Working from Home: Tips from 7 years running a remote team
We started OneSheep seven years ago on the cusp of remote working becoming a viable option, it’s changed a lot over the years and we’ve iterated a lot on the way. From 2 to 60 people in online calls, with people down the road to people in multiple time zones. From beaches, mountains, planes, coffee shops and bedrooms here’s what we’ve learnt.
A work like attitude
So you’re finally working from home, whether you’re dreading it or been looking forward to it for ages this tip is really a bundle of things that can be summed up thus:
Successfully working from home is all about your state of mind.
Sure, the idea of lounging around in your pyjamas on the sofa with TV on in the background sounds ideal, but aside from being terrible for productivity it will actually erode far more of your wellbeing.
The TV will lead to distractions and greater procrastination. The pyjamas will lead to laissez-faire attitude to the work you’re doing and the sofa will cause poor posture and back and neck aches after a while.
More seriously, though the way you approach ‘going to work’ will help you enjoy and get the most out of home working.
- Stick to a routine. That may well change as you don’t have a commute but as long as there is a clear consistent shape to your day that will help you and your fellow colleagues know what to expect.
- Get dressed, properly. It may seem odd, but actually dressing as if you’re going to your workplace will help separate out the Sunday afternoon from the Monday morning. It will help you feel more alert, focused and ready for a days work.
- Find the right space. It might take a bit of time or experimentation or you might have no choice, but getting your work space set up well for the day will help you stay on top of what you’re doing, feel more organised and reduce the stress of not having office conveniences to hand. If you’re on video calls (and you should be, see below), find somewhere well lit, with an uncluttered background.
- Savour your reclaimed commute time. Working at home may be saving you 20 mins or 90 mins each end of the day, but don’t be tempted to fill it with work, or even just house chores. Savour at least some of that time to separate your work life and home life. Your old commute, however long, is an important part of processing the day and transitioning from work mode to home mode. This is especially true if you have a busy house with kids around. Leaving time to do this, via quiet time, music, podcasts or reading will help you be more present when you do sit down for work or when you “get home’ at the end of the day.
This goes without saying, working from home is isolating. It’s why so many are heading that way right now. But it’s important to keep connected and stay human. That means stay in relationships and communicate perhaps even more than you would normally. When people aren’t physically present the saying ‘out of sight out of mind’ is particularly true in work relationships and for team dynamics. There are two key ways to do this.
- Use a workplace chat tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Many workplaces use these in offices for greater collaboration, but such tools are essential when working remote. Not only do they cut down on internal email, but they humanise the connections even further than a cold email in an inbox and shorten the response time, helping people to feel more in conversation than in the mundane task of ‘getting emails done’.
- Start video conferencing, even if you don’t have many meetings. Using as many mediums of communication as you can helps reduce the distance and enables people to feel closer. Only having text chat is a very poor substitute for the office. A lot of subtle communication that comes through our body language and facial expressions.
- Clarity over medium. Clear HD video on a solid broadband connection is the ideal. Seeing each other, responding and engaging this way massively helps keep relationships going strong. However, don’t continue with video over the audio quality. Quite often, the bandwidth can’t hold up good video and clear audio. As soon as the audio drops off, gets cut out, meetings get frustrating fast, so prioritise hearing well over seeing blurry image and hearing every other sentence!
- Don’t get over efficient. It’s easy with video meetings to jump on exactly at the right time and get straight to business. Remember you probably haven’t heard much from your colleagues all day, let alone seen them. Be generous with the time and take the first 5 – 10 minutes to allow space for idle chit chat. It will feel unproductive, but ignoring these few minutes over time will have a negative impact on your teams empathy and understanding of each other. So be intentional, to listen and hear how people are doing, especially in these times of greater fear and anxiety. Build in the water cooler moments.
Be self aware and professional.
As we distance ourselves and take working relationships behind a screen it can be easy to lose empathy, understanding and context.
- The right well placed emoji can help land a question, thought or response in a better way. When we get into workspace instant messaging can get all too task orientated and quickly lose tone, meaning and finesse. It’s all too easy to start taking each other the wrong way, mis-understand or take offence. Emojis were created for a reason. Overuse, however, can quickly kill the seriousness of real work.
- Know where your mute button is. Video calling etiquette is still evolving and many seasoned remote worker will still miss this one. That quiet humming, or page you’re printing out may sound like background office noise to you, but to everyone else on the call it’s cutting over what’s being said and sounds 10x louder. If you’re not talking mute, unmute just before you want to jump in.
- Let your yes be yes and say where you are. Home working provides great flexibility, you can run and errand answer the door, quickly get that extra load of washing on, but if you have a call make sure you’re there in time. If you’re popping out, let the right people know and get back when you say you are.
As we work remotely we lose the sense of who’s around, who’s working. Someone late for a meeting is no longer just chatting to a colleague in the corridor, maybe they’re watching TV or having a nap. The more you can show your movements and turn up on time the greater the trust and dependency across the team. Even in collaboration tools the simple online/offline indicator can communicate a lot, it shows you’re there and importantly your colleagues aren’t just working alone.
Find your groove
This might be the first time you can work with music! It’s not for everyone, but different styles and types of music can actually really help your work.
- Music is your friend. If you’re doing routine tasks and looking for efficiency to get things done, listen to familiar music, you’re favourites that you can sing along too. Your brain will operate in a more streamlined way with music it knows well.
If you’re doing creative work then get the new tunes on, something fun, fast, complex, stretch the brain, make it work and use the newness to inspire.
If you’re deep in thought then head for music without lyrics. Something that can gently cut out the background noise and provide a steady calm space.
- Get in the flow. Music aside, we all have a natural groove when it comes to working best. Use your new found freedom to work out your best times in the day. Break it up in chunks. Get particular types of task done together.
- Check in — everyday. In the midst of the groove find a good fixed time to check in with your team everyday. We use daily stand up meetings to track team progress, uncover potential problems and keep on the same page. Whatever work you’re doing this type of short check in is super helpful when remote. It gives a guaranteed point in the day to say hi to your colleagues whatever the schedule. It means you’re never too far from knowing what’s up or too far from accountability. In a team of 5 simply take 15 minutes together to share what you’ve worked on, what’s coming up and any issues arising.
If you need help moving your team to a remote working culture, we’re happy to chat and help anyway we can. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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