Tips on working from home. How to manage remote work and remote teams?

Sandra Morgan
19 March 2020

Coronavirus: switching to remote work

Over the course of the past few days, every other company suddenly had to become fully prepared for complete remote work of all their teams. What’s more — it seems many of them are firm advocates of its undeniably positive effects. It goes without saying that in the current epidemiological situation, in our case the COVID-19 outbreak in Poland, this type of work is the most legitimate and beneficial, for both the employees and the employer. Even though it was hardly an easy task for many of them, kudos to those who have managed to carry out this abrupt change in their everyday operations.

You might feel that all the posts on LinkedIn, Facebook and business blogs are boasting about working remotely as if it were a completely new discovery, which just a month earlier they would have deemed simply unrealistic to organise. Perhaps, quite reasonably, not wanting to add to the ever growing mass of alarming online announcements or spread panic among readers. We’re all doing their best to support each other in a time that’s been hard for everyone, for an array of different reasons. There are also companies, that after seeing this avalanche of content under the hashtags #remote and #homeoffice, have decided to put in their two cents worth, sharing the long-term advantages they’ve observed based on their own practices — us included.

The challenges of working remotely

Don’t get me wrong — at Startup House, we’ve been working partially, if not fully remotely, from the very beginning (depending on our roles and personal preferences). But you’re probably aware that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows — there are also some drawbacks when it comes to remote work. Perhaps you’re also struggling with the same issues or you’re still hesitant about making the switch. Let us help you overcome this roadblock and offer some tips that most of our team members, like our Team Leader, Marcin Wojtczak, have been using for the past 5 years.

Best communication tools & software

The frustration of delayed responses to our needs can be overwhelming at first. We feel less in control when we can’t just go ask a person about our problem face-to-face and they’re not immediately responding to our messages. “What helps us partially eliminate this inconvenience, is using statuses on Slack, such as away from keyboard, e.g. ‘AFK 10–11 am’, or updating our availability in Google Calendar, which is shared with the whole team,” says Marcin.

Another rather common issue is that when we don’t see others doing their job or the progress they’re making, we might start losing trust. Although ironically, this is when we actually focus more on actual results, instead of making assumptions based on how busy they seem at the office. One remedy for this that we cannot recommend enough is scheduling daily stand-ups or, at the very least, weekly meetings in the form of video calls. “Not only does this keep everyone in the loop but it’s also just nice to talk to your coworkers and see their friendly faces on a regular basis.” Other common methods include using collaborative project management software (such as Trello), time tracking tools (like our app of choice, Toggl) and again, updating your current status on Slack, to give your teammates a better idea of what you’re up to.

You can also try out creating a dedicated channel where people can share updates on their progress from the past day or week. Not only is it a perfect occasion to show off your recent achievements, but it also gives you a chance to learn more about the cool projects that your colleagues are working on at the time and exchange your thoughts and advise. Still, if this doesn’t work for you due to the nature of your work, you can always find a different way of reporting that works best for your team.

Community building

Some time ago, we had a specific communication issue to solve. With our team growing significantly in the last year, and a dozen or so people joining us on a remote work basis, we had started getting asked for more and more updates about the company’s current plans, projects, etc. Primarily, we launched an internal newsletter, with extensive weekly updates from each department. However, after a short while it started losing traction from its authors and readers alike.

So after this setback, we’ve decided to reinvent the idea and create a simple community platform that would be slightly more interactive. It does also include a news section, although it’s more selective, with only a few general announcements and short updates on our current projects. Apart from that, there’s also a more casual column with suggestions and photos from our team members, a list of interest-based Slack channels, photo albums from previous events, announcements on future ones, and so on. We’ve only been testing it out for a few weeks so far, but hopefully it will serve us for many more to come. If your team is struggling with working remotely, you could propose creating a similar space or find another way of engaging your coworkers.

Work-life balance

At the beginning of your home office journey, you might often get distracted — especially if you live with other stay-at-home flatmates or struggle with concentrating on a single task at a time. You might notice a significant decline in efficiency, so it’s essential to find yourself a designated working space, away from potential distractions. For this we have two more protips from Marcin: “it might really be worth investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, or if you keep finding yourself scrolling through social media and news feeds, the good news is, there are multiple apps that can help you with that.”

On the other hand, if you easily get immersed in your work and become lost to the world, this can also negatively impact your overall productivity. It’s best to take a short break every hour or so, as skipping them not only decreases your work performance at the time, but can lead to chronic stress and in consequence, burnout. “The easiest solution to that is scheduling reminders, maybe in your calendar. Even for tasks as simple as taking a 5-minute break to grab a glass of water and stretch your legs while you’re at it.” It might not be as persuasive as your colleagues rushing you to lunch or proposing coffee breaks, but it should do the job.

Another life-changing piece of advice for starters is tricking your brain that you’re actually ‘going to work’. “You get ready in the morning, as you normally would before heading to the office, take a short stroll around your neighbourhood and only then get started on your tasks.” After getting some air and much-needed energy for the next couple of hours, this will serve as an evident start of your working day.

But for some of us, a great deal of motivation comes from being around other people. “Not just for the social aspects (although they also play a significant part) but because working in a focused atmosphere helps us concentrate on our own tasks.” Additionally, leaving the office or co-working space gives better closure after a whole day of work and the ‘reward’ of going home acts as a motivator to finish up early. You can try repeating the above technique here too — after you’re done with all your work, take a walk and come back home to focus on other things.

What are the pros of working from home?

Just as there are some obvious disadvantages, it’s not too difficult to find countless benefits of working from home. There’s no need for an everyday commute, you can adjust your workstation as you please, the kids and pets are taken care of 24/7, you can cook lunch in a fully equipped kitchen, do yoga in the middle of the day, travel, etc., etc. But to really take advantage of these perks, it’s crucial to realise what your personal weaknesses are in this scenario and find ways to overcome them.

Recommended articles:

GitLab — Guide to All-Remote

Doist — So You’ve Been Told to Work From Home. Now What?

Toggl — Why go remote - the pros and cons of becoming part of a distributed team

Trello — The Best Advice For Remote Work Success From 10 Global Teams

Do you have any questions about switching to working from home or managing a fully remote team? Drop us a line: hello@start-up.house

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