My tips for productive remote working
It’s no secret that this is the work from home year for most of us. Having worked remotely for 7+ years, I learnt (sometimes the hard way) many things that helped me collaborate and get work done with different people all over the world. Whilst your current situation may not be the same as mine, I want to share some of the practices that helped me with you. I’m hoping it will help you improve the way in which you work and collaborate during your day to day.
Own your time
Make time and design the days for the things that really matter to you
Ever got to 5pm on the day and realise you haven’t started any of the work you wanted to do? I’ve been there too.
People often spend time on things that don’t matter to them, being drifted away by someone else’s priorities or Infinity Pools. Don’t be afraid to say no. That doesn’t mean you need to become a despicable person. Just make sure to ask what’s the purpose of the meeting/call to validate wether you want to commit your time to it or not. If it doesn’t need your time, or you have another priority that’s a conflict just say you won’t attend. You can always review meeting notes or follow up on any actions needed after. If people really need you, they’ll insist in you attending.
One technique I really like from the a book called “Make Time”, is to design my day and include one highlight goal per day. This means that I prioritise for achieving whatever that highlight is. I make calendar appointments with myself to “Focus on XXXX”, this helps me keep track of what I wanted to spend time on during that day. This is also really good as a signal to others that may have access to your calendar that you aren’t accepting meetings for that time of the day. You can always compromise if you want (you are in control of how you spend your time), but this is a conscious decision. You are not being drift away without your permission.
Don’t just be “so busy this week”, use your time with purpose and intention.
A good time to start practicing this is before you start a new week. Take a look at your previous week calendar and identify the things that you could have deleted or removed. Then shift your focus to the upcoming week and start blocking out time or declining invites. Make sure you communicate with colleagues or friends that you need time to focus on other things, so they understand why you aren’t joining something they invited you to.
Favour asynchronous communication most of the time, and use real-time communication sometimes
What does that mean? The next time you open your calendar app and try to add something or think “we should have a meeting to…” STOP. Really think if you need to discuss this in a video call or real-time meeting. Can’t this meeting be an email? Or maybe a Slack thread or Direct Message that your colleagues can follow up on their own time. Meetings should be your last resort, not the first option.
Meetings are also expensive for your company. Four people in a meeting for an hour isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s a four hour meeting. If your average hourly cost of employment is ~£100, then that meeting is £400 investment in only one hour. If you didn’t really have a purpose or achieved anything during the meeting it’s just waste. That time and money could have been used for something else.
Changing the way you communicate with others (especially with people that are not in your same timezone) can help both you and them to own their time too.
Explore the great outdoors
Get some fresh air, be active and interact with people outside your home
We don’t realise it sometimes, but when you commute to an office you move a lot. Being inside an office also forces you to move. You go to the loo, to grab a coffee downstairs or to the kitchen in another floor. As you are not doing that anymore, you might as well try something different that achieves the good outcome without the pain and cost sink of commuting.
Go outside! No, seriously. Regularly getting out of your room/house and experiencing a change of scenery (whenever possible, I know we are in the middle of pandemic now) will massively help you feel better. I’m speaking from experience here.
Whenever I’m a bit too impatient or need a bit of a boost I go for a walk. Just the feeling of fresh air in the face makes me feel better. Being stuck in front of a computer all day will drain your energy a lot. Try to move and stretch about one time every hour, and if you can go for a walk, at least once a day, that’s even better.
Another thing that helped me in the past, was working 1-2 days a week from somewhere other than my home office. I would go to a co-working space like Google Campus here in London, visit a friend in their office and work from there, or just stay in a coffee place for a few hours.
I’ve also heard people do a fake commute. I haven’t tried this, but I see how it can be helpful to have some sort of ritual to mark the start and end of your work day.
More than business
All work and no play…
One thing I do miss quite a bit from working in an office building with other people is the ambiance. Before we all had to work from our homes this year, going to the office for me was also about seeing people I really enjoy spending time with. We’d have lunch together, play pool or just casually hang out drinking a beer a the end of the week talking about anything that we could think of.
Recreating that same experience over a video call or chat it’s very hard. Even when you try and do some fun activities, it’s just not the same. I also sometimes struggle with feeling motivated about spending time at the end of the day in yet-another-video-call, even if it’s just not about work there’s something in me that just doesn’t want to join another video call.
But this is probably a very personal thing. Some people like to be left alone, and not bothered so may be thriving from their homes. Some people need to be in the middle of a busy environment and love working in person so may be feeling super isolated right now. There’s no right or wrong, and not one size fits all solution here.
I would recommend that, if possible and you and other people are up to it, you try to spend some time chatting with other people about things that aren’t work related. It can be with your colleagues or it can be a call with a friend that you haven’t talked to in a while. I’m not always up to it, but when I am it has had a nice effect in improving my morale.
This year I found out about a Swedish tradition called Fika. Fika is a social institution in Sweden, so they take a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break with a beverage and snack usually at work or sharing the moment with someone else. Here in the UK they have a cuppa. Whatever helps you keep in touch and pause for a moment, right?
It’s a two way street
As you introduce and experiment with changes to your work and daily life, it’s always get to get feedback from others. Maybe some of the things you are doing are impacting your team in a way you didn’t anticipated. Or you need to explain the boundaries of your office so your family understands when is your focus time and avoid coming into that room. It’s always good to keep tabs with the new things you are doing, and make sure that whatever you are doing is helping you but also doesn’t cause a massive inconvenience to other people around you.
Ask them if there’s something about what you are doing that’s not ideal to them and make adjustments as possible and needed.
Want to explore and learn more? Here are some links about working remotely and communication that I’ve found interesting and helpful in the past: