The current pandemic has forced everyone to suddenly shift to remote work, leaving many feeling ill-prepared and uneasy about what comes next.

Here’s a collection of best practices and remote working tips to help you better manage your team, collaborate remotely, and stay productive and healthy.

working from home tips remote collaboration 2

Tips for managing remote teams

  1. A sudden change to remote work is stressful. Your first instinct will be to try and imitate the office environment (e.g. a constant video call). While it may bring comfort, working remotely is nothing like working in the office. When people don’t get to see each other in person, social interactions and human behavior works completely differently. Instead of “fixing” remote work disadvantages, embrace its advantages. This is your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely rethink how you work.
  2. When there’s a big change and people don’t know what to do, leadership needs to be explicit. There’ss no time to weigh all the pros and cons, and come up with the perfect solution. Instead: pick some tools, introduce a good-enough process, set guidelines and boundaries, and then improvise and make changes along the way.
  3. You can’t expect the same level of productivity as in the office, especially during a crisis and the switch to a completely new way of working. Productivity will decrease as everyone tries to adapt to new technologies and processes. You need to put extra effort into reassuring people that everything is going to be alright, alleviate anxiety, give space, slow down, and cut back on expectations.
  4. You can also have trouble with too much productivity. Some professions thrive when working in isolation (like developers and writers) and won’t know when to take a step back and unplug. Although that sounds great, it means people will work too much so you need to step in and encourage people to take a break,  or they’ll burn out.
  5. Remote work requires a completely different management style. You’re going to need a lot of time to adapt, which is ok. Everyone is new to this and is figuring out  stuff as they go. Everyone will make a mistake and learn, which only makes us human.
  6. The most common concern for managers is: “How do I know people are actually working?” The answer: by tracking work. Even at the office, you can’t assume someone is working simply because they’re sitting at their desk or have some document open. For all you know, they might be writing a novel. Remote work just makes this more obvious. Instead of tracking butts-in-seats, you have to track and evaluate work quality.
  7. Remote work requires an unprecedented level of trust. If you can’t trust every single person on your team to do the right thing, you have much bigger worries than whether someone is on Instagram. If you can’t trust people, you should re-examine your hiring process and how you track success.
  8. Micromanagement and babysitting kills motivation. If you treat employees like children and constantly check up on them, they’ll learn to become helpless and will start running every little tiny thing by you because they’ll be scared of making a mistake. At that point, you’ll be buried in messages and other people’s tasks, and everyday work will grind to a halt because you became the bottleneck.
  9. Screen monitoring software can make people more careful with how they spend time. But, surveillance makes people anxious and violates trust and privacy, thus making them leave the first chance they get.
  10. Goals, quotes, and metrics can help people focus more on work, but metrics can produce unwanted side effects. For example, if you measure work by the number of typed characters, you’ll get pages and pages of badly written documents. Plus, people will be discouraged from helping others as they have their quota to worry about.
  11. When evaulating someone’s work, you should focus on output (what was done), and not input (when and how much time was spent doing it). But, you still need to know how many hours something takes so you can better plan work and budget.
  12. When hiring for remote work, hire people who actually love the job and have experience. If they feel “ok” about the job, they’ll have zero motivation to work and they’ll need micromanagement. If they don’t have the experience, no one will notice when they’re struggling and won’t ask for help because they don’t want to feel like a nuisance.
  13. You need to take special care about cybersecurity when people’s computers and data are not on company premises. People will need to be educated about security measures and precautions, start using MFA and SSO, log out when not working, never use public wifi, use VPN when connecting to a company network, do full disk encryption, etc.
  14. You’ll have no idea how people really feel. You won’t be able to pick up on subtle cues in their tone of voice or body language. Plus, because most of the communication is written, people will hold back from expressing negative thoughts and feelings because a written word sticks and can be used against them at any time. On the upside, they’ll have more time to process and clarify their thoughts when communicating.
  15. You need a system where people can track who works on what and what needs to be done. Most companies use a project management app or some kind of work tracker. This is not meant for managers to track if people are really working, but to help your team coordinate between themselves and collaborate more efficiently on their own.
  16. Daily online meetings are great to get everyone aligned, straighten the priorities, get over what needs to be done that day, and get in the work mood. Plus, it’s a guaranteed opportunity for people to hear each other and feel like a team. Just limit them to 15 minutes so groups can branch off into their own discussions afterwards.
  17. Encourage people to document everything: write notes after meetings, leave updates in task comments, document workflows… Because, when someone doesn’t know something, they won’t have a co-worker who sits beside them to ask or have someone who’ll show them the ropes.
  18. Working from home is isolating. In an office, people have plenty of opportunities for natural informal communication because they share the same space. But remotely, no one will ask someone “how are things going” just like that, out of the blue. So it’s up to the leadership to formally address and organize informal hangouts, thus creating a common space where team bonding and new ideas can happen.
  19. Don’t treat remote workers like a special group. If you have a mix of remote and office workers, post all announcements online, where everyone can get the same message and ask for further clarifications. Otherwise, people who work remotely will miss out on important information because some questions popped up only in the office and you assumed everyone got it.

DIstractions at work and at home

Tips for staying productive

  1. Home is a minefield of distractions and opportunities to procrastinate. So, you have to design your environment around minimizing temptations : turn off phone notifications, cover the tv, block access to social media, work on a different computer, etc. As they say: out of sight, out of mind.
  2. Working from home can incredibly boost your productivity because you have total control over your environment: you can mute channels,isolate yourself, sit somewhere else, and work at a time that suits you biologically the best. The best thing about remote work is you can get a lot of stuff done because you can have large blocks of uninterrupted work each day, guaranteed and you work according to your schedule. At the office, on the other hand, you have to follow the office schedule: when work starts, when is the daily meeting, when coworkers go for lunch, when people go home; so you have to sync your schedule to the office schedule.
  3. Tracking how much time you spend on activities can help you focus on the task at hand and restrain yourself from switching activities, eg. “I really shouldn’t open Twitter while the clock is running for task X”. Plus, at the end of the day, you’ll see where the time really goes.
  4. If you have trouble with procrastination, try the Pomodoro technique. It entails working in short time bursts, followed by breaks. This introduces cadence to working, and encourages you to actually work on something, and then get a break as a reward. You can use the breaks for indluging into temptations (eg. check social media, clean, get coffee, etc.) or to energize yourself (exercise, power nap). Using pomodoro timer is basically like procrastination, only planned and you get stuff done.
  5. If you live with someone (kids, spouse, roommates, pets), it’s difficult for them to grasp that you’re not really “at home”. What works the best is isolation and invisibility: a curtain, closed door, huge headphones, a “Do not disturb” sign, fanacy work clothes, or some other form of “I’m not really here” sign.
  6. It’s impossible to unplug when there’s no physical distinction between work and life. Your lizard brain doesn’t know that “work computer” and “play computer” are two different concepts that depend on what time of day it is. That’s why it’s important to set up a desk in a special room, away from where you sleep and relax. This is because of conditioning and priming, psychological phenomenons where exposure to one stimulus (e.g. bed) subconsciously influences a response to a subsequent stimulus (e.g. work). Meaning, if you see your bed while working, you’ll be reminded of sleep-related activities; and when you want to sleep, you’ll be reminded of work.
  7. It’s important to create rituals. When you leave the office and commute, it acts as a ritual that tells your brain that all work-related thoughts are done for the day. This is missing when you work from home. But rituals can help you segue between work and relax mode. For example, start your workday by drinking some coffee and catching up on emails, and then end the workday by exercising. This way, you condition your brain to associate “doing exercise” with “no more thinking about work”.
  8. Establish a daily routine and build good habits. All famous people had their daily routines and schedules that helped them structure their day, get things done, and stay productive. Some even separated their workday into two shifts – early morning and late afternoon – because they knew work happens all the time, no matter the office hours.
  9. When you feel stuck, take some time away from the desk. Your brain will continue working on the problem in the background, so when you come back you’ll have more clarity and probably a breakthrough, or at least a new idea to try out.

Tips for remote collaboration

  1. When communicating online, you miss a lot of context. For example, in the office, you can see when someone is working and shouldn’t be disturbed. But online, you don’t have the same cues and don’t know when it’s ok to interrupt. So try to signal your availability using in-app status so others can know when it’s ok to ask you something.
  2. You might be tempted to send a chat message any time you have a quick question or an idea, but don’t. People can’t ignore notifications and will drop what they’re doing in order to see if it’s important or not. Plus, nice people don’t want others to wait, and they don’t want others to think they’re an unreliable cooworker.
  3. Always start with async communication, ie. communication that doesn’t take place in real-time. For example, first, post a public message or send an email so you don’t interrupt others. If it’s not resolved, send someone a direct message. If you find you have to type too much, only then jump on a call so you can resolve it more quickly.
  4. Before you ping someone, consider if maybe it’s better to leave it as a comment under some appropriate task. Or, when you want to post something on a group channel, have in mind that most people will drop what they’re doing to see what random thought you decided to share.
  5. When managers ping people on chat, productivity damage is magnified ten times. What might sound like an innocent quick question to a manager, to an employee it’s a question of employment, and they’ll spend all the energy and time they have to answer thoughtfully and immediately.
  6. Respect other people’s time and don’t expect an immediate response. Let people work according to their own schedules. When their natural break comes, they’ll deal with all the messages in peace.
  7. There are different types of remote companies: remote allowed (most work gets done in the office), remote ok (doesn’t matter where as long as it’s the same time zone), and fully remote (no matter the continent). The first two types are the easiest to adapt to as long as you institute at least X overlap hours during which everyone must work, while the third type requires a fundamental change in culture and processes, but it offers the most reward too.
  8. Daily writeups are a great way to quickly review what was done yesterday and what are plans for today. On the other hand, daily group meetings are not efficient, but they’re good for morale and alignment. It’s a tradeoff.
  9. Keep the number of tech tools as few as possible. It’s difficult for people to learn how all this new software works and what’s expected of them. They’ll just end up confused and won’t know whether some information should go in a task management tool or a wiki. Even worse, they won’t know where to find something or know when they have outdated information.
  10. Essential apps for collaboration: something for live calls (Zoom, Google Meet), something  for tracking work (Trello, Asana, Clockify), something where people can work together (Google Docs, Figma), and someplace for interacting with others (Microsoft Teams, Slack).
  11. When you send a message to someone, don’t send “hi” or “I have a question” because then the other person has to sit and wait while you’re typing. Instead, formulate the full thought, add as much as context as possible, and then hit send. Compare these two messages: “Who can update the website?” vs “X page on our website has a typo here and here (typo-screnshot.png). Do you know who can help?”. The first can mean anything and needs a lot of back and forth: what, when, why, where, how. The other can be resolved instantly.
  12. Over communicate and use emojis. It’s easy to misinterpret tone in a written message, so overcompensate with thanks!, :smile:, and casual words. On the flip side, if you get a message that sounds cold or mean, it’s probably not meant that way as most people don’t put that much thought into what they’re writing or how it can be interpreted.
  13. Share what you’ve been working on, thoughts, and funny memes. It’s good for the team morale, motivation, and team bonding – as long as you keep notifications away from your peripheral vision.
  14. No one will notice when you’re wrestling for two hours with a problem that could be solved within five minutes if only you would have asked someone for help. So don’t be shy when asking for help. It’s much worse to waste two hours than to steal a minute of someone else’s time.
  15. Email recipient etiquette: “TO” you are expected to respond and take action; “CC” reply if you have something important to add using Reply-All; “BCC” you are just there for an FYI and shouldn’t reply.
  16. Remote work lacks spontaneous meetings and random discussions that bring out creativity and innovative thinking. Office is naturally conducive to serendipity: you run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas. But when working remotely, you need to actively facilitate serendipity and ask for ideas.
  17. Chat can’t and shouldn’t replace email. Any important discussion shouldn’t take place on chat, or at least not in real-time. Otherwise, people will have extreme difficulty working on a complex task because they don’t want to miss something important. Expecting that everyone should always be online, watching all their channels and discussions as they happen, is a productivity killer.
  18. If you’re new or don’t have work experience, it’s very difficult to work from home because you don’t know who to ask for stuff, and you don’t want to bother others and be a burden. That’s why teams need to document everything and assign a buddy to each new member who’ll regularly check up on them and ask how everything’s going.
  19. You are responsible for your own productivity. You can’t use something that happens in the office as an excuse. This means, you shouldn’t watch chat or check email all the time, or you won’t get anything done. Instead, block out time when you’re going to focus on work, and deal with messages when you’re on a break.
  20. How to best deal with 20 people in a video meeting? You can’t. The more people a meeting has, the worse it will be. If you organize a meeting to come to a decision, you’ll only create more indecisions as you can’t debate with 20 people. And if you need to spread information, there are more cost-effective ways, like email. Remember, a quick 15-min meeting with 20 people is actually 5 billable hours. So before you call a quick meeting, ask yourself is that meeting really worth $100.
  21. Brainstorming meetings can actually benefit from remote work. It gives people a chance to generate ideas alone in advance, and then discuss them with the group. Quality of ideas get better, people have time to think them through, and you avoid awkward silence as people try to come up with something on the spot.

Tips for staying healthy

  1. Working from home is isolating as days can pass without you seeing a living soul. Some people handle it better than others, but everyone needs social contact at some point. To save your sanity, find a reason to go out: take a walk, get a pet, go out for coffee or groceries, or turn on some radio talk show. Ambient soundtracks on YouTube also help (e.g. coffee house chatter).
  2. Psychically distance yourself from anything work-related when you’re off work hours. Otherwise, you won’t be able to unplug and recharge. For example, you can use a tablet instead of the computer because the computer will constantly remind you of work: work related notifications, email is always close at hand, and all the apps and files on computer desktop will remind you of work.
  3. It’s easy to forget to take a break when you’re in deep work. At the office, you know when it’s time to have lunch because you see when everyone away from their desks. But at home, you actually need a reminder (eg. a scheduled calendar appointment).
  4. When you work from home, you rarely have a reason to go outside. This leads to zero exercise, which further leads to health issues caused by inactivity and sitting all day. To save your health, you have to schedule your daily walks or at least make routines that will force you to leave your house each day (volunteering, dog walks, cooking classes, gardening, Friday get-togethers, gym, etc.).
  5. Spend money on a good home office setup: proper lighting, big monitor, chair with lumbar support, and some greenery. At the company, you’re provided with everything designed to help you work for extended periods of time. But at home, it’s easy to tell yourself “I’ll just use the chair and the desk I already have”. If you don’t invest in a proper setup, you’ll have back issues, cramps, and be in bad mood.
  6. The best spot for work is the one that gets the most natural light. This is because sunlight improves mood and alertness, decreases eyestrain, and makes you look good in video calls. If you don’t have a window, you need to take regular breaks to get outside for natural light, or you risk getting vitamin D deficiency and depression.
  7. When you’re working alone, you’re more susceptible to depression and anxiety. But on the upside, you can use breaks better than at the office: you can have a quick yoga session or a power nap, watch an episode of your favorite tv show, play with your kids, or simply lie down and relax.
  8. Share mindfulness posts and other mental health topics with the team, either on chat or via a weekly company newsletter. It’s easy to forget to take care of your mental health when you’re not reminded of it, until it’s too late.
  9. When there are no visual cues or official work hours, you can forget it’s time to call it a day. Technology and “always-on” expectations don’t help either. Workers with teammates across time zones are especially vulnerable because, no matter the time or day, there’s always someone who’s working, discussing work, or needs information. If you don’t set boundaries, your mind will be wired 24/7 and you’ll burn out.
  10. Since people are not seeing you work, you’ll feel bad if you don’t show results every day. You’ll also feel guilty when you take a break, even when that same break in the office would feel ok. To alleviate guilt and overworking, track work hours and time spent on breaks so you can have an objective look.
  11. Getting in the zone is great for productivity, but it can lead to overwork. To remedy the situation, set daily goals, like “I’ll get A, B, and C done by the end of the day”. As the day goes on and you get new information, you can update your estimates and decide at what point you can stop working, while honoring your 8h/day.
  12. You’ll constantly have new unplanned work, like an improptu customer call that took you a few hours to resolve. The trouble is, because people don’t see this, you’ll feel bad when you don’t finish what you’ve planned, even though you did legitimate work. The best thing to do is to track time so you can see how much time you actually lose on planned vs unplanned work.
  13. You have total control over what you eat at home. You don’t have to order unhealthy take out, but can instead prepare a healthy meal at home. Use this a chance to learn how to cook and try new dishes, or you risk falling into a bad habit of eating whatever can be quickly thrown in a microwave or constantly eating the only thing you know how to prepare.

Working from home tips

Unexpected side effects and random tips and tricks

  1. It’s easy to slip into a habit of wearing the same PJs for 4 days in a row, or even seriously question whether you really need to shower each day. Unfortunately, the only cure is to have someone who’ll call you out for it.
  2. Don’t feel obligated to turn on the video during a meeting. It just eats bandwidth. Then, you don’t have to worry about how you look or what’s happening in the background. You can can also use the time productively by checking up on emails and asking people follow-up questions on chat.
  3. If everyone mutes their mics during a call (a common noise avoidance tactic), you’ll lose out on spontaneity. If you say “how’s everything going”, expect silence. Also, you won’t hear anyone laughing if you say something funny.
  4. Invest in a good mic, at least for the sake of others. Imagine having to listen to crunching, whooshing, and cracking all the time. Plus, you really don’t want your colleagues to hear your kids crying in the background or when your partner asks you where is their underwear.
  5. Keep your camera away from a light source and a door. You don’t want your camera to show when someone enters the room, or to make your teammates feel like they’re talking to a sun god.
  6. Having pets becomes a possibility because you no longer have to leave them alone for ten hours straight. And if you already have pets, they will be so happy to have you at home all the time.
  7. You’re going to save a lot of money: no need to buy fancy clothes or update your wardrobe, less laundry, no commute, no eating at restaurants and ordering take out, and lower rent as you don’t have to live close to the office.
  8. You’ll have an extra two hours each day that you’d otherwise spend commuting. If you don’t structure your day, you’ll spend the extra time procrastinating and then complain how you don’t have time to get anything done.
  9. Zoom video calls automatically end after 40min when you’re on the free plan. You should stay on the free plan, if only for this .
  10. You’ll get to know your partners and kids and learn fascinating stuff about them each day. This is also an opportunity to show your kids what you do and inspire them to have the same career.
  11. Remote work requires being comfortable with being able to solve problems on your own, or at least work on something else while you wait for an answer that blocks your progress.
  12. The most important skill in the 21st century is writing, especially when you’re working remotely (writing as in communicating using written words, not as in writing a great novel). Learn as much as you can about how to write well.
  13. If you love your job, you’ll love it even more and become more motivated. If you don’t, you’ll quickly lose motivation and it will show.
  14. You can listen to music more comfortably, without the headphones, and boost your mood and productivity.
  15. Working from home feels like living underground. Every day looks the same, and you have no idea what’s going on in the real world, outside of your bubble.
  16. After wearing nothing but sweatpants for days, regular clothes will feel like a cage.
  17. It’s fascinating how many things can be done online and how many meetings you can avoid by sending an email.
  18. You won’t advance your skill set as quickly as in the office because you won’t randomly bump into people and hear how they’re doing something. Thankfully, you can watch online courses about new technologies without worrying if someone will judge you.
  19. Everytime you leave the house, it will feel like an event.
  20. It’s always surprising when you hear what others are working on. So don’t worry, you’re not the only one that’s working, others are too, even if you don’t see it.