Remote Work: The Ultimate Guide for 2021

Home » Resources » Remote WorkUpdated: November 14, 2021

You found our guide to remote work.

Remote work is a work style where employees work at home or outside the office as opposed to working from a centralized location. The practice often involves emails, messaging platforms, and virtual meeting software. Remote work is also commonly called working from home, telecommuting, and virtual work.

This article covers:

Here are the basics.

What is remote work?

Remote work is work that is performed outside of an office or offsite, for instance at home, in a coworking space, or at a public venue like a cafe or library. Remote work is also called telecommuting, virtual work, and working from home.

Some companies or roles are fully remote, meaning that team members never work from a company building. Other organizations allow remote work on a case by case basis, for instance, if the team member is travelling or ill, or in inclement weather. Still more companies give employees the option of hybrid work, meaning that staff split the workweek between the office and remote locations.

Remote work typically requires an internet connection and involves tools like email, messaging platforms, and virtual meeting software.

Why is remote work important?

Remote work is important because it is not always feasible for teammates to work together in person. As the world becomes more global, it is increasingly common for workers to have collaborators in other countries. These partnerships give teams access to different perspectives, ideas, and resources. Travelling to meet is costly, and remote work enables professionals to cooperate with folks across the globe inexpensively in real time.

Also, life is messy, and remote work provides a backup. The pandemic showed the world the scale on which natural events could disrupt the business world, and remote work enabled many operations to continue running. Employees may need to travel unexpectedly or may get sick, and the option to work from home permits professionals to keep in contact with the office and accomplish tasks while not onsite.

Virtual work offers more flexibility in terms of working hours and environments. These roles give job seekers more opportunities, as positions are generally not limited to a geographic area. Thanks to remote work, fewer professionals need to choose between where they want to live and where they want to work.

Remote work also tends to be more nimble and adaptable than traditional offices, which is an advantage in the quickly-changing modern business climate.

What are the benefits of remote work?

Remote work offers many benefits to employees, including more flexible hours, the ability to work from any location with an internet connection, reduced commuter costs, and control over the working environment. Many telecommuters can also enjoy extra time with pets and family members.

Employers enjoy lower overhead costs and a wider talent pool. Another plus is that with remote work, moving does not have to lead to employee turnover. Relocating employees can take the work to the new location, and employers will not have to rehire.

Virtual work also tends to be preferable for folks with certain disabilities. Working from home means that these employees may not need to request special accommodations from employers, and the flexible hours allow these individuals to work around doctor appointments or condition flare-ups.

Research has also hinted that remote work can make work more enjoyable for employees and increase staff output. For instance, a Stanford study done on a 16,000 person travel company found that working remotely increased employee satisfaction, slashed employee attrition by half, and boosted productivity by 13%.

Here is a list of benefits of working from home.

What are the disadvantages of remote work?

Virtual offices tend to have less camaraderie than traditional offices. There are fewer opportunities for casual run-ins, and some staff might go weeks without hearing from coworkers. Online work can feel lonely and isolating, and employees can feel disconnected and disengaged.

Remote work also requires high levels of self-discipline that some employees struggle to meet. Without managers or coworkers watching, it can be tempting to get distracted and do non-work tasks during the work day. Also, without continual feedback, some employees have trouble staying productive.

Collaborating remotely can be tricky, as teammates have to rely on video conferencing, file sharing, and messaging to exchange information.

Also, working remotely blurs the boundaries between work and home life. Employees can have a hard time unplugging and disconnecting from work when their workspace and living spaces are the same. Unfortunately, some employers expect staff to be available at all times just because in theory, team members could work at any time.

Luckily, there are tools and techniques that can counteract these remote work disadvantages and create healthier virtual offices.

Here are more disadvantages of remote working.

How do you find remote work?

As virtual work becomes more common, more employers offer remote work opportunities. When searching on online job boards like Indeed and CareerBuilder, tweak the search settings to show only remote results. Typically, these sites have options for temporarily remote and fully remote postings. You can also scan specialized remote job boards like Flexjobs and WeWorkRemotely to view work from home jobs.

Upwork and Fiverr are sites that help freelancers find virtual clients.

Networking is another effective way to find opportunities. Tapping into a network can shorten the search for a virtual job, as professional contacts can share openings that are not widely circulated and provide personal recommendations. Even if you do not have a wide professional circle in everyday life, befriending other professionals on LinkedIn and online career groups can lead you to work from home opportunities.

How do you set up a remote workplace?

The first step to setting up a remote workplace is to get a fast and reliable internet connection. As far as furniture, you will need, at minimum, a desk and a chair. Considering how much time you will spend in your home office, you want to choose a comfortable seat. Ergonomic office furniture can be surprisingly costly, however, some remote employers reimburse work from home setups. You can also find low-cost home office solutions like standing desk converters and secondhand chairs and desks.

You may also want to invest in tools like noise-blocking headphones, a WiFi extender, and a light for Zoom meetings. If you plan to work away from home often, then a VPN helps protect company and client data while surfing public networks.

Also, you may want to stock your workspace with snacks and drinks to remove the temptation to wander into the kitchen and get distracted mid-workday.

The best place for a home office is in a low-traffic and low-noise area, preferably a room with a lockable door.

Or, if you prefer the structure of the office, then you can book membership at a coworking space.

On the employer end, setting up a virtual workplace involves first getting equipment to employees. Many organizations offer a company computer to staff, alongside a technology policy that outlines acceptable uses of the device. Part of the employee onboarding process should involve installing and testing necessary software.

What are the best remote work platforms?

Here are tools and software commonly used in virtual offices.

1. Slack

Slack is a communication platform where users can chat via Slack channels, threads, and direct messages. Developers recently added a feature called Slack Connect that permits users to start conversations with individuals outside of the organization, so workers can chat with clients as well as coworkers in the same space. The threads are searchable and pinnable, making it easy to quickly find information.

Remote teams can use Slack for socialization, team building, and casual conversation. For example, here is a list of games to play on Slack with teammates.

You can also use Slack apps to extend functionality, such as Gmail, Zapier, Zoom, and Salesforce. These integrations save users the need to switch between programs, making Slack the central nervous system of the remote office.

2. Zoom

Zoom is one of the most popular video conferencing platforms. The program is user friendly and easy to navigate. To join a meeting, participants click a link. Attendees can join via browser or internet application, as well as desktop or mobile versions. Zoom offers features such as breakout rooms, which split groups into smaller, private sessions, as well as chat, screen sharing, polling, and digital whiteboard. Meetings are recordable, and organizers can customize settings to make the ideal virtual environment for discussion or presentation.

Here are games to play on Zoom with coworkers.

3. Google Suite

The Google Suite offers a cloud-based set of tools like word documents, spreadsheets, slideshow presentations, and email. Users can easily share documents with colleagues by granting access, and teammates can collaborate in real time. Since Google and Gmail are widely used and the programs are intuitive, very little, if any training is required. The Google Suite integrates with many other programs. Because the platform is cloud-based, no installation is required. Employees can start working immediately just by signing in with a Google alias.

4. Trello

Trello is a project management software that follows a Kanban board format. The platform consists of different boards with multiple columns. Users can create cards for tasks and add due dates, checklists, labels, and descriptions. This format facilitates easy collaboration. With no conversation needed, managers can list or assign upcoming tasks. Trello boards can help the team gauge the progress of projects at a glance.

Organizations can also use Trello as a digital library by designating a board to policies, operating procedures, and other helpful resources. TeamBuilding uses Trello for the company directory. Every employee makes a card with their name, position, and two truths and one lie, and workers can browse the boards during free time to get to know colleagues better.

Check out more project management tools.

Check out this full guide to remote work software.

How do you focus while working remotely?

The first rule of focus while working remotely is to set up a structured workspace. This guideline means it is best to work from a desk instead of the couch or bed. Separating the living space from work space also helps. If you only work in a particular area of the house and do not attend to any home matters when at your desk, then keeping your mind on work will be much easier.

Working from home often comes with the perk of flexible schedules, and you will likely be more productive if you choose to work during times of the day when you are most alert, least likely to be interrupted, and have the highest chance of entering a smooth workflow.

Developing and maintaining a work routine also helps virtual workers stay on task. When motivation fails, healthy work habits will propel you towards productivity. Starting and stopping work around the same time each day and developing daily rituals can help you gain momentum.

Do not be afraid to take breaks. Workday pauses can help you to rest, regroup, and refocus. You can set a time limit for these breaks to ensure that you do not start to stall or procrastinate. As long as you avoid the temptation to binge Netflix or run too many errands mid-workday, a short pause can do more good than harm.

The golden rule of staying on task while working from home is to treat the home office like you would a more traditional office. Once you are at your desk, pretend you cannot leave. Try to think of your home workspace as a secondary location separate from the rest of your house. For best results, limit travelling between living spaces and working spaces during the day.

If you find yourself struggling with self control, then take away temptations. For instance, lock the door to the home office and wear noise cancelling headphones to avoid getting drawn into conversations with roommates. You can also use apps and software to block time-wasting websites and alert you when you idle too long.

How do you onboard remote employees?

Onboarding employees is a critical step in the remote hiring process. Remote employees can often feel disconnected from company culture and coworkers. So, virtual employee orientations are opportunities to meaningfully connect team members with teammates and the digital environment. Prior to the employee’s first day, give the new hire a rundown of what to expect and let them know what documents, equipment, or other materials to bring to orientation.

The day should start with a Zoom greeting with management or an HR representative. You can give the employee a warm welcome by starting the day with a chat and asking a few getting to know you questions before diving into business. Next, ensure the employee fills out required paperwork, and install and demonstrate necessary software and programs. You can give the employee a virtual tour of the company by sharing your screen and showing your new hire the different messaging platforms and tools. If the new team member requires training, then get the staff members set up with training modules and give a timeline of when to complete these courses.

You should explain what the employee should accomplish within the first day, week, and month. After orientation, the employee will likely start working alone. Communicating clear instructions and directions is important, since virtual work tends to be independent and asynchronous.

Best practice is to make a new employee announcement on a companywide channel, and encourage other teammates to react, send words of welcome, and personally reach out to the team member. To help the new hire feel like part of the group faster, you can immediately invite the new member to an online group social, like a new employee meet and greet.

Be sure to give the new hire time to ask questions throughout the online orientation, and provide a point of contact for any questions that may pop up after orientation ends. Also, create a standardized onboarding process so that every employee has a high quality experience and feels comfortable and welcomed at the company from day one.

Check out more tips for virtual employee onboarding.

What are remote work productivity hacks?

There are tricks and techniques to make virtual work more efficient.

Software can simplify workflows and save time. For example, Zapier communicates between apps and automates tasks so that workers do not have to manually input information more than once. Adding integrations can cut down on the time spent switching back and forth between programs. Managers can use scheduling software to assign shifts or call meetings. There are many other industry-specific software and business platforms that can help reduce the time spent on routine tasks.

Keeping virtual meetings to a minimum helps to combat Zoom fatigue, and sticking to a plan and time limit for those meetings helps staff stay focused and use time wisely. Setting up recurring meetings saves the hassle of scheduling.

Remote workers can also set up the home office for maximum effectiveness. Keeping spare chargers within reach prevents time wasted searching for power sources. Similarly, having a snack stash nearby saves trips to the kitchen.

To banish digital distractions, you can turn off non-urgent notifications for a few hours at a time, and use apps that block time-wasting websites.

What are some good tools for working remotely?

There are many apps and tools that make remote work easier. Organizations can use Lastpass to share passwords with staff without revealing the passwords. To reward or survey staff, use employee engagement software. For paperwork-heavy industries, a document scanning app comes in handy.

Using VPNs and SSOs helps to bulk up security in virtual offices, especially when team members work in public places.

There are also equipment you can get to make home offices more functional such as:

  • Portable chargers for travelling
  • Wireless desktop charging docks
  • WiFi extenders
  • Ring lights for virtual meetings
  • Standing desk convertors
  • Blue light glasses
  • Lap desks
  • Backdrops

You can also get accessories that make home offices more comfortable, such as mug warmers, houseplants, or fun stationery and desk decorations. Working remotely can be lonely, so adding cheerful decor can make remote workspaces feel warmer and more welcoming.

How do you manage remotely?

Managing remotely means having much more trust in staff. Leaders cannot directly observe reports, and must have faith that employees will stay on task. In virtual offices, managers judge employees based on the result more than the process.

Setting expectations and giving clear direction is important, as employees will complete most of the work unsupervised. Regardless, managers should still check work for quality assurance and provide feedback to help the employee grow and improve. Virtual managers should also check in regularly with staff to maintain good relationships with virtual teams. Managers can use a weekly check-in form as a regular checkpoint, and schedule periodic virtual one on one meetings with staff.

Be sure that employees know where to locate resources outside of these conversations. Many remote companies use Wikis or Google Drives as digital libraries where staff can find forms, templates, instructions, and reference materials.

Managing remotely involves greater attention and effort on online team building and company culture. In virtual teams, there are fewer opportunities for casual peer-to-peer interactions, and leaders need to plan activities and events that foster connection and collaboration.

Check out the full guide to managing remote offices.

What are the rules of remote working?

Rules and procedures can vary between virtual offices. Some virtual organizations have stricter standards than others. For instance, some companies require employees to work between set hours, while other employers allow more flexible schedules. These rules can also vary by position within the same organization. Some industries, such as healthcare or finance, have to abide by regulations and have much stricter work from home rules.

Despite the differences, there are standard procedures for working remotely. Rule number one is to have a stable and dependable internet connection. The internet is the place where virtual work happens, and it is important that the employee is reachable and can access the tools needed to do the job.

Honesty is one of the biggest rules of remote work. Managers expect employees to report time accurately and to complete work in the agreed upon times. Since leaders cannot directly observe reports, remote workers must have high levels of integrity, and remain professional and productive even with no one watching.

For more remote work rules, check out this guide to work from home policies.

What are best practices for remote meetings?

Remote meetings operate differently than in-person meetings. Virtual collaborators gather via video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to exchange ideas instead of gathering in the same room.

Basic meeting etiquette still applies to remote meetings. Participants should show up on time or early, barring other work schedule conflicts. If the meeting host opens the meeting room early or keeps it open for a few minutes after the meeting wraps, then workers have time to catch up and socialize with colleagues. Arriving early also gives participants time to test technology and avoid delays due to glitches or last minute updates. Participants should definitely plan to arrive early and test technology when meeting with clients or other folks outside the organization.

Attendees typically leave webcams on and mute the mic button when not speaking. The meeting leader has an agenda and makes announcements or leads discussions accordingly. Participants can ask questions without interrupting by virtually raising their hands or typing in the chat.

On Zoom, reading body language cues can be a challenge, and due to lag teammates sometimes start to speak over each other. Plus, technology issues can require extra patience and problem solving.

Although the audience can only see the room in view of the screen and virtual backgrounds are an option, participants should keep the surrounding area tidy and free from any questionable items. Also, attire should follow the company dress code. Always wear pants, just in case you need to stand up unexpectedly.

To avoid Zoom fatigue, keep meetings short and on-task. Leaders should send a recap email with the main points outlined post-meeting.

Check out this list of virtual meeting etiquette tips.

What does remote teamwork look like?

Remote teamwork looks much different than in-office teamwork. Colleagues that physically work together may attend in-person meetings, visit each other’s desks or have shared workspaces. Remote work often takes the form of an employee working on a laptop in a home office or cafe. Communication occurs via phone call, Zoom meeting, and Slack. Collaboration is more indirect than direct. Employees have specific tasks and portions of projects to work on, and check-in regularly to brainstorm, give updates, and discuss the work. Teammates still rely on each other for support and guidance even when not working together in real-time. Team members work together towards the same goal even when not working on the same schedule or time zone.

In virtual offices, employees must take more initiative to ask for help and teammates must be more committed to checking in on each other regularly, since projects are often segmented. Managers may employ project management tools to monitor team progress non-intrusively on a daily basis.

Remote teamwork involves lots of Slack threads and messages, emails, and the occasional spontaneous Zoom meeting. In healthy virtual workspaces, there is plenty of peer-to-peer praise and discussion. When the virtual company culture is strong, managers do not even need to encourage employees to cooperate or give each other compliments.

How do you get remote teams to trust each other?

To get remote teams to trust each other, communication is key. First, give teammates convenient communication tools like Slack or Gchat. Then, stoke conversation and help teammates get acquainted. Managers often have to nudge along conversations and create opportunities for teammates to interact. Be sure to schedule regular Zoom meetings and team building events so that team members get face-to-face time and gain familiarity.

Accountability is also important. Remote work tends to be asynchronous, and it is important for teammates to commit to responding to each other promptly when on the clock. Managers need to hold team members accountable to complete tasks correctly and on time. Teammates cannot see each other working, however if a team member is not pulling their weight, the team will notice. Regaining trust can be a longer process in remote offices, and it is more efficient to keep that trust by meeting deadlines, maintaining quality standards, and asking for help when possible. Managers can help this process by outlining clear roles and expectations for each team member, monitoring workflows, and taking swift corrective action when necessary.

Read more about trust building activities.

How do you do team building remotely?

There are various ways to build teams virtually. If your staff lives and works in the same geographical area, then you could plan occasional in-person outings such as team dinners, museum tours, or sports games.

An even easier approach is to plan virtual online building events such as remote murder mysteries, virtual parties, and Zoom happy hours. You can either hire a professional company to run the events, or you can design and host the activities on Zoom independently.

You can also do more casual online team exercises by posting conversation prompts in Slack channels, sending team emails with reply-all icebreakers, or playing virtual scavenger hunts. Teammates can do these exercises on their own schedules, yet these shared experience provide a point of connection with teammates.

Consistency is the key to online team building. Make sure your virtual teams interact regularly. Spending time together, even virtually, builds camaraderie.

Here is a list of online team building activities.

How do you measure attendance in remote offices?

Attendance is a more informal process in most remote offices. Most remote work platforms use a green dot to signify when team members are active, however more often work output is the surest sign of attendance. For salaried and non-hourly workers, employers tend to care more about whether the employee meets goals and completes assignments rather than that the staff member is online at certain times of the day. For hourly employees, companies can use time tracking software to keep a record of working hours.

How do you make remote workplaces secure?

Cybersecurity is a key concern for companies with remote employees. Organizations should outline best practices for working offsite, such as using VPNs when accessing public WiFi or proprietary data and avoiding sensitive conversations in crowded spaces. Companies should also consider using two factor authentication and a password tool like LastPass. Employers should also provide employees with training on phishing. If employees are to use personal devices for work purposes, then employers should ensure that staff uses antivirus software and security tools, and installs updates regularly. When remote team members have access to privileged information such as financial or health records or confidential company plans, then organizations can also use employee monitoring software to ensure data compliance and prevent internal theft.

Is remote work here to stay?

Some workplaces adopted remote work temporarily because of shutdowns, however experts doubt that remote work will disappear. Virtual offices offer more flexibility and opportunity for employees and employers alike.

Remote work may evolve from its current form, especially as new technology emerges and makes virtual work even more efficient. As globalization grows, remote teams are bound to increase. Not to mention, employers will have a hard time justifying reverting completely to traditional office work models now that employees have experienced telecommuting and proven that it is functional. While some workers are eager to work in offices, most professionals like some aspects of remote work, and want to keep working remotely at least a few days a week.

Tradition is no match for technology and progress, and remote work is likely to continue to grow. Savvy managers prepare and try remote, instead of clinging on to office roots.

A recent analysis from McKinsey found that more than 20% of the American workforce can work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as working in-office and predicts that hybrid models of work are likely to persist in coming years. Thus, remote work is very likely to remain a reality in the lives of professionals, at least on a part-time basis.

How do you recruit remote workers?

To recruit remote workers, post jobs to online job boards and hold virtual career fairs. Having a strong social media presence and memberships in professional organizations is another way to attract talent online. You can use applicant tracking platforms to filter and organize candidates, however, you should not rely solely on AI to make hiring decisions. It is a good idea to include targeted questions in the application process to separate qualified and culturally-compatible candidates from the pack.

Once you narrow down candidates, schedule virtual interviews on video conferencing software like Zoom. You can use an online calendar app to schedule interviews more efficiently. Some companies like to have interviewees record a series of short solo videos as the first round. However, typically a real time video chat is better, as it gives the candidate the opportunity to ask questions.

Here are more best practices for virtual interviews.

How do you run remote meetings?

The first step to running remote meetings is to pick a video conferencing platform. Most companies have a default platform for video calls, however you may find that a different program better suits your team’s needs and decide to switch. To avoid confusing, try to keep the meeting platform as consistent as possible.

Once you decide a day and time for the meeting, make a link and send an email and calendar invite to employees.

Be sure to make an agenda for the meeting and watch the clock. You can stay after the meeting to answer additional questions or schedule a follow up meeting if you do not cover all the material. People’s schedules are busy and Zoom fatigue is real, so it is better to keep virtual meetings short and end on time.

Visual elements help to demonstrate your points and hold the audience’s attention. The screen share feature allows you to show slideshows or play videos for the group. Participatory elements make the meeting more engaging. You can encourage participants to interact in the chat, answer polls, react via emoji,

Here is a list of icebreaker questions to use in virtual meetings.

How do you keep remote workers engaged?

Work from home employees can often feel disconnected and disengaged, which can result in lower productivity and job satisfaction. To keep remote workers engaged, set regular objectives, and celebrate the achievements of those goals. Give employees periodic feedback, both formal and informal, positive and constructive. The silence of online offices can sow doubt, however recognizing employees’ efforts and offering supportive suggestions helps virtual teammates have more confidence.

Building a sense of community among dispersed teams is important. There should be opportunities for face-to-face time where teammates can build camaraderie. For example, online team building games or virtual happy hours. Remote workers should have opportunities to bond with direct teammates as well as the company at large, since work friendships are one of the main influencers of engagement and workplace satisfaction. Leaders should plan a variety of activities that appeal to different demographics. Managers should also be available and approachable so that team members feel supported.

Check out more virtual employee engagement tips.

How do you connect with remote teammates?

In virtual offices, there is no bumping into colleagues at the coffee machine or passing each other in the breakroom. Interactions must be more intentional, however remote coworkers may hesitate to contact each other with non-work matters.

The best way to connect with remote teammates or to get virtual team members to interact is through team building channels. You can schedule remote coffee breaks with random colleagues, banter in virtual water coolers, and attend online team building events together.

To form work friendships with work from home teammates, make a point to learn about the non-work facts and interests of your colleagues. You could even tag along to a teammate’s non-work virtual event or friend each other on social media.

How do you assure quality assurance when working remotely?

Quality assurance is important in remote workspaces, especially since managers do not directly supervise employees. At the start of projects or assignments, leaders should outline clear expectations and directions, and may even want to demonstrate or provide examples so that employees fully understand the requested tasks. Providing written instructions and guides is helpful, as employees can reference these materials while working independently.

Managers can use a peer-to-peer review process to help teammates bond and to delegate part of the quality assurance process. However, leaders should still regularly check teammates’ work to ensure that work is being done on time and to standard.

Conclusion

Remote work reinvents standard business practices and traditions for a modern world. The practice offers increased flexibility and opportunities, and seems like the natural next step for an increasingly connected technology-driven and globalized world.

Despite the relative youngness of virtual work, there are still rules and best practices that can set employers and employees up for success. For instance, use software to increase efficiency and build camaraderie through remote team building exercises.

Although working from home may feel like completely new territory, the basic principles of teamwork still remain. Coworkers must communicate, take accountability, and interact to collaborate effectively. Though the setup may look different, remote work is another way for professionals to work together towards a collective goal.

Next, check out this guide to building successful virtual teams and this one with ideas for virtual team retreats.

P.S: Press "CTRL + D" or "Command + D" to bookmark this page for updates.

Share this article:

avatar
Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

LinkedIn icon

Want to do team building online?

We have 30+ event types, and thousands of five star reviews.