Remote work or working from home has been around for many years now, in fact, telework was introduced to Portugal in the 1990s. However, the concept didn't take off until the last 2 years.
For the past several weeks, the novel Coronavirus has made remote work a viable option for business continuity as cities lockdown to secure the public's health and safety. Thousands of people are forced to work from home without training and guidance.
As an advocate of this movement and someone who’s been working remotely for almost a decade, I would like to impart some of our best practices. I would also like to educate people that remote working is not only good when there’s a pandemic threatening to kill everyone on the planet. It’s good in general for many reasons like, it gives us flexibility which contributes to a good work-life balance, we have lesser carbon emission since there are lesser cars on the streets and fewer office spaces are being used. These are just a few of the many benefits we have been trying to teach people for years now.
So my advice for those of you who are just starting to work remotely, here are some important things to consider while you are working from home due to COVID-19
1.) Your Routine
Our brains love consistency and routines in general. The act of going to work (eg: waking up, drinking coffee, taking a shower, putting on work clothes, traveling to work) switches our mental state from “I am at home” to “I am at work”.
This is why most people think they are more productive in the office because they are able to experience the transition and it switches their brain from “home” to “work” mode.
When you are working from home it can be tricky. You are technically not traveling to your living room or your office desk. Your mind and body don't go through the same transition, especially when your "office" is only 5 feet away. Therefore, you have to create a routine that would simulate something similar to your regular workday. For example:
Going to work:
You wake up.
You drink coffee.
You put work clothes on.
You go to your designated workstation.
This way your brain will have time to process that you are now going to work even if you are not going to the office. It will allow your mind and body to switch modes so you can get ready to do work. And don't forget that the same thing happens at the end of the day. For your mind to switch from “work” to “home,” you should create a routine - perhaps similar to what you’ve been doing in your onsite office. Which could go something like this:
Save all your files.
Close all your browsers.
Close all your programs.
Shut down your computer.
Leave your workstation.
This whole process replicates similar scenarios you have in your office which will allow your mind and body to go through the transition of ending the day.
Make sure you also schedule your lunch and coffee breaks in between and to get out of your workstation during these periods.
Of course, this is just an example and you may have different types of routines that are unique to you, but the point is you need to have them. Otherwise, it’s very easy for you to feel unproductive and overwhelmed because your mind can't tell whether you’re supposed to be relaxing or working since there's no clear division between the two.
2.) Your Environment
We’ve talked about the routines and mentioned “your workstation”.
This is very important and should be one of your top priorities as soon as you start working from home. Our willpower is finite and it runs out pretty quickly for most people. Even if you tell yourself you are going to work and be productive, if your environment is a complete mess, noisy and full of distractions, you will soon find yourself frustrated and unable to work. This is why we need to use our environment for us and not against us.
Setting your environment up for success could mean using a separate room with a door so people can't just barge in when you are focused on work or allocating a corner desk where you can work on away from distractions.
Government organizations have guidelines on how to set up a good workstation at home. Here’s a good example of a home working assessment self checklist from Falkirk Council.
If you are unable to accomplish all of this at least make sure that you have a designated space, away from distractions like the TV, fridge or other people in the house. The purpose of this is to make sure you can focus and work comfortably during the hours you’ve set for yourself. And most importantly, set boundaries with the people you live with. Tell them the hours your working so they won't disturb you during those hours unless it's necessary.
3.) Your Communication
Communication with your team will be put to the test when working remotely. In an in-office setup, it’s easy to just go and approach the person when you have a question or drop by their office when you need to retrieve something however you might find this challenging when working online.
Communicate often and communicate well. Make sure your team knows how to reach each other and which tools are you using for which type of communication.
Streamline your methods to make things easier. Is it a quick question? Or a long detailed explanation? Maybe it's faster to hop on a call, or maybe it’s better to meet face to face especially when making important decisions.
Here are the most commonly used communication methods while remote working:
You will need to be more patient and mindful when speaking to others and giving instructions. What you say might be something that can be understood in multiple ways. Make sure you verify that the other person understood and vice versa, you should verify if you understood what the other person is saying to you. Working remote takes more effort in this sense but in time you will be able to master this skill too.
4.) Your Processes
Now that we’ve talked about your routine, your environment, and your communication, we now move on to your processes - how exactly do you do your job?
Processes make things scalable, repeatable and replicable. Most people think that processes are just about how to do things. But as an employee of an organization or a company, you must know how your work affects the grand scheme of things. To simplify things think of it this way:
What needs to be done?
How is it done?
What tools are needed to get it done?
When should it be done?
Who does it?
Why are we doing it?
Processes are created to make things repeatable and replicable - so in case the person in charge is unable to work on any given day, someone else with the same capability can step in and perform the tasks needed.
These things should be documented internally and shared with the people involved or can be shared in an instant if needed.
If you want to take on the technical details of process documentation here’s a really good guide on how to document your processes.
5.) Your Tools
Lastly, we talk about your tools.
Our tools can either make or break us - slow computers, bad internet connections, uncomfortable chairs, and complicated softwares can frustrate and hinder our productivity.
Make sure you don't overlook these things as they might seem minor but over time they can affect the way you work. Invest in them since they will make you work faster and better. If we go back from the beginning of this article you will see everything is connected:
Tools you need to set your environment
Table and chair
Keyboard & mouse
Extra monitor if needed
Tools you need to communicate
Slack or Skype for chatting (or voice and video calls too)
Gmail/Outlook for emails
Phone for voice calls
Zoom for video calls (and for remote access to co-worker’s computer)
Asana or Trello for project management
Tools you need to document your processes
Creately or Lucidchart
Microsoft or Google Docs
Other tools you might need for work
VPNs for Security (ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, IPVanish, Hotspot Shield, Private Internet Access)
Cloud Storage for your documents and other files (Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive)
Time Trackers (Toggl, Timedoctor, Hubstaff)
There will be other tools you might need which are specific to your tasks, however, these are the most basic ones which you should know about.
To sum things up, working remotely or working from home is not a mysterious thing that only some people know about - it’s about having the right tools and being able to communicate well with the people you work with. It’s a culture of trust, clarity and some degree of transparency.
Imagine a company that is so well organized, so transparent, with team members who communicate so well and trust each other to complete their tasks in a timely manner, they could practically work anywhere.
If you need more help with your company's transition to remote working, reach out to us. WorkRemote is a member of Grow Remote, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating individuals and companies about remote work.