News & Trends

Remote Control: A Guide to the Effective Home Office, Part 1

by: Charlie Pratt

Remote work is one of the most hotly-debated topics in the workplace. At Precocity, we have a number of employees who choose to work remotely, either part-time or full-time, including myself.

Being a full-time remote worker is one of those things you tell people just before bracing yourself for the handful of common reactions:

“Reallllllly. Do you go crazy?”

“Oh man, I could never do that.”

“I wish my company let me do that.”

“Do you wear pants?”

Being a remote worker for a number of years, I’m fascinated with the unique skillset required to excel at telecommuting, and have spent almost ten years refining the process and learning from mistakes. I’ve boiled down the experience in three main elements: technology, lifestyle, and persona.

Technology

These are the basics. These are the parts you have to get right.

  1. Connectivity. You need a strong, stable internet connection. Ideally, you have a hardwired ethernet connection. Whether transferring files or sharing your work via video conference, you want to be a trusted part of any meeting. The fastest way to fail as a remote worker is to experience connectivity issues.
  2. Audio fidelity. People will be listening to you. You must sound clear, and you must control distracting sounds. Get yourself a headset with a noise-canceling microphone. There is no substitute.
  3. Familiarity with your tools. This refers to your comfort level navigating your own operating system and applications. I can’t tell you how many meetings went flat because the presenter didn’t have their act together.

If any of these fail, the rest of it won’t matter, because you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Lifestyle

Personal choices play a big role in the success of your home office. This includes things like how you dress, eat, sit, and stand.

  1. Self-presentation. You don’t have to dress up, but don’t dress down. There is a positive psychological effect to making yourself presentable, even if you’re in a home office. I dress as if a coworker might stop by at any time.
  2. Ergonomics. Sitting, standing, treadmilling, they’re all great ideas. My advice? Mix it up and do both. Get an adjustable standing desk. I’ve gotten to the point where I stand for half the day and sit the other half. Oh, and get a good chair.
  3. Environment. This is a massive one. You have to control your environment. Getting to a quiet space is key. Loud coffee shops, home offices with barking dogs, and crying babies become a distraction to you and everyone else. When you’re interacting with your teammates or customers, it’s important that they feel they have your undivided attention. Easy enough when you’re physically present, but it takes a little more purpose when you work remotely.

Everything affects everything. All of these items affect your mood, tone of voice, sense of self-worth, and many more.

Persona

One of the hardest things for humans to accept is this: like or not, you have a persona that precedes you and follows after you. The way that you speak to others and how you engage matters a great deal.

  1. Tone. This includes both voice and text, and is critical. Without facial and body cues, communication between two or more people can present new risks for misinterpretation. Your tone as a remote worker tends to become a caricature of your in-person self. If you’re gruff, you’ll come off super-gruff. If you’re a jokester, you can quickly become perceived as a clown. We tend to default to what’s most comfortable, and one of the pitfalls of the remote office is that it makes it easier to slip into patterns that don’t benefit us or our colleagues and clients. Being aware of your natural tone and asking yourself whether or not it suits the situation is the best first step.
  2. Responsiveness. This is the speed with which you respond. As with tone, the fact that you’re not physically present means that the listener or reader can’t know that you’re thinking, or you’ve stepped out, or you’ve taken a coffee break. Responding in a timely manner, whether in a conference call, text chat, or email thread is a strong way to show that you’re engaged and active. Put another way—it makes the people you’re working with feel like they matter. Think like a radio broadcaster; you don’t want to be responsible for “dead air.”
  3. Accountability. In a shared office setting, people can see if you’re there or not. As a remote worker, no one knows if you’ve left your desk, taken a lunch, or answered the doorbell. Making a point to inform your colleagues of your whereabouts is a critical link for successful communication. Over time, this level of transparency builds trust and cements your reputation as reliable.
  4. Intention. One of the most rewarding aspects of the workplace is the relationships you build. We learn a lot about the details of our colleague’s lives, just by working with them every day. As a remote worker, one of the biggest challenges is actively investing in people’s lives, even when they are hundreds or thousands of miles away. As with any relationship, small and thoughtful gestures can go a long way to establishing more meaningful connections. It may be uber-efficient to only engage colleagues when it’s about work, but it’s not healthy. Mix it up and dive into the personal side of life when you can. Most likely, you’ll have to make a point to do so, as it can be easily overlooked.

Striking a balance

At Precocity, we have a wide variety of workplace contexts. Many of us come in to work at our home office in Dallas, Texas. Many of us are elsewhere in the world, including North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, Utah, and even Ukraine. Our customers are even more geographically diverse, spanning the globe and touching on a multitude of time zones, native languages, and business sectors.

Because our mission is improving customer experience, it’s crucial that our employees, whether local, on-site, or remote, have the ability to adapt to modern business environments and add value with as little friction and confusion as possible.

Next up: a look inside

The second of this series centers around a thorough survey of Precocity employees conducted in 2019. In it, we’ll take a look at some of the responses, locate common points of value, and discuss some of the surprising results.

 

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