Simple, yet useful tips for working remotely effectively
A long, long time ago, in a distant galaxy, I started working in a company where I had an office just to myself and two colleagues. I remember that I had this music a bit loud; there was a colleague in the same space that was already "tired" of the same music :) With the company growing, we move to an open space scenario which was more challenging, namely in terms of sound isolation and distraction. I realized how to work in a shared space bit by bit, with my own mistakes; we all learned.
A few years ago I started working partially remote in my current company. I have been a product manager and PO for a couple of years and then I became a solution architect. As a PM/PO I had to engage with the team frequently and that has its own challenges, namely, it requires discussing and explaining things often. Being with the team eases interactions and provides a better understanding of team dynamics and challenges within the team. Even though we were at the office, we had collaboration in our DNA; this means we are open to help each other complete their tasks and goals. We also used and use tools to ease collaboration at many different layers (Slack/Teams, Jira, Confluence, Bitbucket). Making the transition from office to my home (or to any other place), was mostly easy but I did it gradually. My company is remote-friendly and that helps a lot; if you're already used to collaborate and use collaboration tools, then it's even more straightforward. Nowadays, as a solution architect, I have many tasks that I need to perform by myself but many of them involve the team, as we work together to achieve goals and each one brings something to the table. Working remotely may seem a huge challenge to you; it seemed to me. I dealt with it and nowadays, it's
How is a typical day working remotely?
This is my "typical" remote day, especially if I'm working from home.
- have breakfast
- take a bath and dress up as you would do normally if you had to go to office
- go walk for a bit, sometimes having a coffee outside (this can help mark the ?* transition from personal to work mode)
- start my work around 9am (aprox.)
- have a break to see my birds or wash dishes (washing my dishes normally is quite brain-estimulating, curiously)
- lunch at 12h30pm
- walk a bit (occasionally, run for 30min)
- back to work mode at 1h30pm
- some very small breaks in the afternoon around the house/watching my birds stop working around 6pm (aprox.)
Remember: it's important to keep mentally and physically healthy. Having said this, here are my first tips for working efficiently remotely; there are many more; these are the first that came to my mind.
Dress up for work
Exactly. Take your bath and dress up as you would normally do if you had to go to the office. Prepare for your day of work.
Delimit your work time
Imagine yourself going to the office and coming back home. Try to have the same kind of habit, even though you're working remotely. It helps a lot to establish your working hours (e.g. 9am to 6pm); don't be afraid to adapt them a bit and add some randomness to them. One day you can start at 9h00, the other day at 9h15. Nobody will die because of it; we know that in IT it's hard to have fixed schedules but we can also use them to our own advantage. If you need to start a bit later, no worries. If you feel you may start sooner, also no worries. However, having some sort of working window will help you. Whenever I started working remotely, I almost forget to have lunch. Sometimes I would lunch at 2pm or later, which for me is totally not normal. Trying to adhere to a common working schedule will help you professionally and personally.
Working remotely doesn't mean you have to be working 100% of the time, without stopping for a bit. Having breaks (or the so-called "bio breaks") helps you being more productive. Unfocus and focus.
How to do this in practice?
- have a coffee/tea
- take care of your pets and give them some hugs
- go outside, have some air for a bit, if possible
- walk a bit
Delimit your workspace
Have your own dedicated workspace helps: a specific room inside your house or a co-working office. Avoid mixing your personal space with the working place, that way you can better focus.
In your "lonely moments", you'll need inspiration. Once in a while, I choose a totally different place for working; if viable, I go outdoors for 2 or 3 hours. It helps a lot in my mood and also my inspiration.
Avoid distractions or work in places where they persist. For some people, it may be hard to stay focused. The good thing is that we can train ourselves. Think of what works best for you to stay focused and practice it. Remember: it's important to keep focused; however, it's also important to have some small breaks.
Depending on your background and your team background, collaboration can be easier or harder. I think that what is really important to have in mind is that work will be mostly done asynchronously even though you may have real-time tools. Using collaboration tools helps a lot because they allow you to work asynchronously and notify whoever if necessary. Thus, you can work in a Google doc or in a Confluence page and ask someone to review it; that person will be notified and will help you whenever possible. Another thing to ease collaboration and to be available to others is by understanding each one individual goals and also overall team goals. You can use Trello, Jira to give visibility to what tasks everyone needs to achieve. We are using a kind of Scrum-based approach: we use sprints, tasks and have planning meetings where we discuss things as a team.
If you use a live chat tool in your company (e.g. Teams, Slack) then you should be aware that: the fact that you or anyone are online in that chat tool doesn't mean that you/they are available all the time Chat tools can also be used as asynchronous tools. You can leave a message to a person/group and it may be answered later on. If what you're asking is urgent let others know, otherwise don't assume it. People will answer when they can. Remember that they can be completing other tasks or having their own break.
- use your online "status" to tell other ones about your availability, in an implicit way
- configure your tool to not send you notifications all the time (for example, if you're busy or if it's totally outside your working hours
- And please... don't call anyone without asking if that person is available first of all :)
Be with the team
Try to be with the team physically whenever possible. Even whenever you're remote, you can still "be with the team". You can be fun and still maintain relations with team members. It's not all about work; it's also about the individual. Have the time to talk and also to listen. Avoid loneliness/isolation.
You're working remotely right? That doesn't mean you should be isolated from the world. In times as we're facing currently with COVID-19, we should restrict ourselves. In more standard times, it's important to be with people in whatever activities (work or non-work related). Things you can do: lunch or have coffee with friends attend meetups go to the gym, dance or other activities If you can't or isn't recommended to meet humans on person, well you can always give them a call or attend some online events/calls.
The fact that you're at home gives you also the ability to deal with personal things; sometimes you need a plumber to go to your house or other things. That's ok; that's the benefit of being at home. If you were at the office, you would be stressed about dealing with it. The fact that you're remote also allows you to adapt to your schedule. You may need to leave or go get your kids... that's part of life. Be sure to balance well professional and personal life; if you need to work a bit outside your normal schedule, let your partner be aware of it.
There are is so much more than the above. If you see yourself suddenly working remotely, take a breath. You can make it. I started doing it gradually; at first, it was a bit hard (I love human contact/interactions). I gradually adapted myself. I think I now work quite efficiently remotely (more than at the office sometimes). Don't forget to socialize even if it's done in a virtual way. Set your workspace, set your working hours. Take care of yourself and work as a team, knowing that others in the team are also having similar challenges as you do. Every single of us is different; learn your differences, your challenges. There are ways to handle them. You'll succeed, no doubts about it.
Thanks for reading this article; as always, this represents one point in time of my evolving view :) Feedback is always welcome. Feel free to leave comments, share, retweet or contact me. If you can and wish to support this and additional contents, you may buy me a coffee ☕