Corona virus is affecting all of us in different ways. One way how it’s affecting a lot of us this week and most potentially the next few weeks, is that we’re all forced to work from home outside our regular work environment. Since I’ve worked from home or really anywhere the last 12 years or so and even built a company that is completely remote, I thought it’s a good opportunity to share some of the learnings that I’ve made during these 12 years on how to not only make work from home productive and efficient but also on how to make it fun and make sure human connections are still nurtured.
I want to share eight tips in total, four that you might have heard of already at some point but I think it’s important to reiterate those, and then another four that we came up with over the years as we were building Sendtask and I thought they might be enriching. So with that, let’s jump in.
1. Set yourself up for success.
What I mean by that is make sure you have an environment in which you can be productive and effective. That means buy or set up a decent desk and chair, make sure you are comfortable, make sure you have good internet connection because there’s nothing worse than Zoom calls where the connection just isn’t great.
2. Make sure you consciously keep work and non-work environments separate.
Not just timewise but also I would recommend that you do not work from your kitchen because that’s typically the place where we go to eat and have social activities. Now not everyone will be available probably to set up their own room or might have a spare room available at their home. And if that’s the case, then think about whether you could use a part of your living room or your bedroom even as a converted office for the time being. But make sure you clearly separate between non-work and work environments also in terms of space.
3. Communicate a lot and do that proactively but do it in an asynchronous way.
What do I mean by that? When we’re all in an office it’s very easy to see who’s working on what, what their priorities are, what someone is getting on with and what people are getting frustrated with. But most of that goes away once you are in a remote setup. So in a remote setup it’s important to keep that communication active. But a call and talking to each other is not the most efficient way to do that, because it takes up a lot of time and it’s only one person talking and a lot of people listening. One way how I do this every morning, kind of like journaling, I get up and even before I start work, I write to my team what my priorities are for today, what I’m planning to do. And then in the evening, I give a quick summary of what I’ve achieved, what I’ve moved over to the next day and also the things that I’ve crossed off my list because priorities have shifted and I’m not gonna work on them anymore. So then everyone is up to date. Doing this has a nice side effect of people automatically knowing once I start work and when I finish work. So they have a good idea of when I’m available throughout the day and when I’m not.
4. Make sure you’re reachable.
Now that doesn’t just mean check your emails frequently or your whatsapp messages or Slack, but be reachable for spontaneous communication. What I mean by that is set your phone to loud, because there’s nothing more frustrating than you trying to reach your colleague and they don’t pick up, they try to call you back five minutes later once they’ve looked at their phone, now you’re busy with something so you can’t answer..and then the whole cycle restarts. And that’s just frustrating for both sides, so make sure that during those times when you are free for spontaneous exchanges your phone is on loud and you are able to pick up within a couple rings.
So those were the four tips that you’ve probably heard somewhere. Now I want to take a step forward and share some of the learnings that we’ve had with Sendtask over the past few years while building a remote completely decentralized organization.
1. Always remember you work with humans and humans are not just a workforce.
They’re not just a coworker, they are a human being with ideas and thoughts and all that comes with that. So make sure you create space and time to talk about things outside work as well. One way we do this at Sendtask is that every few days, usually every second day or third day, we create extra 15 or 20 minutes at the end of a planned Zoom call where we talk about something that’s not work-related. We all stay on the call, someone finds a riddle and we all solve it together. That’s just something that’s fun for us. For you, it could be discuss a TV show, or tell each other about something that you’ve recently learned, talk about what you’ve had for lunch,.. as long as it’s not work-related. Because I think it’s important to still keep those water-cooler conversations up because it’s ultimately what gives us an idea of who’s on the other end of the screen.
2. Calendar all the things that you otherwise wouldn’t.
You are probably not used to putting your lunch breaks in your calendar and I totally understand why, because in an office setup it’s so easy for you to get up and say ‘Hey guys, I’m going for lunch’. And then once you come back obviously everyone will notice. If you’re in a remote setup that doesn’t necessarily hold now, you might be able to send a Slack message, but even better is you just put it in your calendar. So that your calendar is always the source of truth when it comes to your availability. That also comes with some upsides for you. Maybe try something new while you’re working from home. Obviously, talk to your colleagues if that’s possible. But I personally, I’m very productive early in the morning, but other people are not. And so what I would suggest, see if you can schedule your gym break some time during your morning and then just work a bit longer in the evening. Have a bit of fun as well and see this work from home policy also as an opportunity to create an environment where you can be more productive and also have more fun than otherwise.
3. Make sure you create a routine.
You might not notice it, but going to an office just creates a lot of routines. And and we humans often need a balance of things that are organized for us and structured in order to be creative in another part. Now when that structure falls away, it might be harder for you to be creative. That’s something that I’ve experienced in the past and so I’ve built routines for myself where I schedule my day, I schedule my breaks and I make sure my day has a clear start and end and some content. And that helps me be very creative and productive when I’m working.
4. Make sure you get your exercising.
Now it might not feel like much of an exercise, but your daily commute, your walk to the restaurant, and your walks to the meeting room, they actually add up to a nice little workout throughout the day and some much-needed movement that your body needs, that you might not have once you are in a work from home scenario. So make sure to still work out. For now, in most places you can still go outside to work out, so you could go for a run or at least get some fresh air and go for a walk. But even if that’s not possible anymore, make sure to stay active even if you have to stay indoors. There’s lots of great ways to do that. I personally like doing push ups, and sit ups and squats – all these bodyweight exercises. But there’s also lots of variety, so everyone can find something. I would recommend to go on the App Store and find some apps. There’s Freeletics, all the Runtastic apps and probably a hundred more workout apps that are built for this type of exercise.
To quickly summarize the eight insights that I wanted to share:
- Set yourself up for success, make sure you have an environment where you can be productive and efficient.
- Separate your working and non-working environments as far as you can.
- Make sure you communicate a lot but find a way where it doesn’t take everyone’s time.
- Make sure you’re really reachable so that there’s not this frustrating loop of trying to reach people when they should be available.
And then from the things that I’ve learned at Sendtask:
- Realize that we’re all humans and humans want to talk about other things as well, not just work. So create a space and time for that.
- Calendar everything. Make sure your schedule reflects reality so people know when they can assume that you’re working and when when they can assume to be able to reach you.
- Create routines.
- Make sure you get exercise in.
And with that, that’s the eight tips that I wanted to share with you from my personal experience working from home and pretty much anywhere for the last twelve years. If there’s any questions or if you’d like me to elaborate on any of these points or anything else then please let me know. Also if there’s anyone that you think will profit from knowing these tips, then please share the video with them. It’s a tough time for businesses as well as us personally. We’re being put in an environment that we don’t really control and that we might not be used to. But I hope you will find a way to stay positive and see this as an opportunity. Whenever we’re going through a tough phase, it’s also a great way to grow and learn more about ourselves and our environment. And with that I’d say stay positive, stay curious and I’ll hopefully talk to you soon!