As a remote worker, it’s easy to feel like you need to be available and online at all hours of the workday. After all, if you’re not “present” on the web, how will your boss know you’re getting your work done and continuing to be a valuable part of the team?
I understand this feeling. Especially early on in my work-from-home days, I would often experience what I like to call “remote work guilt” whenever I had to sign offline. Even if I would just be gone for a few minutes or was doing something work-related, I would worry that my boss would think I was slacking off or not putting in my full day’s work.
Thankfully, I’ve realized that there are times when it’s perfectly acceptable to disconnect as a remote worker. If you find yourself getting anxious every time you step away from your computer, just remember these four times that you can, and should, sign off.
When You Need to Commute
Far too often, I find myself stuck in the subway in the middle of the day while commuting from my home in Brooklyn to a work meeting in Manhattan. And I used to spend this time impatiently watching the minutes tick by on my iPhone, stressing over the urgent emails and calls going unanswered while I was underground and disconnected from the world. Worse, I imagined my co-workers assuming that I was out on the town, neglecting my duties.
But remember—while your colleagues are driving into the office and home each day, it's likely that you're online, working. So, whether you have a midday meeting across town, are going to a lunch outside of your remote office, or just need to move to a coffee shop for a change of pace, it’s okay to sign off for a bit while you get there. There are still plenty of ways you can make that time personally or professionally productive without being present online. And if you’re really worried about your boss or team wondering where you are, shoot over a quick note letting them know where you’re headed and when you plan to be available again.
When You Need to Do Focused Work
It's natural for remote workers to always give the "green light"—after all, we want people to know we’re available for quick questions or requests for help. But, there are projects that you really need to give your full, focused attention to in order to get them done right.
In a traditional office, you might have the option of shutting your door to signal to your colleagues that they should come back later—but as a remote worker, you should shut your (virtual) door by turning that "available" status to "busy" when you need to be uninterrupted.
You can even include a custom message about what you're working on—something like "Working on a new blog post. I'm here in case I'm needed immediately, but looking to knock this out of the park, so I'll be fully available again at 2 PM." That's it. You've given your team insight into what you’re working on and you've given yourself the time and space to do it right. Now get in the zone.
When You Need a Break
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—you have to take breaks as a remote worker if you want to preserve your sanity and be more focused on your work. Real breaks. Regular breaks. Away-from-your-computer breaks.
In a traditional office, when you need a moment to clear your head, it’s likely that you'd stop by a co-worker’s desk for a chat, head to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and so on. Allow yourself to do the same at home. As long as you’re not away for more than 10 or 15 minutes, no one should question why you didn’t answer a request immediately. So every few hours, shut your computer, and take a few minutes to walk around, get outside, make a snack, or call a friend.
At the Close of Business
Early in my remote working career, I would casually walk away from my computer at the end of the day without signing off. Throughout the evening, I’d receive messages from various co-workers—one during dinner, another while watching my favorite evening show, even a few while I was out at networking events. I wanted to ignore them, but it’s pretty hard to get frustrated by a message at 10 PM when I was signed into a chat client and marked as available.
While it’s great for your colleagues to feel like you’re available anytime, actually making yourself available 24/7 is unhealthy. So, when you’re done with work for the day, sign offline and start fresh tomorrow.
It’s important to be available as a remote worker, but you shouldn’t feel guilty on occasions when you need to be checked out. Remember, there's a difference between being on and being on and providing value. Do your work and do it well, and no one will question you, whether you’re on or offline.