We have all been there-you’re tired of riding BART or your overcrowded local metro, want to focus on finishing off a project, or just don’t feel well enough to haul into the office. Enter WFH (Work From Home). As a founder of an entirely remote company that is spread across challenging time zones (San Francisco, Sydney, Barcelona, Perth, Chennai), we live and breathe the remote working lifestyle. In fact, I still haven’t met one of our teammates in person (ever!).
Like any other company, we have the same pressures to ship products quickly, connect with customers, and have productive brainstorm sessions — all without ever being in the same physical room.
To help us be effective and productive, and have a little fun along the way, we’ve learned a few tips and tricks that will help any team who finds themselves working from home.
Set clear objectives & communicate frequently
This probably goes without saying, but teams should set clear goals and objectives that focus on outcomes rather than bureaucratic KPIs. Ensure your team knows what you’re doing, communicating any dependencies or status clearly. Find ways to have a small yet effective communication circle – like creating a virtual pod with a small number of teammates you work most closely with, also making sure to update the larger group at whatever cadence is relevant.
Communication Networks in Geographically Distributed Software Development
A study by Herbleb and Cataldo found studying communication patterns of developers in geographically distributed teams found “communication network features a highly interconnected and relatively small group (averaging about 26% of the total) of people who play a special role as communication hubs.”
Be intentional about communications tools & workflows
One of the many perks of working from home is it’s inherently less distracting and makes it easier to focus on work. The flip side of the coin is you can feel isolated or out of the loop. So how can you stay plugged into the rest of your team and not feel like ships passing in the night?
Whether you agree to be more active in Slack channels, or all check customer-facing tools like Intercom or Zendesk — find the medium that works best for your team and the tasks at hand. There is nothing worse than feeling disconnected from the mothership and spending energy talking into a black hole. We each have our preferences for tools, but if Bob is writing comments for a PRD in Google Docs and Sue is using Confluence, it’s a recipe for disaster. Wasted time, duplicated effort, and frustrated coworkers.
Example: #conversations for literally what people are talking about.
Unplug and take breaks! — Run, Meditate, Brew Some Coffee
One of the common side-effects of working from home or remotely is the blurring of what a workday looks like. Oftentimes, your work is often a series of chunks of intense focus, followed by collaboration and informal sync ups. It’s important to unplug and be mindful of your schedule without getting overwhelmed with one long never-ending workday. Be disciplined about taking time to unplug. There is plenty of organizational evidence to suggest it actually boosts productivity and creativity — there is an upside to downtime.
Focus on Trust, Culture & Social Bonding
A lot of the fun at co-located offices happen in hallways, over the ping-pong table, cafeteria and a whole host of other locations that lend themselves to social bonding through informal, interactions. It becomes important while working from home or remotely to find ways to connect informally. Whether these are encouraged at the organizational level through small events, product demos or sales deal closing — it’s important to celebrate wins and encourage informal banter or drive-by conversations. Google’s distributed work playbook recommends — “Share a virtual meal over video conferencing. But keep time zones in mind — your lunch maybe someone’s breakfast or afternoon tea”, and our suggestion is some 🍻
Productivity follows culture, not the other way around!
Home Office — Get the right setup
Make sure you have a comfortable setup at home to work from. Get some good lighting and set it up with the right configuration. While the home office doesn’t have to look like a studio of a YouTube celebrity, good lighting makes a world difference for those video conferences you might join. Secondly invest in a good microphone. A good lapel or USB mic is probably way more important to get right than the latest & greatest webcam for your setup. Microphone technology has come a long way and there are a lot of consumer devices out there thanks to the podcasting/streaming movement.
Get the right chair and make sure you have a comfortable desk setup. If you do the sort of work where you might benefit from a large, widescreen monitor — there are a whole raft of options to choose from. If you plan on using your laptop, invest in a good laptop stand to make sure you can keep it propped up at a comfortable eye level and a good external keyboard.
Text & Documentation is your frenemy
Taking the time to clearly document goals, decisions, and activity to share with the team is critical to building a successful remote work environment. It makes sense to standardize on templates and models that quickly highlight the key areas and writing helps crystallize ideas as well. Amazon’s culture of using written memos to drive various aspects of product development and decision making is well known.
“Brainstorming in progress”
Move away from informal streams of consciousness blobs when trying to communicate status, requirements and memos. Text overload from unstructured texts, emails and slack messages can be incredibly inefficient. When possible, it’s important to couple well written documentation along with voice and video calls to add important color and context. This can be accomplished with a short 5-min call without everyone getting sucked into an hour long video conference. After calls follow up to make sure others are kept in the loop as well
Right tools + Right Workflow = “The Zone”
Pick the right tools for your team that lets people stay productive and effective when working from home or remotely. We are quickly in the era of “bring your own apps” to work. There are a whole raft of modern tools often make it super easy and effective to collaborate remotely, stay in touch and be productive. Here is a short list of tools that might be useful:
- Documentation: Notion, Google Docs, DropBox Paper, Quip
- Project Management: Trello, Google Sheets, Wimi, Confluence
- Source Control: GitLab, GitHub
- Team Messaging: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Flock, Twist, Discord
- Virtual Office / Team Collaboration: Jamm.app, Zoom.us, WebEx,Pragli, Miro
It’s important to be thoughtful not only about the tools but how you incorporate them into your workflow. Set up the right systems to make it easy and engaging for you to reach out to folks while at the same time stay productive with getting stuff done!
In conclusion, remote work can provide a whole host of benefits but can also be frustrating if your teams are not intentional about thinking through the right culture, enabling the organizational values and empowering teams to succeed while still having fun! If you have more thoughts or things you see working well, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org