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Keep Calm and Work Remotely: 10 Best Practices as Shared by Pros
What does remote work feel like for you? At this time, we’ve all got a different answer. Perhaps it’s an emergency option you’ve just transitioned to and still feel awkward about. Perhaps it’s something you’ve always wanted to try and are now getting the hang of. Or maybe it’s just your norm and you’re filling up on best practices.
For me, a seasoned telecommuter, remote work is about flexibility, self-discipline, saved commute time, and … that hilarious video with the politics guy. You know, the analyst doing a live Skype interview on BBC when two of his toddlers spring into the room? (Go ahead, watch it again. Because we all need an extra smile right now.)
Today, when due to COVID-19 lots of businesses are switching to remote work, the question “how do we do this right?” matters like never before. As a matter of fact, the key to nailing remote work isn’t avoiding “embarrassing” moments like your dog’s tail getting caught on a video call (let’s admit — those do happen and that’s OK). Chances are, your boss won’t even notice, or will think it’s incredibly cute. All they’ll be really concerned about is whether your output is as productive and your mind as bright on the couch as in the office cubicle.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to 10 amazing business owners from various industries and share their experience of going remote. Whether you’re hopping on the telecommute as we speak or are looking for more best practices to adopt, jump straight to their insights for every industry.
1.Work in blocks of time
Psi Bands CEO Romy Taormina isn’t just a business owner with over 13 years of experience. She’s also a mom to two teenagers who balances managing a bustling business with the demands of family life. Before the COVID-19 crisis, Romy and her team effectively balanced between remote and office work but in the last weeks, all five team members have transitioned to full-time remote work.
Romy says that working from home effectively doesn’t mean being negligent about any other regular duties. Instead, she suggests allotting blocks of time to different activities. “Set aside what hour(s) [work] will be and commit to it. Then, during your break, go do the laundry or take out the trash. But the laundry and trash don’t dictate or interrupt your work time. Working in blocks will allow you to stay focused and get the job done.”
Setting boundaries and making those respected is another vital part of working remotely. If you’re working from home, Romy says you should “make it clear to your household that you are at work when the door is closed and unless it’s an ER, you are not to be interrupted.” To help your family remember, put up a sign for what time you’ll be available again.
2. Rethink your video communication practices
When you’re working remotely, suddenly a lot of your communication is audio/video conferencing. While for smaller teams it’s no problem to get everyone online at the same time, nationally distributed teams have to cope with time-zones and schedules.
With his incredible software for remote workers, Prezi CEO Peter Arvai is helping the world do online presentations and conferences right.
Contrary to intuitive opinion, Peter says not all meetings have to be live. “At least ¼ of video meetings should be asynchronous (videos that can be watched anytime) [You can] cut down meeting time by sending the video presentation portion in advance [since] significant portion of meetings is spent with someone presenting the “jumping off point” information.” Another best practice is to keep video conferences short and to the point. “The average mind wanders after 18 minutes [so] hour-long video calls should be a thing of the past,” Peter points out.
3. Expand your online activity base
As founder and CEO of HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service, Lisa Aumiller has 106 employees under her wing. All telecommute at least part-time. The mobile mindset, vital to the business’s vision, has blossomed into a strategy that encourages managers to remote-work for “complicated, time-consuming tasks that go more efficiently without interruption.”
Speaking to businesses worried of changing their regular routines to remote ones, Lisa encourages bridging the gap with technology. “Be flexible and just do it! [At Housepaws] instead of canceling all of our classes, we started doing some via teleclassrooming…We have also started using an app called TeleVet where clients can have a telemedicine consultation with our veterinarians […] People love interacting online and learning.”
Even if you’ll transition back into the office as soon as the crisis is over, the online experience will be a huge boost. For Lisa’s team, teleconferencing already brought up meeting attendance from 60% to 95%.
4. Be your own strict boss
Matthew Zajechowski of Digital Third Coast is no stranger to remote and office work. But when his Chicago company’s 17-person team went fully remote from March 13, 2020, “in the best interest for the health of employees”, it was a change some employees still needed adapting to.
When working from home with little prior experience, you’ve got to avoid household distractions and be your own strict boss. “Plan out your schedule before you start working for the day. This includes start and end times, scheduled breaks and what you plan to accomplish today [and] pretend like your boss is looking over your shoulder,” Matthew suggests.
Being strict with yourself doesn’t mean working day and night, though. In fact, overwork is one of the leading causes of burnout for first-time remote workers. The answer? Balance. Matthew reminds us that sticking to regular hours and knowing “when to sign off at the end of the day” is non-negotiable.
5. Save time with remote work hardware and technology
As schools transition to virtual environments, most educational businesses follow suit. Even when your company is an interactive educational summer camp.
Already a month before official COVID-19 measures, Meghan Gardner of Guard Up’s Guardian STEM Adventures lost no time in transitioning 20 employees and all kids’ activities to Google Classroom. This included getting “platforms up and running, tested, and staff trained on it”. As a result, by the end of March, her business runs 100% remotely.
To businesses who’ll be doing a lot of online talking with clients, Meghan recommends investing in hardware essentials like “headsets to cut down on ambient sound”, and software such as free or low-cost second phone number to avoid talking with business clients from your personal number.
6. Don’t use email for setting tasks
If you’ve been thrust into the remote work scene unexpectedly, the current time can be a crash course in productivity. Being locked up inside one house with kids, pets, or roommates is the right time to learn key tasks like self-discipline and beat procrastination for good.
Jackie Minchillo, co-owner of Pineapple Development, an eCommerce web development agency, knows what it’s like to manage a 14-person distributed team. “My co-owner, our CEO (who also happens to be my husband) and I have spent more than 5 years … honing the remote work process as our team has grown, ” she says.
What helps Jackie’s team stay effectively remote is discipline, plus knowing what tools to use when. “Assign tasks to each other (or yourself) in Asana (or whatever project management software you choose) for smooth workflow … and maintain status updates somewhere other than email. Email is “no bueno” for organization [purposes].” Jackie says. If you’re not familiar with productivity software, use a check-list (like Google Keep, part of G Suite) where employees can check off tasks in real-time.
Read more: G Suite: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives
7. Try a virtual coworking space to stay connected
Remote work is about taking control of your whole day, starting from the moment you wake up and up to your after-hours. With lots of temptation to switch schedules frantically around, many employers appreciate a virtual coworking space where the connectedness of teamwork isn’t lost.
Taylor Jacobson, CEO of Focusmate, uses their own virtual co-working space for his globally-distributed remote team based from NYC to Oregon to Vietnam. “When you’re alone, it’s easy to drift into housework, snacking, or YouTube…We find it helpful to use a virtual coworking service like Focusmate to create structured blocks of time for deep work.”
Add to that a healthy morning routine like a stand-up call “to mentally and physically transition” in the absence of a commute and office, and you’re ready to be productive.
8. When 1% in doubt, communicate
As a virtual business coach, Debra Dinnocenzo of Virtual Works! knows what first-time telecommuters struggle with like no one else.
If you’ve just gone into emergency “remote mode”, it’s easy to misunderstand a task, timeline, or key instruction from your boss. To avoid any disruptions, Debra says your tool of choice should be communication. “This is not a time to under-communicate. Rather, remote workers and leaders should reach out using telephone, text, email, and video links where possible to convey a sense of ‘virtual presence’ that lets team members know they’re not isolated or forgotten.”
To help both the ‘instant’ telecommuters and distance leaders who are unexpectedly working remotely, Virtual Works has made “Emergency Telecommuting” available for free download in response to the COVID-19 outbreak (and the ‘telecommuting outbreak’!)
9. Transition your mindset beyond industry confines
The current crisis is forcing businesses that have so far avoided the digital realm to swiftly change their mindset. But for the live entertainment sector, doing so can be especially challenging.
In strict social distancing conditions, Denny Daniel, founder and curator of the Museum of Interesting Things, has been forced to adapt his team to new environments — from a place far from virtual reality. “Our whole point was that it was a tactile live presentation, not even Powerpoint [but] I am a show must go on kinda person,” Denny explains. “A school asked this week if we could do a virtual presentation and scheduled one already for this Tuesday.”
To everyone who finds themselves novices in the virtual realm, Denny gives a few key pointers. “Redefine your purpose so it fits the virtual world and update the website, FB and IG immediately. Send an email blast to introduce the rollout when ready and take pics of the first time and post them.” By quickly adapting to changing environments, your business can stay on the crest of the wave while others hit bottom.
10. Connect with your family during the day
Parents who’re unexpectedly working from home due to the COVID-10 outbreak find themselves juggling households and remote work. For households with children, this can be especially tough since your family should never feel isolated or abandoned — even if “mommy is busy with work” more than the norm.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus, co-founder and CEO of family-first company ImpactADHD.com manages a team of parents working digitally. Elaine reassures parents who feel worried that their home will never be the picture-perfect ‘home office’. “It’s absolutely okay to do a load of laundry (or three) in the middle of the day. Make this work in your life [but] create a consistent structure for yourself in terms of when you’ll wake up, and when you expect yourself to be ‘at work’.”
Now is also a very important time to put family first. “If you have kids, schedule clear time to take a break in the afternoon and connect with them about their day,” Elaine says. Your family should never feel like they’re of secondary importance to your job, especially during stressful times like these.
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