“Working from home must be amazing! You’re SO lucky!”
That is the typical response I get when I tell someone that I work from home as a designer. From an outsider looking in, it seems like the ideal situation anyone could ask for — especially for a full-time employee. All the things you would want in a solid career. Right?
To an extent, yes. However, that’s not always the case. While working at home provides hours saved from not commuting and getting ready for work, the trade-off is isolation and not being able to learn as much from your co-workers. As a designer in a constantly evolving industry, learning is key to ongoing success.
I’ve learned a thing or two over the past two years that may be useful to anyone who is, or will be, working remotely. These four tips will put you on the right path to being a well-rounded remote employee.
#1 Don’t get too comfortable
By “don’t get too comfortable,” I’m referring to your mindset and habits. Your daily routine sets the tone for how you work, and how productive you are. Details matter. The way you present yourself can affect your ability to get things done. While it is easy to live in a pair of sweats on the cozy couch, it may not be the most productive.
Do create your own environment
Have a dedicated space for working. Ideally, completely separate from where you sleep and relax. Fill this space with the things that you enjoy and inspire you. I like to surround myself with poster prints, illustrations, candid photos and plants. These items make me feel happy, fulfilled and focused. Think about the feelings you want to cultivate in your workspace and find the ingredients to manifest them. Sometimes I’ll even light a candle or diffuse some essential oils for the aromatherapy.
Consider taking your workspace out of your home, even if it’s for half a day. There are plenty of cafes, pubs, libraries and public spaces that offer free wifi. So switch it up!
Think about the way you work. Typically, you associate a computer job with a desk and a chair. Try swapping that chair out for something else, or maybe nothing at all.
Did you know?
“Studies have linked long periods of sitting with an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Sedentary days have also been shown to increase anxiety. Some research has found that frequent breaks from sitting ― even simply fidgeting! ― can help ward off its negative health effects.”
Alternatives to a chair include sitting on an exercise ball or using a standing desk. I’ve embraced the latter. By standing all day, I stay more energized and focused. I’m more inclined to move around and step away from my desk. This brings me to my next point.
Step away from your desk often, especially when you don’t have urgent deadlines. Breaks allow for your brain to reset and come back with a fresh perspective. It’s common to work towards what seems like a solid solution, only to change your mind after walking away and coming back to it. Allowing yourself to step away from your work, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes, can make your workflow and outcomes more successful in the long-run.
#2 Don’t stop learning
Don’t just stick to what you know. When you’re working remote, it can be a challenge to learn without the side-by-side interactions with your colleagues. Luckily we live in a time where online tools and resources are plentiful, cheap or free, and easy to access. What’s really important is taking the time and effort to research ways to continue to learn.
Do take advantage of resources
There are many free resources available online. Blogs, YouTube tutorials and websites sharing free design assets are abundant and useful. There are a ton of websites that are specifically built to host free assets for designers, as well as websites that are article-based, showcasing new and up-and-coming trends in the industry. The options are endless. It really boils down to how resourceful you can get with it. Here are a few of my favorites:
If the company you work for provides a budget for educational tools or subscriptions, take advantage of it! This might include subscriptions like Lynda.com, where you can access an enormous library of online tutorials and courses. These services cost money because they are high quality. If your company pays for you to learn and develop as an employee in your profession, take full advantage and enjoy.
CKR Interactive provides a professional development benefit. Every year, CKR invests money into each employees growth. This might come in the form of a class, a conference, a seminar, books or guides, or an association membership. Last year, I took a boot camp workshop for UX Research, with a company in Seattle called General Assembly. They offer single workshop courses, along with extended full-time and part-time courses. They also host events! Other similar platforms include:
It’s organizations like these where you can find affordable options if there’s an area that you think you might be interested in or even an area you know you can improve on.
#3 Don’t be a hermit
It’s easy to forget that you work for an actual company, with real employees to reach out to and connections to make. Advancements in technology enable us to become that remote hermit in the company that you rarely see or hear from. Don’t be that gal or guy! There are ways to combat this notion of seclusion and distance.
Do stay connected
There are so many ways to connect and collaborate with your peers. Video calls, screen shares, and phone calls can help bridge the gap between coworkers. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate something via a Slack message or email. It can be more effective to hash things out over a call with visuals to get everyone on the same page. At CKR we use:
We also have something we nicknamed Johnny 5. It is a monitor on wheels located in the creative team corner of the Campbell office. Remote employees can jump on any time to simulate the experience of being in the same room.
That’s most of what we’re currently using, but we’re always open to finding new tools to implement in our daily communications. What are your favorite ways to stay connected with your colleagues?
#4 Don’t work too much
While working from home, it’s so easy to hop on your laptop at night to catch up on emails and crank out a couple more projects. Sometimes, I find myself working late into the night because I get wrapped up in a project. It’s important to find that balance and create boundaries to ensure your well being. Let’s not forget how important that little thing called sleep is.
Do be mindful of a balanced work/life schedule
Know your limits when it comes to the amount of work you’re putting in after working hours. Of course, there are those times when new business is booming, or projects just keep trickling in with tight deadlines. That’s all a part of an agency lifecycle, which is unavoidable at times. Be mindful of those patterns becoming the “norm.” Ask yourself, “is this really something that needs to be done now?” As a remote worker, I strongly believe in making myself available more-often than not — considering I have no commute and it’s a lot easier to access the work that needs to get done. Although, sometimes that is not always necessary. There should be a fine line between knowing when working after hours is completely necessary or not.
Those are some of the tips I’ve learned as a remote designer. What are yours? Please share your favorites below!