With the increase of remote working we ask if such workers are happy or more isolated then their office based colleagues.
In a recent piece of research remote workers stated that they enjoyed the freedom and flexibility and also felt more valued and 91% stated that the were more productive.
In this article Jan Lindborg of Dell shares his experiences of working remotely.
How and why did you start working remotely?
I started working remotely because I wanted to live where I liked (in this case, another country altogether) and there wasn’t a corporate office there. Plus, I actually work better in a home environment; it works well for me.
What advice would you give someone considering a remote job?
Ensure you have a dedicated space. I treat my working space like a recording studio. No red light, but when my door is shut, I am “at work.” I can’t imagine working in a bedroom, kitchen, or dining space. Also, I recommend to switch off your laptop when finished for the day. That draws a line between the workday and the rest of your day.
How did you convince your company to let you work remotely?
When I first started at Dell, there were practically no home workers. But the job I did, writing training materials, benefitted from me being isolated. I had a very understanding boss in the UK who was prepared to let me work remotely if I would come work for him. I pretty much said, “You can hire me but I’ll be living in Spain.” He agreed, and then made it easy for me. I’m very grateful. At first, I actually pretended I was still in the UK as some people couldn’t get their heads around it. I’m thrilled it’s actually seen as good practice now.
What are the biggest benefits to working remotely?
For me there are many benefits. I don’t have to commute. I can dress how I like. I can work in peace and quiet without interruption. I can take care of things at home if they come up. I get to spend hours chatting to people who are now my friends. I get to see my wife and kids so much more than if I was in an office.
What are the greatest challenges to working remotely?
It can be a bit lonely sometimes. I’ve become, after 16 years, a little socially awkward. I also end up working more hours than office workers; it’s too tempting to keep working. Also, blisters. Try not wearing dress shoes for months, and then going somewhere all dressed up. You’ll know what I mean. I often joke about having to put socks on to attend events.
Do you keep a regular remote work schedule? What is it?
Absolutely I do. I have a fixed start time, which I do not deviate from. I fit it in around household activities—for example, I switch my system on and take the dog out for a walk. I log on, do some mail, and then take my son to school. Then it’s between 10 and 11 hours of work, broken up with a 1-hour scheduled lunch break. I ALWAYS schedule an hour in and don’t like giving it up. I usually spend 25 minutes eating with my family, but use the rest of the time for thinking or catching up on mail.
How do you avoid becoming distracted when working remotely?
I control the amount of work I do. I’m pretty motivated, so usually make sure I have more work than I can do in a day. I will say that when I don’t have a lot of work, I allow myself to get distracted. Having my own dedicated space with a door I can close really helps. Terrible daytime TV also helps. I do read online newspapers and Facebook at intervals during the day—it’s my version of the water-cooler conversations, coffee run, or smoke break.
What is a remote work pain point, and how do you address it?
The biggest pain point is the impact to my family. My kids have grown up being told not to shout outside my door while I’m working, and I regret that. For our next house move, we’re considering downsizing and buying a studio flat at the same time just for me to work from.
Do you use coworking spaces? What are the best ones?
No, the idea horrifies me. I like my desk with my stuff. I especially don’t get the idea of working from a coffee shop—too many people, too much noise, and I’d feel like I would have to buy coffee all day.
What gear can’t you work remotely without?
What apps or websites can’t you work remotely without?
Skype (messenger and call as opposed to video)
Do you work from a home office? How is it organized?
Yes, I have a dedicated home office. It’s about 15 ft. x 15 ft. and a really big window (for 14 years I had practically a cupboard with no window—the new office is better). I have the largest desk I can fit in the room, and I have a docking station for my laptop, a 34-inch monitor, and a second 24-inch monitor on a funky swivel/lift arm thing that’s really comfortable. I have the best chair I could afford, storage space, and yes, a TV on the far wall. It helps me sometimes adjust my focus so I’m not always looking at a screen 20 inches from my face. I have a landline and a dedicated ADSL line just for my work. My favorite toy is the wireless headset. It reaches to the swimming pool. That’s another story.
How do you stay in touch with virtual teammates?
We instant message all the time. I also have specific 30-minute one-to-one calls with all my key teammates. I have a rule—never show “do not disturb,” as that’s like having a closed office and that’s not our culture. So I do “virtual open door” by always being ready to respond to an IM. Strangely, I don’t really do video calls. After so many years, just hearing people is good enough. I’ve noticed I’ve become really perceptive. I know who is breathing ready to ask a question when I have 10 colleagues on a call, for example.
Do you have tips for saving money while working remotely?
Yes—work remotely. Don’t drive to work, buy expensive work clothes, buy expensive coffee or lunches. I tend not to worry too much about heating (and it gets very cold here), I just throw layers of clothes on. I’ve always considered working from home to be very economical compared to working in an office. My shoes don’t wear out either (did I mention the blisters though?).
What’s the hardest part about working with a traditional team while you’re remote?
It’s a good question. Many people who don’t or never have worked from home think you’re watching TV or slacking off somehow. I joke about it. I tell them I’m in the pool or wandering around the house or in the bathroom trying not to flush (wireless headset, see). The only other challenge is working with a global team where you’re expected to make evening calls, but I think everyone has that issue, not just remote workers.
Would you consider returning to a traditional office job, or are you remote for life?
I would, but it would need to compensate for the benefits I would lose.
How has working remotely impacted your career plans?
It hasn’t. I have been able to progress further than I had thought possible in my career. I joined the company to write technical training. I then led that team (I was the only person who was remote). Since then I have had various global leadership roles. Since most of the people I work with are in different countries, it doesn’t matter where I am. I volunteer for things. I run many working groups, which brings me into contact with a wider professional network. I mentor lots of people, and have mentors.
How do you stay connected with your local community?
I volunteer at local schools, and am involved with the local youth soccer team.
How do you stay connected to your professional community virtually?
Through Facebook and LinkedIn, as well as good old-fashioned email. I do have catch-up calls with key members of my professional community.
What’s the best way to develop professional contacts while working remotely?
Volunteer for a wider scope tasks. For example, I lead an industry awards team, run the corporate user forum for one of our major systems, and a few other similar groups. Although in the same company, I end up working with people from many different departments and locations. I’m not as good at LinkedIn or Twitter as I could be—they are not big priorities for me right now.
How has your remote job impacted your life outside of work?
I am more enthusiastic about getting out of the house and doing things—change of scenery. Remote working isn’t so common in Spain and so many of my friends don’t understand how I can have a job and be at home.
How has working remotely impacted your family life?
The biggest difference would be that my kids have to remember that I’m working and it’s especially hard at holiday times. They want to make noise and use my broadband. I’m very used to spending time with my wife, who is also at home all day, so we see each other a lot, which I think is great.
How do you manage work life integration?
I try not to work too many hours, and when I have free time, if I need to do something, I just do. I might pop to the store at 11 a.m. if I have no calls, or get a haircut at 4 p.m. I am just as likely to be still working at 8 p.m.
How do you stay physically active while working remotely?
I could be more active. I walk my dog, and I move around while I’m on calls (wireless headset). I go to the gym when I feel I want to, which isn’t very often.
How does working remotely impact your diet?
I eat with my wife, and we eat very healthily. I believe I eat better at home than if I had a canteen to go to. I don’t snack much, but when I am hungry, I can choose from anything in the pantry.
How do you cope with feeling lonely while working remotely?
Yes, I do sometimes feel lonely. Mostly when I don’t have scheduled calls or work to really bury myself in. What I do is look up all my colleagues, find someone who is available, and ping them for a chat. That can be 5 minutes or 90 minutes. We often end up talking shop, so everyone wins.
How do you stay in touch with friends and family while traveling?
Generally, since I don’t travel all that much, I’m not over-communicative while traveling. Smartphones are an amazing invention—I use WhatsApp as and when needed. I even tell workmates to use it if I’m traveling rather than mail if they really need me.
What are your tips for making friends while working as a digital nomad?
I would only make friends with people in the offices or sites I’m visiting. I’d never try and befriend strangers—it’s not my style. In the office, it’s a case of be open and smile. I have to practice that sometimes.
Jan is the Global Sales Training Operations Director at Dell. He is passionate about many things, but mostly about leading people to meet targets, a great corporate culture, innovation and simplification.
His belief is that it’s better to be a leader than a team leader. There is a difference between “managing” and “leading”. Jan’s goals include building amazing teams that can grow and outgrow me. Then move on and do it again. Bigger and better.
Specialties: People Management, Senior People Management, Talent Development, Training Delivery, Training Design, Training Strategy, Coaching, Winning Culture, Identifying goals, Simplification. Process re-engineering. IT, Networking, Enterprise Technologies, End User Computing. Innovation and Strategy, Remote Workforce.