For the millions of Americans who are facing a whole new definition of work/life balance in the era of coronavirus, we at Polymath want to extend a warm welcome to the life of remote work.
We’ve been a distributed agency since the beginning, and we’ve learned a few things about how to stay focused, productive and sane. Since we’re celebrating 7 years this month, here are 7 tips and best practices to help you make the transition successful.
1. Compartmentalize work from life
When work happens in the same place life happens, the line between them blurs, and that can create some real challenges. You’ll want somewhere else to relax after a long day at work in the living room. You’ll struggle to focus on work priorities when dishes are piling up, the lawn guy wants to talk about landscaping, and the kids are home from school. When it comes to both your time and your space, it’s helpful to impose clear boundaries between what is “work” and what is the rest of your life. Set up an office that is separate from family areas if you can. Establish working hours. Put time on your calendar to deal with personal issues and run errands.
2. Make your space feel great
This follows the first point. Once you have an office, actually invest some time and money in making it feel like a space you want to spend time in. We spend a significant portion of our lives working, and you don’t get many opportunities to choose the environment for yourself. Find a room with a nice window. Pick up a desk that is functional and fits the space well, put it in a spot that feels good, and build the room around it. Pro-tip: don’t skimp on the chair. A good chair can help you avoid back pain and increase focus.
3. Over-communicate, but be efficient
Remote interactions are fundamentally different from in-person conversation. With messaging platforms you lose all the nonverbal cues and voice inflections our brains rely on for clear communication. Even video chats fail to deliver the detail you get from physical presence. For remote teams, it is critical that communication is thorough and highly efficient. When sending a message, you need to conveys lots of accurate information in a small number of words, which takes more skill and practice than one might assume. And when clarity is paramount, don’t hesitate to jump on a call and talk—everyone has a few minutes.
4. Use online collaboration tools
Fortunately, today is a better time than ever for remote workers, as online collaboration platforms have come a long way in recent years. At Polymath, we use Slack for general team communication, Monday.com for project management and tracking various things, Dropbox for file storage, and Uberconference for phone or video chatting with clients. We would also suggest looking into Miro for whiteboard-esque team collaboration. As for hardware, consider picking up a great pair of bluetooth headphones that still let you hear ambient noise but doesn’t pass it on to others. You’ll appreciate not being tethered to your phone or computer.
5. Take breaks, go for a walk, and don’t feel guilty
In a typical office environment, you might pass someone in the hall and chat for a few minutes, or you might grab a snack in the break room and take the long route back just to keep your blood flowing. But at home, you may feel like any time away from your computer is time you’re not on the clock. Dismiss that idea. We aren’t machines. We are more productive when we work in bursts of focus and take regular breaks to reset and re-energize. If your job requires creativity and problem solving, you need space to process, explore, and imagine. Take advantage of the opportunity to go for a walk or jog when you need it.
6. Speak up, but utilize the mute button
Once you have more than 3 people on a conference call, talking over one another and excessive background noise can become an annoying problem. There are two tips for effective conference calling. First, don’t be afraid to speak when you have something to contribute. Interruptions and cross-talk are bound to happen, but staying silent is like not even being present. So be polite, but don’t hesitate to make your point and yield the floor. Second, get familiar with that mute button. If there’s any background noise, mute when you’re not talking, and don’t forget to unmute when you need to chime in. That’s basic remote work etiquette.
7. Talk it out with your family
Your spouse and kids are now your colleagues, and they will have plenty of requests on your time and attention. But just because you are physically at home doesn’t mean you are relieved from the obligations of the workplace. It is important that your spouse supports this new change and helps protect your time, and that your children understand the situation. The dog? Well, just be prepared for that Amazon delivery to show up right in the middle of an important meeting.
As a wrap, let us share one of our favorite work-from-home comedy classics, via Portlandia: