I’m Brian, the VP of engineering at Ceros. Right now, an unprecedented number of you are working from home and learning to manage your teams remotely. This is something I’ve been doing for more than a decade, so I know a thing or two about how to do it right and how to do it wrong. Here are some helpful tips on how to do your best work from anywhere.
Stick to your regular schedule
In general, do what you usually do. Get up at the same time, shower, have breakfast, and get ready like you normally would. This will help you stay in a work mindset throughout your day. You’ll notice that you have some extra time each day from the commute you’re not making. Use this time wisely: Get in some exercise, maybe some yoga or meditation, or even just use the time to read. Do something productive you’ve been putting off, so when it’s time to work, you’ll be ready to go.
Create a space
Having a private, dedicated place to work is ideal. If you live with roommates, you have a lot of distractions. An extra room for a home office is definitely a luxury, but wherever you are, try to carve out a quiet place away from distractions. A shared common space will not be very effective if you have other people in the house, whether they be kids home from school, a partner, or roommates. You may want to come up with a schedule with the other people in the house, so that everyone knows when someone is working and shouldn’t be disturbed.
Don’t sleep on the ergonomics
Ergonomics are important. You’ll want a comfortable chair and desk, if possible. If you don’t have that, do your best to make sure your back isn’t aching at the end of the day. Get up and do some deep back stretches when you need to.
Have a connection back-up plan
A lot of people are going to be working from home over the next few weeks, so networks are likely to get overwhelmed. If your Internet is slow or flaky, go ahead and contact your provider and see about upgrading your service or equipment. For me, I have WiFi tethering on my cell phone plan, so when our internet goes down, I can switch to that. I recommend this to anyone whose job is 100% dependent on having connectivity, which is most of us these days.
See and be seen
Whenever you have meetings, use video conferencing if you can, downgrading to voice only if you have connectivity problems. It’s important to stay connected with people on a human level, and seeing their faces makes that much easier. Facial expressions and body language are a key part of communication.
You should also schedule all meetings ahead of time, and avoid having one without putting it on the calendar first. This is extra important when some people are remote and others are in the office. Be sure to join your meetings a few minutes early to ensure your tech is working. And while video is important for connecting with humans, the quality of your audio is important for sharing ideas. Use a good, quality headset with an excellent microphone that can block out background noise. The earbuds are not good enough!
Be considerate. Actually, extra considerate
How you communicate is especially crucial when working remotely. Be deliberate with your communication; choose your words and your tone with care. Intent is often misinterpreted when using a text communication tool like Slack, but this can even happen over video conference. Assume positive intent from people you’re communicating with, and ask clarifying questions if you’re feeling offended or misunderstood.
All in all, be excellent to each other.
Don’t be spontaneous
Whether you’re in the office or working from home, take extra care to document everything. Impromptu conversations and word-of-mouth don’t help when your team is working remote. If you are in the office and have a random conversation, remember to document and share decisions with your remote peers. They are not mind-readers! The same applies when you’re having conversations over DM. In fact, avoid direct messages whenever possible—use the appropriate team channels instead.
Also, use the right tools for communication. It’s impossible to know the headspace of your remote peers. In the office, when you see someone has their headphones on and is in a groove, you might avoid interrupting them, unless the situation is urgent. Before Slacking someone with a status update, could you update the status in a project management tool or CRM? Before interrupting someone for a status update, could you check that tool? If you don’t need an answer immediately, would an email be more appropriate? Be considerate.
Extend the same courtesy that you do in person
Use the same courtesy that you’d use if you were in person. This may sound counter to the last point, but you’ll also want to be proactive and over-communicate. Remember, people can’t see you working and won’t have as much visibility on your work. Share your progress updates. Share what you are working on. Share when you need to step away from the computer for some reason. If you’re stepping away for a spell that’s longer than usual, let people know, and make sure you’re not blocking them. Share your wins and your struggles. Your team may be struggling with the same things and you can work through it together.
Trust the team
Managers need to trust their teams and monitor their results. You’ve hired each person for a reason, and you should be able to count on them to continue their great work while remote. Check in regularly with each person with a scheduled 1-on-1, and check in with the whole team together. Find out what sucks for your team, and help to make it suck less. You may also find that some of the things you do in the remote-first world will be helpful when you’re all back in the office together.