Tips for productive remote work

I don’t intend this to be an exhaustive list of all the possible tips and techniques that can be applied when working remotely, as with all, different things work for different people. These are just some of the approaches that have worked for us and that I encourage you to try out and see if they work for you.

Gabriel Barreneche avatar
Mar 16, 2021
Home office deskPhoto by Claude Gabriel on Unsplash

During 2020 our everyday work and client deliveries weren’t impacted by all the pandemic chaos, and I think one of the main reasons for that is because we have been working remote-first since 2015. This means that we have been working in an environment where although we have offices, people can be working from home at any given moment with no prior notice, no matter if we have important things to deploy, meetings, you name it.

This has allowed us to improve and polish our remote work habits progressively, and we want to share some tips that we consider fundamental to be successful in getting productive remote work done.

Setting a proper working environment

Organized desktopSlava Keyzman - Unplash

The ideal scenario is that you convert a whole room into your working office, but if that is not an option, the most important thing is that the area of the house you use as your working place has all the tools you need to get productive work done. And these things are:

  • A desk or surface to put your working gadgets (laptop, monitors, pens, post-its, notebook, etc.)
  • Optimal and reliable internet connection (always have a plan B such as a phone that you can use as a hotspot)
  • A good and comfortable chair
  • A quiet environment that allows you to concentrate
  • Proper lighting and ventilation

Have a clean and organized desk, with only the things that will help you with your daily tasks, whether because they are tools you use or something that motivates you or allows you to concentrate.

If possible, have both a sitting and a standing desk. Switching between the two will be good for your cardio, overall mood, and improve the flow of ideas. And always go for a good chair for your sitting desk. You are going to spend a lot of time on it. Believe us; it’s an investment.

Finally, set rules and conditions with the people living with you, so both sides respect the household boundaries. You don’t want people constantly passing by when you are on a videoconference, nor have noise in the background when you want to concentrate, and they want to be able to use the house as intended, without you and the office taking over the whole thing. At the same time, please be patient with things happening in the other person’s home because not everything can be managed during these trying and unpredictable times. So if a toddler or a pet participates in a meeting, hey, it’s all good. We are here for each other.

Put a timeframe to your workday

Man with a computer and a blackboardJulia M. Cameron - Pexels

There will always be work to be done, and it’s very easy to keep on working on things or jumping in to put out a fire even after your usual 9 to 5 regular office schedule, because you are a step away from getting back into things at all times. But the thing is, if you overwork yourself, you will not only damage your physical and mental health, but it will also set unreal expectations from others about your work. People will keep on reaching out to you anytime because you always show up. These things are very hard to change once established, and the bad news is that part of the blame will be on you.

Make the most out of communication tools

Slack screenStephen Phillips - Unplash

While working remotely, you cannot get up and go to a teammate’s desk to ask a question, and “jumping into a quick call” that could have been either an email or a properly written message is one of the most frustrating things that can happen on your workday. Hopefully, these tips contribute to making the infamous meme a thing of the past.

Here is a brief checklist of things to consider when writing an email or message.

Be relevant

What is the purpose and goal of the communication? Do you need information, or do you need somebody to do a specific task? Is this a request for a meeting?.

Organize your thoughts and ideas

Order your thoughts and provide structure to your communication:

  • Specify the goal or objective of the communication
  • Expand on the ideas and provide context
  • Action item. What needs to happen

Explain thoroughly

Don’t assume the other end knows everything about what you are referring to. Take the time to be thorough in your explanation of the whats and whys. Provide context so that the person or persons involved understand what you need from them and where you are coming from.

Accuracy of the information you convey

Double-check if the information you provide is correct and on point to avoid back and forths and waste someone else’s time due to incorrect data.

Use correct grammar

Try to be as clear, concise, and descriptive as you can be. If the message doesn’t show care and effort, that is also communicated to the other person and could negatively predispose that person’s willingness to respond.

Examples

Here are three examples of communications that follow these rules, one for requesting some information, another for asking for some action to be executed by a colleague, and finally, one requesting a meeting.

Request for information

Hey (name)! I have been working on an article and need some cool images to illustrate the different sections. Could you please recommend some websites where I can get those images? The article is due tomorrow afternoon. Thanks in advance!

Request for action

Hi (name)!, I will be having a meeting with the admin team later today to check your team’s availability for the next month, and I noted the current information is out of date. Could you please update it before 4 pm (TZ)? Please let me know! Thanks!

Request for meeting

Hey team! In project X, we are exploring the idea of moving from technology A to technology B. Still, to make that decision, we would like to discuss how much effort it would mean to migrate some of the main modules/functionalities. We are not aiming for a detailed roadmap, just a ballpark estimate to determine if we would even consider doing this. Are you guys available on (option 1) or (option 2)? Please let me know. Thank you!

Use meetings wisely

A women in a meetingKarolina Grabowska - Pexels

Of course, there will always be instances in which a meeting is the best way to solve something due to its complexity or amount of people involved. In those cases, always make sure to brief everyone involved following the steps above, so they know what you expect of them during the conversation.

Make sure to assign the proper duration for the call when sending an invite, and if it’s an on-demand meeting, specify how long it should be before jumping into the conversation. Most things can be discussed or solved within 15-30 minutes tops, and if you send an invite for a one-hour meeting, you will be predisposing the rest to have a one-hour conversation when it could have been much less. And believe me, it will probably take the wholean hour if you do that.

Only involve the people that are absolutely required to be involved in the meeting. If one of the attendees does not participate at all, was it indispensable for them to be there? Probably not. And that is time they could have dedicated to something else.

After the meeting, put on paper what you discussed to avoid misunderstandings and leave a record of what was resolved.

Take breaks

A man walking a dogJusfilm Z - Unplash

Move away from your workspace and go for a walk, play with your pet, have some tea, get on your favorite social media, whatever helps you unwind and clear your head for a moment.

Keep in mind that if you were in an office, you would do these things, maybe have a chat with a coworker, get lunch, you name it. You have to replace those instances that help distract your mind for a bit with other activities. This will allow you to get back to work with renewed energy and will improve your overall productivity.

I encourage you to explore different time management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique or the Flowtime Technique. As I said before, different approaches work for different people, so try them out and see what works best for you.

Be present

Typewriter with the word updateMarkus Winkler - Unplash

Not being in the same physical space as your teammates and clients means that you will need to be even more communicative and transparent about your work than when at the same office. If you don’t communicate and don’t touch base with the rest of your team, you will probably get into rabbit holes that you could have avoided with timely communication, and it might even give the idea that you are not even working.

Say hi when starting your day, let everyone know when you will be off the screen (lunchtime, when going for a walk, etc.), and most importantly, provide an EOD status update before you close your laptop for the day, letting the rest of your team know what you have been up to. EOD updates don’t substitute Daily Standups if you have them. Daily Standups usually are used to convey what you have been up to since yesterday, what you will be working on today, and if anything is blocking you from doing what you need to do. The EOD update is just what you have been doing that day until the end of it because things could have changed since Stand Up, and it is good to be aware of what everyone else has been working on. It also lets everyone know when you will be calling it a day, which might sound silly but is very important.

Use statuses on your messaging tool to let others know if you are available or not. And don’t feel the need to respond right away to every incoming message; nobody expects you to do that. But always acknowledge the communication (even with an emoji), let the other person know that you have seen their message. If they are requesting something from you, let them know that you will get back to them once you are available or set a specific time for when that will happen. This will enable the other person to determine if that is okay or if they need to reach out to somebody else due to the importance of the matter they need solving.