Business Etiquette for Working Remotely

In my job as a legal recruiter, I used to ask clients if working remotely a few days a week was an option – a sort of fringe benefit like a 401k match.  Now, some type of flexible working arrangement is so common that it’s assumed part of the office culture unless otherwise specified.  In fact, most interviews now include screening questions to demonstrate a candidate’s ability to work remotely. 

The benefits of working remotely are significant – particularly in meeting personal demands while maintaining quality work.  No longer must an associate stress over late- night face time at the office, when she can have dinner at home with her kids, and return work product to her supervising partner after the kids have gone to bed.  To be sure, noteworthy challenges are inherent in working remotely - namely staying focused and motivated – but these can be easily overcome with some basic etiquette rules:

Maintain your productivity: When I started working from home two days a week, it took determined effort to set up a space, get into a routine, and establish boundaries.  I had to firmly reinforce to my family that my work time at home was still work; I was not available to run errands or do laundry and my desk was my place for work, not bills or mail.  I quickly discovered that I was more productive when I got dressed, got to my desk on time and took a lunch break. 

When one of my dear neighbors noticed that I was at home, she stopped by to chat at 4 p.m. almost every day. I had to gently but firmly remind her that I was working.  After a few times of my answering the door with a headset on, pointing to the phone, or telling her “I would love to visit, but I am drafting an email to my boss and she’s expecting it in 10 minutes,” she began to realize that just because I was home didn’t mean I was available. 

Communicate:  Easy, impromptu communication with colleagues takes a hit when you’re not there in person, so make an effort to share with colleagues what you are working on and call them frequently to discuss matters of any length.  If instant messaging is available when you’re remote, keep it functional.  Be sure to participate by phone or video in all meetings and take care to secure the dogs and children so they’re not heard in the background.  I recommend using the mute button when on calls until it’s your time to speak, because you never know when that Amazon delivery person will ring your doorbell and remind everyone you are not in the office. 

Communication is key to collaboration with teammates, so send and respond to emails promptly.  Let others know when you are available and how you can be reached.

The ability to work remotely is a great development in law firm culture, brought about not only by technological advances but also by the demands of a competitive talent pool.  By maintaining a professional image, even virtually, you can stay focused and productive and enjoy the flexibility your profession offers.


Claire Parsons

Good tips! I try to always keep my cell phone handy and send emails when I work remotely.

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