I recently spoke with Rotimi from the Unmotive Podcast about working from home, and how to stay productive when sheltering in place. Since founding Neuron, I have been working remotely from Vancouver, Canada, while the rest of the team worked out of Seattle initially and now San Francisco. I’ve learned a lot over these past four years, especially when it comes to remote leadership and maintaining connection from a distance. When we transitioned to an entirely remote team as a result of COVID-19, I was able to offer my team some useful insights about this new way of work.
I should start by saying I recognize it is a privilege to even be able to work from home, certain occupations are simply not conducive to being conducted remotely so I recognize the same rules don’t apply universally.
1. Provide your team with frequent status updates
Communication is key for any organization, but even more so for distributed teams. Without the casual encounters we often have in an office environment, it is especially important to plan for (virtual) face time with colleagues. I have never had the option of popping by people’s desks, so I go out of my way to check in with my teammates and provide updates.
2. Schedule regular standups as a team
Planning for heightened communication isn’t only my responsibility, it’s built into the way we all work. One example is the way we start work everyday at Neuron: with a stand-up meeting where every team member shares their project updates. This keeps everybody informed on what their colleagues are working on and encourages collaboration across project teams. By maintaining this level of communication, we eliminate silos and maintain connection. In addition to these daily stand-ups, our leadership and business development teams convene weekly and monthly. The result is transparency across the company and improved remote collaboration.
3. Block focus time in your calendar
After four years of working remotely, my toolkit has expanded to include more than just Zoom, Slack, and email. I find it helpful to have every activity and task for the day in my calendar, which benefits both myself as well as my colleagues. This helps me dedicate time to working without disruptions, while letting my colleagues know when it’s okay to interrupt or book some time with me. Now that we are all working remotely, this is something the entire team has adopted — simple, but effective.
4. Create a dedicated workspace
The fact of the matter is we simply do not know when it will be okay to return back to traditional office life. As such, it is important to prepare your home work environment for the long haul. What I have found this to mean is to create a dedicated work space no matter how small your home is. This helps to place me in a work mode and helps to define the start and end of my day, avoiding that feeling of being “always on.” And while we all practice social distancing, it helps to physically distance the different aspects of your life within your home. I have found in my own routine that having a dedicated work space in my home allows me to mentally switch gears. As an apartment dweller, I understand that this can be a challenge. However, that space doesn’t need to be its own room, just a dedicated space within a room. It might be as simple as clearing the tablecloth from your dining room table and then returning it at the end of the day. Small habits like this have helped me draw boundaries around my work day and unplug in the evenings.
5. Connect outside of project work
Office culture may not need an office to survive, but it does require some creative thinking. An upside of working from home is that there can be fewer distractions. Conversely, a downside of working from home is that it can be isolating. Replicating those quick, friendly chats around the coffee maker, lunch table, or outside the meeting room is hard to do with Slack and email so instead we host an optional virtual happy hour every Friday over Zoom, where spouses and roommates are invited to join in. This has helped us maintain camaraderie, connect outside of projects, and bring more “life” to work.
By some reports, the pandemic may be with us well into 2021, so that means remote work may be here to stay for another year or more. But working from home can be more than just a means to an end to get the job done; it can also be a way to help the members of your team thrive. We are all social distancing and wearing masks to protect our physical health, but employees’ mental health must also be at the forefront of a remote work plan. In other words, employee happiness must be given equal weight to productivity because a happy employee is more likely to be a productive one.
Our team has transitioned to working from home quite seamlessly, with no disruptions to productivity or morale, and that’s something of which I’m proud. With everybody working from home it can be hard to balance the desire to limit distractions with the goal of keeping isolation at bay. While certainly this can be attributed to the professionalism and resilience of the people I work with, I think we have some company-wide habits to thank for this smooth transition. Even though it was already a growing practice pre-pandemic, I think we’ll see a lot of companies continue with remote work down the road.