Whether you are a freelancer, contractor or remote worker, the notion of a 40-hour work week is becoming a thing of the past. Sara Horowitz, executive director of the Freelancers Union, estimates that over 53 million Americans are doing freelance work. Why so many? Many freelancers love the time flexibility that comes with a freelance role.
Certainly, managing your own time has practical benefits: the ability to pick up your kids from school, to stay at home with sick kids, or schedule a visit from the plumber.
On the flip side, however, managing your work reputation when you're not on site as much as your co-workers can be challenging. Here are some tips to remain in good standing with your employer as a part-time or remote worker:
1. Get used to using collaboration tools, including video conferencing.
Organizations that support remote workers often use tools like Jira and Confluence to track projects, maintain work logs and collaborate on those projects. If you're not used to tracking your work and using the Internet as a project space, you may feel a little disconcerted at first, but that will quickly dissipate. The benefits are well worth the learning curve. Collaboration tools also serve as a way to summarize your work and the contributions you’ve made.
Skype, WebEx and similar tools for video conferencing and online chats are other great tools for quick conversations when you need immediate answers. They're a great way to stay engaged with team members because they're more personal than email.
The video options in these tools, moreover, are perfect when you want to see your team once in a while or visually share your desktop screen as you give a presentation. Get comfortable looking into the camera for eye contact. Adjust the camera angle and use the test options to ensure good lighting. Remember that, just as if you were in the same room, you should display positive body language and gestures.
2. Over-communicate, but be professional.
Unlike your teammates who share the same office, you might at some point be perceived as unengaged with the work. The old adage "out of sight, out of mind" may be in play. It is important, then, to establish regular video meetings where everyone gives updates on current work and any roadblocks.
If regular meetings are not possible due to time zones, be sure to send in weekly updates and make yourself available at the odd hour at least once a month in order to get the necessary face time.
Whichever method works best for you, be sure to remain professional in all your communications. As a remote worker, you do not have the advantage of knowing what is happening in the office at every moment or about a personal problem someone may be facing. An offhand comment may unintentionally offend. So, it is important that you communicate with others besides those on your immediate team, especially if you are managing a project.
3. Manage your meeting calendar.
Freelancers and remote workers are likely to have a lot of phone or online meetings. If you work in a different time zone, keep your calendar free at the time your remote teams are at work. If your team is on the East Coast or in Europe, keep your mornings free, for example.
Similarly, if you work with teams around the world, block your calendar when you need breaks, meals or personal appointments. Use the calendar tools that show you are not available, and mark these blocks as private. Be disciplined and use these blocks of times as intended.
4. Set boundaries.
Somewhere along the line, people’s perception of remote and freelance workers came to include the assumption that you are available all hours of the day. While working from home does give you some latitude to have nonstandard work hours, that doesn’t mean you have to be available all the time. If you establish your normal working hours, advise your team how to reach you in emergencies.
As an example, you might say that you can be reached by text message on your personal phone for emergencies only and that during nonstandard hours, your work phone’s ringer is turned off.
Ideally, your company supplies you with a mobile phone, Keep your personal mobile phone for personal use. If your company doesn’t supply you with a phone, use an email client that allows you to disable email notifications, and choose this option for your work email account during your nonstandard work hours.
5. Create a work space at home that is for work
If your work requires a lot of sitting, you need a work space that allows for a comfortable office chair, a desk with ample space for a computer and work space. This space should be a place that you go to just as if you were commuting to work. It sets your mind to the business at hand.
It also means that when you are done for the day, you turn things off and "commute" to elsewhere in the house, signifying you are off of work. Make this place as similar as you can to a desk area you would have in an office building. Family photos, desk tools and close proximity to things you need are recommended.
6. Get up and walk around.
In an office, you walk to meetings, to the coffee break area and to/from the parking garage. At home, your work space may be 10 feet away, with fewer opportunities for movement. While a brief period of sitting here and there is natural, long periods of sitting, day-in and day-out, can seriously impact your health and shorten your life. In the video, Are You Sitting Too Much, ASAP Science looks at what happens to your body when you sit too much.
Blocking out times on your calendar, then, for periodic breaks is important, mentally and physically. Get up and walk around the block. That gives you time to think and a visual break from your immediate surroundings.
7. Go to a professional network events.
Working from home limits the opportunity to meet new people face to face, whether that means new co-workers, vendors or others who visit the office. While most of us are trained to network when searching for a job, it is important to do this often -- especially if you're a home worker.
Besides the benefit of human interaction, attending professional events broadens your horizons and gives you the opportunity to exchange ideas and hear other opinions. It is these kinds of interactions that you normally get in an office environment. As a remote or part-time worker, you have to create those interactions..
I’ve been a remote worker for over six months now. The benefits are many; the flexibility and quiet time you have to spend on projects are far superior to what you have in an office. However, the distance and detachment are very real and the remote worker or freelancer has to work extra hard to show the value of the work he or she provides. Off-site workers also to work to stay physically and mentally healthy.
How do you manage your work off-site? Please specify in the comments section.