Working from home, once considered a desirable perk, is now a daily reality for millions of professionals. This can be a good thing — remote workers report fewer distractions, less stress, more flexibility and higher productivity — but it can also introduce its own challenges. Whether you choose to work remotely or must work from home due to outside circumstances, you can still hit your numbers and connect with your clients. What does it take to work from home successfully? Follow these eight tips to ensure you’re ready to achieve your goals no matter where you park your laptop.
1. Create a designated office space.
Working from your dining room table may not be bad for a few hours, but if you work from home consistently, you need a real office. Choose somewhere that’s quiet, has few distractions and has a door you can close to mark the distinction between “work” and “home.” Make sure you have the appropriate equipment, like a keyboard, mouse, headset and perhaps a monitor, as well as a reliable high-speed internet connection. If possible, keep the area surrounding your desk tidy so you have a professional background during video calls. (Virtual backgrounds may also be an option; more on that below.)
2. Set and keep a routine.
For many people, the flexibility of working remotely can be difficult. You sit down to begin a project, and then you remember that you need to fold the laundry, walk the dog or call your mother. Creating and maintaining a routine can provide a sense of structure that keeps you on track. Block out chunks of time on your calendar to remind you when to do what.
Many sales experts recommend tackling anything that directly leads to a sale first thing in the morning before you get distracted with email, social media, family, etc. Schedule an hour in the late morning or early afternoon to triage your inbox, and try to avoid getting sucked into email at other times. Set up regular calls with your manager or team members at the same day/time each week. Also, don’t forget about meals and breaks. It’s easy to get focused and forget to stand up, move around and stay nourished.
3. Get comfortable with technology.
The ability to work from home successfully in any industry is largely dependent on technology. Remote workers rely on technology to communicate and collaborate with their colleagues and their clients. Common tools include:
- Chat apps, like Skype and Slack
- Video conferencing apps, like Zoom, me and GoToMeeting (These often let you share your screen, as well.)
- Collaboration solutions, like Google Workspace or Microsoft Teams
- Project management tools, like Basecamp or Asana
- Note-taking apps, like Evernote or MS OneNote
- E-signature apps, like DocuSign
Download and play around with these tools to get comfortable with how they work and what they require before you need to actually use them. For example, different apps connect to your computer’s audio system in different ways, so it’s important to know how to optimize your audio for each tool. Learn the best settings for each system, and check them before an important call. Similarly, make sure ear buds are synched, headsets are charged and/or microphones are on. Some apps require a download before first use or may need to run an update. Do a trial run before your meeting so you know you’re ready to go. It can be frustrating at first, but it’s worth the time to get comfortable with your new technology setup to avoid facing unwelcome surprises at inconvenient times.
4. Embrace the video call.
Video calls can be intimidating at first but are one of the most effective ways to stay connected to other people in a remote work environment. These days, tools like Zoom make it easier than ever to video chat — but it’s still important to keep a few things in mind.
First, dress the part. You may be at home, but you are still representing yourself and your company. That means professional clothing and neat grooming. Your home represents you, as well, so consider what is behind you during a video call. If you can’t find a neutral space, look into virtual backgrounds. Many video conferencing apps offer fun virtual backgrounds within their platform, or you can get creative by buying a backdrop online that could end up doubling as a conversation starter.
As mentioned above, check your settings before the call to make sure your audio is connected and that your camera is working as expected. If you’re new to video conferencing, check out the how-to information on the app’s website, and go through the full setup process. Finally, don’t worry too much that it might not go perfectly. Everyone has snafus, from technical difficulties to call-bombing pets and children — even people who have worked from home for years. The ability to laugh it off and roll with any punches will only make you more relatable to your clients.
5. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.
Video calls are key to successful remote work — but so is the good old-fashioned telephone. You know your clients; stay within their comfort level. If the stress of joining a video call will far outweigh the benefits, simply skip it. Phone calls can be more impromptu, as well. If you’re driving to the grocery store and see your client’s new billboard, call them to let them know how great it looks. Informal conversations can help build and maintain relationships when it’s harder to meet in person.
6. Prepare diligently for virtual meetings.
Virtual meetings require the same level of diligence and preparation as in-person appointments. Just as when you visit a client, you want to look put-together, be on time and know your material. Research is more important than ever since you can’t just swing back with additional information the next day. With that in mind, make sure to research a new client, look at an existing client’s latest numbers, and brush up on industry trends.
Presentation materials are also important. If tools like Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides are new to you, spend some time looking through tutorials on how to create a professional presentation. If you’re not used to sharing your screen, do a test run before your call to make sure it goes smoothly. Pay attention to the details and settings. In some screen-sharing apps, for instance, you can choose whether to share a single application, like PowerPoint, or your whole screen. (You will typically want to do the former.)
Don’t forget your call to action. It can be harder to “seal the deal” without the advantage of reading the room or shaking hands. That makes it even more important to tell a powerful story through your presentation and to communicate clear next steps to your client.
7. Keep it personal.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of performing a sales job from home is fostering interpersonal relationships. Sales is all about the details: remembering your client’s spouse’s name, what sports their kids play, their favorite band or favorite doughnut shop.
When you can’t show up with a box of those doughnuts, it can feel like the relationship will suffer. It doesn’t have to! Don’t be afraid of small talk. Begin every conversation, whether on the phone or over video chat, by asking questions about your client’s family, hobbies, interests, etc. Take notes, follow up on the last conversation, and demonstrate your interest through attention to detail and authentic communication. It’s OK to let a bit of your life shine through, too; dogs are infamously the stars of many video conferences.
You can also show your thoughtfulness through gifts. Even if you can’t hand-deliver doughnuts, you can send a physical or virtual gift card to your client’s favorite coffee shop or the lunch restaurant where you usually meet. Send a fun gift basket — fruit, chocolate, snacks, meat (the sky’s the limit these days) — or have flowers delivered for the client’s birthday, anniversary or important work milestone. Handwritten notes go a long way, too. The type of gesture itself is less important than showing your client that you value their business and your relationship.
8. Focus on results, not time on the clock.
When you work from home, you can’t prove your worth simply by showing up from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Work becomes less about time and more about results. Your boss can’t see if you’re at your desk for eight hours a day, but they still expect measurable outcomes.
Figure out how you work most efficiently and productively. Maybe you work best early in the morning when your brain is fresh, or perhaps it makes sense to answer emails in the evening after your kids are in bed. Most managers and organizations care less about when work happens (other than attending conference calls) than the quality of the work, so find the right rhythm for you and your family.
Set goals to keep yourself on track. It can be easy to feel like the whole day slipped away and nothing got done. As simple as it sounds, writing down the things you need to accomplish each day and crossing them off as you complete them is a great way to build accountability, satisfaction and momentum.
Working from home doesn’t have to mean working by yourself. With the right tools, processes and attitude, you can gain flexibility and productivity while continuing to build relationships, achieve your objectives and, of course, make the sale.