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The Quick & Dirty Guide to Remote Working (Tips, Tricks, Tools & Norms)

February 17, 2021
by
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

At the risk of jumping on the bandwagon, here’s my guide (including tips, tricks, tools of the trade & recommended norms) on how to work from home successfully.

The content of this post was generated largely by some of my favorite ladies in the world, including Katie Puza Alex, Jill Tew, Blair Madole & Megan Mitzel - or, as we are affectionately known to each other - “Brunch Club.”

We’ve all worked remotely either partially or 100%, in freelance and full-time positions, in companies large and small. This list constitutes what we believe are the most critical factors in making this whole “remote working thing” successful, since it’s critical to #StopTheSpread, and make work functional while doing it.

Without further ado:

Agree to Work Norms

  1. If you work as a part of a larger team, sitting down (virtually) and agreeing - as a team - to what you want your work norms to be is a critical step.
    Example “norms” might include:
  2. Setting “Guaranteed Working Hours”, i.e. when you all agree to be online and available.
  3. If/when you (or any specific individual) can’t meet this requirement, either regularly or for a specific one-time event (lunch, a walk, whatever), that should be visible on a shared calendar so no one attempts to book you for that time.
  4. If you are stepping away from your computer for more than, say, 15 minutes, update your messaging app away status with an estimated time of return (ex: “walking the dog, be back by 2:30”)
  5. Setting “Meeting Requirements”
  6. See below for recommendations on this!
  7. Agreeing To a Set of Tools, and How You’ll Use Them.
  8. Just because you all use the same tools doesn’t mean you use them in the same way.
  9. For example, you can ask me to do something (or assign me a task) in Slack, but unless I do it right then, it’s not going to happen. If it’s a bigger ask or it’s not an immediate one, you have to email me to get it done. Other people are terrible with email, and if you ask them to do something on email, it’ll never get done.
  10. If you clearly set expectations about how you’ll use tools, they’ll be much more likely to be used, and used successfully.
  11. Setting Work Attire / Appearance Expectations
  12. Take a shower and get dressed. (This makes the whole “being on camera” part a lot easier!)
  13. Don’t stay in your jams. It may be fun to do this on occasion, but you’ll likely be more productive and happier if you put on real clothes… especially if you have to work from home for more than a day.
  14. If you normally dress up for work, consider doing so at home as well to “set your mood” appropriately.
  15. Planning for Spontaneity, Fun & Social Bonding
  16. Yeah, yeah, I get it - planning for spontaneity is a bit of an oxymoron. That said, it’s a lot harder to connect with your coworkers when working remotely if you don’t build in time for play.
  17. Silly rules like “if you have a pet you are legally required to show them on camera at least once a day,” help ease tension and foster connection - which is really critical all the time, and especially when you have to work from home.

Pick The Right Remote Working Tools

  • Shared Calendars
  • This is honestly my favorite one. Make sure you can see each other’s calendar to know when everyone is available - and when they are not, to avoid scheduling mishaps.
  • Shared Documents
  • Google Drive or similar. Sharing Word docs back and forth via email is frustrating!
  • Web Conferencing
  • WebEx, Zoom, Google Hangouts… the list is endless. And for most people, they are likely all “good enough” to meet your needs.
  • Communication
  • Slack, Microsoft Teams, Email, phone calls, you name it.
  • Project Management
  • Keep Trello, Asana, or your PM tool of choice up-to-date, and tag people where you need their input, or if and when you need to nudge them
  • Remember that you won’t “see” much of anyone, and therefore your (and their) “visual cue” that something is needed will be missing. Use the tools at your disposal to overcome this.

Run Remote Meetings Successfully

  • All meetings should be held over Webex or Zoom (or your web conferencing tool of choice), ideally with cameras on
  • If cameras are on, you can see facial expressions and can more clearly gauge how well you are (or aren’t) communicating. Plus it makes misunderstandings in tone/intention easier to avoid.
  • Set up additional meetings (standing meetings & one-time meetings) with clients or co-workers, as needed, so everyone has consistent check-in points.
  • During these meetings, clearly communicate any roadblocks or needs from other team members, and include timelines/deadlines when you need to hear back. Ensure that team members are crystal clear on who owns what next steps.
  • Hold a daily stand-up/check-in (ideally at the start of the day)
  • If there’s a fire drill or crunch time, keep a video/audit meeting open but minimized - including all relevant people - in case someone needs to ask questions or collaborate in real-time.
  • Audio in virtual meetings works better if you’re wearing headphones – the mic picks up less background noise and there’s less chance of reverb.
  • Depending on your computer, an external microphone can ensure everyone can hear you clearly.
  • Zoom has a cool whiteboard feature - your stylus can draw slide blanks as you think through things/whiteboard together in real-time.
  • For large meetings (over 12 people):
  • Designate a meeting captain
  • Have attendees drop their questions into the chat, which the meeting captain will monitor and read
  • Attendees can ping the meeting captain privately if they have something to add but don’t feel like they’ve had a chance to speak, so the meeting captain can call on them directly

Define Self-Care Boundaries

  • Set up a dedicated and comfortable workspace. Try to avoid hanging out in your bed or on your couch for long periods of time (unless you have limited options).
  • Working from your couch too much will guarantee future trips to the chiropractor. I know this from (unfortunate) personal experience.
  • If you do need to use a “multi-use” space to work, have some sort of indicator when it is Work Time – make the bed, put work tools on the coffee table, etc. 
  • Create a daily routine that indicates when Work Time has started.
  • Maybe it’s walking out your front door as your “House” and back through your door as your “Office”; maybe it’s putting your coffee in a travel mug and walking to your desk.
  • Create a similar routine to indicate when Work Time has ended.
  • Build a routine into your days; plan for heads down work, lunch & meditation breaks, etc. You won’t have normal external indicators of change throughout your day like you might in an office - so you need to plan in advance to make them happen.
  • If you are working at home with roommates, spouses, or really any other people:
  • Consider creating “Work Bubbles” that the other person can’t enter during work hours. It may seem silly at first, but it will be nice by day 5 when you’re having a lot of togetherness.
  • Coordinate and communicate when you’re having important meetings, so you don’t overlap and a) kill your WiFi so no one can join their meeting, or b) talk over each other so no one can hear anything.
  • Schedule virtual coffee or lunch dates, or throw a happy hour. We all need to see some friendly faces sometimes!
  • Self-care also means caring for your body!
  • Set up a “work from home station” with a monitor, mouse, keyboard, microphone, etc. if you have the resources. Consider ergonomic options wherever possible.  
  • Take breaks. Go for a walk (even just around your living room. Do what you need to do, so long as you - and others - are safe when you do so.) Stretch!
  • Break for lunch. Eat a healthy lunch that makes you feel good.

Tips & Tricks for Working Remotely

  • Keep distractions to a minimum. Some common ones:
  • Don’t turn your tv on. If you need background noise to work, play music from your laptop instead.
  • Don’t do your laundry during the workday.
  • If you’re easily distracted with Facebook, Netflix, etc., download a site blocker extension like Stay Focused which only allows you a set time for specific sites each day, or “Block Site” to completely block distracting websites.
  • Then again - if you’re someone who gets more focused with a TV on, or you like to fold clothes as you think through solutions - then do that!  The key is to know your limits and respect them.

If you have extra “working remotely” tips, or want more advice, please do feel free to reach out to our team!

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