3 Keys to Working Remote from a Virtual Assistant
Many office professionals have extensive daydreams about the lifestyle they could live if afforded the opportunity to work from home. Corporate office-bound professionals envision laying on the couch in front of a roaring fire while the TV plays softly in the background and a state-of-the-art laptop rests on their extended legs. All of this, in the comfort of their favorite sweats and their hand wrapped around their favorite ceramic mug filled with a hot cup of coffee.
Ready for the reality check?
Working from home does not always look the same in reality as it does in daydreams. And now, thanks to COVID-19, much of the professional population is experiencing what working virtually is really like. Granted, many people are guaranteed to at least have their hot cup o’ joe by their side but a roaring fire — maybe. In reality, most people replaced cubicle life with interruptions of loud screams from school-aged children, distractions of chores un-done or a partner who is not required to work remotely and is demanding attention.
Don’t get me wrong, working from home does have many of the wonderful benefits that rightfully leave cubicle dwellers envious. However, there are different challenges that come with working virtually. Since I’ve started my work-from-anywhere career, I’ve learned a variety of tips and tricks that have helped me more efficiently manage my time and assure my productivity is not affected by my space. As a portion of my certification program, The Virtual Assistant Academy, I provide training to students on this very topic. Our program has helped countless remote employees overcome a variety of work from home issues and increase work efficiency.
To help those who are beginning their at-home adventure, here are three of my favorite tricks for working remotely.
Set time limits on tasks
Without the systematic breaks of a corporate office environment (i.e. — meetings, lunch break rotations, casual water cooler conversations), it’s easy to become consumed by tasks and disregard time. While sometimes this can aid effective task completion, often it causes individuals to lose time going “down the rabbit hole” on a task that should have been quick and easy.
Using online platforms like Toggl or the tried and true Pomodoro Technique , developed by Francesco Cirillo, will provide you with a reference of how you’re spending (read: misusing) your time. It may also bring your attention to what projects are consuming the majority of your workday and which projects you are ignoring that need a little more love.
It is also a good idea to offer yourself set breaks throughout your day. Make sure you’re committing to a 10 am coffee break or a 1 pm lunch. Without these breaks, you are bound to face burn out much earlier in the day than you are used to. Thus causing the afternoon hours to drag on and productivity to suffer. Take advantage of the fact that you are home and turn what used to be the water-cooler conversation into a quick workout from home, or take a quick 15-minute break outside and enjoy the quiet of your neighborhood. You do not have to restrict yourself to the same parameters you adhere to when at the office, so indulge in that, and make the most of your experience.
Finally, without the rhythm of your normal office routine, you may feel at a loss for what you should be doing with your time. I recommend using free online project management platforms, like Asana, to help create a plan of action for your weekly workload. Planning your workdays, and scheduling tasks on specific days will assist not only with organization but also with creating a daily professional purpose when at home.
Avoid unnecessary distractions
When at home, the distractions are endless. Want to catch up on every tv series on Netflix? Consider it done. Need to fold that mountain of laundry…eh, maybe not today. You understand what I’m getting at though, right?
When you are at work in an office, you are “in the zone”. You do not have much of a choice of where to focus your energy, it’s easier to buckle down and get stuff done. At home, you have an endless list of things you can be doing that are not work-related and often you can look up and realize you have spent the majority of your working hours accomplishing non-essential tasks, instead of focusing on your work.
To prevent this, designate a specific zone of the house that as your workspace. This can stay consistent day-to-day or can change (albeit, the more people you live with, the less flexibility you may have). On nice days, I have a space in my backyard that I set up shop in and I enjoy working from there.Some days I even change up where I work, in the morning it may be in the home office. After lunch, I may move to the breakfast bar for a change of scenery. This allows me to really soak up the luxury of working from home, while also enabling me to maintain focus.
Combining your designated space with your set schedule will enable you to create a routine, despite your change of atmosphere. Add on this third tip and you are sure to have a winning trifecta for at-home efficiency.
A key component to working in a virtual capacity is to establish solid boundaries with friends and family. It is easy to get distracted by a phone call from a friend, an impromptu lunch invitation, or even a casual conversation with your partner. The key is to politely, but sternly, turn down these distractions. Let your loved ones know that you are working during specific hours and that you are not welcoming disturbances. It is not being self-important — rather it is self preservation. The more you respect (and ask those who care about you to respect) your working boundaries, the less you’ll indulge in the temptation of fun but unproductive distractions.
The Bottom Line
Setting time limits, limiting distractions and establishing boundaries are my beginner keys to working remotely. I have an arsenal of tips and suggestions that I have gathered over the last 6+ years I have spent working from home and cultivating The Virtual Assistant Academy. If you are like many workplace professionals, using this pandemic as an opportunity to explore your options and expand your horizons on the work from home lifestyle might add value to your productivity at home or in your future office setting in ways you couldn’t have expected.