Working Remotely: An Opportunity and Threat

Working remotely can be a tremendous opportunity for employees. Removing distractions from the fast pace of the office space and impromptu meetings can be a great productivity boost. At the same time, remote teams can create anxiety in owners and managers. Trust, visibility, accountability and security all become important concerns.

A poll from Buffer found nearly all workers wanted to be able to work remotely – and for good reason. Based on my own experience, working from home can result in especially strong output. After spending several years as a consultant and digital nomad, I’ve experienced all the ups and downs of working remotely.

Today, most businesses have no choice but to work with remote, distributed teams. So to help out, here are a few tips and ideas on working remotely that can help not only ensure productivity but also give your team a collaborative and creative boost.

Location Location Location

Your workplace is designed or at least designated to be a productive space. Your home is designed to be relaxing, fun, entertaining, cozy – and personal.

For most, investing in an ergonomic chair, standup desk, computer monitor and good lighting will depend on how long you expect to be working from home. But designating a specific and ideally private workspace, with your partner and kids on board, will make a great difference in your productivity.

It’s worth mentioning that depending where you live, both the space and equipment can be tax deductible.

Lifestyle Choices

There are so many subtle rituals that are associated with going to work: showering in the morning, the cup of coffee, saying goodbye to the partner, kids and the dog, the walk or drive to the office, water cooler exchanges of the previous nights’ adventures. All of it becomes a part of the “getting into work” mindset.

Where possible, think about maintaining those or developing new habits. Shower, exercise, and regular meals. Enjoy being able to wear pyjamas for a bit because you can – but putting on some work casual clothes might help you feel more…professional.

The work-home divide all but disappears when you’ve been working at home for a while. Make sure you keep some rituals in place – physical and mental – to maintain that space.

Staying Connected (The Water Cooler)

Having a group Hangout or Zoom standup with your team is very different than bumping into a colleague in the cafeteria and finding out his band is playing in a couple nights (and you’re invited). Serendipity is a major challenge when you are working remotely. These casual unplanned conversations can often lead to connecting ideas and better projects. Where you find creative inspiration and conversation changes.

How do you create a virtual water cooler?

Here’s a fun challenge. Use Slack or Hangouts like you might use Chatroulette. Get your HR team to (not so) randomly assign all team members into direct conversations with each person asking the other a set of questions. Sounds cheesy – but can make and strengthen connections.

Leadership Must Adapt – and be Present

Clearly, this isn’t work as usual. As a leader, it’s a must to recognize and build off this. How can a leader engage with teams in new ways? How can they empower workers? Show that they trust and value their employees? There might have been pizza lunches or team building activities in the past. If you are working with remote teams, this becomes a different challenge, and one that will require a different approach. When it comes to effective and successful remote collaboration, leadership is a critical pillar.

A few quick ideas;

  • Silly hat required meetings
  • Order everyone pizza at the same time for a virtual lunch
  • Bring your kids to Zoom day
  • Trivia happy hours
  • Play a game of Zoom Guess Who
  • Have a Pecha Kucha (or shorter) presentation afternoon

Embrace the Creativity

You can’t expect the same kind of productivity, but you can expect a different kind. A change of environment will inevitably result in a shift in mindset and output. Remote work (assuming it is temporary or intermittent) should be reserved for creative rather than management work.

Working remotely is a great way to get deep into your work without interruption. Whether it’s writing blog content, whitepapers, building templates, research and especially strategy development, it can often be done more effectively without the disruptions of the office.

Your Stack

This one will be particular to your work, yet critical to remaining productive. For many working on teams, the stack might not change much but may be leaned on more heavily.

Teleconferencing tools – looking at Zoom and Hangouts specifically – can be relied on to a much greater degree. In addition to using them for client facing meetings, use them for daily standups and other meetings that under normal circumstances would be conducted in person.

Slack and Teams will also be used to a much greater degree. Trello and ActiveCollab are the top tools in our project management stack for managing marketing tasks and collaboration, along with Jira for product and development tasks. Google Drive, Docs and Sheets, are essential to and remote workers day-to-day workflow.

When we are proofing and reviewing marketing projects or reviewing and developing design creative we, of course, use ReviewStudio for video, PDF, and web projects. It’s a great tool to solve your online proofing needs.

For application UI/UX development work, we often use Figma for prototyping.

Beyond that, with any task you are doing on a regular basis – there’s an app or tool for that.

Might as well try a couple meditation apps while you are at it!

Discipline

Getting into a rhythm is a challenge. Distractions are everywhere. And if the kids are at home, it’s at the next level.

The Pomodoro technique is a personal favorite. It’s a great method to ensure that you remain highly focussed and at the same time force yourself to stretch. Finding your sweet spot from a 25/5 (25 minutes on 5 off) to 45/5 will lead you to strong bursts of productivity.

Another challenge is limiting online distractions. Social media, news, or even email and other work related sites, can open rabbit holes of endless distraction – especially for the restless. StayFocusd is my favorite tool here. Adjust your time allowed on any site and during which hours.

Connecting to Your Desktop

Securely accessing your desktop remotely can be a great way to maintain productivity without losing access to critical documents. It will also help your IT team troubleshoot when you’re having trouble configuring a setting or logging in. Chrome Remote Desktop is a good option, others include Teamviewer and Splashtop.

Email and Web Security

This can be a challenging issue for many organizations. At home, people are more liable to let their kids onto their computer. This means random ad clicks and worse. On top of this your IT department isn’t around to rapidly troubleshoot and get your employees back up and running (see: Remote Desktops). Having good security hygiene is a must.

Here are a few musts:

  • Regular password resets: annoying but an important way to ensure security
  • VPNs: If your users ever need to use public wifi – make sure they have a VPN setup.
  • 2FA: At minimum, use 2 factor authentication on unrecognized or suspicious devices.
  • Email Security: A huge majority of attacks (phishing especially) come via email. Make sure your email security is catching the threats.

Find Your Own Rhythm

The toughest part is finding your own rhythm. It takes time to develop habits. From setting expectations to identifying what’s working best – working remotely has to be learned and evolves over time. It’s important to stay flexible and enjoy the positives when you can.

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