Category Archives: Remote Work

Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat

Show Your Face: The complex psychology of video chat

With high-quality video chat available to everyone with a mobile phone we find ourselves in a spectacular time for remote communication, one that ten years ago would seem like science fiction. Five people can chat, looking at each other’s faces, in real time from thousands of miles away – for free. Skype, Hangouts, Zoom, Facetime, and even the Android built-in phone interface all provide free good-enough solutions and paid high-quality solutions for video presence.

It would seem that with the rise of remote work this technology would allow direct transfer of traditional meetings to video meetings. But it isn’t this simple. Video chat has not replaced in-person chat because it works just differently enough to cause different emotional reactions. As with all change, and all new technology, their adoption faces psychological barriers.

Friction with Video

The most common objections are simple: video cameras are hard to setup, and the quality is not always as magical as you might imagine. Because the video and audio quality rely on your Internet connection, quality can dramatically alter during a conference call, making it hard to adjust to slight delays, frozen screens, and garbled words. Because video calls are good enough we feel these errors acutely, making us uncomfortable and frustrated. Many people simply prefer talking on the phone where we are all aware of the protocols in place; the slight differences in rhythms throw us off over video.

Unprofessionalism

Another objection is that video usage is “unprofessional.” Digging a little deeper into what this means, this appears to be a cover for other complex issues.

Many workers use video calling in their personal lives or were first exposed to it in a social context. They have a strong association with casual chatting with friends or having their kids talk to their grandparents. This first impression is hard to shake – just ask Google Apps which has faced a similar problem: many people used @gmail.com addresses for personal use and therefore using it for business feels too casual.

We are just now at the point where software that allowed for video sharing appears professional. The old guard of conference calls tools, such as GoToMeeting, feel professional but have not kept up with the quality of more casual tools like Hangouts and Facetime. The third generation of tools, such as Zoom and JoinMe, offer professional features like shared whiteboards, audio recording, and proper mute functionality. These tools are easier to use as they feel like “work tools.”

Unprofessional is also a code word for something else: the appearance of professionalism. Staring at your face during an entire meeting is not fun and feels casual. There is a reason a typical office conference room doesn’t have mirrors on the walls. Besides, the default angle of an open laptop makes most people look like they are looking at a fun house mirror.

And for many distributed teams it is easier to imagine the other parties on the call in suits if you can’t see that they aren’t. We would rather have the feeling of strict professionalism than seeing that we are all working, but wearing t-shirts.

Privacy and Power

When you work from home, the power dynamic between you and your employer shifts in your direction. Instead of them making you wear certain clothes, drive to an office of their choosing, and be present based on their schedule, you now are responsible for your work and your work environment only. Because of this remote workers feel a freedom and empowerment with their working schedule that can block being open to a video chat throughout the day.

If I’m in charge of my schedule, then I can spend the early morning at Starbucks just thinking with a notebook, but if you make me dial into a video call, you are removing some of this creative freedom. Likewise, I can no longer go to the gym during lunch if an early afternoon video call won’t allow me time to get back in time and take a shower. These seem like small issues, but the requirement of *being presentable* shifts the power dynamic back to appearances and away from raw work output. Some remote workers, sensitive as we are to this relationship (after all, this is why we are working this way), don’t think it is worth the benefits.

We must also remember that people who work from home are in a different privacy landscape that those in an office. I might work best with a messy office or in an ugly sweatshirt, and maybe I don’t want to share that I’m currently in my car picking up my kids from school. Perhaps my home office is off to the side of an open floor plan, and simply having a camera in my home feels like an invasion of privacy.

Wrapping Up

If video chat has so many downsides then why are there so many companies working to improve it, and why does every modern device come with a high-quality webcam built-in? Because despite these downsides video chat is still the best way to get to know someone remotely, to feel connected to someone from afar, and to build rapport between coworkers. In the next post we will list some of the other benefits of video chat for remote work, and how to overcome some of the downsides we detailed here.

Personality type and working from home

Personality type and working from home

Quick, which personality type is best suited to work from home: introvert or extravert? The tempting generalization to make is that solitude-loving introverts will shine as home workers while their gregarious counterparts will suffer. I’m not sure it’s that cut-and-dry.

Personality certainly affects a person’s ability to work from home successfully. Right off the bat, there are several traits that will benefit any home worker:

  1. Self-motivation
  2. Superior communication skills
  3. Resourcefulness
  4. Tech savvy

Good communication skills are so important for someone who rarely, if ever, works in the office with the rest of the team. The same can be said for self-motivation, resourcefulness, and comfort with tech tools, as those tools will often foster communication. But is that the entire recipe?

You might be tempted to add another item to that list: an introverted personality. Home-workers often spend hours at a desk without seeing another person. Virtual meetings happen, yes, but that’s not the same as working face-to-face. Does this mean extraverts are doomed to telecommuting failure? Not at all.

Let’s get scientific with it

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is a questionnaire designed to identify psychological preferences. It’s where we get the terms “introvert” and “extravert” in the first place. The questionnaire was designed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. According to Fast Company, about 80% of Fortune 1000 companies use it to help employees the relationship between their personalities and their professional lives.

The MBTI says of the extravert:

“[I get] energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people.”

Likewise, introversion is described like this:

“[I get] energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with.”

Which one would you add to your remote team? The tempting answer is the solitude-loving introvert. However, Michael Segovia, lead trainer for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, says that anyone, regardless of their personality, can work from home successfully.

So which works best?

The key, according to Segovia, is to recognize how you feel energized — and productive — and take steps to make that happen. For example, a person who is extraverted receives energy from a bustling environment where he or she can bounce ideas off of others. A daily video check-in maybe what that person needs.

Meanwhile, a mostly introverted person may struggle to find the quiet he needs in a busy or noisy household. Likewise, these quieter folks could struggle to ask for the interaction or support they need. Again, a regular video check in is a good idea.

These two types also tend towards traits that are very beneficial for the home worker. The people-driven extravert is often a great communicator, which is crucial for a home worker.

Likewise, he or she is often self-confident and fond of talking with others. These qualities make it easier to network, land deals, talk with potential clients and customers.

On the other hand, an introverted worker is typically energized by time spent alone, protective of their privacy — important for remote work — and thoughtful. These folks won’t struggle with extended periods of alone time.

In either case, employers should be sure to offer plenty of face time. The benefits of face time have been demonstrated scientifically as well. A study published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest in 2015 suggests that “…a balance of face-to-face and virtual contact is optimal” for all home workers, regardless of personality type.

Of course, the world isn’t simply divided into introverts and extraverts. Really, the ideal telecommuter is structured and disciplined, regardless of personality type. A self-motivated individual will be more successful than their counterparts.

 

Solving Communication Problems on Your Remote Team

Solving Communication Problems on Your Remote Team

Communication is one of the first-order problems of distributed work. Everyone has heard of it and points to it at the top of the scoreboard of issues with remote work arrangements; even those who have never tried working in this way fear drifting out of touch with their team.

If we are honest, we all know that it isn’t as if communication within a traditional office is automatically wonderful and efficient. Perhaps we are just used to having constant status meetings and project managers who wander around “syncing up” with workers. A co-located team has these built-in compensation mechanisms, and a remote team doesn’t.

Without the arguably poor and crude move of “get everybody in a room,” remote teams are left to develop new methods to stay in touch and coordinate work. As a manager and individual contributor, there are methods that can make a distributed team even more effective than a large team working within smell-distance of each other. Our thinking just needs to change, and our first change is to move away from transient verbal communication and start writing it down.

Sync vs. Async Communication

Before we do that, we need to understand why it is important to write stuff down. A co-located team has synchronous time – time in which you can gather everyone, stop them from working, to all focus on the same thing – in surplus. You can easily coordinate schedules and “grab people” for quick chats. A manager can walk around spreading a message for each person to help people coordinate, and there is a general expectation that people show up for any meeting that is called. I won’t go into why meetings might be an inefficient way to coordinate work, but I’ll take one stab at it: have you ever been in a meeting in which it wasn’t a heated discussion? If so, you have been to an inefficient meeting.

A remote team does not work like this; these teams trend more towards Results Only Work Environments (R.O.W.E), and additionally might have workers from different time zones. This means that synchronous time is rarer and must be used with extreme care. Synchronous time should be used for the much rarer situations where real-time collaboration is actually needed, and the rest of work should be coordinated online asynchronously.

The ideal mix for remote work is situational, but intense collaboration followed by large blocks of time for concentrated, uninterrupted work is a worthy goal in most configurations. Writing is the simplest method to allow for archiving the decision-making, status, and issues with work for async coordination.

Write it Down or Forget It

When you work in the same building you might do some documentation for your future self, or for training other people – outside of email you probably don’t do a lot of “current events” style writing. But a single source of truth for current status information, project documentation, and work items as they progress through whatever process you have in place is required for a remote team.

To see the difference let’s imagine that we awake for our work day and half of our team has already had the majority of their work day. We can’t have a daily standup meeting where everyone gathers together during preferred work hours, so I need to read and respond to what happened on the project while I wasn’t working, and later my coworkers need to read and respond to what I’m planning on doing for the day and how it goes. I’m essentially journaling my day and making clear notes on obstacles, opinions, or solutions that I’m coming up with. The manner in which you do this might need to change based on what type of work you do, but at a minimum, it should include the following:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What do you plan to do today?
  • What obstacles are blocking you?

This information can be tracked in a tool like Basecamp or iDoneThis, and it provides great information to multiple audiences:

  • Coworkers can make sure that you aren’t planning on doing the same thing they are (or have done it already!)
  • Managers can help resolve obstacles, and notice trends in the difference between what their people plan to do versus actually do over time.

Single Source of Truth for Task Status

In addition to this, you need to ramp up your documentation of actual work status. Whatever ticketing system you use to manage work needs to be current every day, every hour, every minute. This replaces some of the status ceremonies that you see in a co-located team.

If probably have one of these systems already but update it at only a high level. It might be a work-tracking system like GitHub issues, Asana, Todoist, Workflowy, your custom support system, or your CRM or (what feels like literally) thousands of other options. A meaningful thought experiment to see if you are documenting in enough detail is simply how well your paper trail prevents people from interrupting to ask about how work is going. “It’s going well, I wrote it all down already” should be your answer.

Learn to Write

All of these methods mean that you might need to level-up your skills with the written word. Your bubbling personality will have to stay on hold for a bit (and saved for video chats discussed below) while you work on communicating clearly your ideas, feedback, and objections clearly and concisely.

The 5-minute way to improve your writing:

  • Read more clear, concise language. Trade magazines are a good start,  and newspapers also have a gift for saying much with little space.
  • Before you send something over a page, see if you can decrease its size by 20%. You will be surprised by how often this leads to clearer thinking and more impactful writing.
  • Practice: There are quality classes that you can take online, such as Gotham Writers Business Writing, but re-reading everything you write can help. From comments to emails,  see how well you get your point into others heads – is there confusion or follow-up?

Time to Sync: Video and Chat

Even if you write everything down as you work, there will always be times when you need to coordinate in real-time to make a decision or clarify an issue. Real-time coordination is typically required at the beginning of projects: “What are we going to work on?” and end: “Hey guys why isn’t it working?”

The tools for real-time collaboration have improved considerably in the last few years. Audio-only conference calls between people sitting in offices from fifteen-pound desk phones feel ancient now – we look each other in the eyes on video chat from our phones in airports and coffee shops across thousands of miles. To improve communication for conference calls, I’d recommend using video tools such as Skype, Hangouts, Slack video, or Zoom and encourage people to turn on their cameras and require single-tasking in the meeting. Although you do need to allow for some flexibility with personal space for camera usage, it is a professional requirement that people pay attention during these rare real-time sessions.

But before we ask everyone to get camera-ready we have another tool that we can use for real-time discussion: chat systems. Our options here are also powerful and growing. Slack, Hipchat, Google Chat, there are many options here. Defining what tool your organization uses is less important than how it uses it: if you use a tool like Slack to discuss work items in an agendaless manner then you are just creating a way to interrupt everyone in your company.

There are two good reasons to use real-time chat:

  1. To discuss non-work items in an opt-in way: create a room for people to discuss drones, or dogs, or dance moves. Nobody is required to participate, and it is used to build rapport among coworkers.
  2. To discuss specific items or emergency events: a support channel with a small crowd makes sense, a group dedicated to figuring out what to work on next between two options makes sense. A general channel with everyone in the company talking about the weather does not.

Playback and Rephrase

Regardless of which communicate method or tool you are using, when you communicate you must make sure the message gets to the right person. Asking “What did you hear?” is a way to do this, and when you get an assignment, play it back in advance to make sure you understand it before going off and getting started. This can be done in writing or over video, and including this acknowledgment step can drastically improve your success rate.

For collaborative meetings, rotate people around for note-taking to allow for people to practice being the listener and the person who plays items back. Conclude meetings and online discussions with simple summary statements that are acknowledged and committed to.

With these simple steps, you can influence and improve your team communication, and if you do it well, you can even be more in step than if you were working in the same building. One of the greatest ways to test the health of a remote team is to get them in the same building and see if they shift the way that they work or not; many times you find that they keep working as they did before – getting together for quick heated discussions, and then get back to work – writing it all down as they go.

 

How to Prepare for a Remote Job Interview

How to Prepare for a Remote Job Interview

You’ve got an interview for a sweet remote working position. Congratulations. Now it’s time to prepare. Of course, you should follow the advice that any candidate should adhere to, like researching the company and your interviewer, appear enthusiastic and so on. There’s also prep work that’s unique to a telecommuting interview that you must not overlook.

There are questions you should ask, others you should expect, as well as things you ought to do before and during the interview to demonstrate that you are the very person to join a remote team. Here are the best practices we suggest for anyone preparing to interview for a telecommuting gig.

Do your Homework

Whenever you interview for a job, you’ve got to do your homework. There’s the usual stuff, like learning about the company and the people you’ll be talking with, understanding the field and so on. There are also a few key things you should do before interviewing for a telecommuting position. These things will help identify you as a person who can work from home successfully.

First, demonstrate that you’re comfortable using the tools that of a self-reliant home worker. If your would-be employer suggests a time that won’t work with your schedule, suggest alternatives. This seems obvious, but it demonstrates the flexibility that a remote worker just has. A tool like Doodle is great here, as it’s just the kind of communication tool that those managing remote workers love.

Also, send a calendar invite, and provide times for your location as well as your interviewers. In doing so, you demonstrate an awareness of the time zone dance and accommodate for it. Finally, suggest several options for speaking, such as Skype, Google Hangouts, UberConference, etc. With that done, it’s on to the interview itself.

Interview Logistics & Preparation

Understand that the interview for a remote job will likely be conducted remotely. You’ll probably have an audio call (phone, Skype, etc.) and a video component. Each has unique preparation steps.

If you’ll be interviewed by phone or other audio call (Skype, etc.):

  1. Don’t “check out” during the conversation. It’s easy to be distracted or otherwise let your attention drift when the interviewer can’t see you. No looking out the window or letting your gaze drift to Twitter for a second. Act as if you’re in the same room as your interviewer.
  2. Be aware that you can’t rely on facial expressions or body language to convey information. If you’re smiling, they don’t know it. Therefore…
  3. Your voice takes on increased importance. Since you can’t rely on visuals to convey enthusiasm or interest, speak clearly and with energy. They can’t see the spark in your eyes, so let them hear it in your voice. I’m not saying to be artificially animated, but be aware that of how you sound.

If you make it past the phone- interview, you may have to participate in a video interview via Skype or Google Hangout. Additionally, I once had to record a video of myself answering questions I received via email. Both are common practices when interviewing for a remote job. Here’s how to prepare for this bit and do well.

  1. Look presentable. Again, this goes without saying. Yes, you’re home, but this is not a casual affair. Get dressed.
  2. Be aware of your background. That epic Led Zeppelin poster is awesome, but an interviewer doesn’t want to see it. Ditto the pile of laundry. Make sure your environment looks professional.
  3. Be aware of lighting. Is your face visible and easy to see? Sit aside a window for nice, natural light.  
  4. Be aware of audio. No, you don’t need a professional mic but if you’re in an echo-y room, move. Even the mic on your ear buds will often be better than the one that’s built in on your computer.

Remember, a part of a video interview is to test that you can work with the tools you’ll need to communicate with your employers. If you struggle with a simple video call, the probably won’t want to have regular remote meetings with you.

Lastly, just before you get started, kill bandwidth-hogging apps like Dropbox, etc., turn off any unnecessary noise in the area like the TV or a noisy air conditioner and finally, wear headphones and a mic, even a cheap one.

Questions to expect

First off, you’ll hear the questions that pop up in most interviews, like “What do you know about the company?” and “Why should we hire you?” Prepare for these remote-specific inquiries as well:

“Have you worked remotely before?”

An interviewer will want evidence of your ability to work independently. Past remote experience will be good here. If you don’t have any experience with remote work (or very little), emphasize the experience you do have. Did a snow day force you to work from home on a wintry day? If so, how did you cope? Does your current brick-and-mortar job require a lot of independent, self-directed work (for example, photo editing at your desk)? Explain how this demonstrates your ability to be self-directed without a lot of interaction/supervision from others.

“Do you have a home office?”

While an employer may be happy with having you work from home, they might not want you at the coffee shop where prying eyes can look over your shoulder and see something that ought to be confidential. Additionally, they may require that you have certain basic equipment in place, like a certain internet speed or a scanner. If you’re on an audio interview, do your best to paint a picture of your workspace.

“How do you handle distractions?”

You know this question is coming. Have an answer ready.

Questions to ask

The questions you ask can be just as important as the answers you provide. As someone interviewing for a remote position, these three should be on your list:

  1. How do remote workers communicate with each other and people back at the office?
  2. How long has remote work been offered at the organization?
  3. How many employees work remotely?

By and large, interviewing for a work-from-home position is much like any interview you’ll take. With the tweaks and preparations mentioned above, you’ll greatly enhance your chances of nailing it. Good luck.

 

The Time Zone Dance

The Time Zone Dance

“It’s a small world after all,” claims the infectious Disney earworm. That’s true at the Magic Kingdom and the modern workplace. High-speed internet and ever-evolving communication tools mean employers can find talent without geographic boundaries.

Previously I discussed the challenge of increasing productivity across remote teams. Today, I want to look at another aspect of managing remote workers: time zones. When part of your team sleeps as another group eats breakfast, it can be tough to foster effective communication, delegation, and accountability.

In this article, I’ll highlight strategies and tools to help you manage the “Time Zone Dance.”

Actively engage remote coworkers

Imagine this scenario: You’re in a meeting with seven co-workers. Four are in a room at HQ, while three others are on a conference call. The conversation grows, ideas are flying around, trouble spots are being identified and solved. It’s been a good, productive 15 minutes.
Then everyone jumps when a disembodied voice fills the air.

Then everyone jumps when a disembodied voice fills the air.

You overlooked the group on the phone.

It wasn’t malicious or intentional. It’s just so easy to do. A virtual presence doesn’t necessarily have the same weight as someone who’s in the room, making eye contact, using body language, and engaging with peers. With this in mind, be careful not to overlook the teammates you can’t see.

You might even go so far as to designate someone to be the “point person” for the virtual attendees. His or her job is to ensure that the remote participants have a chance to share. Something as simple as “Thoughts on this?” directed at your virtual attendees goes a long way to making them feel a part of the team, and reminds the room that there are other people at the meeting.

Get a status update

Here’s another practice to make a part of every meeting that includes remote workers in various time zones. Before saying goodbye, pose these three questions to the group:

1. What are you working on today?
2. What did you work on yesterday?
3. What roadblocks are currently in your way?

By asking these questions every time, you’ll identify and address trouble spots, but more importantly, you’ll require all employees to show what they’ve accomplished.
Additionally, this practice lets those in the “early” time zone communicate with those in the “late” shift know what’s being handed off, what progress has been made and what can be expected in the morning.

Use a rotating schedule

I spent eight years on a team that had members on three continents. Most of them were on the East Coast of the U.S., and every time I noticed a time zone bias that negatively affected the whole team. Everything started on the East Coast and went from there. It’s possible to benefit from a “home base” like that, but in my experience, it caused trouble.

Scheduling everything around East Coast time placed a recurring burden on those living elsewhere. Some folks had to routinely wake up very early to attend meetings, while others were forced to delay bedtime by a troublesome length of time.

The compromise was a rotating schedule. Over the course of a month, everyone on the team, from New York City to New Zealand, had one morning meeting, one midday meeting and one at night.

Think before you hit submit

My final tip is to be aware of when you hit that submit button. For example, if you’re working on a project and it’s nearly 5:00 PM and you decide to call it a day and resume work in the morning, colleagues in Asia now must wait a whole additional work day to receive that update. In this case, it might be best to work through 5:30 or 6:00 to ensure those remote coworkers have what they need at the start of their day.

With the tips laid out, let’s move on to tools. I’ve spoken about productivity tools before, and now I’ll look at three tools that are perfect for doing the Time Zone Dance, starting with Every Time Zone.

EveryTimeZone.com offers a great-looking presentation of the local time across all time zones. Your local time is displayed by default, but you can click anywhere on a grid to see what time it is anywhere in the world.

You can get a little more specific with World Time Buddy. Enter the names of the cities where your team or collaborators reside, click on a time period and view local time across your custom cities.

If you use Slack, consider Spacetime. It lets you get worker-specific, in that you can type “/time @username” to see that person’s local time. Note that Spacetime is still in beta, but in my testing, it did what I expected.

Remember the golden rule

If you’re a hiring manager, go out and employ the best and the brightest, no matter where they live. If you’re the worker, take that dream gig that’s a thousand miles away. Then employ these tips and tools to help ensure it all goes as planned.

While you’re at it, remember the golden rule of working with remote teams: Respect the Time Zones. You don’t want to blow up someone’s DMs or otherwise send noisy push notifications to someone’s bedside phone in the middle of the night. If inspiration or the solution to a problem strikes, use one of the tools described previously in this article to decide if you should let your teammates know right away, or if it can wait.

Working from home is a dream and a great privilege. With a little planning, it can be a very productive dream, too.

6-ish Things I Learned Transitioning to Remote Work

6-ish Things I Learned Transitioning to Remote Work

In November, I made a significant life change. I left an eight-year career in museums and art history to being working remotely in tech. Like many people, I had dreamed of working from home, envisioning luxurious days of sipping coffee in my pajamas in front of my laptop, looking back on my days of commuting to a brick and mortar office with bemusement.

While the coffee sipping has held true, there are a few things that surprised me when I made the jump to remote working, not the least of which is the fact that few people work in their pajamas.

Here are a few things I’ve learned thus far.

1. It’s hard to explain.

One of the challenges of my 30s is explaining what I do for a living, and how I can do it from home. The option of going to work in your basement, or in a coffee shop, didn’t exist in my parents’ work lives.

My dad has wondered “How do they know if anyone’s working if you don’t punch a clock or go into an office? Won’t people take advantage of it and goof off?” As someone who punched a clock or otherwise had their time tracked for their entire working life, I had no idea how it would work.

What I’ve discovered is that my work product is my time card. It’s less about being physically in a seat and more about producing. If I’m not working, things will break, and people will notice, likely more so than if I was phoning it in by being physically in an office.

2. First days are still awkward.

You’d think that joining a remote team would be straightforward- just open up your laptop and start cranking away. By and large, that’s true, but there’s still that “first day of school” feeling that can be terrifying.

You’re going to be missing a password. You’re going to have to ask a bunch of HR questions. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have no context for the inside jokes on Slack. Except when you’re remote, there aren’t many chances for casual interaction that might clue you into the joke or help you discover which person has the right login credentials.

You have to initiate those conversations actively, and as a somewhat shy person who is also the new kid on the block, that can be hard.

3. Stress is a thing.

When I started working remotely, I thought my stress levels would magically decline, given my lack of commute and access to all of the comforts of home. Largely, that’s true. Being able to make my coffee, cuddle the dog, go to the gym in the middle of the day, and not have to fight the absurdity of Pittsburgh traffic has done wonders for my mental and physical health.

However, work is work, and stress is still a thing. Working remotely has required developing new strategies for managing stress. At first, I was nervous about completing work and if I was producing enough through the day. I was constantly watching my phone for Slack notifications and responding to every email buzz, no matter what time. I was a stressed out wreck.

I have also set distinct boundaries for work and home. I use my office as an office and do nothing else there. My laptop stays plugged in on my desk and doesn’t creep upstairs unless it is a sunny day and I am working on the porch. I try to log out and stay logged out until the next morning. While I am at work, I limit personal calls or errands to designated breaks and attempt to stay focused on the task at hand.

To help manage the workload, I try to calendar and schedule projects and deadlines, including mundane weekly tasks. I use Slack’s /reminder feature religiously. I also vigorously protect time to walk my dog in the afternoon, forcing myself to get out of my office and to focus on a different task for a half hour.

4.Text is (mentally) expensive.

In my office job, communication tended towards the verbose. Meetings, planning, extensive documentation, and lengthy emails ruled the day.

When I transitioned to working remotely, this was my default setting. Multi-paragraph emails, lengthy Slack messages, etc. Until a fellow remote worker (not a coworker) kindly told me to cut it out.

As a lover of words, I was offended.

Then it dawned on me that my team is bombarded with text all day long. Our default tool is text, and deriving meaning from text takes time and brain power. My Moby Dick emails were slowing them down. I am actively working to reform my text firehose habits to lessen their stress and communicate more clearly.

I am actively working to reform my text firehose habits to communicate more clearly. Recently I’ve started using Grammarly to check for sentence length and overused words, and I’m also trying to cut 25% of the words in a draft. It’s ruthless, but effective!

5. I’ve learned to be more assertive.

In my previous jobs, there were strict hierarchies and rules about meeting and communicating with people higher up in the organization.

When I began working remotely, the physical barriers of executive assistants, office doors, and officemates disappeared. I now have direct access to my CEO, my supervisor, and my coworkers, but the years of working in a traditional office setting plus a healthy dose of shyness mean that I have to hype myself up before barging into their DMs.

I’ve had to learn to be assertive and to ask for things because there isn’t the casual coffee-pot conversations or random hallway chats to surface issues. It’s not easy or comfortable to push past some of my introvert tendencies and start the conversation myself, but it has been necessary to get things done.

6. Know thyself.

In my past jobs, everyone had a set time to punch in and out, with no variation. With a globally distributed company, those rules are a bit amorphous. Like Dave recommended in his post on productivity, we schedule hours to overlap and largely synch on Eastern Standard Time. However, people are highly variable. Some of my colleagues crank out amazing work late at night.

And then there’s me, one of those annoying cheery morning people.

I know myself, and I know that my most productive hours are 6:30 AM and 8:30 AM, and so I work on tasks that take focus then. I might take a longer lunch or go for a late-day workout so that I have overlapping hours with my other teammates during their productive hours, but this strategy has been a way for me to use my strengths and still accommodate the working styles of my team.

6.333. It’s just as awesome as everyone said it would be.

Hey, I said 6ish.

For all of the bumps of starting a new job, in a new industry, and doing a new style of work, I have to say that working remotely has been life changing.

I love the freedom, responsibility, and relaxation that has come from working at home. I’ve rediscovered joy in hobbies that my commuter life had killed. I’m able to be more present before and after work.

If you’re considering making the jump from a traditional office setting, acknowledge that there is an adjustment period, give yourself room to learn, and embrace your newfound freedom.

Trust me. It’s awesome.

Increasing Productivity Across Remote Teams

Increasing Productivity Across Remote Teams

In today’s connected world, your next star employee could be in Los Angeles or London, and hiring managers are taking advantage of the global marketplace. Research by Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) found that, as of January 2016, “…3.7 million employees (2.8% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time,” and “…80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.”

There seem to be financial benefits of engaging a remote team as well GWA notes that, “If those with compatible jobs and a desire to work from home did so just half the time…a typical business would save $11,000 per person per year, and telecommuters would save between $2,000 and $7,000 a year.”

Remote teams foster unique challenges, like maintaining productivity among people you might never meet. When Jane Employee works outside of the building, for example, you can’t visit her desk to check on progress. Likewise, Jane can’t step into your office when she’s stuck or has a question. How can you as a manager maintain peak productivity from remote workers? That’s what I mean to describe in this article.

Having managed a team of eight writers and a stable of freelancers across two continents for more than ten years, I’ve picked up a few tricks and strategies for keeping a remote team productive and focused. Let’s get to it.

Build a team

First and foremost, make your remote workers feel that they’re a part of the team at large. I recommend using real-time chat as the virtual office and making sure that all employees – local and remote – are logged in while on duty. Not only does this foster communication between all workers, it helps those on the “away team” feel a part of the decisions, conversations and overall project goals that happen every day. Feeling like you’re a part of a vibrant, active team keeps motivation and productivity high.

As for the right tools, choose from Slack, HipChat or even good old IRC if you want to go old school. If you want to add project management/task assignments to your collaboration, consider Basecamp or Asana.

Respect Time Zones

Next, and this is a biggie: respect the time zones. You’ll likely have workers whose 9–5 isn’t the same as a site-based employee’s. While this can potentially be troublesome, taking steps to respect the difference will keep everyone on track.

This comes down to trust. If you selected people for your remote team successfully (more on that later in this article), you’ll have a group of motivated workers who thrive in that setting. Give them their assignments, set up methods for regular check-ins and let them get to it.

Also, focus on schedule overlap. There might be two hours, one hour or even thirty minutes when everyone is “on duty” simultaneously. Identify that time period for check-ins, video meetings and critical communications.

Lastly, smart delegation will serve you well here. If the on-site workers are several hours ahead, give the away team assignments that pick up where the local folks leave off. Communication is critical here, which brings me to my (predictable) next point.

Communicate

Communication is critical. Here’s where a solution like Slack, Basecamp or Asana will pay huge dividends. Each can store an entire project history, including communication, assets, meeting notes and more in a single, searchable location. Centralizing communication like this lets workers tag each other, share files, have meaningful discussions in one place. Get disjointed conversations out of email inboxes and reap huge benefits.

Finally, identify a process for addressing any lapses in productivity. The best way to get started is to look for “overlap time.” That is, the block of time during the day or evening that all parties are online and available. Perhaps there’s a two-hour block in the morning or 90 minutes in the afternoon where all team members – remote and local, management and front line – can connect. Schedule a consistent, predictable review for this time period.

Perhaps a quick “stand-up” could happen at the start of each overlap period. A weekly wrap-up via Skype is a good idea, as is a monthly all-hands lets all employees – remote and otherwise – know when their work will be reviewed and expected. Lastly, here’s a great time to talk work performance with anyone who needs a boost.

Managing a remote team can be rewarding and challenging. Take the steps outlined above to keep your workers on task, productive and happy.

Avoiding Remote Office Burnout

Avoiding Remote Office Burnout

For many, working from home is a dream come true, or a goal to strive for. Those of us lucky enough to achieve the dream work from the comfort and convenience of our own homes. While others spend twenty, thirty or even forty minutes commuting, we simply walk from Room A to Room B. We enjoy meals in our own kitchens, sit on our own furniture and take a break to pet the dog whenever the mood strikes. How can one possibly burn out on such an enviable arrangement?

Easily.

Remote office burnout threatens even the happiest of us. Consider the unshaven worker who looks up from his laptop to realize, “I haven’t left this house for two weeks.” Or worse, the temptation to work more hours, since it’s so easy and convenient to do so. A few weeks of 18-hour days will leave even the most dedicated person burned out.

Fortunately, there are many easy, effective things you can do to avoid burnout. Let’s get started with avoiding remote office burnout.

Take frequent breaks

You’re lucky enough to work from home; take advantage of the perks. Prepare a lunch that you really enjoy. Walk the dog. Work from that coffee shop that you love so much. Meet a friend for lunch. I’m not saying you should shirk your duties just because you’re home. But you ought to take advantage of the perks that many cubicle-bound employees dream of.

One thing you should definitely embrace is breaks. Short or long, time spent away from the task at hand gives you time to process what you’re working on and have ideas (think of all the great ideas you’ve had in the shower). There are a few ways to build break times into your work day.

One method is to formalize the process. The famed Pomodoro Technique teaches practitioners to alternate between timed periods of work (usually around 20-25 minutes) and break periods. The first three breaks are five minutes long, followed by a 15-minute rest. After that the process repeats. It’s effective for those who embrace routine as well the more “attention challenged.” For example, when the temptation to browse YouTube hits, you know there’s a break time during which that will be appropriate right around the corner.

Another way to work a break time into your day is to split it into two. For example, spend the morning working from home, and after lunch, transition to a cafe, local library, co-working space or similar location. The drive serves as a great break from the day’s duties.

But don’t take my word for it. A study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011 demonstrated that “…even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.”

Get some exercise

Research conducted by University of Georgia in 2008 suggests that regular exercise can make you feel more energized within a few weeks, while effects on your mood are immediate. You don’t need a costly gym membership to reap these rewards, either. A simple walk outdoors for 30 minutes a day encompasses many of the burnout-busters I’ll discussed in this article.

First, it’s a break from the grind, which gives you brain time to process input, like that new design you’re working on, that lengthy article or the newest problem that just seems so daunting. The link between physical activity and cognitive health has been demonstrated scientifically.  

A stroll on your own terms is a perk of working from home, and I’ll encourage you not to overlook those. Finally, when part of a daily schedule, including consistent work hours, exercise becomes even more powerful.

Set work hours and follow them religiously

“I’ll just pop over to my desk and check email for a minute.”

“I can work on this tonight after the kids go to bed.”

“I’ll finish this on Saturday.”

Sound familiar? I’ve said all of these things to myself many times. Ultimately, they lead to my being overworked, overtired and stressed out. An office-bound worker has a clear start and stop time to his or her day, and you should, too. While it’s tempting to pull an all-nighter, try to avoid the temptation. Even a “five minute” email check can swell to 20 minutes with ease.

It’s not always easy to be strict with yourself in this manner. For years I’d work while my kids were at school and once they got home, either: 1) work and feel guilty that I wasn’t in “dad mode” or 2) spend time with the kids, resentful that I wasn’t working. Today, I tell myself that the work day ends at 3:00 PM and that’s that. This decision forced me to devise a routine for the hours I have to myself and really enjoy family time.

Sticking to set work hours also fosters good working habits with clients and/or coworkers. The first time you immediately respond to a last-second, after-hours request, you set a precedent that your time is really their time. Yes, emergencies happen and sometimes these extra hours are inevitable. I get that. Just convey to all involved that that’s the exception, not the rule.

Make time for human interaction

Remember the worker I mentioned who was lamenting his home-bound predicament? Don’t let this be you. Many home-workers are introverted on some level. I’ve enjoyed working from home all these years because I actually enjoy the quiet of an empty house. It helps me concentrate, focus and be productive.

But too much of a good thing, isn’t.

A few years ago I began getting together with like-minded home workers once every two weeks. I grew to love the opportunity to talk with compatriots, share stories and strategies for doing what we do. Years later we get together (more regularly) and I find those gatherings just as beneficial as they’ve ever been.

This is especially effective when dealing with burnout. A great way to escape the dreaded state is to get a moral boost from others. A good conversation with someone who has “been there” can go a long way. You can vent, work through problems together or act as a sounding board for ideas.

You’re among the lucky few. You work from home. With a little effort and planning, you’ll continue to do so — happily — for years to come.