Remote work: tips & tricks

In March 2020, the situation with the worldwide pandemic of Coronavirus COVID-19  spreading in Europe started to rapidly worsen every day. On March, 10, all employees in my company were advised to work from home. On March, 12, Estonia declared the emergency situation in the whole country, and we were not advised, but forced to stay home and all colleagues suddenly switched to remote work. 

I worked remotely before, but it was for a couple of days in a row, not for weeks. As for my team, it was usually a few people out of office, not the whole team distributed across many places. This sudden switch to working from home (WFH) was not very easy, but manageable, and now after a month, I want to share tips & tricks for remote work, how to stay productive and keep connection with colleagues.

Tip 1 – Set up your workplace

Your working place affects your work a lot. Be sure to have a comfortable chair and desk, monitors if you need ones, good headphones for calls. Working from bed may seem attractive, but your body got used to sleeping there and just having a laptop on your lap will not force it to work: you will feel very distracted and sleepy. Ideally, try to set up a special place where you just work and do nothing else, it helps to switch your brain from working/not working state faster. If you don’t have a desk and office chair, see if you can buy them or ask if it is possible to take them from your office. Recently, I bought a standing desk (before I had only a dining table at home which I used as a desk) and definitely, my back is very grateful for that (in the office, I used to stand most of the time, and constant sitting at home sometimes is painful for me).

Tip 2 – Get a routine for starting/ending working day

During the first fully remote week, I started to work at the same time as I did at the office, but I noticed that in the evening, I just worked and worked, continuing finishing tasks lately in the evening. It happened, because there was no need to go home from the office, and there was no conditioning for the brain to switch between activities. It is very important to keep the work-life balance at home office as well. Helpful tool for that is time tracking (for example, I use Toogl app) – it gives you a true estimation of how much time spent on different activities. Also, good advice is to have a walk before and/or after working hours to reset your mind on fresh air and have some physical activity.

Tip 3 – Find your own most productive day plan 

In tech work, concentration is a key and every distraction may ruin it easily. That’s why it is important to find your own way how to handle increased online communication with colleagues and how to schedule daily/weekly calls. Try to split time reserved for meetings and for deep uninterrupted work and let your colleagues know about it. For example, agree on morning or evening calls, depending on when you prefer to talk and to work; midday usually is not the best choice because it breaks day leaving less time for other things. Also, nice to have some days without any meetings to have timeslots only for concentrated work. 

Now, as set up and working habits are ready, some thoughts on collaboration with teams in remote mode.

Tip 4 – Calls with Video

At home office, you may feel alone and disconnected from others. To eliminate this, when having calls, always switch on camera and don’t be afraid to ask colleagues to do the same. It is more relevant for small groups discussion where everybody is involved. First, it is important because people perceive information not only from voice, but from gestures and face mimics as well. Second, camera forces you to be more engaged in conversation, leaving fewer chances for you to start checking slack or email. Notice next time, how you behave and where your attention mostly lies during calls with and without video.

One more thing about calls in general: test in advance your headphones and be sure that your sound doesn’t produce any background noise (many apps have this feature). Make it easier and less painful for others to hear you and understand what you are saying.

Tip 5 – Over Communicate

Remote work makes communication between people harder. I miss those moments when I went to the office kitchen for a coffee, randomly met people, got to know some news, had spontaneous discussions on a project. But now, try to imagine your channels in slack as this “virtual room”. Try to write more in channels than in direct messages, share more with colleagues – things which you found helpful, interesting articles, recent news about your field (but find a limit not to spam them). If you want to clarify some parts of the task, remember that a 5 minutes call can be more useful than a long written conversation. Don’t be shy to ask for a short call from teammates to ask what you don’t understand or need to clarify – it may be less time consuming for both sides.

To sum up

After a month of fully remote work, I feel that actually my productivity at home even increased compared to the office. I learned how to have fewer distractions, how to keep work-life balance staying at home and how to communicate with the team fully remotely. 

Nobody knows when the situation with COVID-19 will improve and when we will start coming back from self-isolation. But it is a good opportunity to try working from home for somebody who hasn’t done it before. Maybe such a setting would look more appealing and s/he would like to continue remote work after the crisis as well. 

But for now, stay healthy and stay home!

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