Working from home: 9 real tips from an entrepreneur and dad who works remotely

Working from home: 9 real tips from an entrepreneur and dad who works remotely

Best practices on how to make Working From Home less painful and get things done

    With the hit of recent COVID-19 quarantine, many companies decided to let employees work from home. It is a very wise decision and we should be thankful that remote work is at all possible in the 21st century.

    But, what are the consequences? This rapid shift in work mode will impact your efficiency hugely, and if you are not prepared — you won't get even close to any goals set.

    I've been working from home for the last 2.5 years managing several product teams with 30+ people distributed across many locations, including central and home offices. More to that, I have a 3 y.o. son who was at home at least half of that time.

    During that period we launched several complex ML-driven applications for Fortune500 customers as well as launched azimu.ai that actually helps distributed teams work efficiently. Also, my wife finished her Master Degree and I finished several hardcore courses in Data Science.

Here are the things that work for me and my teammates. Below we'll talk in details how each of those could be implemented:

Prepare your working space and your flatmates

    1. Prepare your working area and remote tools

    2. Define your own strict routine, schedule and stick to it

    3. Agree with your homemates on the rules of work and stick to them

    4. Don’t forget to get out of your chair/room from time to time

Team and personal work setup

    5. Make sure you have the remote access to all required docs and data

    6. Ensure to have daily tasks planned and weekly goal defined

    7. Agree on the working schedule with the colleagues

    8. Have at least 1 daily video standup with your team to feel like a human

    9. Proactively communicate every milestone or bottleneck you have

So, let's dig into how to make each of the points actually work. If you want to try them too, you don't have to do everything from the list. Just consider what works best for you.

1. Prepare your working area and remote tools

    Separate your working space from your home space. Our brains are already used to our home being a relaxing zone and if you don't move out of your chill area it can be hard to concentrate. Moreover, with this trick, you can limit your flatmates from getting into your work zone and hence distracting you. It is good if you can have a separate room, but even a well-defined corner could work.

    Make your workspace comfortable and productive: get a separate desk, where all your work-related stuff can be located and not messed up with your sandwiches or dog food. While setting up the desk, consider the light — it is very important. Better coming from the left/right side. Light makes you more cheerful and energetic and hence productive. In addition, your eyes are not going to suffer. Get a decent chair: it will hurt you to sit on a usual kitchen chair for 8 hours a day. Maybe, think of noise-canceling headphones like these ones or ambient music with your ordinary phones like this from Moby.

    Setup, start using and stick to all the required tools for being productive. By these I mean Task Management (Asana, Jira or even paper note), Communication (Slack, MS Teams, Zoom, Telegram...),  Knowledge Storage/Sharing (Google Docs, Notion, Confluence), Time Management (Google Calendar, Basecamp, Pomodoro Timers whatever works for you). The main problem here is that if your company does not use it already, it would be hard to make everyone do it, but you can be the first to try. Just start using them and sharing with the colleagues and they'll switch over at some point of time.

2. Define your own strict routine, schedule and stick to it

    Despite the fact that many people don't like it - routine makes us more organized and happy. Define your daily schedule with morning/evening rituals, work sessions, coffee/fitness breaks, lunches and finish times. The main thing about routine is sticking to it, but when you do it for at least 2-3 weeks in a row it will start to pay off and you will see how your body is ready to jump into each session. However, if you feel that your initial schedule makes you unhappy - change it, cause it might be more damaging making yourself stick to an unpleasant one.

    Staying at home gives you a great possibility to do whatever you like between working sprints: nobody is going to judge! So, try to incorporate small things that make you happy, like balcony coffee or a power nap after lunch. The happier you are - the more energy you have for work

It's very important to communicate your routine and adjust it to your flatmates and co-workers. We'll cover this later in the article.

3. Agree with your homemates on the rules of work and stick to them

    Your homemates are used to your attention at home and that's very tricky. Agree on your routine with your home team and stick to the agreement. Your borders are important here as your brain would love to switch to the distraction from the challenging work task, especially with your homemates doing completely different types of work/leisure.

    This is specifically important for families. E.g. with my wife we split the day into blocks of 3 hours + separate lunch break and take turns spending time with our kid, while the other one is working. In addition, we have a menu planned, and it saves a load of time.

4. Don’t forget to get out of your chair/room from time to time

    Physical activity is proven to increase your mood, health and energy levels. With the partial or full lockdown like now, it is super important to make daily exercises and move out of your room or even your chair.

    Subscribe to fitness apps that let you do what you like the most out of possible "at home" options, or get yourself an online class on Yoga, Kung-Fu or anything else. There is no magic there, you just need to do exercises. If you are new to exercising at home - start small with just 5 minutes per day. You can then try to increase by 10% each week either adding exercises or an additional push-up. 

As I mentioned above, dedicate the fitness slot in your schedule and stick to it, whatever happens, it should be an untouchable one :)

Now, you should have made yourself prepared to rock from home, but that does not count if your team behaves differently! Here are the team tricks:

5. Make sure you have the remote access to all required docs and data

    If you don't have access to the documents you need or the equipment left at work - you would not do good. Plan ahead what access points you require to change/obtain to get your work done from home. You may require to talk to your admins or pre-download some working documents to your local machine.

    You can use TeamViewer or AnyDesk to connect your home station to your office machine. This might require admin's help to install and configure everything.

    Also, consider getting a 3G/LTE router. If you lose the connection at home, you can switch to that one and finish the work. Sharing the internet from your mobile phone can also work, if not restricted by your operator.

6. Ensure to have daily tasks planned and weekly goal defined

    The rule of 5P tells that Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance and it very powerful! That does not mean you need to have a strategic plan for the year ahead, but at least a weekly/daily vision will go.

    Make sure you have weekly team and personal goals set and communicated with the team. Making your goals visible will motivate you to get it done and will be a north star for your week. At the end of the week just write a passage on what you have achieved and post it for everyone. Even if your team does not follow this, try doing this by yourself for some time and you'll see how it impacts the team as well.

    Also, try to have 1-3 key goals that you want to achieve each day, communicate them to the team during the morning stand-up as well as telling what you've accomplished yesterday. Having a daily list and crossing out items out of it during the day is a very powerful mood energizer and adds tremendous value to the remote teamwork alignment. 

    The key thing here is not to do a lot of tasks, but to know which tasks are there, qualify them according to some system, e.g. Urgent Important Matrix. Every time you don't know what to do, go to the task list and select one of them. Don't add any others, unless something urgent comes up.

7. Agree on the working schedule with the colleagues

    You've set up your working schedule. Now you need to agree with everybody from the team when and how the team is working. Communicate explicitly your working and availability hours. They might differ from the office ones. The key thing here is to have the team members with whom you collaborate the most aligned with you and have at least 3-4 hours of overlap so you can work together.

    Also, it is a good idea to agree which working content goes to which digital channel and when. You can easily be spammed with unstructured messages on Slack and get distracted from the main task you need to achieve. So, define when do you do longer tasks that require concentration and when you are available for a quick slack talk. You can turn on/off your notifications to stick more to your plan. Some undefined tasks or confusions are better to discuss via an online call, some quick details could be clarified in chat. Longer informational or consideration requests with more structure should be sent by email. 

8. Have at least 1 daily video standup with your team to feel like a human

    Just have at least 1 video call per day, so you can feel the team spirit. Having cameras off makes it really a robotic experience. Agree on this with your team and try it out. Normally, we receive tonnes of emotions and daily interactions with the colleagues that we take them for granted. But you also need these emotions while staying at home. If you can/need to do more video calls - do them, just with the camera on. If someone does not have the possibility to have a camera on - ask them to at least have their photo on the avatar, this makes a lot of difference as well.

9. Proactively communicate every milestone or bottleneck you have

    We communicate at work a lot, even if we don't say anything. When you look sleepy, happy or sad, the team notices it. When you are at home, they don't see it. Try to overcommunicate anything you work on and you're stuck with. Say "hello" in the morning to everyone in the chat and say "goodbye" when you leave. Communicate your daily goals and how you've accomplished them. Post your weekly status to everyone, so they see the bigger picture. Celebrate the wins with a post in the chat or post your failure to get support. Use emojis, to make your messages more human and sound like you.

    Also, it is a good idea to have a one-on-one video once a week or two with some of your colleagues just for a casual talk. It might not be about work but it will help you stay connected with the team and be really personal, like you are at work.

    If you want more information on the remote communication - refer to this guide from GitLab, which works remotely and prepared it based on their learnings.

So, I've mentioned 9 key tips that work for me and my team to stay productive. I hope these tips helped you feel better about having to work remotely. If you use them, you will have the control over your productivity and spirit.

And what works for you the best with the work from home setup?