If you heard the news lately ;), you are aware that the work-game is about to change. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, lots of companies are forced to let employees start working from home, becoming part of the biggest remote-work experiment ever.
“We’ll never probably be the same. People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back.”
Jennifer Christie, Twitter’s head of human resources, in BuzzFeed News
Of course, we are not talking about working from home eventually, using your laptop while lying in bed or checking emails from your phone. Being part of a distributed team for such an extended period can be challenging if you don’t have previous experience. You are going to need to work on some organization and structure when it comes to home workspace, equipment, etiquette in order to get the most of this changing scenario.
As a happy veteran remote worker, I welcome you to the future of work :) and want to share with you a list of tips and good practices that I’ve learned over the years, that hopefully will help you have a smooth transition.
This is a hard one. First, you must have a conversation with your family, partner or roommate, and make very clear in advance that just because you are home, doesn’t mean you are available. Of course, this won’t be easy, because you working at home is a huge change not only for you but for all the people living there, and you all have to get used to it.
Share with your family your daily schedule, if you have a very important meeting, or when you plan to “leave the office”. Agree with them when they can count on you and when they have to do their best to not distract you. If anything changes during the day, communicate it. If you have to participate in a family activity during the day, check that your team has everything they need from you before you leave, and catch up later.
Setting up your workspace
As we said before, this is not about using your laptop in bed. You will need to find yourself a dedicated space where you can be separated from the rest of the family. You need a calm environment that helps you focus on your job. It would be great if that space comes with a door that separates you from the rest of the world, but If you don’t have that possibility try to find a good spot in your living room, dining room or even in the basement. Then choose a method to communicate with your family that you shouldn’t be disturbed. You can use a “busy/available” sign, or you can have your headphones on to indicate that no one has to disturb you ( plus you are not hearing anything). This is not really about having a super cool office, but more to have a place where your mind enters a focused and productive state.
Create a clever routine and take care of your work-life balance
It’s very easy to work longer than expected or needed when you don’t have a place to leave from, or when you have a flexible work schedule. It’s very healthy that you plan your day ahead every morning, set a schedule and stick to it. Define what you will be working on this day and schedule some activities for the times you formerly used to commute (workout at home, play with your kids, take that german class, whatever makes you happy).
Make a clear separation between “Work” and “Home”. Close your workspace door, pack your laptop on its sleeve, change your clothes. Use any method that tells your brain that the workday is over.
But have in mind that a perk of working remotely is the chance to experiment in order to find your “best day”. We don’t have our best moments of focus and energy at the same time. In my case, I use the morning for organizing the day: I check my emails, prioritize my tasks, have my daily meeting with the team and have checkpoints with colleagues if needed. Afternoons for me are best for creative work. If you think your productivity will increase making some changes to your schedule, or making a non-linear workday (like work in the evenings instead of mornings) talk to your team to see how you can make it work.
Keeping fluid communication with your managers and team members is vital for any remote worker. You are no longer in the same space, so you will have to do an extra effort to communicate with them in order to show the progress you’ve made with your work or speak about your next goals, projects or daily tasks.
Luckily, there are plenty of free wonderful tools that allow us to connect and communicate with our team. You can use Slack and Zoom for daily communications and meetings. You can organize your tasks and projects using Jira, Trello, Monday, whatever tool fits your team style. You can share your daily work using Google Drive or Dropbox. You can brainstorm together using Mural or Milanote. There is a tool for any remote team need out there, do some research and find which fits better for you.
Remote meetings are key to stay in touch with the team but you have to use them wisely. It’s hard to catch everyone’s attention for a long time so keep it short. Be very clear about the topic of the meeting (if it’s your meeting add this information to the invitation) and always be focused on getting an actionable plan at the end.
Whenever you can and the bandwidth allows it, use video, so you can see your colleagues and they can see you. This will help everyone feel less isolated and more engaged with the team.
For this, you will need a good internet connection and a decent headset. Check that video and sound work properly before you jump into a meeting. Take care of how you look and your surroundings: Check your clothes, have a nice light and a calm background (visual and sound). Look professional.
During the meeting, speak up. Say hi, say thanks, let people know what you are working on, ask any doubt you have or let them know what you need in order to do your work.
After the meeting share the outcomes or the actionable plan. Define responsibilities.
You are not alone.
We are facing challenging times. Lots of people will need to adapt to this new scenario and manage to struggle with isolation, successful time-management and communication with their team or employees. And if this wasn’t challenging enough, as schools shut down in a lot of countries, working parents must also attend family needs.
This sounds hard, we know. We hope to collaborate with it by giving you some useful advice on how to cope with this new -temporal- reality of work. With some planning and organization, you can find a strategy that will allow you to succeed. And maybe, in the end, you’ll feel so comfortable with it that it will become your preferred way of working
Don’t be shy! We would be happy to hear about your experience working remotely, and what works best for you, in the comments.