I’ve worked remotely since 2014. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Most of that time as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, so I’ve had to learn a few things about working with remote teams. Here are some of those tips that I’ve collected
Get used to booking 15 min sessions with colleagues
When we work remotely, it is quite normal to have more meetings. That’s how we synchronize our timetables. There are fewer opportunities to meet colleagues in the corridor, kitchen, or while walking out to lunch or a coffee break.
So, I started booking 15min session with colleagues, to be able to interact with them, but not completely disrupt their day (or mine).
Here are the rules I follow:
- Book the 15min session just before or after a meeting they already have in the calendar (to avoid breaking up their un-interrupted time)
- If I need a decision, I send an email ahead with the topic and a few possible decisions (3 is a good number)
- Keep discussions short, if no solution can be found, book another call while talking to my colleagues
My goal with these 15min sessions is to keep in touch and get work done in short bursts. Turns out (based on my experience) that most 1h meetings can be avoided by having short 15min sessions to make decisions. However, sometimes that’s not enough, and we book another session for later that day or the day after.
One of the hardest lessons for me to learn though, was the need to have breaks. When working remotely, all my colleagues are literally a few keystrokes away. There’s no physical barrier (thought there might be a mental one, more on that later). This means you end up having back-to-back meetings, and not getting up from your seat, which may make you feel productive, but will negatively impact your health and creativity.
In my experience, having a 10-15min break every 2 hours is a good rule of thumb, although sometimes I do get up and walk around more often than that. To keep me active in those breaks I either play a game (I’m a big FIFA fan) or do exercise (I bought rubber bands to do strength when traveling or at home).
I’ve learned that a 10-15 min break will help me be more creative when I get back to the “zone”.
Create a routine
I’ve developed my own routine over time, and I expect you will too. Over time, I learned that sitting down right after breakfast is my best strategy. I have breakfast and get right down to the most important tasks (I keep all my tasks in Evernote. Although I’ve tried other tools, I feel text files are my best tool).
After the first work burst, I’ll walk around, play a game and think of the next tasks.
I usually have meetings only in the afternoon (I’m a morning) person, and in the evening. Between the morning and afternoon slots, I have a longer break, maybe an hour or so.
Because I usually have evening meetings, I break up the afternoon with a walk outside to go shopping or go running.
That’s my routine, but you should think about what works for you. Are you a morning person? Or are you more productive in the afternoon?
Set up a workplace you are proud of (you will be on video often!)
When I started to work remotely, I used whatever space was available at home. That’s great for when you get started, but over time you will feel a bit out of place, or get tired of setting up and tearing down your workspace. Recently I’ve bought a green screen and a good camera to be able to create a space that I’m proud of. In the picture to the right is my “morning” workspace. I feel like I’m in a real office, and so do my colleagues!
If you have a sufficiently powerful computer, ZOOM will handle the lack of green screen, so there’s no need to invest in that. And if you use Skype you can blur the background so that your presence pops-up on video. Pro tip: surprise your colleagues with the “coolest” office you can find online! PS: I use PIXABAY and Google image search to scout the net for office spaces.
Track your work, keep yourself accountable
Over time, I’ve had to learn to be even more organized when working from home than when I had an office to go to. Working from home means that you have less of the implicit signs from people coming to talk to you, or having coffee break chats. #Remote workers are both in charge of their work, but also have less information available to make the right priority calls. Because of that, I’ve started to write down what I want to achieve when I start working. I have a “today’s tasks” note on Evernote, and keep all my work there. I write down everything I need to achieve for that day and will jot down future ideas on a future date.
I start my day by writing down the date and listing the tasks/achievements for the day (see image). During the day that list will change, and I’ll also write down tasks/achievements under future dates.
My system is loosely based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. If you don’t have a task management system, start now. Start with pen and paper, and slowly try out and adopt a digital tool.
I might write a longer post about my time-management and work-management system. I’ve developed it over quite a few years and learned what works for me (and what does not).
These were 5 simple tips that I’ve learned work for me. What works for you? What questions do you have? Share your experiences and lessons learned below.