Working from home means a lot of things to different people. It can be a no-brainer for remote workers who have been doing it for a while, but for others, the major shakeup to our daily routines can be disorienting at best—and debilitating at worst. Our teams are feeling that, too. Headspring is fortunate to have an infrastructure set up that supports remote team members who work from home around the world. The learnings we’ve collected from years of being a distributed team can help us now.
During this transition, we can each focus on building a space and communication rhythm that allows us to give the most we can to our work while supporting colleagues and clients. Adjusting to this new reality can teach us a lot about ourselves and about others, and enhance our culture and communication rhythms going forward.
Here are a few tips we’ll follow to make the most of our days at home. We hope you’ll find them helpful too.
This is the most important and difficult thing to do! Working remote means we all need to take extra steps to hyper-communicate. Make sure your team knows what you’re up to during the day—this helps with work alignment and fostering a sense of continuity.
Starting your day: Let your team members know when you’re starting your day and are ready to work.
Out for lunch: Everybody gets hungry, so let your team members know when you’re going to step out for lunch, and when you’ll be back.
Busy/On the phone: Set an alert so your team members don’t expect you to answer right away.
Away from desk: If you had planned to be away from your desk due to a doctor’s appointment, you’re running an errand or due to an unexpected situation, let everybody know.
Done for the day: Let your team know that you’re done for that day and will be available until the next day.
- Using Slack, Teams, Skype, or other messaging platforms? Use your “set status” feature to let everyone know your current state: Available, Done for the day, Back in five, In a meeting. If you’re on Slack, you can enable the Google Calendar integration to automatically update your status based on your meeting schedule for the day.
Consider installing the apps on your phone, and connect your work email too. This is useful for maintaining presence and availability when you’re away from your desk and somebody needs your help.
Expectations by medium
Different communication mediums come with different expectations of availability and response time. Asynchronous communications are a part of remote work, and work generally—meaning you’re not expected or required to answer in real-time, so you can prioritize how much you take on there. However, synchronous communication tools will be necessary to replace what would have been an in-person conversation. Make sure you understand the difference and escalate communication tools when appropriate:
Email: While some use email more synchronously than others, this is the most asynchronous of options. Use when a response is not needed immediately and can wait up to a few days.
Messaging platforms: Still asynchronous like email, but given how fast the topic in the room changes, it’s usually used to get answers quickly.
IM or 1×1 chat: Used as a synchronous way to communicate. Used for live conversations
Phone: If you need something urgently and is not getting a response through IM, or if a phone call would be more efficient, feel free to ring.
Define your schedule
Working from home can make it challenging to draw boundaries between work life and home life, which are easier to delineate when you’re moving between spaces. Determine for yourself what your work schedule is going to be and try to stick to it. Use attention management principles to draw hard lines between being “at work” and “at home” in terms of how you direct and focus your attention.
Design and build your workspace
The environment is important to productivity—and knowing how you work best is crucial to creating that. If you’re the lounge rat at work, maybe the couch is your flow zone. But if you’ve got the three-monitor setup with a height-adjustable desk, creating a similarly dedicated setup at home may be important. Create a space within your house that has all the necessary tools, where you can be comfortable and productive and focused.
What are the minimum necessary tools?
- Your laptop, of course
- Your mouse and keyboard of choice
- Monitors, docks, etc. (Your office may offer to supply these—don’t be afraid to ask!)
- Comfortable chair and desk (or your air mattress and standup ironing board. Whichever works for you!)
- Headset and microphone for taking web conference calls with less background noise
- Consider adding a quality web camera to your desk if the laptop built-in camera’s not cutting it for you
- Try and find a dedicated space for your “work time” that’s distinct from other parts of your house.
Plan your day
This is different than setting a working schedule. Start each day by defining your objectives and commitments for the day, so you know what the top three things you need to achieve are. Make notes, notes, and more notes so you don’t forget things. Remember, you’ll be working independently the whole day, so communicating and documenting your work through your systems of record will keep work moving forward and all your stakeholders appropriately informed.
Dress like you’re at work
It might be tempting to roll straight from bed to your workplace, but you’ll likely find yourself in a more “work-oriented” mindset if you maintain the same habits and patterns as if you were heading into an office every day. Besides, you never know when you might need to jump on a video conference with a colleague or a client!
Educate Your environment
Just like we need to set expectations with our coworkers about our work hours, make sure you’re managing expectations with people at home. Let them know when you’re available, and when you’re not. Clearly managing expectations helps everyone to have the best possible work-from-home experience.
Use video conferencing to support high-bandwidth communications
As much as 90% of our normal communication is non-verbal. When you’re in synchronous communication with someone, whether coworkers or clients, consider adding video conferencing so that everyone can tune into all those non-verbal cues that we otherwise lose. This helps us feel more engaged and more connected.
Keeping Culture Alive
If culture is a big part of your work environment—like ours—keeping that alive while you’re all apart will be a challenge. And an opportunity to get creative! There’s no one way to go about it, and we’re already seeing colleagues and other companies find interesting ways to keep connections strong and morale up. Here are some ideas we’ve liked so far:
- Host voluntary group lunches via Skype
- Create group fitness streams where you can get in much-needed exercise together
- Start a team bookclub
- Share tips for working from home (like this blog!)
- Create channels to share updates on specific topics
- Share photos of your pets! (not that you already weren’t)
- Make an extra effort to recognize one another for great work, or for just being a supportive colleague.
Working from home may feel isolating at first, but the more you consider your own work habits, the more we benefit collectively. Being apart can bring us together as teams, companies, and a society.
What are you doing to make the best of your work from home situation? We’d love to hear your ideas and advice in the comments!