— October 3, 2017
It’s just plain awesome to telecommute to work. There’s no bumper to bumper traffic to fight with during rush hour, you can wear comfy sweatpants all day and that annoying co-worker who is the personification of Eeyore can’t bring you down. However, if you’re a virtual assistant or a freelancer who works from home, then you know it’s not as easy as it sounds. Here are some common mistakes that remote workers make and some ideas that can help you to succeed wherever you park your laptop.
1. You’re Easily (Oh, I Just Got a Text!) Distracted
This is the most obvious and persistent problem: staying focused. There’s laundry piled in the corner, the couch looks so comfy (hello Friends reruns!) and there’s no fear of someone peeking over your shoulder if you happen to lose 5 (or 30) minutes scrolling through your Facebook account. You can avoid these hurdles by putting a few parameters on your day.
First of all, create a loose timeline guiding how your day needs to look. For example, wake up at 7:30 to eat breakfast and get house chores done, get dressed by 9:00 (look better, feel better), work from 9:00 – 12:00 (with a 15 minute snack break at 10:30), eat lunch and give your mind a rest from 12:00 – 1:00, and work from 1:00 – 5:00 (with a 15 minute break at 3:00).
Secondly, make your workstation somewhere you would want to work. Setting the stage to get in the right mindset is a huge advantage. Clear off that desk. Open a window. Brew some coffee. Light a nice smelling candle. When you eliminate distractions and establish an area designed for work, you’ll find yourself more productive.
Finally, keep that billing sheet tab open on your computer and up-to-date with the projects you’re completing. Not only will this make billing a whole lot easier (and your client will appreciate a detailed list of your progress and costs), but knowing you’re making money is one heck of a good motivator to stay on task.
2. Not Letting Your Personality Shine Through
As a virtual employee, it can sometimes feel as though you aren’t part of a team or that you are dispensable. You don’t create the normal friendships and ties that are part of the natural process of working with a group in an office. While your emails and phone calls need to have a high level of professionalism, don’t be afraid to show a bit of who you are. Even starting a conversation about the weather can create valuable small talk with your client who might live hundreds of miles away. It’s safe territory (unlike “What do you think of the current scandal on the news?”) but it shows that you’re a relatable person and not just a faceless entity.
3. Being Inflexible
Let’s say you’re a virtual assistant with three different employers. This can be extremely difficult because one may want to communicate via Slack, another prefers Android Messages while the third is a traditionalist and only likes emails. Moreover, they may require the same tasks to be completed each in a different way plus you have to know the basic foundation of each unique business. There are countless moving parts to each project PLUS you have to be flexible to work with each management style. If you’re not flexible and a quick learner, working virtually may not be the right fit for you.
4. Poor Communication
Job training is a difficult part of any job, but it’s even harder when you’re a hundred or maybe even a thousand miles away. It’s a fine balance between asking questions when you’re not sure about a task, asking too many questions that can annoy your employer and not asking enough questions and then you end up completing a project wrong. Consider on the first few tasks asking basic questions and then submit a rough draft before the assignment is completed. Your boss can point out the specifics of where you went wrong; when you learn hands-on, you’ll understand the process better. Also, create consistent check-in meetings every Monday morning to plan out the week and to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
5. It’s Okay to Say “Goodbye”
The virtual workplace is scary for anyone who’s been in it for a while. Either you are swamped with work or you are bored and worried about where your next client is going to come from. With this feast or famine mindset, it can easily become a habit to hold on to anyone who wants to hire you. However, the reality is that you won’t jive with every person that you work with. Sometimes you’ll get clients who want more work from you but aren’t willing to pay more. Other times your communication styles are so different that you can’t figure out what they specifically want. If things don’t get better after two months, it’s acceptable to say goodbye and search for new opportunities on the horizon. Imagine speed dating and having happy marriages with every guy you meet; it’s just not going to happen, and that’s okay. In this day and age, there are a ton of people looking to hire virtual employees. However, you still should give careful consideration to your reputation and online reviews. Nevertheless, sometimes you need to move on and do what’s best for both you and your client.
Working virtually can be a godsend if you know how to avoid the traps and cater to your strengths. It takes time to learn the ropes, but it is certainly an amazing option in today’s busy world.