In the wake of Coronavirus (COVID-19), remote work has quickly become the necessity. While Digital Brandworks is a 100% remote company, we understand this is not the case for many of our clients and even colleagues. There are also many people whose positions do not translate to remote work who are now searching for temporary or freelance remote gigs.
Having built a successful remote business, we are sharing our tried & true methods. These guidelines will also translate into online learning, for both students or new online teachers, which I can personally attest to having done a 4 year remote bachelor’s program in Accounting.
There are two ways to look at working from home. The first is internally: yourself. What can you do to set yourself up for success? What goals can you control? Your boss can only do so much, but taking the time to prepare your home for your new role will make a huge difference on your comfort level, productivity, and overall happiness.
1. Dress for Success
Yes, this is an old trope, but it has merit. In the work-from-home environment, taking the effort to actually get dressed helps put you in the proper mind set. Working in your pajamas sounds great, but that cozy feeling can impact your work, making you less focused or even reluctant to hop onto video calls.
At the very least, make sure you get up and start your morning just like you would for the office. Maybe you get to sleep in an extra 30-60 minutes due to your lack of commute, but you should still get up in time to shower (or whatever your morning routine is), get dressed, and show up to work. Don’t just roll out of bed and wander to your computer like you would on the weekend. This sets the tone for your whole day.
2. Have a Designated Work Space
This one seems obvious, but it is very important. Have a desk or area that is designated for work. An office where you can close a door, or a desk you can pack up are ideal solutions, but not everyone will have this, especially in temporary situations. But you can still be mindful of your space.
For example, don’t work in your kitchen. There are too many distractions: you might be tempted to grab a snack (which is fine, but when they are at your fingertips you risk snacking too much), do some meal prep, or even wash some of those unsightly dishes. Not to mention if you have a partner, roommate, or kids, they will be in & out of the kitchen on a regular basis as well. Pick a place you can set-up for work and focus with as few distractions as possible. Make sure it’s a room where you can take phone or video calls (good reception, wired connections, relatively quiet, etc).
Consider a Standing Desk
People don’t think about how much activity they lose transitioning form an office to home. You think that office jobs are sedentary and don’t realize how much you move around. Moving between floors to catch someone at their desk or make a meeting, popping up to reception for guests and packages, running to the warehouse or supply closet. Not to mention, there are a lot of people who take lunch time walks with other coworkers a a way to catch up and get out of the office. Well, when you are at home, you get comfortable, you don’t have to move around as much, and those lunch time walks aren’t as important.
A standing desk can honestly help you out here, and you don’t have to go buy anything fancy or expensive. Stack up some books or boxes on your table if you want! If that’s not your thing, there are some other creative ideas out there: exercise ball chairs, bike/treadmill desks, under desk bike pedals, and more. All of these also help improve your focus while engaging your core.
3. Set a Schedule
Another no-brainer many would say, but a schedule is more than just your work hours. Set breaks for yourself. An office environment has breaks sort of built in. You run to grab a coffee, and stop to chat with another coworker in the break room. Somebody drops off some files, and you have a small conversation. These little instances don’t happen in the work-from-home environment, so you need to be a bit more cognizant about taking actual breaks. Go walk around the block, play with your dog, do a 15 minute yoga routine, or just go sit down with a glass of tea or coffee away from the computer screen. Don’t feel guilty doing this, you need it or you will burn out. And don’t forget to take a your lunch!
When you determine your working hours, also check-in with your supervisor and team. Determine if you will all have the same set hours or if the schedule is more flexible. Some teams will be more spread out, so you will want to consider time zones and if there will be certain hours everyone is expected to be logged on. Some teams will have check-ins to help keep everyone on track (more on that later!), so make sure the schedule you make allows you to meet these check-ins or other deadlines.
But most importantly: remember this is a job. You have your work hours, and you have your free hours. Just because your work has moved to your home, it doesn’t mean your work time needs to take over your free time. Make sure you aren’t putting in extra hours or racking up unpaid overtime. It’s very easy, and very tempting, to think an extra 30 minutes to wrap up this one project won’t hurt, but that is a slippery slope. Soon you risk working at all hours, not taking breaks, and burning yourself out.
Now that you are prepared for a successful work-from-home experience, it’s time to look at what the company or team can do for it’s employees. If you are in a management position, these are some great steps to take so your team is organized and productive. If you aren’t in a management position and see some room for improvement, don’t be afraid to suggest these ideas to your supervisors. For many, the first time work-from home-experience has a large learning curve.
1. Team Norms
This stretches beyond your own personal goals and routine. Managers and their teams need to get together and go over exceptions, comfort levels, and needs. It is important that your digital space is a safe space for everyone, where they can determine what is important.
It’s important to determine, as a team, what your core hours will be. Is everyone expected to be available 9-5, are your hours more flexible, or are your team members spread across different time zones? Just like a schedule in the office is important, a schedule in the digital office is important. Make sure your team members know when they are expected to be at work. If schedules vary, have a way for everyone to know who is available when. A simple solution is core hours. Maybe you want everyone available 8-10 and 3-5, so that nothing gets lost at the beginning or end of normal business, but outside of that they are free to work when they can. Or perhaps between all your time zones, you can only guarantee everyone be available 10-2. Take the time to figure this out. It is important to your clients and your teammates, especially as they are also trying to determine their own personal schedules.
While taking attendance is very strongly ill-advised, because it makes every feel like children and can create a hostile work environment, you can still utilize check-ins to help keep your team on task. Check-ins can also be far more than an email asking how things are going. Here are some great ideas:
- Break-out groups
- Slack / Chat Platforms
- Discussion topics in a general/random channel
- PMs for quick updates
- Basecamp check-ins
- End of day summary
- Reminders for task completion/file upload
This might seem silly, but take the time to see what people are comfortable with, and how they perform best. This may very between people, or between projects/topics. Determine what avenues are available, what is acceptable, and most importantly what your teammates are comfortable with.
2. Prevent Isolation
Working at home does not mean you are isolated. Establishing open lines of communication between teammates helps create that sense of involvement that you have in a typical office. Regular communication keeps you connected. Remember, you can’t just swing by somebody’s desk in a remote situation, but you can send them a message. However, there is a dark side to this…too much communication can make your teammates feel like they are being micro-managed.
When you’re all together, whether in-person or digitally, make sure to integrate some “water cooler” conversation. Chat programs like Slack, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Jabber can let you do this via channels.
Set events on the calendar for meetings such as conference calls, webinars, or even a “lunch.” Lunch can be an outing where you all meet up, or a video lunch where you can share ideas & catch-up without the pressure of accomplishing a specific task.
Chat programs also allow for asynchronous conversation. Often you will use them in the moment, but there are ways to use their features as a means to keep conversation going, even if out of sync. Get creative and use these programs for “call outs” like birthdays, anniversaries, and victories (although make sure you recognize victories individually too!). You can even get creative and set up something like a trivia channel, just to encourage engagement & camaraderie.
Don’t forget the Telephone!
In this digital age, and especially working in a digital environment, it is very easy to fall into a pattern of sending emails or messages in your chat program of choice. But those emails and chats can pile up. Sometimes a good old-fashioned phone call is better. The phone can be much more efficient in certain circumstances, plus it gives that sense of human connection you lose working remotely and communicating via text.
3. Successful Meetings
While meetings shouldn’t be too different when they are in-person or remote, there are a lot of nuances to consider. A newly remote team may be starving for interaction, so it’s easy for a meeting to get off-track. There are a few things you can do to help avoid this:
- Have defined deliverables
- If there is not a defined goal, then there probably isn’t a reason for the meeting. At that point, you may be better off reaching out via phone , chat, or email.
- Likewise, only invite the people who can achieve that goal. There’s no reason to bring the whole team in on a meeting that only concerns 2 or 3 people.
- Be present
- Minimize other work during your meeting and avoid multi-tasking.
- Use webcams if possible. This encourages more engagement and helps eliminate those feelings of isolation.
- Encourage participation
- If your conference call program has the “raise hand” or similar question/attention features, turn those on so employees can chime in without talking over each other.
- If time permits, have a Q&A session at the end of the call.
- Call out teammates whose ideas you want to hear; encourage them to participate and speak on the topics they are experts on.
- Send recordings & chat logs
- Despite all your best efforts, it’s still easy to get distracted. Current technology makes it so easy to send out call recordings & notes. Take advantage of this and send out call recaps so that your teammates can review.
- This is also very helpful in case someone could not make a meeting. This keeps them in the loop and makes it easier for them to jump in.
Something else to consider is whether everyone is remote. Often if a single person is remote, they easily get talked over or lost in a meeting. It’s a pretty good idea to be 100% remote or 100% in-person. So if only part of your team is remote, good practice would still be to have everyone dial-in or log-on to the call when possible. This keeps an even playing field and helps encourage the same level of participation from everyone.
4. Be Explicit
Things get lost in translation. Make sure you are very clear about what you are asking. If you are setting a timeline, make sure you are clear about the time zone too. If a document or post needs to be a certain length, don’t assume the person you are asking knows this. If you have a vision for a specific task or project, make sure to share that. In a work-from-home environment, it is very easy to fall down a rabbit hole, so without clear guidance you can end up wasting time. Not to say this doesn’t happen in an office, but there are fare more opportunities for intervention when working in-person.
5. Be Patient
This may be the most important point. Working from home is a drastic transition for many. Things won’t run as smoothly. There are adjustments to make, and you have to account for some extra time when waiting on responses. There’s also a lot more room for situational concerns. One person may lose power, but the rest of the team is still up & running. There’s nothing they can do about this, and if they don’t have a laptop they cannot relocate to a cafe temporarily. Just be patient with yourself and with your teammates.