of their communications.
If you're not a native English speaker, consider using a productivity tool such as Rephraser.ai to edit and professionalize your English writing. This will ensure that your communication with co-workers is as clear and accurate as possible.
When working remotely, it's still important to have a morning routine.
If you're struggling to get going in the mornings, it might help to create a routine, Tamika Pumphrey, career and leadership coach with Ama La Vida, told Business Insider in an email.
"A major benefit of working from home is that you don't need to take time to do your full morning routine, including hair, makeup, and business casual attire," she said. "However, how we look can directly impact how we feel, and so without a routine of some sort, your mind can struggle to wake up and engage. Have some kind of morning routine, like changing clothes, taking a shower, or going for a walk around the block."
She said doing so can be incredibly effective in helping you get into work mode quickly and increase your productivity throughout the day.
Remote workers should make the most of organizational and productivity tools.
"One of the most important qualities of a successful remote worker is organization," Pumphrey said. "With the increased flexibility and decreased structure, it is incredibly important to stay organized."
She said the best tool for success as a remote employee is the use of your calendar.
"Set small breaks throughout the day — five to 15 minutes — and a block of time at lunch — 30 minutes," Pumphrey said. "While these breaks are specifically to move away from your screen, carve out one or more larger blocks of time — 30 to 60 minutes — to ensure you can get work done versus getting sucked into back-to-back conference calls."
By blocking out breaks on your calendar, it arms you for a productive workday, as well as equips your team to connect with you when you can be most present, she said.
It's crucial to find or create a space where you can focus on your work.
"Whether it's a whole room, or just a nook, have a designated home office area," Pumphrey said. "This way, you're not clearing away daily household clutter — TV remotes, toys, and laundry — to create a place to focus on work when the time comes."
She said working in this set space sends a physical cue to your body to focus, and it's also a visual cue to everyone else in your household that work is your primary focus in that moment.
Pumphrey also said to make sure you have the tools and technology you need to perform your job just as well as you would in the office, from high-speed internet to video conferencing capabilities.
Being able to develop a sense of structure outside of a traditional office environment is a key part of being a remote worker.
Caplan said that remote work brings additional freedom, but also way more distractions.
"To remain productive and efficient, effective remote workers need to be able to give themselves structure without the crutch of a standard office environment," he said.
Remote workers should avoid overanalyzing social cues while communicating with their team.
Reynolds said that when working in a remote environment, there's little body language to read, and there are very few happenstance meetings where casual discussions can reinforce working relationships.
"Have a positive mindset and assume the best of people," she said. "We've used the phrase 'assume mistake over malice' to guide our reaction to less-than-ideal happenings on the team," Reynolds said. "We assume we're all doing our best and that mistakes happen."
This way, instead of jumping to conclusions, she said, this helps to focus on fixing the mistake and learning from the experience as a team, rather than developing distrust or suspicion.
Separating yourself from distractions or other people around you while you're working is an important boundary to set.
"Distractions are a major pitfall for productive remote work," Pumphrey said. "You will excel in this environment if you are able to manage distractions and remain focused on your work."
To this point, she said you can put your phone on silent and ask yourself: Do you really need all those alerts? And how many text messages truly require a response within 30 minutes?
"If fear of missing out keeps you tethered to your phone, try weaning yourself off slowly by putting your phone on airplane mode for just three hours," she said.
Pumphrey said other common distraction points may include kids, spouses, social media, and TV. She said it's important to remind family that just because you're at home doesn't mean you're available to talk and socialize.
"If the budget permits, get in-home care for young children so you are not wrestling with being a provider and being a parent every five minutes," she said. "If you are prone to social media or online shopping distractions, try giving yourself a time limit — 15 minutes once a workday — versus quitting cold turkey."
And when you notice yourself losing focus, Pumphrey said, take stock of what is distracting you and brainstorm solutions to get back on track.
"This will help you to maximize your 'on' hours and actually shut off when the workday is over," she said.
Welcome new methods of working and communicating, and offer your own suggestions to improve team productivity.
"Good remote teams are always evolving and strengthening how they do their work," Reynolds said. "Whether it's changing which platform we use to communicate, or developing a new way of tracking progress on a given project, a remote team relies on each member to spot weaknesses in a process and offer suggestions to strengthen it."
She said everyone has a unique vantage point, and it's crucial for people to share when they see something that needs improving.
Stay focused on completing tasks and projects despite differences like time zones or schedules.
"In a remote environment, it's even more important to be proactive when working with your team to make sure things get done," Caplan said.
With time zone differences and the potential for miscommunication, things can fall between the cracks, he said, so a good remote worker gets out in front of things to make sure that no balls get dropped.
Cherish opportunities to connect with colleagues on a personal level.
Pumphrey said that when you are physically together with work colleagues, it is a lot more natural to find time to connect with them on a personal level — over lunch, at a team outing, or just a quick chat in the elevator.
"These opportunities for connection don't just happen on their own when you are a remote employee, so you have to intentionally create them," she said. "You find time for non-work conversations. This can be as simple as taking the first five minutes of every meeting to check in personally with your colleagues as they're joining the call."
Be open to building your network beyond your remote.
Just because you are not physically working with people doesn't mean you get a pass on building your network, Pumphrey said.
"Get outside of your home office at least once a week," she said. "Whether it's a client lunch, networking coffee, or industry conference, be intentional about meeting new people. In addition to the benefits of social connection, and opportunities for learning and development, a recent LinkedIn study found that 85% of jobs were filled through networking."