Remote work has always been in our radar, but now it’s in full swing. Some of us have been doing remote work for years. Others are complete newcomers to the game. But no matter what your background, remote work is altering the way we work and it’s here to stay.
The good news is that in today’s hyperconnected digital world it’s easier than ever to work from home or anywhere else for that matter. This work modality offers many benefits like time flexibility and no commute. But it comes with its own set of challenges like personal organization and social isolation. In the following paragraphs I’ll lay out some practical strategies and tools to make your remote work situation more enjoyable and productive.
For the past 7 years I’ve been working remote as a UX Designer. During this time I picked up a few habits that have helped me along the way. To be honest remote work is very similar to being a freelancer or working on your own. You set your own schedule, you are responsible for your own productivity, and it requires solid organization skills. So it does take a little readjusting if you’ve always worked with a team in an office setting, but it’s nothing that can’t be learned.
Have a dedicated space for work
Choose a place where you can focus. This is super important. It could be a nook in your kitchen, or a spare room in your house, or even your closet. The key here is to create a space that allows you focus and get work done. Your physical space should mimic your mental space. As a bare minimum have a desk and a comfortable chair. I usually work in a space with a lot of room and natural light, which is a spare room in my house that is not too cluttered. It helps keep my mind active and focused.
Dress for success
Working in your pajamas is myth. Dress like you’re at work and you’ll behave like you’re at work. It’s all a mental game. This primes your mind to get in the work headspace. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean wear a suit and tie at home. Simply dress casually and comfortably, but don’t dress down just because you’re home. This will unconsciously reflect in your attitude and energy when working.
Create a work schedule and stick to it
Start and end at the same time every day. Humans are more efficient with routines. It’s just a fact of life. Use this to your advantage. Just because you’re not working at an office doesn’t mean you can’t have structure. Start at 9am and end at 5pm or choose a time frame that works for you. Focus exclusively on work during this time. And once you’re done drop the work. Shut off your computer, and go workout or make dinner. You can continue the following day. This creates healthy boundaries, especially if you’re working from home. Otherwise work never ends and you burn out. Not good.
Spread out work sessions into time blocks
Studies have shown that focus and willpower dwindle over time. This means that a combination of short periods of intense work followed by a break in between is more effective than longer and drawn out work sessions. This allows deep focus while reassuring your anxious brain that you’ll take a break once you’re done. I usually work for periods of 50 minutes and take a 10 minute break in between. I use my iPhone timer and set it to 50 minutes and try not to get up from my desk until the alert sounds. Other methods like the Pomodoro technique suggest 25 minutes for work and 5 minutes for breaks. Experiment with durations and see what works best for you.
This one is related to the previous point of working in blocks but is equally important. Take intentional breaks throughout the day to reset your mind and body. Pour yourself another cup of coffee or tea. Look out the window and see what your neighbor is up to. Take a moment to switch the focus from brain to body by stretching, walking or breathing deeply. Since you’re in your head working most of the time, this allows your mind to wander a bit and come back strong for another intense work session.
Connect often and show your face
Working effectively with others requires great communication. And since your coworkers are miles apart communication is critical. Fortunately we have the internet. A good work habit to develop involves doing daily standup calls and check-ins with the team to keep on track. Every day at precisely 9am I check in with my team to set goals for the day, see what the blockers may be, and then get on with work. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just a quick huddle to get everyone on the same page. I use Slack for chat but any chat software will do the trick. When longer discussions are necessary we jump on a conference call in Zoom. This is usually to discuss important company wide issues or to do a project workshop where team input is required. And it’s extra nice to see people’s faces.
Organization is key
You are your own boss now. Well, sort of. You’re probably still working for a company but the difference is no one is hovering over your cubicle to keep you on task. Since you’re not in a formal work setting, which provides external structure, you need to do the organizing yourself. You set the rules. Set goals for the day and the week. Plan ahead and list your todo’s. You can use pen and paper or digital tools like Trello or Asana to make this happen. The key is to set clear and measurable goals to keep you moving forward. And have this handy every day when you arrive first thing and review at the end of the day before you close shop. I would also suggest you share your goals with your team so everyone knows what you’re working on and the whole process is more transparent. They’ll appreciate you for it.
Create a virtual water cooler
This one is just for fun and a way to reduce the negative impact of social isolation. It also creates a more engaged distributed team. If you have a slack channel create a space to share news, jokes, or other non work related banter. Should be fun content to make your remote work experience more enjoyable. Go ahead, laugh with your coworkers about that new TikTok clip. Share an article and start a silly discussion with your team. But remember to use common sense and not get carried away. People are also trying to work.
Just because you’re not in the same room with your team doesn’t mean you can’t share the same whiteboard. Just use a digital one. There will be times when you’ll need to brainstorm ideas with your team to get your point across visually. As a UX designer I use whiteboards all the time. I can’t live without them. They are one of my favorite tools for ideation and clarity. I recommend Miro or Mural for these types of visual collaboration sessions. They each provide templates for different types of ideation techniques and use cases in Marketing, Product Design, Business, and more.
When you’re in a work session you want to maximize your state of flow. You’re in flow when you’re unaware of anything except what’s in front of you. It’s a state of deep and engaged focus. This state allows you to be super effective in whatever you’re doing but having constant interruptions kills your flow. So what can you do to improve your flow? Block out the noise. Close all social media. Place your phone in another room. Close all the 99 open tabs on your browser window. Don’t turn on the TV. And don’t worry, you can come back to these precious distractions during your breaks. But during work, just flow.
Navigate time zones
If you work with a distributed team, chances are they will not be in the same city, state or even country. To manage time differences I use Time.is. It’s a simple web tool that allows you to visualize up to 7 time zones simultaneously. It comes in handy when you have to schedule meetings that work for everyone. If your team is distributed across different time zones, it’s also important to try to adjust work schedules to the most used time zone and establish a time zone reference. This time zone reference will determine the active time most team members are required to be on call.
Establish work rituals
This is a new trick I recently started practicing and found very effective. Most people have morning rituals, which are simply routines they follow every day after waking up. For example first thing in the morning I drink a glass of water, make coffee, stretch, and then take a shower. It primes my mind and body to wake up and start the day fresh. Following this same tactic I created a warm-up ritual and a power-down ritual for work. So for my work warm-up ritual I usually pour myself a cup of coffee, read a work related article to learn something new, review my todo list for the day, and then get on the daily stand-up call with my team. This usually takes me 15 minutes. After that I tackle my first work session. In the last 15 minutes of the work day I also have a power-down ritual that allows my mind to unplug from work and get into home bound mode. The trick is to experiment and create rituals that adjust to your needs and lifestyle and also act as smooth transitions into the different roles in your life.
Collaborate with ease
Easily access and share all your work files from one centralized web location. This might not be news to anyone since most digital work is already cloud based. But if you’re not completely sold on the idea, you can start putting all your work in a secure cloud based document repository like Google Drive or Dropbox. This way you can access these files anytime from anywhere and share them with anyone.
I hope you found this list useful. Even if you just implement a couple of these tips you’ll be on your way. If you have other remote work hacks or habits that have worked for you please share. The trick is to get a little bit better every day. And after a short while you’ll be working like a boss.