A Remote Team’s Perspectives on Staying Productive While Working at Home

Rachel Majors
Jan 15, 2020 · 8 min read

This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to social distancing. Read our quarantine friendly article here.

Working remote comes with a lot of advantages and flexibility. Many people are accustomed to the occasional work from home day (WFH calendar block, anyone?), but how does it change when that becomes your new everyday routine? Add a new level of everyone on your team working remotely as well. In different timezones with completely different schedules. Suddenly you’ve changed everything you thought you knew about navigating the workday. At SmallWorld, we employ a small team all over the globe. Everyone works from home, and it’s been extremely successful thus far. Setting up this environment isn’t easy though. It takes a lot of communication, organization, trust, and strong relationships. Learning new time zones, scheduling tactics, and efficiency.

While working in the comfort of your home or travel Airbnb or wherever you’re calling the office for the day can be extremely rewarding, it comes with a lot of challenges as well. You have to put a huge emphasis on mental and physical health. This is something that we have incorporated into our team culture overall. The SmallWorld team came together (in Slack) to offer a few tips and tricks we’ve discovered. The team is very diverse in their work styles and hours, but you’ll quickly notice a few trends in our answers.

Jake, CEO

When I’m not traveling for client meetings or conferences, I like to keep it simple working from home or hotel:

  1. Get Ready for the Day. This one is BIG! Even if I don’t have a video conference that day, I always set a routine to get dressed. It amazes me how many people like to stay in their PJs.
  2. Set a Space. Don’t miss rest with the office. Even if it’s a small corner nook when I’m in a hotel — keep a space. Don’t let your office become your bed or couch. Also, don’t leave your desk cluttered! Clean it up and arrange it for the next day.
  3. Get Outside. Walk around for 5–10 minutes every hour or two. SO helpful for new ideas.
  4. Talk to Friends. Just because you’re working remote doesn’t mean you can’t have conversations. Set up a time to chat on the phone. It’s helpful to hear your own voice!

Micael Nussbaumer, Senior Product Engineer

I would say, have some ‘routine hook’, for me it’s meditation (daily) and usually exercising every other day (running & stretching). When I’m back ‘home’, I usually work from a designated room. I make it a point to go outside, even if to just grab a coffee and just sit zoning out. Otherwise, when traveling I try to go out to a comfortable, affordable coffee/restaurant place that is worker-friendly for me.

I think it’s important to have hobbies outside of work, even if it’s in the same field of work. When home I played a cajon or sometimes didgeridoo for the giggles. I also like writing. I’m currently writing the story for the game I’m developing, 20k+ words. I just started the 3rd chapter on a flight to Istanbul and already have some material, both literature, and technical stuff.

If traveling alone while working, try to make some choices that allow you to have at least some interaction. This might be picking a Couchsurfing place or an Airbnb instead of a hotel. Go to some events, use a co-working place, etc.

Also, discipline. Training your will to obey you is important, but it’s not productive to force yourself to work if your mind is just not there, sometimes it’s better to go do something else and come back a bit later to it — but basic discipline is essential.

Rachel Majors, Director of Marketing and Product

I find it really important to get out of the house and interact with others. I meet with a group of my female entrepreneur friends every other week for coffee to catch up, brainstorm new ideas, and check in to see if there are any areas of life we can help each other with. I always leave with new ideas and feeling refreshed. We’ve all worked together in the industry before so it’s nice to feel like the team is back together solving the world’s marketing problems.

Slack is an invaluable tool for me as well. Being able to have all of my clients and teams on one platform is life-changing. It’s fun and a great way to get to know everyone too! One day we had an hour-long thread in the SmallWorld channel in English, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, and a little bit of French. It was ridiculous but brought a lot of laughs and speed Google Translate usage.

I make it a point to get outside and/or exercise nearly every day. My canine coworker, Ruby, demands daily walks which are always nice to clear my head. I also do some landscaping work for a few of my neighbors. Gardening is one of my hobbies and a great stress reliever for me. I find it to be a solid workout, a great time to listen to audiobooks or podcasts, and I always have a beautiful sense of accomplishment in the end. It’s surprisingly social too, I’ve been able to meet and interact with a lot of neighbors this way.

Nathan Allen, Creative Director

I benefit greatly from routine because naturally, I’m not an organized person. I have to work hard to put myself into a structure for the sake of my mental health. I’ve never been a “morning person” but even so, I wake up at 5 am so I have time to wake up, check emails, make coffee, etc. Before any work, I try to fit in a quick high-intensity cardio workout before my email starts blowing up. Apple Watch makes this kind of fun if you’re analytical and like to track progress by numbers. my biggest goal with this workout is to wake myself up and avoid feeling inactive just sitting at a desk all day.

Challenge #1 — Paranoia about performance

One challenge of remote work is the paranoia that you may not have feedback about how good or bad your work is. The disconnect between managers and reports means you have to manage your own stress about this issue. The quick solution to this is to constantly have one on ones and an open line of communication where over-communicating is not frowned upon. (In general, I do not work for people who cannot communicate well) I organize a quick reminder list of prioritized tasks needed to be done that day and I do it usually the night before (so I can actually sleep) or over that 5 am coffee. Quick tasks always go first, because mentally it feels rewarding to check things off a list. Making this list ensures that I do not go crazy trying to think about all the stuff I have to do in a day. There is a plan. “Stick to the plan and you’re fine”

Challenge #2 — Removing physical clutter from my life

I’ve become one of those people who can’t work if there are dishes piled up in the sink. Generally, I remove the other things that are distracting me from work, first. If that’s dishes, I do that quickly. Over time it’s become a routine that triggers very quickly.

Challenge #3 — Having a division between work and play

I’ve spent enough time in the corporate environment to hear a lot of talk about making time for personal life and work life. At home, you actually have to divide them very sharply. I can’t just work in my living room. Primarily I have an office with a screen I plug into. I can close the doors if I need to. It’s important. But also you can’t be at home all day. You have to go outside. I probably do spend at least a couple hours a day on my patio if the weather is nice. I try to get out of the house and go to a coffee shop or do something where I see other people, but the natural occurrence of meetings usually makes this happen without trying.

Challenge #4 — Make time for hobbies

That previously mentioned paranoia and lack of oversight by a manager — those things can create a mental state that makes you constantly working yourself to death, and that doesn’t help anyone. You have to have other things you do to clear your mind from work and do them at particular times. I listen to podcasts in the morning and at lunch (favs: NPR TED Radio Hour, NPR Planet Money). I try to do some writing at night. I don’t like watching so much TV because it’s so limiting to the imagination, but it happens. I like to read for about an hour before I go to bed. A good balance of fiction and nonfiction is healthy I think. Yes, I might be the youngest 80-year-old.

Andy Gimma, Senior Product Engineer

Get outside: Check the weather and find out when it will be nicest that day and try to schedule a walk.

Have a cut off time: As programmers, we love to solve problems. Sometimes though, that means we’ll keep going well into the evening. I find that when I do that regularly, I end up being frazzled the next day and the quality of my work isn’t as good. So when I can, I set a hard cut off for when I’ll finish for the day.

Join a class or a club: I find that it’s good to have some scheduled social time. Something like a language class, a class at a gym, or a meetup. Making sure to have regular habits outside of work and home is something that I find important.”

There were several trends in our answers that all remote employees can create their own versions of.

  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Social Interaction
  • Writing

From Jake: The social interaction piece is big. This isn’t something talked about often enough. Whether working on a remote team, freelancing, solo entrepreneur…etc. it’s hard to be social because humans are naturally exclusive with our groups. When traveling, people are a little more open, but in the day-to-day not so much.

Overall, we can agree on this: establishing mental and physical routines that assist in your total wellbeing is crucial when working remote. Everyone has their own style, schedules, and preferences but prioritizing your mental and physical health will always lead to success in life. Working alongside like-minded individuals in this way is important. Let others challenge and encourage you! Take the time to create your own team culture and build upon that for the years to come.

Originally published at https://smallworldus.com on January 15, 2020.


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