Updated: Mar 20
Our current situation finds a lot of people unexpectedly working from home. It can be a bit unnerving at first, but it does have certain advantages. I’ve been working and leading teams remotely for the past 17 years. As a result, I've picked up a lot about work ethic, communication, collaboration and leadership.
Working remotely can be awesome, but you have to have the right mind set, systems and technology in place. Luckily it's fairly easy to get up and running quickly. All you really need is the internet, a computer and a smartphone (arguably sometimes you don’t even need the computer). The rest of it you can pick up in no time, let’s dive in.
You have a job to do. The only thing that changes when you work remotely is that you no longer need to go into an office. You have the same responsibilities, you have the same accountability, only now you can work in your PJs. So what are the most important things to be aware of?
Remote work basics
1. Set a routine.
Just because you can work from your bed, doesn’t mean you should approach this any differently than working in an office. Set a schedule and stick to it. Diligent workers tend to stay on the clock a lot longer with no office boundaries. It's too easy to get caught up, answering emails at 6:30 am from your phone, lunch at your desk, rush job at 5:45pm, just check on that freelance job in a different time zone, boom, its 8:30pm. You do this enough and it becomes expected. Don’t fall into the trap. Set hours and stick to them as if you were in an office. Chances are you can get a lot more done in a lot less time, you just need to find your stride.
2. Be clear on your responsibilities.
You need to know what you are supposed to be doing and when it needs to be done. The proof is in the pudding. Theres nothing to hide behind now, this is pure accountability. I mean, you can stream Game of Thrones while you work, just get it done.
3. Over Communicate.
Check in regularly, with co-workers, leaders, clients, and vendors. Don’t isolate yourself. You can still be social, and it’s more important than ever that you reach out. Schedule regular interactions through chats, calls, and video conferences, send a meme, introduce your pets via video, just stay connected. I have yet to have an executive video conference that my cat hasn’t crashed (for external meetings, I would suggest letting the cat outside first). Share work updates more often than usual, let people know your progress before they ask.
4. Practice empathy
Tone and intent can be easily misunderstood when working remotely. Be clear, be direct, and be kind. This goes along way in building strong relationships on every level.
Remember, all caps is the equivalent of yelling.
5. Take breaks
Don’t forget to get up and walk around. Go outside. Have a cup of coffee, and please don’t forget to eat. Set an alarm if you have to, just block out some time away for your work.
6. Separate Work and home life.
This goes back to number one. Set a schedule, and try to work within it. We all have busy times and emergencies, try not to work around the clock just because you live in your office now.
Those are the basics, but let's say you are a leader or a manager, you have some extra things to think about. Not only do you have to adjust personally, but you have to give your team the tools and the guidance to do their best work.
Remote work for leaders
1. Trust your people.
Trust is paramount to building good teams, and it’s a two-way street. Trust isn’t trust if it's dependent upon having people within your line of site. Good teams are good teams, remote or not. Trust is built over time and your team needs to know that you will be there for them, advocate for them, and be honest and direct with them. If you have that, physical location doesn’t matter.
2. Set communication guidelines.
This might be on an individual basis, but know how people want to communicate. Have different chats or slack channels for teams, topics, even casual conversations. But remember some people like to put their head down and get it done. Try not be invasive, but have guidelines for normal, urgent and scheduled engagement. Maybe email & CRMs for non-urgent tasks, chats or phone calls for conversations and emergencies, and video conferencing for detailed personal communication. Don’t be a robot, be friendly and make a connection.
3. Be transparent
It's important when you don’t see people everyday to make your intentions clear. Set clear priorities. Let people know whats expected and when. Make sure the structure is clear. Let people know how things done and that clear processes are written down. Then indicate your desired results. Be direct, be honest, and be clear.
4. Make time for relationships
People can feel isolated pretty quickly. Schedule one on ones and make sure everyone has what they need, and is basically doing well. Don’t make it all about work, start with normal conversation. Also have regular team meetings, keep people engaged and let everyone know you are a team and are there for each other. Try to use video conferences as much as you can, it really helps to see peoples faces. Taking the time to just be there will do great things for your teams and building trust in general.
In the end the work will get done, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson said it best in their book, Remote: Office Not Required,
"One of the secret benefits of using remote workers is that the work itself becomes the yardstick to judge someone's performance….The great thing about this is the clarity it introduces. When it's all about the work, it's clear who in the company is pulling their weight and who isn’t.”
Getting a handle on remote work basically comes down to trust, clear communication, and technology. So relax, you were hired because you are really good at your job, you can do this. If you are a leader, remember that you hired great people and they are gonna do great work.
Here are some tools, the cloud makes this soooo much easier.
Dropbox - https://www.dropbox.com/
(If your company doesn’t have a dedicated server)
Video Chat / Conference
Zoom - https://zoom.us/
Skype - https://www.skype.com/en/
Chat / IM
Slack - https://slack.com/
Skype - https://www.skype.com/en/
Communication / Documentation
Google Docs - https://www.google.com/docs/about/
Evernote - https://evernote.com/
CRM / Project management
Insightly - https://www.insightly.com
SaleForce - https://www.salesforce.com/
Basecamp - https://basecamp.com/
Invision Freehand - https://www.invisionapp.com/feature/freehand
(Digital white board)
Learn more from some really smart people:
Stephen Gates, The Crazy One Podcast, - Episode 64 - Best practices for remote work - http://thecrazy1.com/episode-64/
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Remote: Office Not Required
Get it here - https://basecamp.com/books/remote