Do you find yourself suddenly caught in the “must work from home” craziness? Are you looking for tips for working remotely because it’s all new to you? Does some part of you hope your boss might let you continue to work from home?

How to Show You’re Actually Working When Telecommuting

The big hangup bosses have about their staff telecommuting is that they have this impression that teleworkers will just watch Netflix all day. What they don’t want to do is to pay someone to goof off all day. They know you’re going to do some work, but what they don’t like is this “knowledge” that if you were in the office they could get more out of you – more bang for their buck. They’re paying for that office anyway, so why not put their working in the environment where they know they will be actively supervised. So – how do you prove to your boss you’re actually working when you’re telecommuting? Engagement.

It does come down to communication, as you probably figured, but more than that – it’s engagement. It’s creating interactions as if you were in the office.

Be available – Consistently check your email and respond quickly

The easiest way to do this is to simply setup your work email on your smartphone, set a very unusual sound for the notifications for it (so it jars you out of whatever else you’re doing – i.e. chasing kids) and you can respond quickly right then and there. Alternatively, you can set a timer – on your phone, your computer, Amazon Echo, Google Home, or even a kitchen timer. The idea is to just use something that you will have to respond to in order for it to stop.

Train your coworkers to reach you using non-real time avenues.

This is going to seem contradictory, but hear me out. Email is just email, but you want people to reach out to you via email (as opposed to phone calls or Skype for Business for example), because receiving a call could potentially prove to be really inconvenient. For example if you’ve got kids that are homeschooling and you’re trying to just get them setup, or even if you’re just in the restroom.

You want to train people to talk to you via email or Slack or other avenue that doesn’t require an immediate response. The reason behind this is you don’t want them to ruin the illusion that you’re glued to your desk. If they reach out to you when it actually is inconvenient to you, they’ll get frustrated and it could give the impression you’re not working. So just head it off at the pass.

Call someone once a day

Voice over IP or traditional cell/landline, connecting by phone way serves two purposes. Yes, it’s another way to show you’re working, but more importantly it continues any previously established friendships/relationships you’ve had from when you worked at the office. I’m here to tell you that if you don’t keep those going, via written word or verbal, people literally forget you exist. Out of sight, out of mind. And that translates to missed opportunities. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you want your career to stop growing! Or to be passed over for raises!

And you can talk about almost anything, it doesn’t have to be a long conversation. For example, instead of emailing that quick question, pick up the phone and call the person to ask it. 5 minute phone call, but you’ve put your voice, your intonation, and connected in 5 minutes instead of a faceless, emotionless email.

Don’t be afraid of the camera

Webcams are your friend! In the same vein as the point above with calls, a lot can get lost in chat boxes and emails. Utilize screen sharing software, and make sure your camera is turned on. Again it reminds people you exist, and you can build on this. Much like folks who create a library of YouTube videos on their channels (shameless plug for my channel), use software like Loom, a Chrome extension, to visually show people your thoughts.

For example, recently I had to show a coworker where some content was on a website and as soon as she saw the page it all made sense. Talking about it in emails had failed her, but seeing it in a video, with my face right there, talking her through it made all the difference. And now that video is there for future reference. Loom, and even Zoom (affiliate link), are great tools for spicing up company knowledgebases as well. And then you’re building up that “channel” or video library with your expertise in the niche market of your company – which looks awesome.

Working from Home Productivity | You Appear Productive, Now Be Productive

To be sure home is where we typically relax, so we have a muscle memory of sorts to behave certain ways at home. This can be from taking forever in the bathroom, shopping the fridge, or maybe you scroll Instagram and Facebook endlessly at home whereas you would never dream of touching it at the office.

Help Yourself To Not Screw It Up

You don’t need to be a Grinch about it, but if you find you’re spending your boss’s time (which is what you’re renting your time out to be) scrolling Facebook, find a way to help yourself. This can be as simple as installing Facebook Feed Eradicator – another Chrome extension. Install an ad blocker so you don’t get lured into shopping rabbit holes. And then once 5 o’clock hits you can turn all that off.

But that’s the point – you know what your vices are. Just do what you gotta do to treat working from home with the same respect to your time that you’d give if you were in the office.

Use Audible (Speaking) Timers/Reminders

Oh thank God for Alexa timers and voice-based reminders. She reminds me to get up and stretch, that certain meetings or events are happening. Google Home does the same thing (and yes I have both – blame Black Friday.) Because I have to interact with it and can’t just ignore it, it does get me to at least acknowledge it. Admittedly sometimes that means yelling at it to stop so I can go right back to whatever was pressing at the moment, but sometimes just a reminder to go eat lunch is all you need to stay on track. Take a look at your schedule and preprogram reminders into your device. Computer notifications don’t work for me, I just turn them off – it’s not enough of a break in my train of thought, but having a device talk to me, that actually makes things happen.

With either Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) or Google Home I find I can keep myself from missing meetings that Outlook’s “ding” might miss because I’m in the restroom or downstairs looking for a snack, and then low and behold I end up 15 minutes late to a GoToMeeting. Not a good look. The audible (talking) reminders give me that much needed “oh ****” moment to hurry up and get in gear for anything I may have forgotten.Side note: It has also been awesome for remembering live streams for my kid’s new homeschooling schedule. For example we have been watching Cinncinati Zoo’s 3PM live stream every day. Alexa yells at me at 2:55 and that’s enough time to break from what we’re doing and load up their livestream. It’s great!

Setting Boundaries When Working from Home

One thing about working from home is that your office is… right there. While you may not be tempted to work longer than you have to, sometimes your office mates may try to use that as leverage to get 15 more minutes out of you so they can finish a project. Or try to get files out of you on the weekend via a quick text message. After all, you’re home, right?

After 5, I’m out.

It can be tricky, because it’s an easy way for you to shine, but at the same time it’s your time off. It’s your weekend, it’s your downtime in the evenings, or it’s your vacation – and yes, that’s happened to me.   

I’ve found a much better transition to home from work when I am just very vocal about the boundaries. There are probably 2 people I consider personal friends that I would do work for to help them out on what would otherwise be my time off. The rest of the time I have a flat, no. Course I don’t say “no,” I say I’m busy in the evenings, or it’s difficult for me to do that because I’m not in a place I can just send you those files. Etc. Basically I make it clear that I’m occupied and not just sitting around the house, even though that very well might be what I’m doing. 

The point is, be it after hours communications or other taxes on your time (projects that force you to work late), you have to be protective of your time. Just like scope creep happens on projects, it happens on you too. Part of the crux of being reliable is everyone wants a reliable person. But for the most part, those same people will respect it if you say “I have a hard stop at 5.” You don’t even have to explain it, but by communicating it, they now have a line to respect.

Telecommuting Tips Wrap Up

You should know there’s a curve to this whole thing. The longer you do these tips, the less you’ll have to do it over the long term. Over time you’ll have proved your capability and capacity to work from home so you won’t have to communicate as much for the sake of communication. You’ll fall into a pattern with the people you work with.

And just like you’ll be effectively training other people and setting their expectations of you, you’ll be training yourself as well. Self care – exercise, stretching, taking breaks, remembering to eat, etc. – is a lot more accessible at home, yet it’s also easy to ignore. But once you get that muscle memory of doing xyz at a certain time, then it’s a habit.  

So Much More on This Topic

For example, how to stay connected socially when you work from home. Letting yourself order food at least once a week is a fun way to get you out of the house. Coffee “dates” are also a great way to get out of the house and be near other humans.

Either way you got this. And any questions let me know over on Instagram or YouTube. Follow me on either for more information on web design and the small business life, and be sure to check out the links below for my latest project – How to Build the Perfect About Me Page – a must for anyone trying to build a website or revamp the one they’ve got! 

Take care!

Wendy