Chained to computer
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You don’t need to be chained to your computer.

By Beth Hanson
May 6, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What are your strategies for staying effective while working remotely?” is written by Beth Hanson, principal financial analyst with Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.

I love Minnesota; my entire family is there. But after vacationing in Arizona, my wife and I fell in love with the desert and created a plan to retire there. After my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I realized that my parents had waited for retirement to go on their adventures, and now they couldn’t do it. In that moment it was clear to us that we should live the life we always wanted during our prime, not after. When my wife’s position was eliminated, we decided that we were moving to Arizona no matter what.

Because I wanted to remain in my job, I worked out a plan with my employer to work remotely. Here are four tips I’ve learned for how to stay productive outside the office:

Prepare for unique challenges

Prior to working remotely, I hadn’t realized the value of “drive-by meetings,” which I could execute while walking to and from my desk in the office. I’ve had to find other ways to communicate, mostly through phone calls. Another challenge is missing nonverbal cues during conference calls. From facial expressions to side conversations and visual notes, it can be hard to anticipate where the conversation will go. Also, while there is no office buzz to distract me, there are other distractions around my house. If you work from home, create a designated office. As soon as I enter that space, my mind is ready to work.

Get interactive

Instead of shooting off emails, it is important to call your colleagues. This helps clear up miscommunications and builds relationships. You will understand more by hearing the tone of someone’s voice. When possible, use web meetings as well. I am learning to leverage WebEx tools on a regular basis for one–on–one meetings. Seeing facial expressions is critical when building rapport with your colleagues.

Find a mentor

As I mulled over the idea of working remotely, I established a mentor relationship with a manager who was working with a remote employee. Through our discussions, I came to understand the challenges and learned best practices. This helped me create an effective proposal for my job relocation. In addition, I now have a go-to person for venting or discussing problems I face in my new working environment.

Give yourself some freedom

At first, I wouldn’t veer away from my home office or computer, wanting to always be available for a call or email. I felt I had to prove that I wasn’t taking advantage of my remote working arrangement and was tethered to my office. This ended up making me feel less motivated. Now I take breaks and am more flexible with my working hours, which is a huge advantage of working from home. In the end, it makes me more creative and productive.

Reflecting on my decision to work remotely reminded me of my own employer’s recent study, called “The Gift of Time.” The study found that many Americans liked the idea of living in a different “order” than the traditional path of going to school, working, and finally retiring. I am living proof that experiencing life “out of order” will not just allow you to succeed, but thrive.

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