Practical Tips for New Remote Workers

In response to COVID-19, companies are increasingly turning to remote work (a.k.a WFH) as a temporary solution. As a remote work advocate, I want to share a few practical tips to help out newly distributed teams with the transition in this tough time.

These tips are drawn from my own experience working remotely as well as my previous work at Arc (formerly CodementorX) and Remote-how, both are startups focusing on the remote space.

Productivity

Studies have shown that working remotely can be just as productive as, if not more than, working from an office. You have to first acknowledge this fact and not let remote work be an excuse for low productivity.

  • Create a morning routine so you can “get in the zone.” Don’t expect to roll out of bed and start working straight away.
  • Set a work schedule, even if your job allows you to be flexible.
  • Create a home office with good ergonomics (your bed will likely not cut it).
  • Place your phone somewhere not easily accessible.
  • Practice the Pomorodo Techniques by installing a timer Chrome extension.
  • When working on tasks that can be done alone, turn off notifications from apps (Slack, email…etc) for a reasonable time to completely block off social distractions.

Collaboration

According to the State of Remote Report 2020 by Buffer & AngelList, collaboration is the hardest part of remote work. While tools like Slack and Zoom have made remote communication easier than ever, the lack of in-person interactions can be hard to adjust to. But don’t worry, with proper tools and practices, collaborating remotely can be just as effective.

  • Overcommunicate — give examples, ask for clarifications, use visuals…etc.
  • Show your face during calls. Facial expressions and body language make communication more effective.
  • Mute background noise during calls with Krisp.
  • Conduct real-time whiteboarding sessions with Miro.
  • Create a sense of connectedness with virtual office software like TandemPragli, or Sococo.
  • Leverage asynchronous communication. In other words, cut down useless meetings.
  • Prioritize understandability when writing. Be specific, use simple words, and provide context.
  • Be intentional with your tone when writing. Using emoji helps! 😀
  • Want to explain something verbally but don’t want to call a meeting? Record yourself with Loom (especially useful if you are using visuals).
  • As unproductive as most meetings are, one benefit they do bring is keeping everyone in sync. Before you start a private discussion in a remote setting, ask yourself: “Will others benefit from knowing this?” If the answer is “perhaps” or “yes”, share it publicly.
  • If a written discussion isn’t going anywhere, start a call already! (💡: Type /zoom in Slack to start a Zoom meeting immediately.)
  • Share your calendar so your teammates can schedule meetings without the dreadful back and forth.
  • Keep your Slack status updated (e.g. out for lunch, in a meeting) so people can vaguely guess your response time. (💡: Connect calendar to update status automatically.)

Health & Well-being

Loneliness is a real issue among remote workers. It can affect not only mental but also physical health. Fortunately, it’s something that can be dealt with, and you are not in this alone.

  • Chit chat with your colleagues whenever you have a chance to get to know them better.
  • Schedule dedicated “virtual coffee” with teammates to talk about anything not work-related.
  • Meet with your teammates in person periodically (after social distancing is no longer required, of course).
  • Join online communities for remote workers.
  • Stick to a work schedule also means you finish work on time, not working endlessly.
  • survey found that remote workers struggle to unplug after work. Make sure you turn off notifications from work apps when you finish the day.
  • Don’t binge eat! It’s tempting to snack all day when no one is there judging you.
  • Most importantly, working remotely means you spend less time commuting and have location freedom, leverage these benefits to enjoy your life more!

Management

If you are in a managerial role, this section is for you. Good remote culture is at the core of every high-performing distributed team, and cultivating that culture will have to start at the top. As remote work becomes more popular, the ability to properly manage a remote team will soon be essential for every manager.

  • Trust your team. If you are worried about them watching Netflix instead of working…you’ve got a much bigger problem to deal with, and it has nothing to do with remote work.
  • Re-design your process for a remote team. What has worked well for co-located teams likely won’t translate 100% in a remote environment.
  • Take the initiative to learn more about remote work. Talk to other remote teams, read articles, or enroll in a remote manager course.
  • If you are a middle manager, you might not have any authority to set the company’s remote policy, but it’s your responsibility to represent your team and influence the decision-makers.
  • Understand that remote work is simply a product of progressive leadership. That’s why many remote-first companies, such as Zapier, Buffer, and Basecamp are constantly challenging conventional management practices and re-evaluate the way they work. If you blindly follow outdated corporate practices from business school textbooks, you’ll always be behind the curve as a manager.

I hope these tips can help you adjust to working from home a little easier. Remember, stay at home and wash your hands. We will get through this tough time together!

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