Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, there’s now a huge experiment in remote work. All over the world, employees are working outside of the office for the first time. Could this disrupt the workplace and accelerate the transition to working from home?
Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and many others are encouraging and requiring their employees to travel less and work from home more to prevent the spread of the virus.
It turns out that many positions are suitable to do from outside of the office. But can work be productive anywhere or only by putting time in an office? And is remote work something people will find enjoyable?
This all remains to be seen. And the answers to these questions may determine if everyone will revert to the autopilot or the virus might leave a lasting effect with remote work becoming a more regular occurrence.
I’ve worked remotely doing marketing for a startup for more than 3 years. Virus outbreak is not an ideal way to start your remote work experience so here’s my advice on what you can do to make it better and perhaps even stick to it after the normal service resumes.
Benefits of remote work
- Cost-saving is the main benefit. Especially in the long-term. Why would you keep paying for office space if you don’t need all of your employees to show up every day? Another cost-saving is the reduction in business flights and other travel.
- You can hire talent from anywhere in the world. This increases the pool of your potential candidates and can improve diversity too.
- One early adopter of remote work is Dell. They’re very clear on the benefits they’ve experienced including cost-savings, decrease in fossil fuel consumption and a boost in employee happiness, productivity and retention.
- Less time wasted on the commute. Depending on your current situation, working from home could save you several hours of commute every week.
- Car commuting is more stressful, dangerous and expensive. You save money on gas and you have a reduction in your carbon emissions which could have a positive effect on the climate crisis.
- More flexible schedules could contribute to less traffic and crowds. When working from home you can shop or do errands when it’s least busy. And you may never need to pick up packages that were not delivered as you were not home.
- More energy and time for you to improve yourself including cooking and eating of healthier meals, doing more exercise, reading more, spending more time on your hobbies and socializing more with friends and family.
- Open-plan offices can negatively affect your ability to concentrate and focus. There’s a lot of noise, people coming and going, meetings and chats. Having fewer distractions when working from home can help exceed your regular office productivity.
- A longer-term benefit is that you don’t need to live nearby your office. You can choose where you want to live which can improve your quality of life and even reduce your expenses.
Challenges of remote work
- Remote work needs a different type of management culture. Business leaders want their employees close so they can easier keep an eye on them. Remote work means having less oversight and giving more autonomy and flexibility to the employees.
- There is a worry about productivity as the management thinks the employees can’t be trusted. You need to hire people, be on the same page with them and trust them to do the work even without you being able to see them at all times.
- Cybersecurity. People working from home or other locations may mean that you need to educate them better in the physical security of their devices, better password management and usage of technologies such as VPN.
- Learn how to organize your workday. A structure is there automatically when you work from an office. You wake up, you go to work and in an office there’s a structure created for you. Now you’re in charge of your workday and need to make it productive.
- Improve your communication. A big part of remote work is written communication. Body language is difficult when working from home. Things can get lost in translation when the only thing you’re doing is typing. Learn to be clear.
- Audio and video conferencing will be a big part of your remote work experience. Learn to be comfortable on camera, get used to seeing your face and remember to mute your microphone when you’re not talking.
- Internet connection. Now you’re in charge of having a fast and reliable internet connection at all times. There’s no IT crowd that you can get useful advice from when something doesn’t work. Have you tried turning the router off and on again?
- Higher risk of loneliness and isolation. It’s now more important than before to take proactive steps in being social. Go out more. Talk to people. Play a team sport. Make and join more video calls. See your family and friends more often.
How to have a successful remote work experience
A virus outbreak is not an ideal way for businesses and employees to be thrown into the remote work experiment. The tools are there and are more than capable of helping many do their work, but the time to make it right and the thoughtful implementation are lacking.
I hope that this lack of planning, the lack of time necessary to figure it all out and the distraction of a virus won’t give you a bad first impression of remote work. Here are some tips on how to make your remote work experience more comfortable and successful:
- Spend a whole day in your pajamas. Work from bed or the sofa. Don’t leave the house the whole day. There’s nothing wrong with that in the short term. It will take a few days to adjust, find your “work from home” routine and what works best for you.
- You’re always at home and you may feel like you’re always at work too. Set clear boundaries between work and home. Close the laptop at the end of the day and don’t touch it until the next day. This will help you relax, disconnect and recharge.
- Don’t start working as soon as you wake up. It’s difficult to stop so keep some time for yourself. Exercise, have breakfast, brush your teeth, shower and whatever helps you start the day on the right foot. Keep your regular morning routine.
- Choose your ideal working environment. This may take some time to figure out. You may dedicate a room to be your office space. You may like to work from a dining table or a kitchen counter. Experiment a bit and see what feels best.
- Don’t worry about the postman ringing the bell. Working from home means possible distractions while on conference calls. Washing machine being noisy or a delivery. It’s all normal and something that will happen to everyone working from home.
- Be transparent and over-communicate. Talk more to people. Inform them about your plans, goals, things you’re working on and things you’ve accomplished. Finish your day by writing a list of things you worked on and a list of things you plan to work on the following day.
- Get out of the house. Going to the office forces you to leave your apartment every day. Working from home means you can stay at home at all times. In the time of a virus outbreak, this is fine, but you’ll want to get some fresh air and see some sunlight too.
- Step away from the computer. Keep up some sort of a personal daily routine. I run in the morning before the start of a working day. I do that rain or shine. I run in a forest so I get to see a bit of nature and breathe the fresh air. I also take a break to eat lunch and I finish the workday to cook dinner.
- Take care of your health. This is similar to the way you should take care of your body when in the office but even more important when remote working as it’s easier to enter the deep state of uninterrupted work and lose the sense of time.
- Get up once an hour and move. Some smartwatches can remind you of that. Rest your eyes by taking a 20 second break for every 20 minutes of looking at a screen. Use a laptop stand and work on improving your posture for a better back.
- Too quiet in your new workspace? Listen to some music and you don’t even have to wear headphones. Prefer something other than music? Some people like to listen to the sounds of nature or the sound of a busy coffee shop.
Remote working tools
Your company may not allow you to pick your tools as they may already have some they want you to use, but if you have some flexibility here are the tools that can make remote work better:
- Zoom is the one most often used for video (and audio) conference calls. It’s easy to use and works on all devices. Zoom has had a great start of the year thanks to the surge of users due to the Coronavirus. Jitsi Meet is the best free and open-source alternative.
- Slack is the most popular tool for company-wide conversations. It is promoted as a replacement for email but you may need to watch the way you use it as it can consume even more time than email if you’re not careful. Riot is the best free and open-source alternative.
- Trello is a nice and simple tool to plan and organize your projects. It gives you a simple overview of the status of the project, work that needs to be completed, people responsible and deadlines. Taiga is the best free and open-source alternative.
- Firefox Send is a great solution for sharing documents and other files safely and securely.
- KeePassXC is a password manager that helps you create strong passwords and keep them safely synced across your devices. Here’s how I deal with my passwords and logins.
- Calendly is a service that allows you to schedule calls. It works well when dealing with people outside of your company. It saves a lot of time that would be spent on back and forth emails discussing the availability and schedule.
- Basecamp is a great all-in-one solution for project management. It includes chat, message boards, sharing of documents and other files, scheduling, to-dos and more.
- Understand the time zones your colleagues and clients are working in so you don’t get confused and miss out on meetings and calls. Use a site such as this.
Remote work companies and other resources
- State of Remote Work report by Buffer which includes lots of insights and data about working from home collected by surveying thousands of remote workers.
- Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson on how they run their company Basecamp. It’s full of contrarian advice on things such as why face-to-face meetings are overrated and how to manage people that work too hard because they work from home. They also have a great guide on internal communication.
- The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun on his experience working at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, and the way to structure and manage remote work teams. Automattic is fully remote, with more than 1,000 employees and no office. They’ve recently published a Crash Course in Remote Management video.
Coronavirus may leave a lasting impact and shape the future of work. Face-to-face meetings and working from offices might be less vital than people think.
And the benefits for businesses, employees and society in general of more people working from home more often may outweigh any possible negatives. Have fun!