Whenever there’s a survey on the perks people want the most at their job, “the ability to work from home” is always at or near the top. Well… now, suddenly, that scenario is a reality. Although we’d imagine most people didn’t foresee a global pandemic as the impetus for widespread adoption of remote work, right now, millions of employees are working from home—many for the very first time.
Here at SkyVerge, we’ve always been a fully remote team. Since we all have quite a bit of experience in working from home, we wanted to help out our new work from home colleagues across the world by sharing 16 tips, ideas, and concepts that have worked well for us.
Company-wide remote work tips
Work in public
It’s easy to fire off a private message or start a one-on-one conversation to get your questions asked. Maybe you think no one else will care about your question or you’ll just be creating noise in a public work space. But when you work remotely, you don’t have as many opportunities to share knowledge with your team as you would in an in-person environment.
Working in public—that is, asking questions and discussing issues through channels where anyone can participate, like public chat or shared documents—allows everyone to benefit from the knowledge transfer and helps you work faster (since now anyone can help you find the solution).
Part of working in public is also overcommunicating. Be proactive about posting messages, leaving comments, and letting coworkers know where your projects stand—even if they didn’t ask.
Default to transparency
We’ve found that remote work runs smoothest when almost everything is available to everyone: plans, documents, data, meeting minutes, logins and passwords to shared accounts, etc. If you’re working across timezones, not everything can happen in real time, so make sure everyone always has quick access to what they need—that’s key to keeping things moving.
Find the right collaboration tools for your team
Having the right structure in place makes all the difference in the world to be able to work in public and stay transparent—and to set the right structure, you need the right tools.
Our main go-tos are:
- Basecamp and Clubhouse for project management
- Slack for messaging
- G Suite for email, calendars, and shared docs, spreadsheets, and presentations
- Zoom for video conferencing (including 1:1s and group meetings)
- WordPress for internal guides like our employee wiki and support tone guide
Find the right tools that work for your team—and try to keep the number of tools relatively reasonable so people don’t have to burn time jumping from app to app to try to find the information they’re looking for.
Sync on priorities
Take time early in the week (or each day) to make sure everyone on a team knows what everyone else is working on. That helps avoid duplicate work and ensures that everyone on the team can help each other out when needed.
Limit the number of meetings
It’s tempting to pack every day with Zoom calls or Google Hangouts to coordinate, plan, strategize, and talk through ideas. Fight that temptation. If you were working together in person, you wouldn’t want a full day of back-to-back-to-back meetings—at some point, you’d just want to goto your desk to knock out some work. The same is true with remote work. Let employees work asynchronously when possible to get things done, and save meetings for situations when a quick chat thread or email can’t resolve an issue.
Don’t expect or demand instantaneous responses to emails or messages
It’s important to give people time to disengage from Slack, email, and other messaging tools to focus on deep, concentration-intensive work without distractions. So cut people some slack (pun so very intended) on providing instant responses. Trust that they’ll get back to you when they’ve finished up a task and are ready to check their messages—and don’t expect instant responses.
To that end, assuming your company/team/supervisor understands your need for concentration and focus, you also shouldn’t feel pressure to respond to every message immediately. You need to get work done just as much as everyone else—and that’s quite difficult if you always feel beholden to messaging apps.
One good way to help set expectations on your response time: Use chat statuses. Let your team know when you’re logging on, stepping away, in a meeting, engaging in deep work, or logging off at the end of the day. By regularly updating your status, you publicly signal when you’ll be available to provide responses to messages.
Assume the best
It’s a major change to go from in-person communication to virtual communication. In-person conversations allow you to pick up the little social cues that clarify the tone, context, and intent of what someone’s saying. Those are absent from text-based conversations, and can even be hard to pick up on through voice or video chats. Without them, it’s entirely possible to overanalyze the wording of a Slack message, Google Doc comment, or email and assume the person is irritated, dismissive, sarcastic, or a whole host of other negative intentions. Odds are, that’s not the case—it’s just really hard to convey the proper tone every single time in written messages and communicating with these tools is a skill that takes time to develop. So assume that every message is said with the best intent and don’t read into things that just aren’t there.
Sick days happen
There’s a temptation for people not to take sick days when they’re working remotely. After all, if someone’s sick, they’re still just going to be at home—why not roll over in bed and knock out some work? In reality, it’s not that easy. A sick teammate isn’t going to be able to contribute 100 percent and needs to know that if they aren’t feeling well—especially with what’s going on in the world right now—they’re empowered and encouraged to take time off.
One of the amazing things about remote work, however, is the flexibility it offers. That means you don’t need to require that team members take a full day of paid time off to go to a doctor’s appointment—or even any time! Let your employees shift their schedules by a few hours during the day and focus more on the results of the work instead of the clock in and clock out times.
Have some fun with your teammates
When you’re working remotely, you miss out on a lot of the little interactions you get from working together in the same physical space. That doesn’t have to be the case. We have plenty of Slack channels here at SkyVerge where we chat about things other than work like:
- #bookclub, where we share book recommendations and try to outdo each other’s Harry Potter references
- #random, where we post all sorts of links, videos, and other miscellaneous nonsense
- #jukebox, where we share Spotify playlists and music recommendations
- #popcorn-club, where we share movie recommendations and news
- #rant, where we can rant about anything and everything but must follow a strict ALL CAPS rule
- #coffee, where we’re supposed to talk about good coffee, although the last message on there was 24 days ago and simply said, “You know what’s bad? Car dealership coffee.”
We also make heavy use of emojis and GIFs in Slack and, well, all our internal communications. That wasn’t a conscious decision or company mandate (“you must use an average of 3.2 emojis per day and 1.7 Office or Friends GIFs when talking to your teammates”)—it happened naturally as we bonded as a team and recognized that having plenty of fun, light interactions makes for a better remote work environment.
But maybe our biggest way of keeping a personal touch is our Weekly Hello—a Zoom meeting where we don’t talk business, everyone just shares something going on in their lives and answers our “question of the week.” (You’d never believe how much you can learn about people based on their answer to a question like “Would you rather not have elbows or not have knees?” or “Do you get dressed sock-sock-shoe-shoe or sock-shoe-sock-shoe?”)
In a remote work environment, “watercooler talk,” casual conversations, and team bonding don’t just spontaneously happen—so try to create scenarios to facilitate them.
Personal remote work tips
If you have a routine, keep it
If before working remotely, you would wake up around the same time, make yourself breakfast before leaving for work, or always exercise after work, keep doing those things as if nothing’s changed (as long as they are socially distant!). When you stick to your routine, it will help you stay productive while working and avoid work time blurring into family or personal time.
Set good boundaries between work and home
It’s tough to create a buffer between work and home when they occur in the same physical space. It’s crucial to set good boundaries between the two, though, so you don’t feel like you’re always working or sort-of working 24 hours a day.
Some of the strategies we use include:
- Meditate. Start the day with a short, guided meditation to switch from “home” into “work.” (Headspace is a great tool, and they’re offering free meditations now to help new remote workers.)
- Stay away from your bed. Try not to work from your bedroom—or your bed. Keep your sleeping space and work space clearly defined. Having that mental separation makes a big difference in getting a good night’s sleep.
- Get dressed. Look. We know one of the top draws of remote work is the comfort factor, so we’re not saying “put on formal business clothes” every day. But it’s important, at the very least, not to work in your pajamas. By getting dressed in the morning, you “feel” like you’re getting into the mindset for work—even if you get dressed in your most comfortable t-shirt and sweatpants.
- Take real breaks to eat. Eat lunch and snacks away from your desk, preferably in an entirely different room—and leave your devices behind. You can also use those breaks to accomplish little tasks around the house, like walking the dog or getting the laundry out of the dryer.
- Have a shutdown ritual. When you work from home, it means you don’t get to leave the office when the day is over—so you need a ritual to symbolically replace that moment of disconnecting. It can be as simple as shutting down your laptop and saying “My work day is done” or as complex as going through a Mr. Rogers-esque routine of taking off your work sweater and putting on your home sweater—regardless, you need to do something to tell your brain you’re done for the day.
Establish clear boundaries with the other people in your household
This is definitely easier said than done—especially right now, when the other people in your house may be out of work or school and also finding themselves at home all day, every day for the first time. But it’s important to make it clear to everyone around you that just because you’re physically home, you’re still at work. It will make your work day much smoother if you aren’t constantly fielding questions and interruptions. Set aside break times when you’ll be available to hang out—then make it clear when you’re going back to work.
We also recommend wearing headphones so you don’t hear any potential chaos going on in your house. If listening to your favorite music is too distracting, try something like lo-fi hip hop that can help you concentrate. You also may want to try listening to coffee shop noise or various types of white noise or ambient noise to simulate a different environment and put you in a new headspace.
Set up a workspace that works for you
It’s very helpful to have a designated workspace in your home. Set up an ergonomic workspace with a good chair (and/or standing desk) and properly positioned screens. A designated workspace also helps with the boundaries between being at home and being at work—when you’re in your workspace, you’re at work, when you’re elsewhere, you’re at home.
Now… you may want to move around a bit. If you want to work from the couch, the kitchen table, the porch, or somewhere else in the house for a few hours, give it a try. You might like the variety, or you might just wish you were back at your workspace. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
Leave the house
Under normal circumstances, we’d recommend leaving your house regularly to work somewhere else, like a coffee shop or coworking space. (In fact, we find those are such big productivity boosts and so good for mental health that SkyVerge gives its team members paid allowances for both.) But neither option is recommended right now in this time of social distancing.
Still, it’s good to get out and go for a walk to avoid feeling cooped up or stir crazy. You could bring your laptop to a park or another open-air space—or just walk for a little while to clear your head, get a change of scenery, and boost your energy.
Don’t forget that remote working is still working
Remote work comes with a lot of flexibility and freedom—and that can be very tempting. There’s no boss looking over your shoulder if you fall down a two-hour YouTube rabbit hole or take an unplanned morning break to watch an entire episode of The Price Is Right. Because of all the flexibility and independence, it takes discipline to avoid indulging in all the distractions at home.
Trust that your teammates are all working hard out there—and they’re relying on you to work hard as well. On that note, while it’s important to keep camaraderie up (as we discussed above in the section on having some fun), try not to distract your teammates or break their productivity flow with constant messages that aren’t work-related—keep those limited, and/or in the designated discussion channels. (And pay attention to those chat statuses! If someone is in a deep work groove, don’t bother them unless it’s truly urgent.)
But… still enjoy the perks of working from home
There’s a reason why remote work is such a highly-requested perk—and it’s not because people just can’t wait to set up an ergonomic workspace in the basement and have arguments with their family about boundaries.
Build some time into your day to really enjoy the best parts of working from home. Take a break on the couch to watch TV. Sit down and eat lunch with your family. Listen to whatever music you want (and if you don’t need to wear headphones to block out noise at your house, then blast it loud!). Wear slippers. Take advantage of flexible hours and get some work done at night so you can do something you want during the day. Never brush your teeth again. (Okay, maybe not that last one.) Yes, remote work requires discipline and is still work. But it’s also a different level of flexibility, freedom, and comfort than you’re used to—so make sure to capitalize on at least a few of those invaluable benefits.
As thousands, if not millions, of people are now experiencing remote work for the first time, our fully remote team put together tips to help.
From a company perspective, here’s what we recommend.
- Work in public. Keep communications in the open so everyone can follow what you’re working on, benefit from the knowledge, and contribute.
- Default to transparency. Make documents, plans, data, and more available to everyone so no one gets stuck—especially if they’re in different time zones and working on things at different hours.
- Use the right collaboration tools. Find the tools that work best for your team and make remote collaboration and communication smooth and efficient.
- Sync on priorities. Take the time with your team to share what you’re working on for the week (or day) to avoid duplicate work and to make sure you can help each other out.
- Limit meetings. Avoid the temptation of video conferencing all day long and only use meetings when a quick chat thread or email can’t resolve an issue.
- Don’t expect or demand instant responses. Your teammates need to concentrate, and that’s hard when they’re constantly monitoring messaging apps and email. Understand that you might not always get an immediate response to your questions.
- Assume the best. It’s tough to properly convey tone in text-based communication. Always assume your teammates’ messages have the best intent.
- Sick days happen. Make sure your teammates know that if they’re sick, they can take time off.
- Have some fun with your teammates. “Watercooler talk” won’t happen organically in a remote company, so create an environment where it can happen with off-topic Slack channels or a weekly meeting just to say “hello” and catch up on each other’s lives.
And from a personal perspective, here’s what we recommend.
- Keep your routine. Stick to your daily rituals, which will help you stay productive and achieve a work-life balance.
- Set good boundaries between work and home. Find techniques that help you separate work from home—even though they’re both in the same spot. We recommend things like meditating, avoiding work in your bedroom, getting dressed, taking real breaks, and having a shutdown ritual.
- Establish boundaries. Make it clear to everyone else in your house that even though you’re home, you’re still at work—and you need the space to concentrate without distractions.
- Set up your workspace. It’s important to have a designated workspace in your home that’s comfortable and facilitates productivity. But if you want to move around and work in different spots—and you find that helps you out—go for it.
- Leave the house. While right now isn’t the time to work at coffee shops or coworking spaces, go for walks to get a change of scenery and recharge.
- Don’t forget that remote working is still working. Remote work requires discipline to avoid all the temptations at home.
- Enjoy the perks. Yes, working from home takes discipline and has its own set of rules. But it’s also got some great perks. Don’t forget to enjoy them.