Some tips to help make “remote working” work for you


Due to the ongoing Covid19 pandemic, more and more employees are being asked by their employers to work from home. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more home office/remote working is becoming the “new normal” way of working. However, while home office/remote working has many avantages, it also has many pitfalls, especially for new remote workers.

Remote working can indeed represent quite a challenge for those workers who have rarely if ever worked from home and represents even a challenge for those more experienced remote workers who before the pandemic relied on office workers to support them.

Many new remote workers may not have been ready to transform a bedroom, garage, kitchen or unused corner of living space into a work space. Not to mention the sudden need to show up for video conference calls with background noises from spouses, kids, neighbours, traffic, etc.

If that is the case, here are hopefully some useful tips to make “remote working” work for you.

1. CREATE A DEDICATED WORK SPACE

All the remote working experts agree that the first thing to do is create a dedicated work space for yourself, however small. It is much easier to stay mentally focused if you have a specific area set aside for work, offering privacy and which you don’t have to recreate every time.

Once you sit down in your dedicated work space, you know it is time to work and when you get up, you have finished or you are having a break. As video conferencing is becoming more and more prevalent, try to have a background that you are happy to show others or if this is not possible, use the company video conferencing tool functionalities to provide a virtual background. If you are not comfortable with video conférences, don’t use a camera. Don’t forget to protect your privacy. Your home is your home first before it is your office.

2. Create a comfortable (but not too comfortable) environment

Try to create as comfortable a work space as possible, but not too comfortable. Avoid the sofas, rocking chairs, beds, couches, etc. that won’t help you focus. You will need a table and good ergonomic chair, a computer, printer and of course high speed internet access. Your employer should provide you with the basic tools needed to get your work done remotely. Many companies are now paying a “remote workers’ allowance to help subsidize remote office workers. Your manager of course should be attentive to your needs and help you get yourself set up. Make sure you have good lighting and if possible access to natural light. Surround yourself with some plants, paintings, decorations to help you stay positive during the course of the day.

Concerning how to dress, while it could be tempting to abandon dress code and personal grooming, to be most productive, dress for work because that is what you are doing. Don’t neglect your persona grooming for teh same reasons. Wearing work clothes will put you in productive mode immediately and help you focus on the day ahead. And when you have finished your day, change into casual clothes. It will help you keep a good separation between home life and work life.

3. Plan your day and week

Plan your day and week and write things down
Use the Eisenhower matrix to prioritize:
1)Do 2) Plan 3) Delegate 4) Eliminate

As the Roman Statesmen Seneca said, “no wind is favorable to he who knows not where he is going” and planning your daily and weekly work is even more important for remote workers. Working remotely means you have less immediate access to your manager, co-workers and organization and this makes managing priorities even more important. To know where you are going, plan your day and week and ensure your Outlook calendar is updated, including the back office tasks you normally do without necessarily putting in your schedule. Build a to-do list and update it regularly. Write things down to help you remember what you need to do urgently and what you need to plan. Share your calendar with your manager and colleagues so that they know what you are working on.

4. Build a routine

Build and maintain a daily routine as if you are in the office

To keep your motivation, treat your week the same way as if you were in the office. Start and finish at about the same time, have lunch at the same time. If you start earlier or finish later, take time off the next day to compensate. Try to keep the same rituals you had when you worked in your office. The closer you are to your office routine, the more comfortable you will feel. Once you have prioritized your work to fit around your routine, set aside the same periods for tackling the important and urgent tasks. Organize your team meetings and video conférences/telephone calls in batches, preferably in the afternoon so that you can have more free time to do analysis or work on presentations, preferably in the morning. Good Routines are powerful in helping you get things done in an effective and timely manner.

5. Act decisively

In an office context, when an issue arises, it is always easier to go to speak to a person directly to find a solution. In a remote context, this is more difficult. When any such issues arise, you should be ready to respond immediately. If you think there is a misunderstanding, pick up the phone and call your colleague, rather than rely on emails. As remote workers are even more acutely aware of time when working remote, return emails, calls and voice mails quickly. If you can’t provide the required answer immediately, discuss a deadline for doing so with the requester. Co-workers and your manager will be reassured that you are working on their requests.

6. Build in breaks in your daily routine

Working longer is not necessarily smarter
Use a Pomodoro Timer to break big tasks down into manageable smaller tasks achievable in 25 minutes and then take a break

Without the presence of co-workers and the often pleasant interruptions that come with office life, when remote working, it is easy to fall into the trap of losing track of time. Faced with a myriad of emails from co-workers and customers looking for immediate responses, it is even easier to want to try to reply to all the urgent messages immediately and remain glued to one’s computer screen all day long. Taking breaks becomes even more critical to help you maintain a better work-life balance. Know your company policy on remote working and taking breaks and apply it. If you have big tasks to perform, divide each talk into smaller, more manageable ones. Try out the Pomodoro technique to help you focus on specific tasks. Divide the day up into segments and try to work in short bursts of 25 minutes before taking a short break. The Pomodoro technique helps you keep fresh and helps you be more productive by managing your time and work more effectively.

7. Set aside time for physical and creative activities

All work and no play makes Jack and Jill a dull boy and girl. Set aside time for some physical or creative activities. If possible, go out for a walk or run. Use the garden if you have one for some exercise. Work out. Start a hobby. Do something that will help you discover new avenues of interest, get you away from the computer for a while and keep you mentally fresh. And C19 confirment rules permitting, if your remote office is becoming a bit stuffy, go outside to a café or a library if possible for a while.

8. Managers: adapt your management to meet the needs of your remote workers

Working remote is not the same obviously as working on site and requires particular management skills and effort. Remote working brings new and different challenges for managers who need to understand and take on board the specific needs of their remote workers.

The lack of face-to-face interaction may lead some supervisors to worry that their employees are not working as hard or as efficient. Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with the reduced access to management support and communication. In some instances, employees may feel managers are out of touch and neither supportive or helpful in getting their work done.

What’s more, working remote quite often requires more effort and longer lead times as vital information required in the decision making process is no longer immediately available to remote workers. And of course, without the ties that were being reinforced constantly through day-to-day physical interaction in an office environment, tensions may arise between team members who no longer have the context to interpret certain replies, comments and/or reactions of co-workers. Maintaining team cohesion and focus requires considerable effort and as a remote manager, you should do several key things:

Trust your team members working remotely. Focus on results and not activities.
  • establish regular check-ins with team members by phone or video. These can be on a daily basis if necessary, less frequent if the employee is more independent or team calls if the work is highly collaborative. What is important is that the calls should be regular and predictable and take place in a trusting environment so that team members know they can consult with you and that their concerns are heard and understood.
  • Don’t rely only on emails. Email alone is not enough. Vary the means of communication. Of course, video conferencing tools such as Team, Zoom, Skype are very useful, especially for sensitive subjects where face to face discussions are important. But even a quick telephone call can be beneficial and appreciated by the employee.
  • Clarify remote working rules of engagement: above all, as a manager, you should clarify the rules of engagement and set expectations for the frequency, means and ideal timing of communications for team members.
    • Agree with team members when and how team meetings take place, how the team will share information and how often
    • Share the bigger picture: keep the team updated with the overall goals. Review short term goals frequently and adjust if necessary.
    • Set clear expectations and trust your team to perform. Focus on results and not activity and avoid micro managing.
    • Ensure your team members have the tools to do their job remotely
    • Inform team members when they can contact you if they need to and agree with them how and when you can contact your them.
    • Set clear limits as to when they should be available for work together. Meetings outside office hours should be exceptions to the rule. Allow also for lunch breaks.
    • You should pay attention to communication between team members to ensure they are sharing information as required and be ready to step in if necessary to ensure all information is shared effectively within the team.
    • Remember to allow for some spontaneous social interaction between co-workers before virtual meetings and even organize virtual office parties if possible. That five minute exchange before a meeting is really important for team members and not just small talk.
    • Finally, you should be even more ready to offer encouragement and emotional support to remote workers who may be struggling to adapt to remote working. Check up on your team membres regularly, check how they are managing remote working and discuss ways of improving the situation. Remain mindful that your team members expect support in dealing with the new way of working and you shouldn’t take for granted the transition from office to remote working.

9. Remote workers: check in regularly with your co-workers AND MANAGER

As a remote worker, rememeber to keep in contact with your fellow co-workers and management. Besides the frequent team video conferences, take time to call a colleague just to check up on how he/she is doing. If you normally check in with the dept. assistant before starting work at the office, do the same when working remote. Don’t forget to acknowledge emails and voice mails and if you can’t reply immediately, let people know you will get back to them. Remember to “show up” in all team meetings, chats, emails by asking questions, sharing what your working on and enquiring about what collagues are working on. Even a simple hello and goodbye is ok. “Showing up” will help you stay in conversation and keep you on the team radar.

10. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Finally, because you are not in the office where people can see and talk to you when they want, communication is even more important when working remotely. Seek out regular feedback from your boss and colleagues. Show up for all meetings and video conferences. Keep everyone updated as much as possible on what you are working on and if you need help, don’t hesitate to speak to your manager and/or colleagues. If you are not sure whether your colleagues should be informed, inform them anyway as “more is better than less” when remote working. Again, set aside some time each day to contact a colleague or co-worker and just chat about things in general. If you are new to remote working, ask for feedback from more experienced employees on how things are going and how you can improve and be more effective.

trust circle hand drawn on whiteboard

This is indeed a very stressful time for everyone. As the Covid pandemic stretches on, remote working seems here to stay and what seemed yesterday a work organization reserved for sales people and software developers is now becoming a way of working for whole organizations.

So it’s important to step back and keep an eye on the bigger picture, have fun and if you are new to remote working, go easy on yourself. It takes time to switch over from a full office environment to a remote working environment and in many cases, organizations will be focusing on a mix between remote work and office work. The challenge will be for managers and co-workers to work together around shared remote working rules but as recent months have shown, the tools now exist to enable this to happen. But it is above all people that will not only make it happen but sustain it effectively if the above pitfalls are skillfully avoided. The key ingredient for effective remote working is “trust”. Avoiding micro managing, managing for results and not around activities will be the critical attitude for managers to adopt.

So happy remote working.

But please remember, whether you are working remote part-time or full-time, keep up the good work and keep applying the social distancing rules and especially:

  • wash your hands frequently
  • Use hydro-alcoholic gel
  • Above all, wear a mask when you are outdoors, if you share an office or when you are moving around in your office.

We’re all in this together and things will work out if we all follow the same simple rules.

Keep safe, keep well, Keep going!

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