A Remote Worker’s Guide to Productivity

    We’ve witnessed a countless number of businesses begin to enact remote work plans for their staff over the past week. From tech giants to small businesses, staff members are being asked to stay away from their offices to help control the transmission of COVID-19.

    I really enjoy working from Valiant’s Manhattan office, but being there isn’t always best for my productivity. The office is constantly buzzing as our team builds solutions and provides support for our clients, and as much as I like being in the middle of it all, it can make it tough to concentrate on my responsibilities.

    Being remote works well for me; it gives me the space I need to concentrate on tasks and projects, and the right technology means I can do so without losing touch with the rest of the office. I’ve even managed to use the technology available to work with 3rd parties, consultants, and external teams remotely – as you can see in the photo above. With some effort, remote work can work for you, too. Here are some areas to concentrate on when working remotely to help maintain productivity without feeling too disconnected.

    Practice good meeting etiquette

    When we work together in the same space, it’s easy to understand what’s going on – the challenges we’re facing, who is handling specific tasks, and how we can work together to accomplish goals. Remote work scenarios don’t play out in the same way. It can be tougher to get points across to team members when only using text for communication, and you can’t pick up on small behaviors as you would in regular, in-person interactions.

    Use video-based chat

    When meeting with other remote team members, opt for video-based calls. The usage of video decreases the “distance” between us, and it allows us to see each other emote as we communicate ideas. Seeing other faces helps keep us engaged in our work, more alert to the needs of others, and helps enforce teamwork.

    Be presentable

    Make sure that you’re presentable before video calls take place. Sure, you may be in your home, but you’re still on the clock. At a minimum, make sure that any part of you that will end up on camera is presentable. Go ahead, keep the gym shorts on, but wear a nice top so everyone else on the call sees you as they normally would. It makes a difference.

    Treat everyone as if they’re remote

    Try to remember: when one person is remote, everyone is remote.

    When holding calls or meetings, try to get all team members involved to join the meeting in the same way – meaning one person to one device.

    There’s nothing worse than joining a meeting on your own and seeing 5 or 6 team members huddled around a single camera. Not only does it make for a less effective meeting, but it can also make individual staff members feel like they’re on the receiving end of an inquisition.

    Be organized

    Most importantly, always have an agenda, take good notes, and follow up.

    If you’re leading a meeting, make sure to provide an agenda to all participants before it begins. Doing so helps the meeting begin quickly and reduces any confusion around its purpose. Designate a team member to be in charge of taking notes during the meeting. Make sure that they take down questions that are asked along with answers provided, and then follow up with an email containing the notes, any outstanding questions, and action items.

    Communicate clearly and document everything

    Working remotely means that you cannot walk over to a team member’s desk with questions or to get clarification on an item. Prioritize creating documentation around any work that you’re performing. Outline your ideas and provide steps towards accomplishing goals. Doing so helps your team understand what’s being worked on, how they can help, and any related tasks that they should be handling. Having good documentation also means that team members can pick up a task where you left off, if necessary.

    Use collaboration tools

    Many of the collaborative features found in cloud-based software platforms will put you at a major advantage here. Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G Suite allow team members to co-author documents, store information that is accessible by others, and use tools like virtual whiteboards to exchange ideas despite the geographic boundaries imposed by remote work.

    If your business uses Microsoft Teams, be sure to check out our Knowledge Base and our Microsoft Teams Video Library.

    Healthy chatter is a good thing

    Spend a few minutes chatting with your supervisor, direct reports, and others throughout the day. Whether you’re talking about work or the latest episode of your favorite TV show, regular interaction with your team is critical.

    I make a point of speaking with our President for 10 minutes in the morning, and another 10 minutes toward the end of the day, even though we’re in regular communication throughout the day – and the same goes for other team members I collaborate on projects with.

    Most businesses make sure of chat systems such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, and they’re indispensable tools when working remotely. When implemented properly, they can become the central communications hub for everyone, acting as a source for updates and information, and making for a convenient way to keep teams connected.

    If your business uses a chat system, use it to make yourself visible. Use it to announce that you’re online and working, let people know when you’re stepping away from your desk for a length of time, and get involved with random chatter – essentially the equivalent of what you’re likely to do while making a cup of coffee or stretching for a few minutes while in your office.

    Depending on the size of your team, chat systems can be used to hold ad-hoc status meetings to keep everyone in sync and make the remote work experience is smooth for everyone involved.

    Focus on your wellbeing

    Working and living in the same place can lead to conflict; it’s easy to allow the lines between work and life to blur, leading to feeling like you aren’t accomplishing enough or focusing on work more than you should, neglecting other responsibilities as a result. Make a point of establishing and maintaining boundaries between time spent on work and the rest of your life – for the sake of both your productivity and sanity.

    Define clear boundaries

    Define start and end times for your workday. Yes, you’re likely expected to work a standard workday, probably 9-5, but you may find that you’re more productive at other times of the day. When I work remotely, my day tends to start around 7 am (the time I’d spend on my commute) and ends around 6 pm. That’s definitely a bit longer than a standard workday, but I like getting an early start. Anything that comes in after 6 pm and isn’t critical can wait until tomorrow.

    Have a dedicated workspace

    Work in a space that you can walk away from once your day ends. This means not working from your bed or living room couch, as tempting as it may be.

    If you don’t have extra space to dedicate to work, do your best to limit your work-related equipment to a single area and designate that to be your workspace – the tools you use for work exist there, and only there. The only exception to the rule should be your mobile phone.

    Use props to maintain focus

    Use props to help maintain focus on work and don’t allow for distractions that wouldn’t exist in the workplace. Props, such as items that you’d normally associate with the workplace, can help maintain focus. It may seem a bit odd, but I’ve developed a habit of wearing shoes when I’m working from home. I prefer to be barefoot around the house, so wearing shoes reminds me that it’s time to concentrate on my responsibilities, even if I’m not surrounded by team members.

    Enjoy listening to some music while you’re working? Great, me too. Put some background music on while you work – just don’t go off the deep end and turn your TV on. In my experience, using television to provide background noise becomes nothing more than a distraction.

    Lastly, be sure to take breaks throughout the day – similar to as you would while working in your office. Take time for lunch, get up and stretch every hour or so, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Take care of yourself so you’re able to take care of your responsibilities and work with your team to push the business forward.

    Working at home isn’t for everyone, but it’s something you may have to do for some time. Do you have other ideas that help you? Leave them in the comments below

    Having trouble working remotely because your tech isn’t up to the challenge? Give us a call.

    Matt has spent the better part of 2 decades building systems, managing IT departments, and developing websites and applications for the education, publishing, and technical service industries. As an MCSE...

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