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Productivity

A Crash Course in Remote Workinge

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ince starting at New Lion and building a fully remote design team we’ve had to work hard at building out our remote work flow, and I wanted to share some of the biggest epiphanies I ran into during these first six months.

Location, location, location

In 2017, and particularly in the tech world, location is becoming less and less of a factor in employment — driven largely by the advance in tools available, as well as the overwhelming desire to not be strapped to one’s desk day in and day out, the world seems to be turning towards remote working. This is, in my (albeit very biased) opinion a great thing, and can definitely allow a much greater quality of life to employees — as well as a greater level of productivity in many cases. With that being said however, it’s not without it’s fair share of challenges, especially when you’re a half-remote half-onsite team spread over 5 different time zones.

While I’m by no means an expert on the matter (nor have I even been at it for very long), I’m going to attempt to stumble through some of the things we’ve noticed as a team…

I’m not working right now, and that’s okay.

In planning this post, I’d originally had three different subsections “Breaks”, “Down time”, and “Off time”, but I realized the three could be consolidated under one pretty appropriate sub heading. One of the biggest issues we run into is timezones, and how we can still hold a healthy work life balance despite the onslaught of emails and slack messages denoting things that “are needed yesterday”.

Our answer to this is structure — we set boundaries around our time, communicate those boundaries with the team, and then help each other protect them. At the time of writing, our team spans across three time zones, with our UK team members being 6 hours ahead of those in Minneapolis. As the design lead (currently based in the UK, but soon to be traveling through Europe) this can lead to some pretty challenging scenarios — I’m required to be in most strategy sessions and design reviews, of which 90% are held on-site at our Minneapolis HQ. In response to this, we aim to schedule meetings for the morning as much as possible, with any later meetings being communicated well in advance. To trade off against the late-evenings, I will protect my mornings on those days to ensure I’m not over-working. For other members of our design team (most of whom are not required in client facing meetings) they are more at ease to work asynchronously — we adopt a similar standard of protection of time, if you’d like to work 9–5, or 12–8, or 10–6, that’s great! Dropping it on your calendar in advance (or communicating it if it’s to be a regular thing) will allow the team to help you protect your time.

Being remote doesn’t mean “always being available” — we respect that, and want to make sure nobody is feeling that kind of pressure or strain.

Don’t get stuck inside.

This might sound like a weird recommendation, especially if you’ve not experienced remote working before – after all, you’d spend all day inside at the office, right?

The casual conversations you have across your desk, or while getting coffee may not seem important, but they are. Maybe you won’t miss them right away, but one trap a lot of remote workers fall into is finding themselves working from home all day with the only interactions being video calls – this is definitely something that can quickly become a real pain point.

My biggest point of advice on this, is to make sure you change up your scenery. Being remote is great – it allows us freedom that other employees don’t necessarily have, so we should take advantage of this! Whether that means working from coffee shops, co working spaces, or travelling (I’m heading out to Austria for a month in February of next year), the world is literally your oyster.

If your company is already set up for remote work they likely have some kind of system set up to help enable you in this. If not, talk to your employer about a budget for co-working spaces, or even a coffee-shop budget.

Walk to work every day.

Just because we aren’t walking to anywhere in particular, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t “walk to work”. Going on a 10–15 minute walk (even just around the block) is a valuable exercise that helps create a barrier between “work time” and “personal time”.

For example if you start work at 9 and finish at 5, set your alarm for 8am. Get up, have a shower, eat some breakfast, and then go for a walk – when you walk through the door after your walk, consider this to be your “work time”. Similarly when you finish at 5, do the same – and once you come back through the door, consider yourself to be off the clock. No emails, calls, or “urgent” responses. You’re at home now.

The huge bonus of this as well, is it destroys any chance of one of the biggest remote pitfalls — working from bed. While it may seem like the ultimate luxury, working from your bed (or even you bedroom) can become really harmful for your sleep patterns. Ideally, your mind should associate your bed room with sleeping, and nothing else. In the age of mobiles, tablets, laptops, and netflix however, this has become something increasingly rare. If you’re not ready to ditch all electronics from the bedroom, at least don’t tarnish the tranquil hall of slumber with the stress and excitement of work.

This idea of “walking to work” every day might seem incredibly odd and trivial, but believe me it helps! And it tandems nicely into the next main point of this article…

Define a schedule.

A schedule?! But the best thing about remote work is flexibility! Why would I want to be tied down like that?

Great question. When I say define a schedule, I don’t mean a set of timelines that you’ll stick to day in day out, but rather, a plan for the next day, the next week, or even the next month.

Defining and planning your schedule (or “available hours”) is important for both you, and your team on a few different levels. Defining your schedule in advance allows team members to be able to plan for it, and this then enables them to protect it – it’s unlikely they’ll be able to protect your time if you spring on them that you’ll be working obscure hours the day before.

If you use calendars — block off the time you won’t be available. Slack? Set it in your status. Email? (seriously, only email?) ping a note out for the next month and let everyone know if there’s a change from your usual schedule.

One very important point that comes along with “Define a schedule”, but probably deserves it’s own heading…

No Slack / Email / Task lists on your mobile.

This was a real pain point for a while. Signing off for the night at 5pm (11am Minneapolis) and feeling the pressure to respond to every email and slack message for the next 6 hours until they clocked off — resulting in a 9am to 11pm schedule of being “on the clock”.

The best way I’ve found to combat this is to remove any work-related apps from your phone — and, if you like to keep them on your phone, at least disable notifications.

(Slack you can set do not disturb schedules, Gmail you can hide an account within the account management so it only hides your work emails).

Team communication

Now this is a huge one — something that if you’re joining an already remote team they will undoubtedly have already begun to tackle, but if you’re the first (or one of the first) remote members, you might have to champion this one a fair amount. When you’re working as, or with, a remote team you have to over communicate. Seriously, if you think you’re communicating too much, you’re not.

When I say communication, I don’t necessarily mean sitting on hours and hours of calls. It could be something as simple as a quick slack message “finished X, working on X, plan for today is X, need help on X” — a quick update like this, let’s the team know where you’re at. We usually handle these types of messages in our morning stand up meetings, where we assess the day before, the day ahead, and where we’re likely to be blocked (if anywhere) so that we can continue to run smoothly. Even with the standups however, slack messages like that can be invaluable.

Above all else, enjoy it.

Remote working isn’t for everyone — but at the very least, enjoy the freedom and flexibility this new adventure will bring. It will be difficult at times, but I’ve found remote-working to be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences.

Do you have experience in remote working? I’d love to hear about your experience, and some of the things you’d recommend to building a strong remote culture.