For the past 4+ years, I’ve worked as an exclusively remote employee at organizations as small as 13 people, and as large as 400,000+. Prior to that, I spent about 65% of my time on the road. As a result I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the best ways of staying connected.
When I reflect on remote working, it seems like it’s something that’s in my DNA.
My mom was an unemployment insurance investigator, and she used to work from home starting in the early ’90s, right up until she switched careers into teaching. At the time, it didn’t seem odd that our mom didn’t go to an office because she had one in our house. In hindsight, she was probably one of the only parents who didn’t need to go to an office.
Having spent so much time working remotely, I wanted to share some things I’ve picked up along the way. My hope is that this will be an evolving list of tips and suggestions, enriched by people sharing what has worked well for them individually and organizationally.
Keep in mind that the suggestions I’m about to make are the things that have worked for me.
Making the most of your remote working situation
What’s most important when working remotely is making a commitment to show up. Turn on your video, be an active participant, and don’t try to do other things at the same time. You might be a ninja with the mute button, but make sure you leave the dishes until after the call.
1. Be responsible. Regardless of what policies exist, it’s a shared responsibility to stay engaged while working remotely.
2. Shower and put on clothes. I know that sounds silly, but it helps to switch your brain into work mode. Routines not only help to give your day more structure and keep you focused, they are good for your health.
3. Save home repairs for the weekend. Working from home gives you the option to take care of some personal admin, but it’s important to draw the line somewhere. Laundry is great, but finally fixing that squeaky step might be a bit irresponsible.
4. Don’t work where you sleep. Find a place that is cut off from where you do leisure activities so you can create some physical separation. This makes it easier to switch into “work mode”, and reduces the risk of getting lazy or distracted.
5. Spend 15 minutes outside every day. Leave your work phone behind, or at least go out when you have nothing on your calendar. It gives you a chance to disconnect, and thanks to unstructured free-thinking time, can even help with new ideas!
6. Create boundaries between work and play. Protect time for the things you enjoy doing. Focus on being present during your normal work hours, but once the day is over, walk away from the computer and live the rest of your life.
7. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get everything done. Some days are more productive than others. Focus on important projects when you have blocks of uninterrupted time, and save smaller tasks for days with lots of interruptions.
8. Turn on your video, and embrace your space. It’s easier to stay connected when other people can see you. Your space is part of your personality, and don’t worry if your pets like to make a guest appearance – it’s a good talking point.
Staying connected with your team as a manager
Managing people remotely is all about trust. You need to have faith in your team to do what they’re supposed to do, and be comfortable with the fact you can’t see what’s going on.
1. Trust your people. Respect individual boundaries and trust that your team are responsible adults. You likely hired them or know the person who did, so give them the benefit of the doubt.
2. Check your messages. Tapping on someone’s shoulder isn’t an option when you have people working remotely on your team, so make time to catch up on emails, Slack messages, etc, to prevent any communication issues.
3. Turn team lunches into remote hangouts. Meeting shouldn’t be the only reason you jump on a call with someone. Create time to catch up with your team over lunch, or on a Friday afternoon when conversation doesn’t have to focus entirely on work.
4. Implement some form of daily virtual stand-up. It’s easier and more efficient than 1-1 requests, and it gives the rest of the team visibility into each other’s days. Keep it to under 15 minutes if you can, but don’t stifle good social sidebars.
5. Sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone. Phone calls are welcome if something would be better solved with discussion rather than messaging. Video chat is even better, but respect that some people may prefer the phone.
6. Set boundaries and communicate them. Lead by example when it comes to defining your work hours and responding to emails at appropriate times, for example. Communicate them with your team in a way that everyone else knows it’s okay to do the same.
7. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. During your 1-1’s ask your team members how to best support them and their working style. You should also let them know how you like to work. User manuals are a great format for this.
8. Update all team calendar invites. Make it easy for everyone to join online conference calls. Include a link so you don’t waste time setting up a call every time.
What companies can do to support remote workers
I have worked at a lot of companies with, and some without, remote work policies. The most important thing an organization can do is to be conscious of remote employees and create avenues for them to get the information they need.
1. Equip people with the right communication tools. Zoom, webex, slack, teams, etc. Some people are more familiar with these tools than others, so make sure they know where to get help if they need it, and let your IT teams know that people will need support.
2. Use multiple communication channels for important updates. Don’t rely on any one channel for communications. Email is fine, but make sure people receive the same message from their managers, through instant communications, intranet, etc.
3. Offer to cover some remote working expenses. You don’t need to reimburse everything, but offering employees financial support can help them create a better working environment at home. Consider creating a remote work reimbursement policy.
4. Establish a set of behaviors and expectations for everyone. It doesn’t need to be comprehensive, just reinforce positive behaviors like using video if you can, respecting “do not disturb” statuses, etc.
5. Reinforce that remote working is a shared responsibility. It’s important to trust your employees and put policies in place to support them when working remotely, but feel free to remind people that it’s not something that all companies offer.
What Works For You?
This is what works for me, but I’m always curious to learn how other people keep themselves engaged when working remotely. What has worked for you, and what hasn’t?
Matt’s post originally appeared on LinkedIn.