Remote Work – The First Week!

Congrats!  You’ve landed the new job in a remote environment!  NOW, what do you do?  On one level, like any other new job, you’ll want to take definitive steps to make a good impression, get grounded in what needs to be done, and perform the work expected in a way that’s wildly successful!  We address many of those areas in our book, New Job Jump Start, and we also highlight some updates to it in our recent March blog series (read Blog post here).

And of course, you’ll want to stay grounded with Scriptures like Psalms 34:5 “Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed.” and Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” and Galatians 6:9 “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  There are many more…the Bible has a LOT to say about work! So, with that context, here are a few items I’d suggest need especially sharp focus as you begin remote work.

First Impression

We’ve all heard the adage, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”  It’s an adage for a reason – it’s true!  We all make first impressions with others, and we all immediately make assessments of others.  It’s a natural human behavior. Knowing that, you’ll need to be prepared with every interaction you have at your new workplace to create what that first impression will be.  Are you early or late to appointments?  Does your technology work or not?  Are you cheerful or moody in meetings?   Do you speak up or sit quietly?  Do you use your camera or have it turned off?  (btw – – turn it on!! Get every human-type interaction you can!)  Be especially conscious of first impressions while being remote because they’re that much harder to shake after they’re made.  You can’t just “swing by to see” your colleague to repair, explain, or adjust first impressions when remote.

Expectations are a second area I’d suggest you work especially hard at setting and managing during that first week of remote work.  In all the supervisor / employee conflicts and performance meetings I’ve been a part of over my 30 years in Human Resources and Culture, the root cause is always a lack of alignment on expectations.  Fault could be placed on both parties, but ultimately the party who’s hurt the most is the employee.  So, I’d recommend you put a high degree of focus on determining what your supervisor’s expectations are.  One challenge with that piece of advice is that most supervisors aren’t very good at articulating or reinforcing what expectations they have.  So you’ll need to be incredibly attentive and prompt to extract this information from him/her. One way to do that is to immediately get a thread of communication going by doing a weekly Review/Preview (see blog post HERE) for your boss. In effect, do their supervisory work for them. Keep it brief and direct, and you’ll reap some wonderful rewards!

Establishing Boundaries

I’d also be very mindful of establishing boundaries with your remote work with yourself, your supervisor, and your colleagues.  Will you answer the phone at any time day or night?  Will you always volunteer to go the extra mile and work overtime to get the team’s work completed?  Will you sacrifice family time for work requests?  Will you be able to “shut off” work and be fully present when you’re with your family since you’re now sharing physical space with your work?  Every individual needs to be thoughtful and intentional with answers to these and other questions.  As you arrive at answers for yourself, you then need to communicate them to your supervisor and colleagues.  I’m not suggesting you send a memo out! 🙂  I am suggesting you communicate indirectly and directly on your approach.  

Work life balance is a career misnomer to me, particularly with remote work, it is a constant blend.  There will be times when you need to answer a call outside of normal work hours, or you may need to volunteer to help the team accomplish broader goals outside of your normal duties.  However, does that becomes habitual so much so that your team can come to rely on it?  Well, then you’ve not established good boundaries. For example, a valuable attribute of a remote worker is great responsiveness.  However, if you allow pressure to build that you respond to every email within 24 hours, that may or may not be manageable.  If you take every call from your boss after hours, then that may or may not be respected and / or expected.  If your team gets emails from you on the weekend, then they may feel very comfortable assuming they can also ask you to do some work on the weekend.  

You’ll need to set your boundaries, communicate indirectly and directly on them, and then manage them (including exceptions to them) if you want to avoid burn out, being taken advantage of, and also advance your career. How to do all of that successfully?  Recognize that God is sovereign and He wants you to be His hands and feet in the workplace.  He gave us common sense to exercise liberally (albeit, it’s not that common), and He also gives us supernatural sense when we’re communing WITH Him.  Keep following, stay close to Him, and keep asking Him for directions…one person, one day at a time!

Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.


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