Article: Making Remote Work Work for you
Updated: Apr 21
Tips for your remote working journey, hopefully even after the COVID-19
52% of employees around the world work remotely at least once per week, and 68% work remotely at least once per month This is according to the Global State of Remote Work Report.
Although it looks as if high percentages of staffers work remotely, as recently as 2018 44% of global companies didn’t allow any remote work at all.
The Remote Work Report concluded that across the board “95% of these workers want to work remotely, yet 31% are currently employed by companies that don’t allow it. Of these, 74% are willing to hand in their notice to work for a company that lets them work remotely.”
Despite the demand — especially from younger professionals — and despite the wide availability of technology that allows for team collaboration and activity, working from home has continued to be resisted by a variety of corporate sectors.
All this is likely to change because of the brewing coronavirus crisis — COVID-19.
Despite the negative consequences of the virus outbreak, it offers an opportunity for a workplace evolution that allows the current workforce to skip the office and implement and test a remote working policy.
We want to take this as an opportunity to help you on your remote working journey, hopefully even after the COVID-19 scare, and make sure you get along well doing so.
We’re not made for sitting in an office the whole day.
A study by Stanford University found that there was an impressive increase in work productivity among people who worked from home. The study of 500 people who worked both remotely and in a traditional setting concluded that productivity among home-based workers was equal to a full day’s work each week.
Our productivity and creativity appear in peaks and we all need different environments, places and inputs to do our best work. Working at a desk under fluorescent lights isn’t always the most inspiring or motivating environment.
Being in an office, we often feel like we’re busy all day, as we can struggle to get into a deep workflow state due to interruptions such as eye contact or proximity with colleagues, which can easily lead to distractions. This kind of interruption is assumed to increase cognitive workload because employees need to stop regularly and then refocus on the task at hand.
Additional benefits of working remotely are a more flexible working schedule and lower costs for the company by being able to scale back their headquarters/office space.
All this goes to show that many companies could benefit from remote work if they let go of their fears and begin seeing remote work for what it really is.
But working remotely also comes with challenges.
Prior research has shown equivocal and contradictory findings regarding the effects of work fl
flexibility. It has been related to both negative and positive outcomes in terms of employee well-being, performance, and work-life balance.
Work flexibility isn’t a good thing or a bad thing per se; whether it turns out favorably or unfavorably depends on how each individual uses their flexibility and the extent to which they manage to optimize their time & tasks.
We have scoured the internet and talked to our remote working friends to add to our personal experience (we’re a remote team spread across NYC, Vienna and London) to help you tackle these challenges and make sure you get the best out of your remote working experience.
Challenge #1: Loneliness
The biggest reported struggle of remote work is lack of community — 21% of remote workers named “loneliness” as one of their main on-the-job issues.
What you can do about it:
Chat tools to stay present and connected If you haven’t yet, make sure your company has some form of messaging and/or collaboration technology. You’ll be alone most of your time when working from home, so you will appreciate the connectedness, even if it isn’t face-to-face.
Conduct morning huddles Especially for employees who have commuted to work for several years, the sudden loneliness and working-from-home setup will be unnatural. To minimize any feelings of loneliness, Dan Pontefract from Forbes recommends a daily virtual huddle of 10 minutes. Start the day 10 minutes earlier with a 10-minute talk. Check-in on how everyone is feeling and what everyone will be working on during the day/week.
Create a “water cooler” Slack channel At the beginning of the day, or at a time where you feel stuck or lonely, share a comment on a blog, answer a question in a thread or post a video or photo. The water cooler has turned virtual and your job is to remain present despite there being no physical water-cooler chatting taking place.
Challenge #2: “always online” culture & lack of productivity
Working from home also brings the challenge of creating borders and mixing your private and work life. You need to prevent yourself from a 24/7 work mentality when working from home. Guard your white space. Protect your free time. Set the space for breaks and deep work!
This means you have to install a personal discipline to separate work from your home life.
On the other hand, chat tools and always-on expectations might also be a challenge for your productivity, interrupting you with messages popping up every minute.
What you can do about it:
Set your chat status Ensure your messenger tool is on but your status is aligned to your calendar, so others will know if you’re busy, free, in a meeting, delivering a presentation or itching to chat. Make sure to block out time to participate in company chatter to continue being present, but don’t get stuck and distracted by the chat all day.
Get out of bed Key to a productive day is to give you the feeling of not actually working from home. To do so, it’s essential to get out of bed, take a shower and get dressed as if you’d go to your office.
Take breaks and get out in your downtime Giving your brain occasional breaks keeps you creative and sane, so don’t feel guilty about it. Go outside and take a walk. The fresh air will do you good. When you take a break — and you should schedule multiple breaks into your day — think about taking a walk or exercising at the gym, going for a run or bike ride, or doing yoga, or whatever helps you to unwind. If it’s sunny outside, take your lunch, go sit in the park and just listen to the birds singing rather than keeping your mind busy. Enjoy the solitude. Oh and if you can, take the advantage of having a bath!
Redefine your workday: time and location-specific job crafting Remote working means more flexibility, which also means you will be responsible for planning your day in a way that works for you and ensures you fit in everything you need to. When will you work? What time of the day will you start and stop working? Which tasks will you be working on when? Whatever your tasks are, it’s best to align them to a time-management plan of some sort and stick to it. Previous research has demonstrated that work flexibility can have both positive and negative effects on well-being, performance and work-life balance. In order for employees to stay well and productive in this context, they need to engage in “time and location-based task crafting” (i.e. a context-specific way of planning the day and its tasks that entails reflection on time and place). Employees should be strategic about using various workplaces, work locations and working hours for different types of work. They should make changes within their environment by reflecting on what is needed. This process can increase well-being, performance and work-life balance.
Challenge #3: Chaos and managing expectations
What you can do about it:
Establish team norms With your team no longer being in the office, an essential first step is to establish “team norms”. These norms are a set of practices that you agree to carry out while everyone is off-site. Dan Pontefract suggests considering the following questions: - When do we meet every day? - What are the core work times where people need to be online? - Do we use a conference call or an online meeting platform like Zoom, Webex or Google Hangout? - If we use an online meeting platform, does everyone turn on their video camera? - How do we ensure people are present and not multitasking? - What is the recommended response time to a text or email? - Should we use the phone more? - How will we share sensitive information? Email? Online sharing platforms like Slack or Basecamp?
There are many more questions to ask, but it’s best to set up a conversation with the team to establish all team norm questions that need to be surfaced and answered.
Challenge 4: Building trust / Fear of losing control
What you can do about it:
Share your work in progress Our friend Tobias VanSchneider recommends regularly sharing your current work progress. Working by yourself, you can easily get sucked into a project without sharing your progress. “You may end up slaving away on something that wouldn’t have worked from the start, or getting stuck on a roadblock someone could have easily cleared up for you. Meanwhile, your team or client is growing anxious wondering what you’re up to. To avoid this, make sure to share your works in progress. Important: Your goal is not necessarily to get feedback yet. It’s simply to state ‘here’s where I am, here’s what I’m doing, here’s where it’s going’. It’s as simple as sharing a screenshot or dropping a link in a Slack message. This removes anxiety for your team. They don’t need to micromanage you, they learn to trust that you are working even when you’re not ‘active’ or talking, and they know the status of a project at a glance.”
Over-communicate! Generally, in order to make sure everyone feels comfortable with co-working and to avoid chaos and misunderstandings or wrong expectations, be sure to communicate clearly, be open and honest. As Tobias writes in his blog post “When you’re working remotely you don’t have the luxury of reading body language, hearing tone or seeing expressions. That leaves a lot to your imagination, and sometimes your mind can get carried away. You might inject some deep meaning into a Slack message that was meant to be a joke. Or you might misread an email and assume it’s a harsh reprimand when it’s really a friendly reminder.” Over-communicating should be naturally integrated into your workflow. Another great tip from Tobias is to stay updated and know what everyone is up to is to create a daily check-in email. “Each day, my team sends me an email with three bulleted lists: What I Did Today, What I’m Doing Tomorrow and What I’m Stuck On. It takes them less than 5 minutes. It makes a world of difference.”What I’ve worked on todaySomething I didSomething else I didAnother thing I didWhat I will work on tomorrowSomething I want to do tomorrowAnother thing I want to doWhere I’m stuck
Taking it further
Remote work is not for everyone and if you’re lucky enough to have a wonderful team, working together with them face to face is also a great benefit and gift.In this case, you might want to consider ways to take your new remote arrangement slowly or create a more flexible style of working.Instead of diving fully into it, you could try to start with one day of the week where everyone works from home, like Remote Work Friday.Another model is to give everyone a certain number of work-from-home days each month or year that they can schedule in advance to get their work done at home.From our point of view, the ultimate goal is to have the freedom to flexibly create your everyday working life in an environment that inspires you and supports creativity, together with people who are keen on trying something new every day.There’s a big potential for us to really get involved in shaping the changes that are currently happening. The chance to reinvent ourselves, be innovative and question things have never been so big. We should embrace this chance for change and not be afraid of it.
Recommended tools & resources for remote working 📞
Slack - Chat Tool for daily communication with clients & team
Toggl - Time Tracking tool to keep an overview of your productivity and what you spend your time on.
Trello - for project management & daily task assignments
See our full list of resources for work & play here.