Thanks to COVID-19, everything has suddenly and unexpectedly changed, causing disruption to our daily lives. One of the biggest changes is the shift to remote work, lovingly referred to as WFH for “work from home.” If this is your first time working from home, you may be a experiencing a mix of excitement and anxiety: it can be scary to make such a big change in your career, and there are lots of unanswered questions.
We’d like to help you ease some of that anxiety. We’ve always been a fully distributed team, with each of us working from our home office or coworking space, ever since we founded in 2012. Over nearly 8 years, we’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge about how to run remote teams and succeed at the WFH game.
Get tools that facilitate communication and productivity
You’re suddenly very far away from your colleagues, so communication is more important than ever before. Ensure your tools are helping to bring you closer together:
We use the Zoom teleconferencing tool for all our meetings: weekly Full Team meetings, project-specific meetings, client meetings, one-on-one meetings, and even social check-ins.
Since there is no good replacement for face-to-face communications, we hold all our internal meetings by video call (but we let clients set the tone for their calls: video on if they like and are able, off if they prefer).
It may seem silly, but seeing a person’s face helps build and maintain relationships, and goes a long way to preventing the type of miscommunications that happen when you don’t have nonverbal cues to work with.
If you’re just transitioning to virtual work for the first time, it’s even more important to have calls and meetings where you see your team’s smiling faces rather than a black screen. Good news: Zoom is completely free for K-12 school districts at the moment!
For regular communication throughout the day, we use Slack. Some companies have been resistant to setting up chatting tools, for the fear that people will blow their productive hours shooting the breeze.
We’ve found quite the opposite: Slack, our chosen chatting tool, allows us to be incredibly efficient, immediately connecting with one another about status updates, collaborating on ideas, answering client questions, and problem-solving together.
Think of Slack as your replacement for walking into someone’s office and asking them a question, or popping your head over the top of a cubicle to get updated on a project. But it’s even better: it’s just as immediate, but it allows your colleague time to collect their answer, and they can attach the documents you need and send you a cute animated gif in the process!
Slack also allows us to reduce signal-versus-noise by creating specific channels for any topic. We’ve been able to split up conversations by project, client, and and even silly topics like pets, recipes, and politics. Slack also allows for the creation of specific workflows.
However, Slack isn’t the only game in town. Something like Google Hangouts might work for your team, and the premium version is completely free from now through July.
Manage your tasks, and they’ll help you manage your day
If you don’t already have a project management tool in place, now’s a good opportunity to set something up, either for yourself or for your team! We all have tasks we need to accomplish over the course of a day at work, and you might find it harder than ever to accomplish everything now that you’re expending all this energy transitioning to WFH. There are many tools to help you!
For task management, we use a tool called Smartsheet. Our project managers use it to create timelines, and each member of our team uses it to monitor their tasks for each day, and over the course of an entire project. Other popular tools include Asana and Trello.
Regardless of the tool, the premise is the same: Each team member knows what they are responsible for that day, week, month, etc. For most of these tools, there are commenting features that allow people to ask questions of their colleagues, attach documents, and monitor the progress of specific tasks. And many offer templates to start from, along with the ability to create your own robust, intricate workflows.
The best thing about sharing a task management tool in a remote work environment is that confusions is reduced when everyone has access to the same information: everyone knows what someone should be doing and what they’re responsible for.
Pretend you’re still going in to an office
Don’t start working as soon as you roll out of bed. Take your time to wake up, have your hot drink of choice, eat your breakfast, etc. — all the things you would normally do before commuting. Rituals are important, and continuing to perform your pre-work rituals will put you in the right mindset.
That includes getting dressed! This part is key to a successful day, but luckily, as our colleague Sarah says, “yoga pants are acceptable.”
And then keep doing the things you’d normally do once at work:
- Take the breaks you’d normally take, suggests our colleague, Chris. If you normally get coffee with coworkers, or walk around to visit other people’s offices, keep taking that time away from the keyboard. “WFH is neither more nor less productive than working in an office. It’s just that rather than spinning around and chatting with your cube-mate, you play fetch with your dog.”
- Take your lunch away from your computer. Our colleague Meredith swears by the power of lunch AFK. “Leave the room or area that you designate as ‘work’ and make lunch, sit down and enjoy it.” Miss eating with friends? “hop on a zoom call and chat with your regular lunch buddy while you eat.”
- Stick to your regularly scheduled meetings, and persevere. Those first few ones might have some awkward silences or moments when you’re all talking at once (just like in-person meetings), but you’ll all get the hang of it.
- Socialize like you normally would. “It’s okay to get distracted with conversations or life just like you do in the office,” says our colleague Matt. Just go back to work when you’re done, just like you would in an office setting. “It’s all about balance.”
Don’t work all the time
Work/life balance is extremely important, and WFH makes it more difficult than ever to manage. Here at Cornershop, maintaining a healthy work/life balance that keeps us energized and happy with our jobs is literally one of our company values.
To strike the balance, we offer a lot of flexibility around when we work. Our team has Core Hours, meaning we are required to be online and available for calls between 11 am – 4 pm EST no matter where we are in the world.
From there, each team member is free to sign on earlier or stay on later to work a full 40-hour week.
You may not have that much flexibility in your new WFH role, but you can certainly:
- Ask your boss to consider the flexibility core hours provides during this incredibly difficult and distraction-ridden time.
- Set your own schedule that includes “on” time and “off” time, and communicate it clearly to your colleagues, partner, and children (if they’re in the equation). Decide when you will “arrive” at work and when you will sign off for the day.
- Put your available times on your shared calendar so people know when it’s safe to schedule calls with you, and share your calendar with your family so they know when you’re busy with calls.
- Don’t respond to work stuff when you’re “off” — be fully present in your personal time, whether that’s doing the laundry or having dinner with the family. Turn off your Slack notifications.
- And, conversely, don’t do social stuff when you’re “on” — Our colleague De’Yonté advises turning your phone to Do Not Disturb mode for a set time. “Mine is in Do Not Disturb from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. everyday on an automatic schedule. Set it so that only your Starred or Favorite contacts can reach out to you. Anyone outside of those people will need to call 2 times in order for their phone calls to come though. Anyone with an actual emergency is likely to leave a voicemail or a text.”
Carve out time to focus, especially if you have kids at home with you
It’s not easy to WFH when your spouse is also WFHing and your kids are out of school due to Coronavirus.
Although our current situation is extraordinary, we have learned lessons from teacher inservices, school breaks and weather closures, etc. Try to:
- Switch off child care time with your partner, giving one another blocks of time to focus on work.
- When it’s your turn to work, go to a room where you can close the door, put on headphones with music, and really focus.
- Have a defined signal that you’re “working” to others around the house. “Ideally a closed door,” says our colleague Chris. Try to be as hard to reach and distract while WFH as you were in the office.
- If your kids are old enough, explain what you’re doing, so they don’t interrupt you out of curiosity. Give them your undivided attention when you’re not working, but ask them to give you your privacy when you are.
- BUT ALSO: if children are also stuck at home and your childcare falls through, expect your productivity to be just as challenged as if you had to take them to your office.
Take care of your body
Seriously consider your workspace. You can only work from the couch for so long before your neck and back are going to start complaining. So indulge for a day or two, but then set yourself up with an ergonomic solution.
At Cornershop, we have an office supply budget from which employees can buy useful WFH tools like:
- A good ergonomic chair, like Ash’s or a large yoga ball (Sarah swears by her birthing ball, and Chelsea has one with a woolly cover)!
- A standing desk like De’Yonté’s or Ash’s.
- A dual-monitor stand and docking station. Sarah loves this one for her MacBook, and De’Yonté swears by his monitor stands for both monitors.
- An ergonomic mouse like this trackball, which De’Yonté loves, or this wireless one for when you’re roaming around your house.
- An ergonomic keyboard like this one.
And if buying office equipment isn’t an option for you, at least try to make your desk as ergonomically healthy as possible. Here are the basics.
Move it or lose it
All office workers, but remote workers especially, hardly move during their regular work day. There’s just so much to do, and if you’ve done it right, you have a comfy place to work from. Here’s how our team has built in movement and exercise into our days:
- Stand Up! You can have a standing desk delivered by Amazon or cobble one together using materials you have at home, but either way, studies show that sitting is the new smoking.
- Take a Monica Walk™ or Ben Bike™ during the day to clear your head, disconnect from your screen, and get some perspective. Our colleague, Monica, gets up, moves out, and takes a 15 to 20-minute walk every day. And Ben pulls out his mountain bike for a spin around the neighborhood when he hits a wall coding. Changing your environment throughout the day can help with problem-solving and increase the moments of creativity.
- Hold walking meetings. Everyone on the call has to be walking, even if around the living room, during the call.
- Exercise!! says our colleague Ron. “You’re commuting less, so use that former commute time to exercise. Either before/after work do some exercise.” Or consider banging out some pushups or air squats during the day. You’ll get a boost in energy which is like fresh air.
- Stop and give me 10! Jumping Jacks, that is. Periodically, our colleague Ash shouts at us in the #general room on Slack to stop whatever we’re doing and do jumping jacks. It gets the blood flowing, and makes you feel you’re still part of a real team full of real people.
Make time for socializing
Obviously we’re all still connected by phone, and email, and whatever chatting system you’ve set up, but that all pales in comparison to real life connections in the break room and over shared lunches. Here’s how we make up for “water cooler” chat:
- Home office show and tell. In an effort we dubbed Cshop Office Space, we’ve invited one another to virtually visit our workspaces by sharing photos facing our monitors, and facing away from our monitors (usually to the nearest outside space). It’s a simple but magical way to feel connected.
- During your weekly Full Team meeting, dedicate some time to lighthearted topics. It’s tempting to get straight to the business agenda and fly through it as quickly as possible, but your team deserves the opportunity to socialize a bit. We have a standing agenda item that is offered up to a team member to ask a question — any question — for their colleagues to answer.
- Hold a dedicated fun teleconference call. We call ours “Friday Fun,” and have used it to, variously, review cool things people have seen on the internet, introduce our pets to one another, eat lunch together, and hold our Halloween and Holiday dress up parties.
- Install apps in your chatting tool. If you use Slack, you might enjoy one of the many karma bots that assign point values to emojis and it creates a little competition.
- Set up non-work related rooms in your chatting tool. We have rooms for conversations about pets, kids, recipes, and political conversations.
- Get help from a service like Know Your Team, a virtual happy hour concept, where simple weekly questions are emailed to everyone on the team, and answers are shared so people have the opportunity to learn about their colleagues.
New challenges = new opportunities
While we expect you’ll love your WFH experience in the end, we encourage you to be kind to yourself and your colleagues: you’re transitioning to something new, and no one is going to be great at it to begin with. Your days may be less productive for a while. That’s ok. You’ll get the hang of this!
We hope you’ll think outside the cubicle box with your new WFH adventure, and take it as an opportunity to create new healthy habits!