Remote work. You were either suddenly launched into it because of COVID-19 or you’ve been doing it for a long time.
Either way, when the states first began issuing stay-at-home orders this March, we released this comprehensive list of remote work best practices for employees, and it was a huge hit.
Even seasoned remote workers told us that these tried-and-true tips have immensely helped their teams. Scan through. If you apply just a few, you’ll feel an immediate impact too.
Why listen to us?
Fusion Alliance has a decade of experience supporting clients with remote workers. We’ve got two decades of remote work experience with our own employees, and even before the stay-at-home orders were put in place, we’ve fast-tracked many companies to get up and running remotely to ensure business continuity for their clients. And we continue to provide them with remote support today.
Our experience helping on the technology side (including advice, implementation, and support) is so extensive that we can do it seamlessly and rapidly.
But it’s the human side that takes some adjustment. So, without further ado, comb through these tips, and you’re sure to find some nuggets of gold.
Best practices that will help you right now
1. Your mom was right. Routine will help increase your productivity
If you’re new to remote work, your normal routine has been disrupted. But routine is your friend. It helps create calm and increases productivity. It is purposeful and sets expectations, including your own.
Be strategic and proactive to take charge of your new situation. Set aside time to re-create a structure for your workday, even if you’ve done it for months.
Stop and re-evaluate. What do you want your remote work life to look like? What do you need to accomplish and what variables make remote work challenging? Here are some ideas:
- Replace your previous commute times with something you do for your own wellbeing. Exercise or engage in an activity that gets you mentally and physically ready to do and be your best each day.
- Start your day by looking at your schedule and making a short list of what you need to accomplish for the day. Cross items off your list as you meet these smaller goals. This helps provide a sense of progress.
- Set up and maintain regular work hours. Communicate these to everyone affected, especially since everyone’s schedules are changing again and again.
- Schedule the most important and challenging tasks at the time of day when your mind is sharpest. Tackle other tasks, like responding to emails, when you’re not as focused.
- Give your eyes, body, and mind a break. Stand and stretch every 60-90 minutes. Set alarms or timers to keep you on track. Schedule a couple of short breaks to look away from your computer, get up and moving, take a brisk walk, or have a little fun with others in your household.
- Distractions and productivity are often the greatest challenges at the beginning of this process. Statistics show you lose more than 20 minutes of productivity each time you are interrupted. To combat this:
- Decide not to immediately react to messages, chats, texts, emails, and calls (unless that’s what your job entails).
- Turn off or ignore notifications during selected hours of deep work. Be thoughtful about setting aside two or three times a day to answer these.
- Communicate this system to any relevant parties. A recent study shows that 85% of businesses say productivity has improved due to increased workforce flexibility, so be encouraged by that.
- Set up your own visual system at home where others in your family can see if it is ok to interrupt you. Some people use a tented card that’s red on one side (busy) and a green on the other (ok to interrupt). This works for spouses too. If you have children at home, let them know when you are available and when you are “off-limits.” (That said, we know that babies and children are experts at testing best practices. Have reasonable expectations of them and yourself. You can only control so much. )
- When your workday ends, stop working and leave your work area. Setting limits isn’t just for children. If you’re checking messages or doing “smaller tasks” all night, it’s probably taking its toll on you and your family.
- If you’re the kind of person who will work overtime regardless, define set hours to work each evening, and tell your family. Be fully present to those around you when you’re not working. They might even like you more.
2. Set up your setup for success
The right setup is critical to productivity and your ability to maintain a work-life balance. The following will help you mitigate the challenges that come along with this transition:
- Rethink where you’re working. Did you choose a place that’s comfortable, apart from the main traffic in your home, and free from distraction as much as possible? Try natural lighting and fresh air. Clean up your space, remove clutter, and make it a setup that is something you enjoy, not dread. Ensure that it’s a place where whatever papers and notes you left out will remain untouched when you leave the area.
- Choose an ergonomic chair and desk. You have to be comfortable to be productive.
- Organize everything you need for work in your “office” area and keep it there. That way when you leave your workspace, you leave your work too.
- Get your technology in order. Is your internet reliable? Do you have enough bandwidth to do your work? If bandwidth is an issue, try designating a time when your kids can play online games or watch videos. If you still have issues, ask your employer about your options.
- Use a noise-canceling headset with a microphone, and make sure it’s compatible with whatever online meeting solution you use.
- Test your video-conferencing tool. Set up your computer or camera to look you right in the eye. Check to see what items will show in the background if you are in a meeting. If it doesn’t look clean or work-appropriate, remove it.
- Stick to your normal morning routine (showering, dressing appropriately), and be mindful that you may have to jump on a video call at any point during your workday. Consider the expectations of your potential audience and how you should appear on a business call.
3. You’re in charge: Take charge of your mind, mood, and tone
We’re all aware which brands stepped up or didn’t during this pandemic. That’s going to have long-term impact on them Similarly, your actions and attitude are noticed. Are you handling remote work professionally?
- Be a positive, encouraging force, and show your ability to adapt.
- Work collaboratively with colleagues and customers who are going through stresses similar to or worse than yours. Behave with empathy and patience because you don’t know what someone else might be going through.
- Remember that different family situations are not as conducive to working from home. If you hear a toddler in the background or see a spouse/child walk into view during a videoconference, understand that everyone is doing their best. You can’t expect the same environment as you would in the office. If your colleague seems to be operating in the midst of chaos, think about their situation, and interact with flexibility and kindness.
4. Communicate well and feel the difference
As a remote worker or manager, your job is to continue to provide the level of service your company and customer are used to, with minimal disruption. Your ability to communicate well will make the difference.
- Be fully engaged and collaborative in your interactions.
- Make communications personal. Take time to ask colleagues about themselves. How are their families? What’s new in their lives?
- Initiate a conversation with your team to make strategic decisions about communication channels, daily standups or check-ins, and team meetings with videoconferencing to keep it more personal and connected.
- Set expectations. It’s amazing how few people have asked others what’s the best way to communicate with them. Have you told people the best way to reach you? Text, email, Teams? If you’re checking emails and messages only periodically on Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Slack, Zoom, Skype, or whatever other channels, let people know how often you plan to do that and what to do when they have an urgent matter to discuss.
- Make sure you’re all logged into your business collaboration tools or chat channels all day or at whatever times are expected.
- Update your calendar. Block out time for deep work on projects where you shouldn’t be interrupted. And tell your colleagues to keep their calendars current too.
- Schedule regular meetings to keep people connected, organically increase accountability, and give your team a chance to chat. If anything, managers need to be communicating more, not less, until they find a comfortable cadence.
Leaders and managers, some words of advice:
- Make sure you call each employee on your team to check in and see how they’re doing. Start with a personal conversation and ask if they need any help professionally. It will go a long way if you focus on your employees, not the business.
- Make meetings fun and personal. Maybe add a giveaway now and then, even if it’s as small as a $5 gift card to a coffee shop. Change it up.
- Make sure all members of the team clearly know their own roles, assignments, and the common goals you are all working toward.
- Be intentional with your communication. Figure out what works best for your company and team. A lack of communication often results in employees feeling isolated and uncertain.
- There’s a fine line between communication and over-communication. Don’t cross it. Employees of larger companies often complain that they get the same forwarded email from multiple managers. Employee mailboxes are getting filled with redundant information. Leaders, make sure you send your messages to your entire intended audience to avoid overwhelming your teams with the exact same message again and again.
5. Online meetings don’t need to be useless: Get the most out of them
Video meetings help you connect with your audience both visually and audibly. Be mindful of your body language and gestures. Create a positive, collaborative tone. Here are more tips:
- Add your picture to the meeting app. It’s more personal. Include your contact information and mobile number. If you are meeting someone new, precede or follow up with a simple message welcoming them to reach out to you. That’s a nice touch.
- Introduce yourself. In larger meetings, say your name when you begin speaking. And, if you are in a meeting with people you don’t know, state your name and provide context about your role. “I’m Lisa Jones, operations manager.”
- Be present. Are you multitasking or listening intently?
- Mute your microphone when you’re not talking or actively participating in the conversation. The sounds of your dog barking or your kids arguing can be distracting.
- Be heard. Share your thoughts and ideas. You are in the meeting because of your valuable knowledge and insights, so share them.
- Dress appropriately for your audience.
6. Be social for your own sanity
To many, the lack of interaction with your colleagues is the hardest part of working remotely. With digital resources, you can remove some of that isolation.
- Use audio or a video chat to work together on something small instead of doing everything through chat. And have a little fun.
- Plan a happy hour now and then, where you all videoconference and chat over food and drink as if you were together.
- Have virtual lunch meetings with your work friends. If your company can do it, have lunch delivered to the home of each member of your team.
- Have a group chat where you watch a video, read a book together, or work on a community project.
- Schedule a time to play games using a website that facilitates team-building activities or games.
- Schedule some after-hours fun with some close work friends. If you have the technology in place, use it to your benefit.
7. Exercise and move: Stand up as you read this
Are you more sedentary now that you’re not in the office? Get up and get moving. Here are levels of exercise you should attempt:
- Good: Take a quick break and stretch every 60-90 minutes. Set a timer so you actually do it. Take a walk during a call or lunchtime. Do jumping jacks, situps, or some kind of exercise every time you finish a task or stop to get a drink or use the bathroom.
- Better: In addition to the above, block out one or two 10-minute sessions to raise your heart rate and breathing with a brisk walk or jog, sit-ups, pushups, or anything else.
- Best: Do all of the above, and also take an extra hour a day for walking, jogging, cycling, yoga, etc. Mix it up. Create a long-term goal, use an exercise app, find a plan online.
There you have it. If you start applying these best practices now, and you’ll definitely feel the difference in your personal adjustment to remote work. Celebrate your successes and take time to breathe!
Meanwhile, there’s a whole technology side too. If you need help with that or in acquiring and implementing tools like free Microsoft Teams collaboration software licenses, we’re just a click away. We’ve gotten clients’ remote workers up and running on VPN in a single day, and that’s only one example. We can do so much more. Our teams are activated and ready to help.