Remote work is reality – in every region and every industry.
What was once a limited option/benefit is now the way work gets done. However, this doesn’t mean everyone knows how to do it well – yet. Most remote work practices focus on one thing: productivity – making sure people can get as much done from afar as they previously did in the office. This mindset overlooks two other critical considerations for remote workers:
- Wellness. Remote work can negatively impact a person’s physical and psychological well being when not properly considered. For example, people may unwittingly adopt more stationary lifestyles, develop feelings of isolation or detach from their sense of value. People need support from their organization, manager and peers to build good remote work habits and keep their long-term wellness top of mind.
- Community. When you’re one of few remote employees, the job practices of your office-based peers loom large. You have to change to match them. When everyone works remotely, individual practices have more influence. Divergent or conflicting habits can cause frustration, create hostility and stunt team capability. Everyone must take care to build a harmonious, complimentary remote work experience that balances connection, wellness and productivity.
Work is personal. Companies must establish expectations and provide resources. Managers must offer timely coaching and support. But it’s up to each individual to create their own balanced work experience. Work has never been one-size-fits-all, and this is especially true in our new hybrid reality. Instead, everyone must try out new tactics and find what works best for them at the moment.
35 42 proven remote work practices that can help you balance wellness, community and productivity.
- Focus Periods. Remote work can quickly get overloaded with meetings. Unfortunately, meetings aren’t work. Slack messages aren’t work. Emails aren’t work. So when are you supposed to get work done. You must take it upon yourself to BLOCK and HOLD focus time on your own calendar. Make it clear in your titling that you are not available for meetings and other activities during these periods. If someone attempts to double-book you, clarify the trade-off required in your time. Likewise, when you are scheduling activities, take note of other people’s blocked time and keep it sacred at all costs.
- Calendar Personal Responsibilities. Remote work can create overlaps between personal and professional tasks. This should be expected. You may have to carve out periods of your day to focus on things at home, such as picking up the kids or meeting with a repair person. Your peers won’t know this unless you make it clear within your schedule. You don’t have to reveal extremely private details if you don’t want to – although sometimes the detail helps reinforce the importance of protecting your time Add blocks on your calendar for these personal responsibilities, especially if they are recurring. If you work an atypical schedule, identify periods that may be available outside standard operating hours.
- Schedule Breaks. You may never have had set break times when you worked in the office. You need them as a remote employee. The times may not be set in stone, but you should at least block sessions on your calendar to step away from meals and refresh periods. Set alarms on your phone or watch to make sure you remember to take these breaks. DO NOT WORK during these periods. Instead, leave your desk, walk around, go outside and reset so you can tackle the rest of the day.
- Post Your Home Schedule. Calendaring isn’t just a work thing. Make sure the people with whom you live also know your schedule. Post a written schedule in a common area so people know when you are/not free. Use a dry erase board so you can update your schedule as needed. Get a door hanger to remind people that you should not be disturbed during important work activities.
- Create NO MEETING Periods. Your direct work team is usually the source for most of your meetings. Work together to identify a period of time during the week when meetings cannot be scheduled. For example, make Wednesday afternoon a NO MEETING period. Reserve this period on your calendars and hold to your shared agreement for focused work time.
- Redefine Meetings. The concept of a meeting should be redefined overall, but especially when people work remotely. The unstructured, in-person chats we have in the office often become scheduled meetings for remote teams. This quickly fills up people’s calendars, leaving them with minimal time to do actual work. Create clear rules around holding meetings. For example, if a conversation should take less than 10 minutes, don’t schedule a meeting. Just send the person a chat or ring them for an informal call.
- Limit Recurring Meetings. A large chunks of meetings have set recurrences. They’re scheduled weeks or months in advance without certainty that they’ll be needed. They may be high-value in the beginning, but their importance usually tapers off or becomes inconsistent. Only schedule recurring meetings when absolutely necessary. Review your calendar at the end of each week to determine if next week’s recurrences are needed. Cancel if you don’t see clear value. Reassess your recurring meetings quarterly.
- Don’t Leave People Guessing. What will be discussed during this meeting? What am I supposed to prepare beforehand? Why did you decided to cancel it? Always include notes with your meeting invitations and cancellations so people can prepare properly and aren’t left guessing what’s going on in their workplace.
- One Person Remote = Everyone Remote. There’s nothing less engaging than watching a meeting from home via a security camera view of the room. If one person is remote, everyone should engage using remote tactics. This may mean that the 75% of people attending the meeting from the office join via their computers, either at their desks or in the conference room, especially if the room doesn’t have great collaboration technology. Set expectations for how people should engage in group work to make sure everyone feels included and can contribute equitably, regardless of their location on a given day. Take advantage of calendar features that specify how you plan to attend a meeting, and keep the info updated if things change.
- Use Kickstart Questions. Casual conversation is difficult during remote meetings. People can’t step aside and connect without talking to the entire group. This can make things awkward or slow down the entire session. At the same time, getting straight down to business can make the gathering feel less human. Use kickstart questions to find the right balance between community and productivity. The questions can come from a wide range of workplace-appropriate topics that prompt people to share brief tidbits about themselves. For example, you could ask “if you were an astronaut, what one condiment would you bring with you into space?” Ask someone who regularly attends the meeting to plan a kickstart question for each session.
- Cut Meetings Short. Use the time needed to cover your meeting agenda. If you scheduled 30 minutes but only need 15, avoid the temptation to fill time. Let people go. Avoid saying things like “I’ll give you some time back” as a way to normalize right-fit meeting habits. Recommend team members use the extra time to step away and reset rather than going straight back to work.
- Limit Meetings to Key Contributors. The only people in the meeting should be people you expect to contribute to the conversation. If someone may need the information later, send them the notes. If the entire purpose of the meeting is to present information without any supporting conversation, cancel the session and send an email or video message instead.
- Use Video Instead. Remote work allows you to use video in new ways – beyond just live-streaming your presence during structured meetings. It can be hard to put all of your thoughts into an email as a way to avoid holding a meeting. Instead, record a video of your presentation. Make sure you are on-screen alongside your presentation, just as you would during an in-person meeting. Make this video available to your intended audience so they can engage on their own time. Designate a chat channel for ongoing discussion to avoid stress-inducing email chains and reply-alls.
- Go Full Screen. Distractions are rampant when you work remotely. To stay focused on virtual conversations, make the video full screen on your monitor. Go one step further by minimizing or closing other applications so you aren’t tempted by notifications and other tasks. If you’re invited to a meeting, expect to contribute and not work on other items during that period.
- Don’t Stare Down the Lens. Think about the camera during a virtual meeting as a stand in for the person speaking. Would you maintain constant eye contact with a presenter in a conference room? Probably not. Treat your camera the same way. It’s exhausting to stare down a camera lens for an entire meeting. As long as you’re contributing as expected, breaking eye contact and looking around should not be interpreted as being distracted.
- Hold a Walking Meeting. If a meeting doesn’t require you to view your screen, consider joining the meeting from your phone while going on a walk. If your team is amenable, make one of your recurring meetings a walking session. Don’t require everyone to join this way every time. People could walk outside or just around their house. Encourage additional movement to make it easier for people to fit exercise into the workday.
- Go Back to Calls. Repeated video calls are exhausting. Change things up by going audio-only. If you don’t need to see the participants or share visuals, consider using a conference call instead of video. Take it a step further by holding walking meetings that urge people to get outside while engaging via phone.
- Add Pre and Post-Meeting Blocks. Your meeting is scheduled for 10am – 11am. Consider adding a block to your calendar for the 15 minutes before and after so you can properly prep for the conversation, make sure you’ll arrive on-time and avoid the stress of having to rush to the next meeting. This actually helps as opposed to the “short meetings” that are scheduled to end 5 minutes before the hour but always run over.
- Provide A Purpose, Agenda, Materials + Recap. If you invite people to a meeting, you’re responsible for making sure the experience is worthwhile. Clarify the purpose of the meeting in your invite. Add an agenda to direct the flow of conversation and clarify everyone’s roles. Include reference materials so people can prepare and be ready to engage. Make sure someone takes notes so you can distribute a recap afterwards. After all, people won’t remember most of what is discussed – just what they’re expected to do as a result.
- Start with a Check In. The people you work with jump between back-to-back meetings all day. Give them a break by starting your 1:1 sessions with a personal check in. Give them a minute or two to get settled. Ask if they need to grab a beverage or visit the restroom before you get started. They’ll appreciate the attention, and you will increase the value of the meeting.
- Do a Virtual Commute. You may not “leave for work” in the morning. However, you can establish a series of habits that replace the traditional commute and help you psychologically transition into a mental workspace. This may include getting dressed, exercising, making breakfast and/or arriving in your workspace at a regular time. Likewise, building an end-of-day routine that includes habits such as turning off your computer, leaving your workspace, exercising and/or connecting with friends/family can help you mentally shift away from work.
- Create Your Own Meeting Rooms. People often associate certain types of work with specific spaces. Physical spaces can help you shift your mindset and focus on the work at hand. When you work remotely, you may do all of your work in the same space. You can reintroduce a meaningful variety of spacial work by moving to different areas of your home for certain activities. For example, you may do your heads-down work in your office but then move to your dining room to join your all-team meeting.
- End with a Wave. People don’t wave enough nowadays. Kids do it a lot, but waving isn’t a standard part of adulthood. However, waving at the beginning and end of virtual meetings can establish a sense of shared connection that is often missing in digital communication. It also demonstrates that you are interested and engaged in your interactions with others.
- Balance Low and High Attention Tasks. Some work tasks require a lot of effort and attention (ex: writing a report). Others do not (ex: completing an expense report). Avoid spending too much time on high-effort tasks that can quickly drain your energy and make it harder to stay productive throughout the day. Mix in light, repetitive tasks to give your brain a break. Just make sure you don’t allow yourself to get distracted by too many low-value activities.
- Organize Your Chats. Remote work often includes a lot of chatting in tools like Slack and MS Teams. Dozens of chat channels can get distracting and overwhelming. Luckily, every chat is not equally important. Organize your chat channels based on their importance and value. Group channels together based on how you use them, not just by team or function. Favorite channels that are particularly important so you can access them quickly.
- Control Your Chat Notifications. There’s always something new to read in Slack/Teams/Skype/etc. That doesn’t mean you need to read it. Take control of your notifications by channel. Allow only the most important channels to push notifications to you regularly. Otherwise, limit notifications to just mentions or shut them off entirely.
- Use Chat Formatting. How do you feel when you receive a long email filled with chunky paragraphs? Stressed? Annoyed? The same can be true in chat when you send a long message to a channel or individual. Use formatting, including spacing, breaks, bold and colors, to make extended messages easier to read. Include emoji as a way to add context and personality.
- Turn Chat Off. Are you trying to focus on an important task? Turn chat off. Let your team know that you are going heads-down for a while. Your peers can’t expect you to stop what you’re doing every time they have a question. Unless there is a timely need or you’re expected to respond promptly as part of your role, turn it off when you need to focus.
- Leave Your Work Device at Work. Do you have a dedicated mobile device for work? Leave it in your home office when you are done working for the day – unless there is a good reason to stay connected. This will help you shift focus and avoid work-related distractions during personal time. Also, charge your work devices in a separate place from your personal devices.
- Remove Unnecessary Apps. You can access a variety of work tools, such as Slack, email, calendars and shared drives, from your personal mobile device. But do you really need to? The average American checks their phone 96 times per day, or once every ten minutes. Using your personal phone for work activities makes it harder to disconnect and may cause additional stress. Only put the apps you really need outside of work hours, such as your calendar, on your personal device(s).
- Invest in Headphones. Every remote worker needs a great pair of headphones. Noise-cancelling headphones can help mitigate distractions and improve the sound quality during online meetings and telephone calls. They can also be used to support mindfulness activities, such as playing music or engaging in meditation activities. Plus, they’ll be handy during travel.
- Go Out for Lunch. Never eat lunch at your desk. If you can’t leave the house for lunch, at least eat in another room. If you plan to meet with a peer over lunch, join the online conversation from a space other than your desk.
- Make Daily Lists. Start the day by writing down what you want to accomplish over the next X number of hours. End the day by spending a few minutes writing down what you accomplished. This isn’t meant to replace your task app or project management tool. It bookends the day with simple moments of reflection that help you explore you’ve contributions to the team and your personal development.
- Don’t Cubicle Yourself. You may not be able to choose your remote work space, but you should avoid replicating the mistakes people make in the office. Namely, don’t wall yourself off in isolation. Whenever possible, choose a space with an outside view. There’s value in natural lighting along with the feeling of connection with what’s going on outside of your work. Looking up to see the neighbor walk by with their cute dog is a positive distraction.
- Invest in Your Space. A remote worker spends half of the day in their home office. Put effort into your space. If you don’t have the resources for serious upgrades, make small enhancements over time. Start with getting a good chair. Make sure your lighting is comfortable and works on camera. Add collectibles, plants, artwork and other items that make your workspace YOUR workspace.
- Watch Out for Others. Help your peers improve their remote work experience. If you notice someone sending emails or Slack messages late at night on a consistent basis, softly inquire about their schedule. They may have developed poor remote work habits or need additional help but do not know how to ask.
- Get an Accountability Buddy. Hold yourself accountable for building good work habits by asking someone to help you out. Partner with a peer you trust and explore the good/bad of working remotely. Hold regular check ins. Ask for honest feedback. Share new ideas, tips and tricks you discover as you evolve your work experience.
- Figure Out Timezones. When you work with an in-office team, 1pm is the same time for everyone. When you go remote, 1pm may be a very different time for various team members. Keep timezones top of mind. Know people’s locations and how time zones impact their workflows. Schedule activities at times that work for everyone.
- Stop Apologizing. We’ve all experienced a learning curve when it comes to working from home. Apologies for common distractions, such as children, pets and landscapers, are no longer necessary. Do what you can to mitigate these issues, but there’s no need to stress about them. People get it.
- Build Habits. Remain Flexible. A routine can be very helpful when working alone. Sticking to a rigid schedule can also inhibit experimentation and growth. Evaluate your work habits every few months. Stick with the habits that work. Try out new ideas when something isn’t quite working.
- STOP WORKING! Set a realistic goal for the tasks you need to complete today. Do your best to finish your list. Know when to walk away. Sometimes you’ll need to work extra hours, but make sure its not a regular thing.
- Do What Works for You. You may benefit from every item on this list. Or you may find that none of these ideas work for you. Work is a personal experience. Adopt the tools and tactics that fit you best. Share your proven practices with your peers and network so they can benefit from your experience.
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