Through an arrangement with TechSoup, PND is pleased to offer a series of articles about the effective use of technology by nonprofits.
Not too long ago, working remotely seemed like an exotic, exception-to-the-rule idea. Today, that's no longer the case. Since 2005, the amount of non-self-employed individuals working from home has grown by a whopping 140 percent. And with communication tools like Slack and cloud-based productivity software like Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite becoming increasingly popular, those numbers are only going to increase.
It makes sense. When successful, remote working provides benefits for both the employer and the employee. From the perspective of the employer, a remote workforce cuts down on operating costs and widens the pool from which they can select talent. And for the employee, there are the obvious benefits to working from the comfort of one's home, as well as a commute that consists of walking from the kitchen to the computer.
But like many good things, there are also drawbacks. With downside risks such as reduced productivity, ergonomic pitfalls, and solitary ennui, it takes a discipline and adaptability to get the working-remote thing right. Let's take a minute to reviews some tips that can help you have a happy and effective work-from-home experience.
Master Your Software, Stay Active Online, and Be Hyperpunctual
When you work from home, you can't afford to be a novice at the software you're using, especially when it comes to programs related to your core job functions. Chances are you at least log into either G Suite, Office 365, Office Standard — or any combination of those — every day. And because working from home is all about collaborating effectively with folks in the office (as well as other remote employees), you need to learn to use them to their fullest potential.
In addition to productivity tools, your nonprofit probably uses a work management tool such as Asana or Wrike, which means you need to be sure you can perform all the tasks you'll need to in that program. If not, ask a co-worker or check out an educational video on YouTube. While it's always important you're able to use software effectively at work, it becomes a sink-or-swim situation when you're on your own and have few opportunities to interact with other work colleagues in person.
It's also crucial that you remain active online during work hours. If you use a communication tool like Slack or another instant messenger product, be diligent about responding to requests right away, even if it's a simple "Hey, can't talk right now." People in the office can't see that you're head down in a project, and you don't want to give them the impression that you're difficult to reach. It's not just about the optics, either. Working from home has lots of benefits, but it also entails a different set of responsibilities that includes an increased commitment to being available to your team on an as-need basis.
Which brings us to our last point: Make an effort to be maniacally punctual when you're working remotely. For whatever reason, being two minutes late to a conference call just feels longer than being two minutes late to an in-person meeting. Always do everything in your power to stick to meeting times and deadlines. If you know you will be unavailable for a certain chunk of the day, alert everyone early so that they can plan around your absence.
Optimize Your Workspace
While everyone has different working styles, if you're a full-time employee operating from home, it's a good idea to designate a specific workspace in your house or apartment. Of course, it's always fine to do some light tasks from the kitchen or out on the porch if it's sunny. But choosing a place where you can go to really get things done is important. It also helps create a more defined work-life balance: if your entire home is a "workplace," it's easy to feel like you're always at work. Even if you live in a studio apartment, carve out a corner of the room as an office. It makes a difference.
But perhaps the most pressing reason to carve out a specific workspace has to do with ergonomics. Generally, office spaces provide comfortable chairs and a working environment that's mindful of the health dangers associated with sitting for long periods of time at a computer. But there's no HR department at your house, and unless you take it upon yourself to make sure you have a comfortable chair, good lighting, and maybe even a standing desk, it's easy to end up sitting for hours on a big droopy couch or old folding chair in the kitchen. This can lead to disaster in the form of back problems, repetitive stress injuries, and more.
Take the time to make a nice place for yourself to work. It will pay off. And honestly, it just makes the day a bit more pleasant.
It's important to take good care of yourself when you work remotely. An office environment, while it has its ups and downs, is ultimately a critical social nexus in your life. Working with others forces you to dress at least halfway decently, walk outside to get coffee from time to time, and, perhaps most importantly, talk to other human beings. Working from home is ultimately a solitary pursuit, and that means it's on you to build in some lunch breaks with other people that work remotely or, at the very least, get outside a few times a day. Another pro tip is to actually dress like you're going to work. It seems silly, but it adds a certain gravitas you don't feel when you're wearing sweatpants.
Also, make an effort to discuss things with your co-workers online that aren't work-related. Don't overdo it to the point where it's distracting or taking the place of things you should be doing, but sharing photos of your dog, asking how their garden is doing, or even just sharing a funny YouTube video will help you feel connected to your nonprofit, no matter how far from the home office you may be.
Lastly, and although this might go against the argument for designating a workspace at home, see if you can get some work done in a coffee shop or library from time to time. Depending on your personality, a periodic change of scenery might be a positive thing and solve the problem of accidentally becoming a hermit. But be honest with yourself about your productivity in that kind of scenario. Just because it's more fun, doesn't mean it's the best thing to do from a work perspective.
Stephen Jackson is a digital content manager at TechSoup. You can read more posts by Stephen here.