Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

4 Keys to Succeeding in a Virtual Work Environment (We’re Hiring!)

These days, virtual work environments are becoming more commonplace. But how do you work in such an unconventional environment? It’s not as easy as you might think.

4 Keys to Succeeding in a Virtual Work Environment (We're Hiring!)

I’ve worked from home for over 10 years, the first seven of which were for somebody else and the past three have been for myself.

During that decade, I’ve learned a ton of lessons, many of which were acquired through the painful crucible of failure. Here’s what I’ve learned, and what you may want to consider if you’re searching for a virtual job (or wanting to run a virtual team):

Know yourself

I lost an employee because this person realized that working from home by yourself all day isn’t as fun and exciting as it sounds.

I’ve had to learn this lesson, as well. What do I need to thrive in my work? I need occasional interaction with people, but often I need to be left alone to work. This was why I eventually invested in an office outside of the home, to create a separation between work life and home life.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes work from home (I do), but having a dedicated space where I can leave things and/or escape to when I need to just get stuff done is really important. By no means does everyone needs an office like this, but I know I do. I also know that I need some social interaction, so I schedule a few lunches with friends every week.

Create a predictable rhythm

I first learned this working a day job for a nonprofit from home. My wife would leave every day at 8:30 in the morning and return around 5:30 every evening.

Early on in our marriage, I would sleep in, slowly get to work, and then disappoint her when it was dinner time and I still had work to do. Quickly, I learned there was nothing wrong with working a 9-to-5, especially if it meant getting share the evenings with my spouse.

Nowadays, I leave the house at the same time every day and return home around the same time. I have standing weekly meetings with friends and other groups that help me grow. Some days are dedicated to writing and other days are dedicated podcasting. I try to batch things and create blocks of time in which I always work on the same thing.

All of this creates a predictable rhythm that allows me to just show up and do the work.

When in doubt, over-communicate

If you don’t do anything else on this list, do this. I have had to fire people and almost been fired myself for violating this rule.

When working remotely, it’s so easy to misread tone in an email or text. It’s far too easy to hurt someone’s feelings or have your own feelings hurt when that was never the intention of the message.

Every relational conflict I’ve ever experienced in the workplace could have been avoided by better communication. And that’s not an exaggeration. The onus is on you to make sure the person on the other end of the line understands what you intended to say.

Clarify, clarify, clarify.

Don’t rely too heavily on technology

With all the amazing communication tools available to us (e.g. Skype, Facetime, Slack, Google Hangouts, email, etc.), working remotely has never been easier. But that’s not to say it’s not without its fair share of complications.

Technology cannot replace the connection two human beings forge with one another when working towards a common vision. In my experience, this means almost always trying to do the harder thing. When emailing is easier, pick up the phone. When calling is the most comfortable choice, get on a plane.

The point is, whenever you feel inclined to do something that avoids confrontation, do the hard thing. It’ll make your job much easier in the long run.

​Recently, I opened up applications for seven new positions we have available at Goins, Enterprises (the fun little name of my business which includes this blog, the online courses that I teach, and the events we do).

In the past, I’ve worked with contractors and freelancers, but now I’m wanting to grow a more dedicated team.

If you’d like to be a part of that team, check out this link and fill out the form at the bottom of it.​

What lessons would you add to this list? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Sarah Geringer

    Small things matter. I found this out in my nine years as a work-from-home mom. I got into work mode by changing out of pajamas and cleaning myself up a bit. Taking a break every hour or so helped refresh my focus. Also, anytime my children were sleeping, I forced myself to work at least part of that time. That seems obvious, but chores like dirty dishes and laundry scream at you for attention.

  • Jay Harrington

    My wife and I run a virtual design and marketing business, in addition to our blog. We transitioned to virtual after 8 years of brick and mortar. Our best employees are the ones who were with us before we went virtual. My guess is that is because, at least in our experience, it’s easier to train a team in a non-virtual environment. Still figuring that – big – issue out but the benefits of virtual have otherwise far outweighed our prior model. Good luck with your hiring!

  • Thanks Jeff for keeping your heart open and sharing your passion. It’s been wonderful seeing you grow. Praying for your upcoming arrival!

  • Virginia

    Regular hours were what I did when I worked as a research analyst from home. I was on the phone talking to people and then wrote up my information into reports that were sold to interested companies in that industry. Each project took about 3 months. I made sure I took my lunch time and breaks every couple of hours to stretch and let the mind go ‘at ease’. It was ‘my job’ and required the same discipline as working in an office.

  • Dave Gipson

    It has been both a joy and a challenge to work from home the past four years. With toddlers running around, I have occasionally had to decamp to the local Starbucks just to get a little peace and quiet accompanied by hipster pop music. My wife often takes them on excursions which gives me the solitude I desire.

    What I’ve learned about myself is that I love being alone. It is the perfect environment for me to create within and helps me avoid distractions. Though I have to protect the time and be disciplined in schedule like you mentioned in your article, I love the rhythm of it and the absence of pointless meetings I endured before.

    One thing I’ve done is scheduled a day to meet people in public every week. I let my church members (I’m a pastor) know I’ll be at Starbucks most Fridays from 11am to around 1pm. They are welcomed to come by and chat, along with skeptics who are invited from my blog in the local newspaper. If no one shows, I put finishing touches on my sermon. But this way, I don’t become a complete hermit crab, and I stay connected with people.

    Good thoughts as usually, Jeff. Keep it coming…
    Dave ;0)

  • Sharon Pettis McElwee

    I’ve heard of people investing in a small building in their yard as an office. I’ve found that blocking my time is really important, using methods similar to the Pomodoro Technique.

    • Love that.

    • Krista Loryn Cannon

      Yes! This was going to be my suggestion, as well. Timeblocking just provides so much stress relief throughout the day and helps you to see exactly what you accomplished each day!

    • yes! I started using the Pomodoro Technique and I get so much more done now! Love!

    • Emma Hoyle

      Background noise is also important. I recently found Noisli – I love it!

      Spotify’s genre playlists can also be good (another recent find), not just for work but for relaxing to as well.

  • I’m starting to think it’s not a coincidence that I’ve been sick for a month and everyone else who works outside our home doesn’t. I’m definitely considering a co-working space. Congrats on baby Goins!

  • I’ve worked from home for almost 10 years and the number one challenge I had to overcome was learning to set firm boundaries around work time. It is really easy to put off work in order to deal with distractions and interruptions. Ultimately you find your day gets chewed up by a dozen urgent, but not important, matters and there is very little time left for work.

  • Ivana I.

    Plan your meals. It may sound silly, but I find that I used to spend too much (unplanned) time working on my meals one way or another. When I work from the (company) office, there are so many easy options at hand + no dishes to take care of. Over here, I find myself making dressing, chopping vegetables, or otherwise starved with an empty fridge and having to venture out, park, etc. – aka making an unplanned and thus unproductive break. Don’t get me wrong: I think everyone should stop to enjoy her nourishment, but thinking ahead helps.

    • Ivana, I have JUST started planning my family’s meals beginning in January of this year and it has been fantastic! Before I’d be scrambling at around 5pm trying to figure out what to throw together but now I just look on the meal plan on our fridge. We also do the shopping and pre-preparing on the weekends like you said so it’s ready to go! You are so right that it helps to prepare!

    • Great idea!

    • Kellie

      Ha…I just turned to my daughter, who cooks plant based lunches for me quite often, and said that exact same thing about the time consuming issue. I’m going to have to hire a healthy cook after she gets married in May. I’ve been thinking about purchasing lunches from Trader Joe’s after that.

      Jeff, this is an excellent article about chunking and I do some of it already, but you’ve given me great ideas to do more. Thank you. And if there was ever anyone who would be fabulous to work for and with, I think it would be you.

  • You are ABSOLUTELY correct on the commuication thing. I’ve also learned the hard way that I should have just clarified things further instead of assuming anything. I also agree that you need to set a schedule and discipline yourself, otherwise, dinner doesn’t get made! Working from home over the past 7 years has taught me however how much I value my time without interruptions. I now wonder how I ever got anything done in a corporate environment sitting in a cube!

  • Kyesubire Talitwala-Greigg

    Great article… Confirmed some critical things I have learnt over the past nine years working from home. Thanks for sharing.

    Praying for the safe arrival of Baby Goins

  • EmFairley

    Great article, Jeff. I’ve worked from home for the last 7 years and getting into a rhythm is critical. Here’s a few of the things I do…
    ~ Mirror my working hours to those of my better half. As you say it allows for more us time at the end of the day.
    ~ I dress in a professional way, then change into casual clothes after work. Again, it helps separate work and life
    ~ Keep focused. Yes, social media is a key part of work for many, not just those who work from home, but while I’m working I don’t waste time on there, and only do what needs doing. When I’m on a rare, needed break, I might check out a few groups I’m in, but only for a few minutes before I get back to work.

  • ea marconi

    This is spot on, Jeff! Everyone who works from home needs to read this. I’ve worked from home for the past 15 years (I have a separate studio space, which helps) and I would have to say that yes, knowing yourself and over communicating are key but the one that resonates most with me is “creating a predictable rhythm.” Time management is essential. I also find that not stopping for the day until I have my priority list made out for the following day lets me recharge in the evening by putting my mind to rest … well, kinda — if you love what it is you do, ideas seem to always bubble up out of nowhere ; )

  • If you use a daily to-do list (and work from a home office), include key tasks that are outside “work” but within your responsibility for the day. E.g. laundry runs over lunch hour, grocery pick ups e.t.c. I used to line up my work but not the home end, and I’d wind up frustrated when home duties called and I could not account for those hours at the end of the day. Small tweak that has made a huge difference in my days.

    Congratulations for Goins #2 and the growing Enterprise! :)

    • ea marconi

      Agree! I like to plan those types of tasks during the weekend ahead of Monday morning for the entire week as they are more manageable where as work items can fluctuate based on the client, coworkers …

  • Jeff – Does the dedicated team you are building have to live in TN or are you looking for remote positions?

  • Great piece, Jeff. Nearly everyone on the planet dreams of working from home without fully realizing what it entails. I’ve worked from home for ten years now, the majority alone and now with my wife and new daughter.

    Which reminds me, congrats on your second baby! Ours is just two weeks old. What an amazing and crazy experience.

    I have two tips to share.

    First, don’t work near the kitchen. When food is an arm’s length away, not good. Just not good.

    Second, friends and family assumed that I was always available during the day because I worked from home. When they called or texted or reached out, I used to stop the work and engage. Now I simply text back that I’m still working and can chit chat after the workday is through. I’ve had to make it clear that working inside the home comes with the same boundaries as working away.

    • Deb Meyer

      Jason, your second point is spot on. I operate a virtual accounting practice and have family call during normal working hours. It’s amazing how productivity increases when you shut off the distractions — all while working from home.

      • It’s as if working for ourselves–which is twice as time-consuming–creates the impression we’re sitting at home munching on popcorn and flipping through the channels waiting for people to call and chat us up. lol

  • Tracy Krauss

    I think the part that really hits home for me is having a schedule. otherwise it is really easy to stay ‘busy’ but not really get anything done…

  • Charles S Areson

    I joked on Twitter about staying in the office, but I do work from my home office now much of the time. Trying get that schedule set is important and something I still struggle with at times, (my 14 year-old daughter is home today and it has made things challenging)
    It is clearly not for everyone, but usually I love it.

    PS It would be cool to work with you, I think, but definitely not the person you need. Good luck, Jeff.

  • Next to overcommunication, what has been most important for me in working from home is to take time to figure out the day’s priorities. As long as I take time (either the night before or first thing in the morning) to identify one or two things to initially focus on, I know where each day’s efforts have to begin. It makes it much easier not to get sidetracked.

    • jenni ho-huan

      great idea. mine would be Nap 1 and Nap 2.

  • I like keeping my work and home somewhat separate. A well known painter I studied with kept his studio separate from his home. Whether you work at home or away, it’s important to know where to shut things down and focus on loved ones. And congrats on number two, Jeff!!

  • Amar Vyas

    I started working from home from January this year to start my own podcasting network and focus on my writing. Though not quite an ‘enterprise’ yet, but we are ready to start hiring some part timers. That’s when the virtual office setup will begin. The biggest advantage I see from working from home is saving the commute and the sap in energy I used to feel the moment I used to step into the office in my last job. On the flip side, I am yet to get more disciplined in time management (shutting things down as mentioned below) but Ihat’s in the works.

    Jeff, congratulations and best wishes for baby #2.

    (p.s: my wife sonetimes wonders when I will do some work FOR home, but that is a different story).

  • Great article, and congratulations on baby number 2. Very exciting and wonderful time. Some really interesting comments here, many which resonate with me. I’m in Australia and interestingly, most of my work is in the US as I think we still have a long way to go in accepting the virtual working world. After 17 years working from home (editor and writer) people still think I can’t really be “working” as I am at home, and by the way, can I pick their kids up from school as they have to work! I use to try and justify my job but now I just roll with it and think of how lucky I am that I do have flexibility in my day to work around my family. Best wishes to you and your family.

  • Thank you for sharing these tips Jeff. My friends figured I spent the day watching movies & teased me about it until four months after I quit my job I published my first book.
    What helped be more productive was; setting deadlines for myself, working away from home twice a week to change pace & environment, waking up early, taking a walk outdoors & then coming back to the “office” (as opposed to roll over to the side of the bed & grab my laptop). I’ve been working from home for a year now and it’s true I had to ‘learn’ myself & find what would work for me. I had to practice self-leadership.

    I like the point that you made about over-communicating. This is something that I need to work on.

    Oh & congs on Baby Goins #2 :-)

  • jenni ho-huan

    i am amazed at how hard you work and how consistent the quality of it is! still waiting for my copy for Art of Work ….over here in Asia…thanks! O btw, Goins enterprises has a nice bouncy ring to it..reminds me of Boing Boing from Inside Out, the movie! but i know, it’s not imaginary! haha

  • Nyakarima King

    Congrats on the baby!!!!! What about Goins Group…if it is an umbrella of many things?

    • Good one!

      • Nyakarima King

        GG. And get a good logo to go with it:)

  • First- great on the batching tasks. I was playing with a few hours a day, but it seems that I might get a better result of having longer tasks.

    Second- man oh man. I left the “work from home” deal in 2013 or so and it was a huge mistake. I had a great thing going at my company with low overhead.

    My ego made me swallow as much as I could because I needed the sheik office and the address and the space.

    And that put me in more peril than I realized; having to feed the monster that cares nothing for me. That made work suffer and opened up an energy leak that I had to close with willpower.

    Now that I’ve shed the overhead (Money, time, etc) I feel such joy.

  • Awesome advice Jeff. I think communication is the hardest part of working from home AND working in an office full of other people. Words are so easily misunderstood (emails, like you said, are the worst, but this happens with face to face conversation too).

    Sometimes I find that showing works better than telling. The old axiom “better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission” applies here. I often find that running with a project you know is important and SHOWING the results is sometimes easier than explaining to a board WHY the program is necessary (too often, stakeholders try to impose their own agendas on a project and the intended goal gets distorted). Most of the time you never get to the “ask forgiveness” phase doing things this way. Of course, this requires you to have a thick skin when things don’t go as expected and you have to swallow your pride and say “sorry, I was wrong.”

  • Penelope Silvers

    Congrats on your new little one! What a blessing and now I see why you’re hiring! :)

  • I’ve had an outside office in three different places, and worked at home in two different houses over the past 24 years.

    There are pros and cons of each. The outside office does give you a place to leave it, but integrating life and work has advantages.

    I can do laundry while I’m working at home. Also, if the weather is frightful and I don’t have deliveries to do, I can stay put. When my daughter was still home, she came with me to the office every day. We home schooled. She liked it better when we went back to a home office.

    One of my offices wasn’t available at night, because it was in a shared retail space, and the other was downtown. In the late evenings is when the bar crowd came out. Sometimes I like working late at night.

    Of the two alternatives, I like working at home better.

  • Walt Rosenfeld

    Hold the phone a tic! Are you guys really hiring? ‘Cuz I been looking for a part-time work-from-home gig. @walterrosenfeld

  • Michele Mathews

    Congrats on the baby! I am more productive if I’m not at home so I usually venture to Starbucks, my office away from home. I am hoping to get my freelance writing and editing biz going this year so I have applied for a couple of those jobs.

  • “Create a predictable rhythm” is the biggest key that immediately stood out for me. Easy to fall into the “SQUIRREL” mentality & be distracted by the next shiny thing… :)

    Great post @jeffgoins:disqus

    ~ Kyle, CEO {Chief Experiment Officer}
    digitalconversionlabs.com

  • Mark Wells

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