The Guide to Remote Work

Many companies are going to be heading to remote work for a period of time due to COVID-19 and most of them have no idea what they’re doing. I’m here to make it easier for you.

I also believe that this will be a catalyst for the Remote Work movement going forward. I envision a world where employees are in the office up to 2-3 days a week, and the rest of the week they are working from home. People enjoy this freedom and flexibility. The companies that embrace Remote Work culture and do it successfully will be a magnet for talent.

I’ve been running my company fully remote for the past 2 years and the best practices are second nature to me by now.

For the people in tech who are depressed because they won’t have free coffee, fully stocked micro-kitchens, and 5-star lunches I cannot help you. Besides tell you this: A Postmates subscription is probably worth it.

Below is a guide with best practices of Remote Working to keep productivity high, employees engaged, and business operations running smoothly. It’s organized to focus on the key areas to think about when working remote which includes:

  1. Working Style
  2. Your Personal Setup
  3. Keeping your team energized
  4. How to run effective meetings
  5. The best tools for fully remote work
  6. Special section for Extroverts and Type A personalities

Working Style

Be present and don’t go missing

In the office, you have  clear and visible accountability. Most people don’t go missing for hours.  There’s nothing worse than the person who takes advantage of not being in this social environment while they work from home.

How do you drive accountability and also show your teammates that you are delivering? Over-communicate. For example, having a team standup every day and a Google doc where you write down your daily and weekly priorities gives everyone a sense of your goals and objectives and keeps you accountable.

If you step away from your computer for lunch, having a Slack message saying “Taking a Break” lets people know you’re not at your computer. When doing “heads down work” having “Do Not Disturb” status can be helpful so people know you are currently focused on something and not immediately available to talk.  This feature also blocks people from pinging you, but can be overridden if it’s urgent.

Create a schedule

Generally speaking most people work in the office office from 9 am to 5 pm. Now that you have more freedom over your time, setting your working hours with your team can be helpful so everyone is aware of each other’s schedules. Given that you may be cutting your “getting ready” and commute time by up to 1 to 2 hours you may be starting work earlier than usual so adjust your beginning and ending work times as needed.

Some people like getting ready for work. It gives them a sense of purpose. You can still do this while you work from home! Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you can’t put on pants.

Take breaks

It’s really easy to get lost in your work and be at your laptop for 4-5 hours at a time. I suggest setting an alarm so you take a small break at least every couple hours.

I’ll usually take an afternoon walk in my neighborhood to clear my mind. I also take a 5 minute break every hour or so.

End your day Strong

Setting a time for when you cut it off is crucial. Set expectations of when you’ll stop checking email & Slack so you don’t feel like you’re working all day and night. For me, I stop responding to emails and messages by 7 pm. I may do some work after 7 pm, however it won’t be communicating with others.  As an aside, Josh Waitzkin has great advice on structuring your day, including the best way to begin and end your days.

Your Personal Setup

Set boundaries with friends and family

If you have family at home or roommates it’s much easier for them to distract you during your workday. Setting clear boundaries with them of when you need to focus will allow you to continue to be productive during the day.

Have a working station

I have a desk with a monitor and I also have a couch that I work from. I switch on and off between the two. Depending on the type of work I’m doing I will either work at my desk or on my couch. If I’m doing financial modeling or need a large screen because I’m working between windows I’ll work at my desk. If I’m sending emails or taking a Zoom meeting, I may be working from my couch.

I never work from my bed. I find that I feel lazy and it also ruins my sleep later at night.

Team Morale

Have FUN!

Work is used as a social outlet for so many people at work. It’s a place where people come to get more than just work. You make friends, learn from mentors, and get to meet new people. Encourage your team to have 1x1 catch-ups with others over zoom. Sometimes, we’ll even do a Thursday Happy hour where everyone has a drink while chatting over Zoom.

Quick check-ins over slack to see how people’s days are going can be helpful. It’s one of the greatest times ever to be alive - we’re living in the age of the meme. Don’t be selfish - share these memes with your team over Slack!

Take advantage of 1x1’s

While 1x1’s are the baseline expectation now, when Andy Grove pioneered this at Intel it was a radical idea. As a leader, your 1x1’s will be the most highly impactful meetings you have because you get a deep sense of what your team is thinking and feeling. It’s tough to know how they’re feeling when you’re not with them in person so be present and focused during these meetings. The Junior person in the 1x1 should be setting the agenda for the 1x1 so you can hear what’s on their mind.

Don’t be an asshole.

I’ve seen Slack chats go from civil to out of control within minutes. When I used to work at Facebook we used Facebook Workplace (a similar tool to Slack). One guy had posted a comment asking if the Facilities team could post the food ingredients in the cafe because he had some unique allergies. Within 20 minutes, there was a full-blown argument that included topics such as why this guy was selfish, why we need to have more gratitude for the chefs and cafe workers, and there was definitely something about Trump thrown in there.

I bring up all this to say, it’s very easy for people to mis-read your tone over Slack messages / email / etc. When you’re bringing up suggestions of ways to do things, feedback you have on something, or just any messages that you think may bring up some disagreements - it’s helpful to provide as much context and nuance before you give your idea or recommendation. It takes a bit more work up-front, but it saves hours of arguing and unnecessary stress.

Running Effective Meetings

Have a good internet connection

No explanation needed.

Use good headphones

Airpods are the best.

Keep your video on in meetings

This helps facilitate more productive discussions because you can see people’s reactions and thoughts to the discussion you’re having. It also is much more enjoyable to see people you’re talking to vs. staring into a bunch of blank screens on your computer.

WFH meme.jpeg

Mute yourself when not talking & Reduce background noise

Nothing worse than a person who’s not talking adding unnecessary noise to the meeting.

Encourage quiet people to talk

Prompt your team members who don’t talk as much to get their thoughts and see if they have any questions - this lets everyone make sure their voice is heard. For introverts and people who may not feel comfortable with video conferencing yet, it’s important to help them get their thoughts across.  This responsibility should be taken on on by whoever is leading the meeting.

Don’t be browsing other websites/iMessage/etc

Stay focused in your meetings. Especially in 1x1 meetings, it’s very evident when you’re not listening.

Best tools for Remote work

  1. Zoom - a must for video calls
  2. Krisp - reduces background noise
  3. Asana - best project management tool I’ve found
  4. Slack - messaging tool
  5. Loom - great for recording things and then sending them to your team for asynchronous work
  6. Miranda - time zone tracking for teams that are spread out across the country and world

For the Extroverts

There are two types of people who dread working from home - the aforementioned people who love the free perks of the office and the extroverts.

I’m not going to lie, for the Type-A personality it can be very tough at first to work from home because you’re used to being around people and work is a great social outlet for you (I’m generalizing, but you get the point). I have a few tips for you:

I’ll re-emphasize the importance of checking in with your teammates throughout the day. Set up Zoom 1x1’s, Small Zoom hangouts, and be active on Slack.

For Engineers who are Extroverts, pair programming can be a great way to get the feel of working with someone. Highly recommend if you haven’t tried - I’ve seen it work great in remote work environments.

These principles have worked very well at my company for the last 2 years. We have high productivity, happy employees, and strong cash flow. Our employees love the flexibility and freedom and I love the fact that we can create a forward-thinking business.