Remote worker on the couch with laptop

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4 Ways for Professionals to Thrive in a Virtual Workspace

Remote work offers many benefits, but it can also be a challenge for employees who are used to traditional, in-office work settings. Although a virtual work environment provides freedom and flexibility that an office setting struggles to match, maintaining a healthy work/life balance can be difficult. Here are four tips to help you thrive in a virtual work environment.

With the Deep-Dive Insights Series, Aston Carter takes a closer look at emerging trends in the evolving job market that will affect both employers and candidates alike.

Communicate Well and Often

Whether you’re working remote, hybrid or in person, open and regular communication is key to establishing a healthy and meaningful work experience. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to master effective communication in a remote environment since unscheduled, in-person interactions no longer exist. Instead, most conversations must be scheduled virtually, so it’s important to consider which communication channel is best for what you’re looking to accomplish:

  • Instant messaging, through tools like Microsoft Teams and Jabber, is great for one-off questions or relationship-building chats throughout the day
  • Email is typically most appropriate for detailed updates or team communications
  • For collaboration, brainstorming and team-building exercises, meeting platforms like Google Meet and Webex are great choices

Remote work requires you to communicate well across a variety of platforms, but unfortunately nuance and detail are often lost in digital communication — no matter which platform you choose. That’s why it’s especially important to consider how your communications might be interpreted and how you’re reading into communications from others. 

If you ever think a coworker may have misinterpreted your tone or message, don’t be afraid to follow up and make sure you’re on the same page. It’s also important to be clear when setting expectations and deadlines and to follow up to keep everyone working toward the same goal. It also helps to regularly schedule time for status updates, workshopping and collaboration with coworkers.

Whatever works best for your work and communication streams, be careful not to slip into a rhythm of email-centric communication that lacks personal engagement. It can be easy to emotionally disengage in a virtual work environment, but it may be at the expense of your personal development, productivity and team rapport. Instead of walling yourself off at your in-home workplace, reach out to collaborate with teammates in real time and regularly check in with your leadership. Intentionally connecting with others will help you avoid isolation in your work situation and encourage interpersonal growth.

Workplace communication will remain asynchronous even as many employees head back into the office. Many companies are moving into a hybrid — part remote, part on-site — work model. So even if you’re planning to return to the office soon, practicing healthy virtual communication skills will offer benefits throughout your entire career.

Expect a New Rhythm

The rhythm of remote work is very different from an in-person experience. While some sources of disruption can’t be eliminated, there are many ways you can adjust to the pace of a virtual environment. 

For example, communication and feedback usually take longer when working remotely. Regular check-ins help clarify responsibilities by adding structure and accountability to crucial workflows. You can also timebox assignments to ensure projects don’t get bogged down in review cycles or become lost in someone’s inbox. 

Since in-person check-ins are off the table, it’s important to avoid wasting time while waiting on a response from a coworker. Instead of stalling your project plan, predetermine which tasks you can complete independent of your team. That way, if you have to put a project on hold while you wait for a required asset to be delivered, you’ll have tasks lined up to complete while your primary project is on pause. 

On the other hand, it’s also important to embrace healthy doses of downtime to balance a rigorous work schedule. Remote work can overwhelm anyone’s work/life balance, so be sure to set realistic boundaries. It can be difficult to break away from a productive workflow, so consider planning breaks throughout your day. Weaving short walks or coffee breaks in between work activities will help ensure your day isn’t entirely dominated by work. 

Protect Your Mental Health

Your mental health is extremely important in developing a healthy remote work experience — but it can be easy to overlook.

A healthy work/life balance begins with setting boundaries that won’t allow work to bleed into other parts of your life. Since you don’t have a commute to bookend each workday, consider replacing it with a relaxing activity. Wake up a little earlier to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea so that you’re not jumping right from bed to the office. You could also end your day with a walk or a short drive. These small adjustments can help contribute to a balanced work experience and your overall wellbeing.

Being intentional about your work location is also important. Working from home physically blurs the lines between work and home life, making it easy to work or think about work too much, which can lead to burnout. If possible, separate your workspace from your bedroom. The physical boundaries will help your mind separate working from living and sleeping, which can be difficult to subconsciously process if everything happens in the same place.

Finally, since connecting with coworkers can be a challenge in a remote environment, embrace opportunities to socialize whenever possible. Remote happy hours and coffee breaks can be a little awkward, but social connection in the workplace is valuable — not only for team building but also for mental health. Working remotely means losing the short, informal interactions that naturally arise when working in person, so it’s important to make up for them whenever possible.

Invest in Your Setup

In addition to communication, working rhythm and mental health, it’s important to consider the technical aspects of working remotely. If you’re new to a job, take time to familiarize yourself with the software you’ll be using, and proactively troubleshoot common problems.

Learn how to log back into a meeting if you get kicked off or how to dial in if your internet or computer microphone has issues. Also make sure your software is updated before starting a meeting or beginning your workday to help avoid ill-timed system updates that could stall your workflow.

Anticipating issues will help streamline the workday and increase your efficiency. Since internet problems can disrupt remote work at any time, make sure you have a stable connection. If you’re experiencing connectivity issues, try using an internet speed test (likely available on your internet service provider’s website) to gauge connectivity. These applications allow you to measure your speed (higher is better) and ping (lower is better).

Test your connectivity regularly and consider the strengths and weaknesses of your connection. High ping means you have an unstable connection. If you’re working on a laptop, you can often lower your ping by moving closer to your router. Another option is to use a wired ethernet connection, which greatly reduces stability issues.

Finally, invest in your digital workspace in the same way you would invest in making your in-office desk look presentable. If you’re on camera regularly, think about how your space appears to others. Try to set up your office in an area that’s quiet and comfortable. Giving people a look into your home office environment offers an inviting personal touch, but if your space is messy, consider using a divider. You can also use web conferencing software to blur or change your background to provide a temporary professional backdrop.

Taking advantage of the benefits remote work offers while succeeding at your job requires intentionality, discipline and planning. It takes time to establish a good rhythm, but if you invest in establishing an effective remote work cadence, you’ll be more focused, less stressed and more efficient.

If you’re looking for new remote work opportunities, contact Aston Carter today.

Other entries in our Deep-Dive Insights Series on job market trends: