, Coworking, Productivity

How to Stay Balanced When You Can Work From Anywhere

Woman working on a laptop and drinking coffee outside

Who wouldn’t love the freedom of working from anywhere? Of choosing when and how you work? Of punching the clock from your couch, from a coffee shop, or even your favorite coworking space?

According to Gallup’s 2016 “State of the American Workplace” report, that’s the reality for 43 percent of U.S. professionals who work remotely in some capacity. The report also found the number of employees working remotely has increased across the industries studied. In other words, there are a heck of a lot of Americans telecommuting (or working from home) and enjoying those liberties each and every workday – and the number continues to grow.

It all sounds pretty perfect, right?

It can be – as long as employees are equipped to tackle the many obstacles that niggle into this increasingly popular type of work (think: isolation, hurdles in collaboration and communication, difficulty staying motivated, and the list goes on).

While the popularity of remote work grows, so do the ways to tackle the hurdles that come with it. We checked in with a couple Oklahoma City-based remote workers to see how they stay balanced when they go it alone and can make any location their office.

Combating isolation

Three people working on their laptops and laughing

Even remote workers who pride themselves on their independent nature find themselves yearning for human connection every now and again. They might long for their co-workers’ background banter that they found difficult to tune out before, or even find themselves missing that co-worker who refused to use the phone and showed up at their desk to ask questions face to face.

In fact, loneliness is the No. 1 struggle remote workers face, according to “State of Remote Work 2018 Report,” a comprehensive look at what it’s like to be a remote worker in 2018, compiled by the popular social media management platform Buffer. Buffer teamed up with Workfrom, a website that helps workers find great spots to work from, and Hubstaff, a time-tracking software company, to collect data from over 1,900 remote workers around the world to shed light on the subject.

Connecting people is a full-time job for Julie Porter Scott, community manager for Yelp OKC, but even with that full-time focus, the remote position she’s held for nearly seven years has its isolating moments.

“I don’t think (working remotely) comes naturally at all,” Scott said. “People think it’s going to be perfect and it’s going to solve all your problems to work from home, but I had an adjustment period – not being in an office with people, missing the camaraderie, the ‘water cooler-ness’ of it.”

According to the same Gallup poll, as a group, fully remote workers have the lowest levels of engagement of all remote workers.

That’s where coworking comes in.

Surrounding herself with other workers, even if they had different backgrounds from her, Scott found her own work community. Going on what she calls “coffee shop hops,” she’d post up in different OKC coffee shops and coworking spaces to conduct meetings, catch up on work, and change up her space, welcoming the bustle of work happening all around her.

“Many of the people working around me are creative, and I sometimes feel a little bit out of place, but it’s also wonderful because it really accomplishes what I hoped it would: It gets me out of my element,” she said of one OKC coworking space. “Six and a half years into this role, it’s almost like I have a new lease on my career because I chose to step out of my space and work with other people.”

Work-life integration

Open book on someone's lap with a tray of coffee and a plant nearby

The phrase “work-life balance” has gotten awfully buzzy in the past few years, with many companies across America touting a great work-life balance as a reason to work for them. Simply put, work-life balance is an individual’s need to find the right amount of time for work and other aspects of life – and it looks different to different people.

For Ruth Burr Reedy, it’s not so much a “work-life balance” as it is “work-life integration” – a phrase coined in Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor: Being a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.” Burr Reedy, the director of strategy at UpBuild, a technical marketing company that describes itself in its Twitter bio as being “100% remote, 100% geeks,” said the book underscores the importance of taking care of one’s self in order to take care of others.

“Be relentlessly insistent on bringing your fullest and best self to work—  and taking it back home again. Don’t think of it as work-life balance, some kind of zero-sum game where anything you put into your work robs your life and anything you put into your life robs your work. Instead, think of it as work-life integration. If you need to get eight hours of sleep to stay centered, those hours are not something that you do for yourself at the expense of your work or your team. Your work and your life can give each other a ‘double bounce.’”

In Burr Reedy’s work-life integration, she’s navigated the world of remote work by setting barriers and separating work from play and personal chores. She typically works from home, like 78 percent of remote workers.

“For me, what’s been really helpful in combating a lot of the problems with working remotely is acknowledging that I’m at work, so even if I’m at my house, I’m at work. I’m not doing chores. I’m not doing my laundry, because I’m at work,” she said, adding she will squeeze some chores into her day, but with great intentionality.

“One thing I started doing is going back to that idea of feeling guilty, where I’ve been in the house all day and nothing is done, so now I schedule a half-hour break where I’m like, ‘For the next half hour I’m going to do my laundry or clean this one thing,’ and then I set a timer on my phone for a half hour.”

Creating daily/weekly structure

Both Scott and Burr Reedy agree mastering remote work has a lot to do with how they structure their workdays and workweeks. When you can work from anywhere, work has a tendency to tag along, creeping into personal time and making employees feel guilty for not putting in enough hours.

Burr Reedy relies on a hard start and stop to the workday, which for her is the drop-off and pickup of her child from daycare. Without that, it’s easier to slip into what she calls a “long, shallow entry into the workday” that looks a lot like sitting on the couch checking email on her phone until 10 a.m. and realizing she hasn’t showered. With that wishy-washy beginning to the workday comes a wishy-washy ending as well.

“I had no way to be like, ‘Work is over now.’ It made my work-life balance so off because even though I felt like I was working all the time, I also felt less productive because I was mentally wandering in and out with work.”

For Scott, the key was to learn to set boundaries and start saying “no.” She found she was taking every coffee and lunch meeting to get more connected with people. But, that time was eating into her nights and weekends, making her feel like she had more work to tackle than she really should.

“When I first started this job, I didn’t have kids, so I would just keep working and thinking, ‘Surely, at some point, I’ll find the bottom of this pile,’” she said. “You have to find a way to set boundaries so you can call your day and switch gears so you really stop working. You need to set boundaries with how many things you say yes to in a week.”

Now, Scott ensures she has 40 true hours of work each week, scheduling recurring tasks in Google Calendar (one dedicated meeting day, a large chunk of time for team calls, and scheduled time frames for about 25 hours a week of on-site work as she builds community on the Yelp OKC website). These weekly routines create much-needed structure that helps Scott ensure she can snap her laptop shut at the end of a workday without guilt.

Tools and resources

If you’re looking for some platforms to up your remote work game, keep yourself on track, and stay balanced, try a few of these:

  • Slack: This community-building messaging platform can help remote teams stay connected and even facilitates collaboration among employees who don’t often work together by offering the DonutApp and #coffee-and-donuts channel, which randomly pairs co-workers together to learn more about one another, whether in person or the virtual space.
  • Pomodoro timer: Burr Reedy suggests tomato-timer.com, which allows you to set a 25-minute timer to focus on one task, then take a five-minute break.
  • Focusatwill.com: If your Spotify playlists are feeling a little tired, Scott wants you to try Focusatwill.com to find what kind of music is right for your personality type to put your brain into a “flow state,” “making you hyper-focused and exponentially more productive,” according to the site.
  • Managers and co-workers: Your supervisors and co-workers want you to be a healthy, productive employee too. Don’t underestimate the power of reaching out to those who invest in you. Scott said Yelp’s network of community managers and leadership team talk a lot about making the best use of your time, finding balance, and avoiding burnout. The top-down encouragement sets the tone for the rest of the company.
  • Pair calls: Burr Reedy’s company UpBuild takes a page out of Buffer’s book with pair calls. The UpBuilders pair up for two 15-minute video calls every week. The hitch? No shoptalk. The two employees talk about their interests, weekend plans, and anything else that helps them learn more about each other. “It provides that ‘water cooler chat,’” Burr Reedy said. “You don’t get that unless you create it.”

Settle into your space

Someone measuring on a plain piece of paper with a book and phone nearby on the table

Some remote workers have a dedicated home office set up just so. Others prefer to hunker down in their favorite coffee shops or post up in a comfy chair at their local library. And others seek a coworking space for the convenience and amenities (like a kitchen away from home, conference rooms, free Wi-Fi, and charging stations).

Another added benefit to coworking spaces? They offer community – a chance to be around people with the same intentions, and that’s to come together to do great work outside of an office.

“That’s a hidden benefit of coworking spaces: that everyone there understands you’re there to do work,” Burr Reedy said. “If I need to do one thing that needs a lot of focus or creativity, I will almost always do that not at my house, because it gets me out of my groove to go someplace else. Being out of my normal space keeps me from being like, ‘What’s on slack? What’s on email? What are the 37 other things I need to do today?’”

With a game plan on how to beat burnout, stay balanced, and connect with co-workers abroad, you should be more prepared to take coworking for a test drive! And, the Innovation Station is the perfect place to give it a go. Learn about the space ahead of time, gather your work gear, and stop by to see firsthand how coworking in downtown OKC can enhance your remote work experience!