Remote work isn’t new, but it’s certainly a trending topic in the last few days, following the announcement of schools and workplaces being shut down due to coronavirus. The searches for remote work and coronavirus in Spain peak as a lot of professionals and organisations consider remote work for the first time.
Time and cost saving, more flexibility, easier work-life balance and increased worker happiness and productivity are some of the traditional arguments used to support remote work, but the public health institutions recommendation to work from home when possible in some countries as a way to reduce the growth of coronavirus cases has been the most convincing argument many organisations could have.
As someone who has worked in a remote context since 2009 (as I worked for business centres all around EMEA from a Regus shared services centre in Prague) and from home regularly for the first time in 2012, I have discovered a series of tools and tips that have helped me stay connected and productive and that I hope you’ll find helpful as you and your team get started working remotely.
I use Gmail to write clients and Slack to communicate with colleagues or collaborators. I find long form communications keeps my relationships with clients more structured, and instant messaging reduces the barriers of communication with colleagues. I like to schedule my longer talks with both groups. I book appointments using Google Calendar and use Whereby for the video calls I arrange.
In some of the calls we’ll share whiteboards using miro.com, where we can collaborate on a drawing or a diagram in real time. I have also used Abstract to work with designers. The result often goes in a more detailed document, which I usually make in Google Docs, or Google Slides, depending on what I want the document to achieve. The reason why I have sticked with Google Drive apps is that it’s compatible with other document types for more traditional users who prefer things like Microsoft Word (as I explained in this post), but it also has a lot of powerful editing tools and 3rd party apps like The Noun Project and Unsplash, my favourite sources of icons and stock images for my documentation and presentations, which I introduced in this post of my blog.
Writing down things is possibly one of the most important bits of advice I want you to remember from this post: when working remotely, making sure information is available for everyone involved in a project, as well as keeping that information up to date whenever it changes, are vital to make things work. Google Drive sometimes falls short for documentation management, so tools like Confluence can be of help if you need to manage a lot of information and to track changes and updates. In the last few months Notion has also become a popular service.
In complex projects, like software development, it is likely that your team will benefit from using project management software. While a good combo of spreadsheets and a helicopter PM and a lot of recurring meetings cut it in organisations where everyone is working form the same place, it is a good idea to use dedicated tools in larger or more complex projects or business units, as I already explained in this post in my blog. Jira works best for very complex projects, while a tool like Trello is enough if your work does not involve a lot of complexity.
As I often say, people go before process and product. Remote work is unique to each of us and you will find supporters and detractors with a variety of reasons why they love and hate remote work. I believe remote work is whatever you want to do about it. I am personally a big fan of remote work. I have written about the benefits of coworking for large companies, work-life integration for remote workers and professionals who travel a lot and coworking plans for people who don’t go to coworking spaces in the past. If I had to summarise my advice for working from home for beginners, this would be it:
Work wherever you want
Have a place for doing work but don’t obsess about having the perfect home office. I have a dedicated room at home but a lot of what I do happens from the living room or the kitchen.
Work whenever you want
Whenever possible, adapt your work to your life. This is only possible if your work allows for a flexible schedule. Some people recommend defining a work schedule and sticking to it, but I find staying flexible works the best for me. While I make it to my keyboard by 10am as an absolute latest time, I love having a late start if I have no calls or taking a longer lunch break if I feel like cooking something special or to meet someone for lunch. While I try to make sure I have free time at the end of the day, working from home also allows me to work after dinner if I need to put in extra time, instead of staying at the office and missing my chance of going to get my groceries while shops are still open. If you’ve been craving time for yoga with natural light remote work may make this wish true.
Wear whatever you want
Wear whatever you want. And I mean this in a broad sense. Work on your pijamas if you just need to write reports, wear a blazer with shorts for a conference call and wear your new hiking boots or a pair of heels if you need to loosen them a little bit before you wear them outside the home. Working from home may put you at risk of neglecting your personal image and care. Don’t fall on the trap of getting rid of your grown up clothes, and make sure you groom yourself when you leave the home to see humans.
Don’t be lonely (unless you want to)
Don’t isolate yourself. Check in with your colleagues and clients, have a videoconference or a phone call every now and then and make sure to have social breaks. There is no coffee machine or water cooler to chat by when you work from home, but using some of the tools I listed above, such as slack, you can stay more connected to other people working from their own homes. Ultimately, meeting colleagues or personal friends for a coffee and a chat are the best way to stay connected. Remote doesn’t need to be lonely unless you prefer it that way!
If you want more advice to work remotely I can recommend Remote, the book made by Jason Fried and DHH at 37Signals. I also recommend you check out the site presenting the state of remote work in 2020 made by the guys at Buffer.
I hope this was help and I wish you a good time working remotely. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to use the comments below.