32 Days of Remote Working Tips
Helping navigate remote work in difficult times
In an attempt to deal with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, for most of 2020 DocuSign employees have been asked to work from home, which initially sounded great to a lot of us. But, the transition to working remotely has not necessarily been as smooth as we’d like. Space limitations, children at home, different schedules, noise, and other distractions can make working at home difficult. We’ve all needed all the help we can get crafting strategies to succeed while working from home, especially since this will be the norm for the foreseeable future.
Because of this, the Product Experience (PX) team at DocuSign decided to collect and share out with the wider DocuSign organization all the working from home tips we could find. We focused on actionable, specific, and effective strategies to improve asynchronous communication. These tips came from people across the organization and we couldn’t have succeeded without them.
We shared one tip every day, totalling up 32 tips over 7 weeks. This generated more than 1000 reactions from our coworkers, which was great. What was better was the conversations that were stirred up in more than 80 thread responses on Slack to our initial tips.
We’ve divided the 32 tips into 4 categories: communication, wellness, productivity, and culture, but some tips may fall into more than one category. Many tips refer to tools we use at DocuSign, but we think anyone making the transition to permanently working from home will find them useful.
- Turn on your camera: This helps bridge the communication gap during video calls and lets other people get to know you better.
- Schedule time to respond: To avoid being constantly distracted by Slack messages and email, schedule blocks of time to respond to comments and emails. Keep a folder in Outlook for comment notifications.
- Send PTO invites: Send PTO (Paid Time Off) calendar invites to your immediate team, manager and co-workers impacted by your absence.
- Use @here and @channel sparingly in Slack: The more they’re used, the more people ignore them. Use @here for announcements, important questions, and upcoming events. Use @channel for emergencies, urgent issues, and impactful changes.
- Tag people on Slack comments: Don’t wait for meetings to collaborate, but use comments extensively. Remember to tag a specific person with a specific question, and avoid tagging more than two people to improve your chances of getting a response.
- Edit what you write: Reread your emails, comments, and slide decks cutting words and clarifying ideas before sending them. Get rid of jargon or buzzwords so your writing can be easily understood by anyone.
- Define acronyms: When you mention an acronym in an email, slide deck, or document, remember to include its definition because not everyone might know what they mean.
- Use a real photo as your avatar: Add a photo of yourself in your communication tools. When you meet others in person or on a video call, it will be easier to recognize you.
- Start or follow a thread when responding in Slack: Threads help organize conversations and preserve context. It also reduces noise for channel members not involved in the thread.
- Smile or nod more when on camera: Clear visual cues help presenters read the audience in video calls. While someone else is speaking, mute yourself but keep participating by smiling and nodding often.
- Update your Slack status: Update your Slack status especially when you’re not available and specify when you’ll be available again (including timezone). Block calendar time to focus on your most important projects.
- Block your calendar for one hour at lunch: Avoid back-to-back meetings all day long. Take a break and eat mindfully, exercise and plan for the afternoon.
- Schedule 45-minute meetings instead of a full hour: Use the extra 15 minutes to move physically, take notes, prepare for the next meeting, interact with your kids or pets, or call a friend.
- Use your former commute time for wellness: Use the time you would have spent commuting to do something for yourself. Exercise, meditate, pray, start a journal or read a book.
- Have family breakfast or lunch instead of dinner: If you have late meetings, try getting the family together for other meals. Experiment with different schedules until it fits your family well.
- Take 1:1’s while walking: For meetings that don’t require screen share or video, walk around using a wireless headset or your phone.
- Turn off notifications on evenings and weekends: Unplug and stay unplugged from Slack and email outside of work hours. Make sure your team can text or call you in case something urgent comes up.
- Look away from your screen every 20 minutes: Remember the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 mins look at something 20 ft (~6 m) away for 20 seconds. Looking out the window is a good option or you can just close your eyes.
- RSVP to calendar invites: When answering Maybe, turn it into a Yes or No the day before. When answering No, include a reason. Take advantage of the Propose New Time feature in Outlook.
- Replace a meeting with a document: If the purpose of a meeting is to share information, consider writing a clear and well-structured document instead. Tag people throughout the document to ask questions or elicit feedback.
- Change out of your pajamas: Take time to get ready for the day, because working in PJs can result in feeling down over time. Dressing business on top, casual on the bottom is a good compromise.
- Keep your hands busy to increase focus: Choose a simple manual activity to do during remote meetings. Busy hands equals a focused mind. Some ideas: doodling, sewing, coloring, sharpening pencils, cleaning your keyboard, simple origami.
- Add an agenda to calendar invites: Write using bullet points for easy scanning, and stick to the agenda during the meeting.
- If kids are at home, work in shifts: Set up a family calendar to define who works when. Update your work calendar and Slack status to reflect when you’re not available and communicate your schedule to your manager and your team.
- Specify a timezone: When discussing a meeting time, remember to include the time zone. When interacting with someone in another location, it’s nice to refer to times in their time zone.
- Use a headset: Built-in computer speakers are usually not great. Have a wireless headset so you can get up and walk around. You can also use it for music or white noise if it helps you focus.
- Hold a virtual team lunch: Avoid talking about work and talk about shows, movies, music, hobbies, video games, etc. Share challenges and tips for managing work and family.
- Catch up with other team’s work: Look through documentation, decks, code, or specs written by adjacent teams. Identify overlaps, dependencies, and opportunities for cross-team collaboration.
- Watch recorded meetings: If you can’t attend a meeting, ask if it can be recorded and watch it later. Try watching at 1.5x speed to save time. Email or Slack participants follow-up comments or questions afterwards
- Assign a facilitator to group meetings: Facilitators can help decide whose turn it is to speak, mute and unmute people and make sure there’s time to discuss action items and next steps at the end.
- Message someone to ask how they’re doing: Let your colleagues know that you’re open if they need to talk. Respect those who would rather not talk about their personal lives.
- Ultimately, we’re all remote: If you’re part of a global company, remember that you’re always remote to someone else. Even after you transition to working in-person again, continue to communicate deliberately and rely less on physical proximity for collaboration.
🙌 Thanks to Gabi Moore for initiating and leading the project. Illustrators: Javier Yep, Anndo Ko, Dot Dotter, Xuan Yue, Ashley Wiesner. Contributors: Bill Wetherell, Kimberley Leopold, Christina Hamlin, Molly Lambright, Greg Hardigan, Samantha Voelkel, James DeBragga, Lucas Grassi, Denise Latka