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Millions of people already work remote routinely in the United States. That was even before the recent coronavirus outbreak which is now prompting even more companies and employees to consider remote work. At least on a temporary basis.
I’m certainly a fan of collaborating in person, but there are tasks that are easier to complete when done remote – aside from it potentially helping staying away from potential infection situations currently. Many creative tasks – like writing, editing, multimedia, etc. – are much easier to do in a quiet place anyway, in my opinion.
Let’s dive in on how to make remote work a success.
Have a routine and behave like it’s work
“Get dressed for work every morning,” said Writer Jim Samuel. “The popular notion is that remote work means you can work in your pajamas. Don’t do it. Getting dressed for work every morning helps set a delineation between work and personal activities.”
Of course, what “getting dressed” means is a personal choice. I don’t dress up while working remote but do try to change out of my pajamas – as Jim recommends. Oftentimes, I wear these dressy sweat pants from Under Armour.
Cate DeRosia added that it’s important to have a schedule. “Stick to the normal schedule.”
Make use of your calendar – even for tasks, says Nicole Warshauer, a marketing and community strategist who has worked remotely for a decade and has been leading remote teams for most of that time.
“Block calendar for focus, meetings, and time away from your desk,” she said. “Walk away from your screen every hour.”
Have a dedicated space
When I was working at home just here and there, I would just sit at the dining room table. Or on a living room chair. Comfy but it wasn’t a dedicated space. Now, I’ve set up an office that includes:
- A standup desk
- A comfortable office chair
- A walking treadmill
- A window
When the door is closed and my kids come home, they don’t scream “HELLO. WE ARE HOME.” They may text me. I may be on a call or on a deadline. I’m home but I’m not necessarily available.
Bethany Lang, who works for a company that is 100 percent remote, says having a dedicated space also helps with boundaries. “Close the door at the end of the day and don’t go back in. Boundaries are important,” she said.
Even with a dedicated space, sometimes it’s best to wander out into the world.
”I often leave the house to use a local bakery, coffee shop etc., as I tunnel into paperwork better when it’s not dead quiet,” said Mark Coxon.
I personally like the quiet and don’t need noise at all. In fact, I find it distracting. Matt Barnett has remote teams all over the globe and explained on the Business Storytelling Podcast that extroverts draw energy from other people being around. Even if they don’t talk to each other.
Michael Teys added to “always wear shoes at home when working.” When I first started working at home I didn’t and my feet hurt after standing for a good chunk of the day. So now I wear shoes.
Use technology in your favor
I also block of task time on my calendar. Especially since people can book time on my Calendly this is helpful to make sure I leave enough time for the projects I have to work on.
Other tools like Basecamp, Microsoft Teams, Jira, etc. can also be used to build out a workflow, add deadlines and make sure team members know what’s happening.
I also schedule my emails using Google Boomerang. I send two batches of emails a day – at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. – other than emergencies. That helps me free up time and prevents me from getting into nonstop email writing and reading.
Content Marketer Anmol Ratan Sachdeva also recommends to have an accountability partner.
”This helps cope with loneliness and doesn’t let complacency kick in,” he said.
Use DND functions on messaging apps. Out-of-office email replies when you are knee deep in a project might help too.
Make sure technology works
Internet can be an issue once the rest of the family comes home as well. Get another modem, a better plan or set expectations who can use the internet and when.
My first backup for internet is to just hop on my phone’s hotspot. That works for a bit, but I wouldn’t recommend it for 40 hours a week. My second backup is to go to a coffee shop.
Since I drink coffee early on in the day, going to a coffee shop and drinking more coffee is not always that great of an idea, though.
Find and set your schedule
“Be particularly focused on getting work done in the morning,” said Journalist Cindy Hadish. “It’s easy to get sidetracked by daily home tasks that can interfere with work time.“
Personally, I’m a morning person and get way more done early than late. Want me to write that article at 6 p.m.? Good luck with that. I’m better in the morning. Case in point, I sent out interview questions for this article in the evening, then wrote the article at 6 a.m. before the kids were even up and before taking them to school.
Consider where team mates work, too. If everyone is in the same time zone, that may be easy, but why not adjust schedules as much as possible for personal preference.
Let the morning people work in the morning and the night owls work later. Of course, there are limitations to that when people should be collaborating.
Matt mentioned on the podcast how hard it can be to get all employees from around the globe on an all-hands-on-deck meeting.
”There’s usually somebody with coffee and somebody with a glass of wine,” he said about the huge time differences.
When I went to my office to write, my wife promptly closed my office door. That’s the sign that I’m working. She kind of affirmed it by closing it.
“I put my phones on silent during work time as some people think if you are home you are available for anything they need when they want it,” said Laura O’Neill.
How to communicate
Communicating with team members who are remote can be different. You can’t read their body language. They also can’t read yours. Make sure to work on your phone presence.
Wear headphones on the phone. Speak clearly. Video chats are another option.
“Do weekly video chat for anyone to pop in,” said Nicole. “After three back and forth emails/chats, video chat to avoid miscommunication.”
Stephan Hovnanian recommends virtual lunches: “Keep a routine. Including lunch…set up a video call with your team or coworkers you normally eat with.”
Katie Bromley said that it’s important to actually over communicate. Send daily updates, even if it’s just a bullet list.
I also found that instant messaging can do wonders. Consider creating chat groups around projects, teams, etc. Whatever can help make communications easier.
And not all calls need to be professional meetings. Mindy Thomas suggests why not make time to call your work friends at times. Chit chat happens in the office, why can’t it for remote teams at the appropriate times?
Make sure you are actually reading messages. We certainly all have our fair share of stories where people are responding to the message they thought they read and not the message that was actually sent to them.
Read it once. Pause. Read it again.
Conference calls communications
With more remote work, more conference calls are likely.
We can now be on calls anywhere and at all times. I’ve taken conference calls from:
- the gate at an airport while boarding
- my seat on the airplane after boarding! That’s usually 30 minutes for me and the most overlooked time to get work done on board!
- while riding in a Lyft. Of course, rideshare drivers hear the wildest things.
- sitting on my patio.
- walking on my office treadmill.
In fact, I take most of my meetings when working at home on my office treadmill. Walking no faster than 1 mph, I average about 500-600 calories burned and over 3 miles per day. Not bad! In a traditional office setting I would have just sat there.
Anyway, the working world is changing and being able to call in from anywhere is great and allows team members to be in many places. But conference calls also provide issues. For example, it always seems to me that people are stepping on each other for a variety of reasons:
- there’s an actual delay in transmission
- you can’t read other people’s body language so don’t know when they are about to start speaking
- phone lines are breaking up (I do indeed sometimes go through tunnels while traveling and on calls. How stereotypical. LOL)
But there are ways around it. Here are some of my tips:
How to get a word in during conference calls
1. Don’t stop talking
The biggest reason conversations don’t move forward is because people are too apologetic. Due to the reasons above attendees will step on each other. Then it usually goes like this:
“No, you go.”
“No, you hang up!” The “Friends” clip comes to mind. LOL.
Seriously, just keep talking. Now, every once in a while offer the above, but not every, single time!
2. Make a point to ask for comments from the remote audience
This goes back to whomever is running the meeting. Let’s say you have 10 people in the room and 5 on the phone. Every once in a while say: “Are there any comments on the phone.”
If you have a large audience that is spread out, consider saying: “Let’s go west to east (by geography) with comments.”
3. Assign agenda items to different people
I’m a big fan of asking everyone to bring agenda items. That also means that those people kick off the topic. When they are on the phone, that gives them an opportunity to participate and lead the discussion.
4. Use video conferencing
This doesn’t take care of the problem completely. Video often is less than ideal. People don’t look at the camera – that’s common because they want to look at themselves. This problem will be solved once the camera is truly behind the monitor. 🙂
At the very least you can kind of tell when somebody is about to talk!
This wouldn’t be perfect for me either since I’m walking on my treadmill. I suppose I can put the camera in front of me. Should be doable with most webcams and maybe a tripod.
5. Rotate meeting leaders
This is similar to No. 3, but in this scenario different people lead the meeting, including ones on the phone.
There are my tips. Ones I’ve learned after probably hundreds of hours of conference call meetings. Maybe thousands. Hope they help you get a word in!
6. Consider all be on their own lines
When a few people are in the office and some are remote, it’s tempting to huddle in a conference room and use one line. But the quality of the call will be better when everyone calls in on their own phone or computer with headphones in. Consider make it a 100 percent remote call – even for the people who are in the office.
Many of my projects are completely done in the cloud and with companies working in Google or Microsoft or Box or similar products, security issues hopefully are becoming less of an issue. This article discusses some items to consider.
Results versus participation
I know bosses that walk around the office and make sure everyone is “working.” Well, they are sitting at their computers and they are looking busy, so they must be busy is the mantra here. But you can look busy playing free cell.
“You have more work hours in your day, improved focus, and a bit more motivation because your soul wasn’t stolen by the subway rats. You need to show results. And it is about points, not yardage,” he wrote.
As Nikki Voelzke, who has been working from home for 3 years, says, driving results may be easier, because you can be more focused.
”Since you have fewer distractions – no coworker chats – if you stay focused, you can be more productive,” she said.
For way more tips check out this Twitter thread.
ON DEADLINE: Working on an article with tips on remote work. What tips do you have for people that haven’t done it before?
— Christoph Trappe (@CTrappe) March 10, 2020
The article reuses parts of an article that was first written and published here in 2019.