5 Ways to Succeed in Your First Remote Job
One of the unique workplace outcomes of the pandemic is the completely remote job. While working remotely has its benefits, it also has its challenges. David Magill is a business development manager at Planet Group. He started with the company in March 2022 and works out of his home office in Maryland, over 400 miles from his department’s home office in Boston. Here he shares his perspective of what it’s been like and what has helped him be successful in his new job.
Structure time and space
In my first week on the job, I thought, “Oh my gosh, literally nobody’s telling me what to do. It’s up to me to decide.” The company has given me a lot of flexibility as to when and how to do the work. But I knew the only way this would work for me was to structure my days in a very disciplined way. I came up with a plan to split my day between prospecting calls and administrative tasks, and I’ve stuck to it.
I pretend that I’m in a “regular” office every day. I log on about 8:00 or 8:30 when everybody else does. I wear something I would wear to the office – no t-shirts or sweats. I know that if I’m in clothing that’s too casual, it will affect my overall composure. It will make me more relaxed and less professional.
Where you do your work is important too. If you’re working from home, create a space that is only your workspace. Set it up as you would if you were in a shared office. Make it authentic. And remove any distractions, like TV. I know I must be really focused and disciplined about this. If I get too relaxed, letting the boundaries between work and home blur, it will impact my productivity.
Being remote, it’s even more important to build relationships with your manager, colleagues and clients. You need to work harder to be visible when you’re not “in the office.” Especially being new in the job. I have learned to put myself out there and schedule time to talk to colleagues. When I began, I just started calling and introducing myself to other recruiters. It felt awkward at first, but it was so helpful. You can’t be the guy that nobody knows. For there to be trust, there must first be a relationship.
My manager and I communicate every day via chat or email. Once a week we do a more structured meeting via video. My colleagues and I use the chat function a lot during the day to stay in touch. It makes me feel like I’m just a shouting distance away from anybody that I need to talk to.
I also take advantage of the time when I’m at the home office. Every time I’m there, I’ll go out to lunch with coworkers, for instance, or take the opportunity to walk over and chat face-to-face. Spending time to get to know each other really helps when I’m back in my “little island” at home. It makes it easier to pick up the phone and call to ask a question. Last week, I covered for one of my colleagues. I wouldn’t have been comfortable doing this if we hadn’t first spent time getting to know each other, connecting in person.
Ask questions and fail fast
As a new person, you’re a little hesitant to reach out to people whom you haven’t met in person. But you’re going to have questions when you’re new on the job. So, I just reach out and ask, via phone, chat or email. I’ll call someone and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry to bug you, but I have a question. Do you have a minute?” People are inclined to help. Everybody remembers what it was like when they were new.
You’re going to make mistakes, too, when you’re new. I’ve made mistakes and people will correct me, which is so helpful. A lot of colleagues will call me because they know I’m new, and say, “Hey, by the way, you put this in wrong. You need to do it like this.” And I’m thankful. I’ve never felt like it was coming from a place of anything but trying to be helpful because people understand the challenges of working remotely.
There’s a helpful saying for this – “fail fast.” It means that when you do make mistakes, embrace them. Learn from it and move on. Ask for help and find out how to do it better. When you’re working remotely, nobody’s watching and even if they are, they understand.
Manage your emotional energy
As with any job, it can be difficult when there are bumps in the road. The difference for the remote worker is that you can’t walk over to a coworker’s desk and talk it through. Managing your emotional ups and downs is harder when it’s just you in the room. That’s another reason to build relationships. So that you can pick up the phone and get support when you need it.
A particular challenge for remote workers is “overthinking” interactions. When you’re not in-person, you’re missing a lot of communication cues, like non-verbal behavior or tone of voice. It’s even worse using chat or email where people tend to write short responses. In the absence of this critical information, it’s all too easy to start worrying about relationships, second guessing someone’s response or overreacting to an interaction. Part of the solution is to ask for clarification when you’re not sure and schedule more face-to-face time with your boss and colleagues. If you are one of these “overthinkers,” you may also need to accept that there will be ambiguity, especially when you’re working remotely.
In a way, you need to know yourself even better when you’re working remotely. If you’re an introvert, for instance, you’ll need down time to recharge. If you’re an extrovert, you’ll need people time to recharge. It’s up to you to balance your workday – take a break, go for a walk, meditate, have lunch with a friend – whatever you need emotionally so that you can step back into the office and do your work.
Be accountable and transparent
Every job requires accountability. Goals, tasks, quotas, projects all must be completed. This is especially important for remote workers, however. Out of sight, out of mind can lead to a lack of awareness of the employee’s accomplishments. I have a weekly activity tracker, for instance. Every time I have a successful phone call, whether it’s booking a meeting, or talking to someone about their openings, or moving a job closer to a placement, I document it on a sheet that’s accessible by management. If there’s ever a question, “What’s David up to?”, they can just look at my sheet and see what I’ve done for that week.
Honestly, I wasn’t a good student when I was in college or in high school. I was diagnosed with ADD as a kid, and was very disorganized. It’s been exciting to see though that in my career, working entirely from home, I’ve had the focus and discipline to work remotely. You have to believe that you can do it.