Telecommuting Tips from TradeMark’s First Remote Employee

28 Jun 2016 Photo Credit: SAE

I’d been working at the TradeMark Media offices in Austin for a few years when I felt the itch to move somewhere new. Luckily, TradeMark offered to keep me on remotely.

Now, I telecommute from Los Angeles.

I wasn’t sure how I would handle this transition. I had never worked as a remote employee—and TradeMark had never had one. It would be a new venture for us both. It’s been two years (and change) since I moved to the west coast (which is arguably the best coast). So I thought I would share my experiences for those considering becoming—or hiring—a remote employee.

Communication

I had already been with TradeMark for about two-and-a-half years when I moved, so I already had a good relationship with everyone on the team. This is relevant because communication is very important during and after this transition.

By “communication,” I mean both the day-to-day chatter and the larger dialogue between me and the team about what works and what doesn’t. Because I was the first remote employee, we didn’t have well-developed systems to handle remote meetings or finding ways to make me feel more involved with the team. Luckily, because of our good relationship, I felt comfortable working through any issues and figuring out what our new protocols should be.

Video meetings became the norm for me, which made audio/video quality extremely important. We use a combination of Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, and Hipchat to share our screens—and so they can see my face every once and awhile. We continue to fine-tune which technology works best for each meetings. Sometimes, it’s a matter of realizing which rooms have more echo than others.

Main takeaway: Always be communicative of your needs or about issues that you are encountering.

Cabin Fever

I imagine this is what people worry about the most when deciding whether working remotely is for them.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would handle the day-in-day-out of working by myself in my apartment every day. It turns out I don’t mind it. Some days I need to go for a walk to just get out for a few minutes, but overall I am pretty comfortable working on my own for long periods of time.

For those that feel like they might lose their mind with this kind of setup, you might consider joining a co-working space. A co-working space is essentially an office environment that invites freelancers from a variety of industries to come work with others like you. For some, it might be a good option because they just want somewhere to go to outside of their homes so they can stay focused; for others, it’s an opportunity to network with people from a variety of backgrounds. I haven’t needed to utilize this resource yet – primarily because I prefer my commute of bed-to-desk as opposed to battling LA traffic.

Environment

If you’re working remotely, you must invest in a good office setup – or have your company invest in it for you. I used to telecommute once in awhile when I was still in Austin—and it always felt subpar compared to working in the office. I realize now that the reason I felt this way was because I didn’t have my nice big monitor with me and a monitor stand that positions it at an optimal ergonomic height. Now that I have a dedicated office set-up, with all my hardware and comfort, I’m much more productive and focused.

Here's my workstation in LA:

Work/Home Separation

Make sure you have a designated office area void of distractions. This is especially important for those who might notice that their grass is starting to get long and end up mowing their lawn for a few hours when they’re supposed to be clocked in.  

Try to create an area that you go to whenever you are supposed to be working. If it feels like you’re “going to the office,” you’ll stay focused. Even if your office is just a few feet from your bed, it’s better than working in bed.

It’s also a good idea to decide what your remote hours are. This might depend on your company, but for me I have a set, hourly schedule every day. While this may seem too structured to some, I like it because when your work and your home are the same shared space, it’s easy to start working at any hour of the day. With a time cut-off, you give yourself that separation to log off. And now your workspace is your home again.

Tips for Employers

If you are considering hiring a remote employee or offering telecommuting as an option for your team, there are some ways that you can help your remote employees contribute in a valuable and effective way.

While video conferencing is a great way to communicate with employees who are off site, finding time to get together in person provides a level of interaction that video calls can’t quite capture. TradeMark, for instance, will fly me down quarterly for team-building events or strategy sessions. It’s a nice way to touch base and feel like I’m still a part of the team.

And remember, communication goes both ways. As an employer, maintain a dialogue with your remote employees to make sure they feel valued and included.

You should also be willing to adapt—and not assume that what works for in-house employees will also work for remote ones. For example: If you’re conducting a meeting with multiple remote employees, it might be better to have each person call in to a video conference to optimize audio quality (instead of a single conference line).

As long as both parties are willing to figure out what works, you can maintain productive and happy remote employees.

And Finally...

Telecommuting is becoming the norm. While most companies aren’t hiring full-time remote employees, many offer telecommuting one or two days a week. I think it’s a great way for employees to have more freedom with their schedule (and their location, as it was for me). While remote employees won’t be compatible with every industry, the benefits to the employee—and the company—merit giving it serious consideration.

Good luck—and happy telecommuting!