Find yourself suddenly working remotely because of the coronavirus outbreak? Don’t worry. Our guide has got you covered.
This is all you need to keep the productivity flowing while working remotely. Whether you’re managing a remote team or you’re an employee new to a more flexible work arrangement, this guide has the info you need to do your best work from anywhere, at least for the time being.
Click below to navigate down to the story you’re most interested in.
- Remote Working: What It Is and How to Get Started
- The 23 Best Tools and Apps for Remote Working
- How to Manage a Remote Team
- How to Stay Connected as a Remote Worker
Remote Working: What It Is and How to Get Started
Everyone seems to be working remotely lately—it just might be the future of work. According to a recent survey conducted by Global Workplace Analytics, remote working has grown by 159% since 2005—approximately 4.7 million employees (3.4% of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time. Are you one of them?
In part, remote work has grown so popular because tools like Slack and Zoom make telecommuting, or virtual work, possible. Plus, rising real estate prices in tech hotbeds like New York and San Francisco make remote working significantly more cost effective. But there are many other reasons why big companies, small businesses, and freelance workers alike are starting to embrace more flexible work schedules.
But just as with every business trend, remote working has its benefits and its pitfalls. So before you decide to abandon your traditional office setup and in favor of working in your pajamas, here’s what you need to know about remote work.
The Benefits of Remote Working
Between countless meetings, distractions, and interruptions, people can waste a lot of time at work. In fact, only around 60% of the time you spend in the office is productive, according to Atlassian.
But a 2018 survey from FlexJobs found that most employees feel significantly more productive when they can work from where they want. Out of the 3,000 respondents, 74% of remote workers said that they experienced fewer interruptions working from home, 71% said they were less stressed without a commute, and 65% said they spent less time negotiating office politics. All of these changes led to an increase in productivity.
There’s a lot of evidence to back this up. A 2013 study conducted by the Stanford Business School found that people are more productive when they’re working on their own time. Remote workers were tracked as they worked from home for a period of nine months. The results showed that these remote workers were 13% more productive than those in-office—they took fewer breaks and fewer sick days, and, because of their flexible schedules, they worked during their most productive hours of the day.
The benefits of working remotely go beyond productivity. Working remotely, even just part time, can make employees much happier—with less stress and a better work-life balance. The Owl Labs 2019 State of Remote Work Survey found that of the 1,202 U.S. workers they surveyed, the remote workers reported they were happy at their jobs 29% more frequently than their on-site counterparts. And when you combine that information with all the ways you could save money by working remotely, you begin to wonder why anyone works at a traditional office anymore.
But you don’t have to be working remotely all the time in order to feel the positive effects. Global Workplace Analytics found that the ideal schedule is a hybrid one, working remotely two or three days a week. Splitting time between the office and remote locations, balancing concentrative work at home with face-to-face collaboration, provides the highest level of productivity.
How to Start Working Remotely
Remote working isn’t always as easy as it looks. For starters, telecommunication isn’t seamless—hybrid meetings often result in interruptions, everyone talking over each other, and a host of IT issues. Plus, remote workers often have to go out of their way to make sure they don’t miss anything. Not all important office interactions happen within the confines of a meeting, after all. Sometimes, the most meaningful social or business conversations happen on the fly, on the elevator or during a quick break.
So yes, there’s FOMO. According to the survey from Owl Labs, some remote workers, 23% of them, have a concern that not being present in the office might negatively impact their career. Part of this anxiety might come from a lack of proper support for remote work. Remote workers are often responsible for their own time management and prioritization of tasks. And also, according to Owl Labs, 38% of remote workers and 15% of remote managers received no training on how to work remotely.
If you’re an employee who’s thinking about beginning to work remotely, there are a few best practices you should follow. Here are some initial tips for staying on the ball, from the comfort of your own living room:
- Set yourself up for success: If you’re going to stay home, treat it like your office. Have a designated work area, eat lunch, take regular breaks to give your mind a rest and get your blood pumping.
- Be honest about your procrastination: We all do it. But if you’re working remotely, you have to be your own manager. For starters, consider monitoring your activity on the internet, using one of these useful anti-procrastinations apps, like Beeminder, which lets you track how much time you spend on a website, or Bato.Life, which will forcefully close your browser for you when your time surfing the web is up.
The Future of Work?
With the rise of the digital nomad, trends toward specialization at work, and the influx of Gen Z digital natives into the workforce, it’s clear that remote work is here to stay, and it’s just going to get cooler.
According to research conducted by PWC in 2016, 63% of employees (out of 1,385 employees surveyed) believe that the 8-hour workday is very soon going to become obsolete—with 68% saying that all work will be done remotely.
So, if you’re feeling like it’s time to switch up your schedule, see if you can work from home a couple days a week—it will make all the difference.
The 23 Best Tools and Apps for Remote Working
Remote working used to be niche—the only people who could “remote in” to the office were those with the right technological set up. But now, thanks to better WiFi, clearer screens, and the many tools that help us stay connected to the office wherever we are, remote work is becoming more popular. Here are the necessary tools and apps to help you keep your remote routine on track.
A messaging app for the whole team
The messaging app Slack has become so ubiquitous, it’s almost unimaginable to work without it—whether it’s in the office or remote. Slack’s instant messaging feature keeps everyone on the same page and has effectively slayed the email, the sending of which can waste close to five hours in a given work day. But even more than that, it can be an important space for collaboration between team members at a distance. Here are some tricks to customizing your Slack experience.
But just because Slack has dominated the workplace doesn’t mean it’s the only team chat app. For those of you looking for an alternative, here are a few options:
- Twist: Much like Slack, it’s a communication app which separates channels into searchable conversational threads. It claims it solves the stressful nature of Slack communication by prioritizing clarity.
- Microsoft Teams: A messaging platform that’s particularly good at supporting the kind of collaborative work done in documents or meetings.
- Discord: A voice app, for those of us who need to be able to speak to our coworkers (or our fellow gamers) at the touch of a button.
- Google Chats Hangout: Google’s team messaging app basically has all the same features as Slack. It might be the right fit for a team that spends a lot of time collaborating on G Suite documents and presentations on the same platform.
Video conferencing tool for the remote team
You might think that remote workers don’t have to attend as many meetings as their in-office counterparts, but this is not the case. Remote workers go to a ton of meetings—that’s why getting everyone on the same reliable, easy-to-use video conferencing app is so important. Here are a few options.
- Google Hangouts: The most convenient thing about Google’s video call tool is that it’s integrated with your Google calendar—if you have a business account, a video call appears every time you add a new event.
- Zoom: Yes, the audio and video quality are great, but that’s not the only reason people think this tool is the best. Zoom can scale with your team. If you’re trying to organize a webinar with 100 active participants and tens of thousands of viewers (and record them to watch later), Zoom is for you.
- Screenflow: If you want to record your meetings, but don’t want to pay for Zoom.
- Timezone.io: For a team made up of digital nomads, it can be difficult to keep your time differences straight. Timezone.io keeps track of everyone’s remote schedules, and makes planning those long-distance video conferences easier for everybody.
Cloud storage tools for remote workers
Cloud storage is important for any office, but it becomes especially so when your team goes remote. If you’re looking for a cheap option for a cloud storage tool—look no further than the G Suite. Not only is the platform well-suited to sharing and working simultaneously in documents, spreadsheets, and presentations of all sizes, but it’s also compatible with Slack, making it easy to share with the necessary teammates on any given project. And it never hurts to have more than one cloud storage solution! Dropbox is another great option, as is Microsoft OneDrive.
A way to remote in to the office computer
You never know when you’re going to need access to that one file on your office desktop that you forgot to bring home. When that need comes up, there are several secure options to help you gain access to another computer from the comfort of your couch. The remote access platform TeamViewer is free for personal use. It has plans for businesses that include just about every remote feature one might require, including easily sharing screens, both for tech support and during video presentations and calls. There’s also an option from Google, Chrome Remote Desktop, which lets you very simply set up computer’s permissions to be accessed by another, if you’re looking to do some quick troubleshooting or grab a missing file.
A remote project management tool
A project management tool is important whether you’re working remotely or in the office—but with a lot of moving pieces, having a single platform where all the work is organized and stored becomes even more essential. Here are some of the best tools to help you manage collaborative work.
- Trello: This simple Kanban board-style tool helps you visualize your workflow, moving projects around depending on whether they’re in the backlog, in process, or done.
- Monday: This adaptive tool is customizable, so the most relevant data is always the most visible. Plus, there are easy ways to communicate with your collaborators within the program, so you don’t miss anything.
- Asana: If you want all your work in one place—big or small task—Asana is a great way of tracking the workflow of collaborative projects as well as daily recurring tasks.
- Todoist: To-do lists are a tried and true method for productivity for a reason. It always helps to get the thought out of your head and onto the page. This is a great solution for a remote worker who’s trying to organize both their work and their life—and achieve a better balance between the two.
Time management tools for remote work
Time management can be a challenge for everybody. But it’s a lot more difficult to stay focused on the task at hand when you’re working from home or travelling. Here are a few tools to help you keep track of your hours—and manage how you’re spending them.
- Toggl: This platform is a great way to track how much time you’re spending on a given project. What’s more, you can make reports to show clients how you’re spending your time within a given project.
- Timecamp: A tool that not only helps you track your hours, but can help you plan for the future—and provide simple estimates for how much time certain projects could take.
- PomoDoneApp: If you want to take your productivity to the next level, start working in sprints. This app will help you keep track of your hours using the Pomodoro technique, which separates out all of your tasks into 25 minute chunks with breaks in between. Plus, it can be integrated with many of the task management tools on this list.
- KanbanFlow: This all-in-one task and time management tool is a Kanban board—with customizable views similar to Monday—and also has a Pomodoro timer attached to each task.
An anonymous feedback and check-in tool
In an ideal world, all workers would get the chance to tell their direct reports about the stresses in their work schedule. But with remote teams, it can be hard to find the space to air concerns, even with regular one-on-one meetings. For those managers that want to do a quick anonymous check-in with their remote teams, try Chimp or Champ. The tool sends out a simple survey on Thursday—and then on Friday, those results are turned into a meter, which the manager can use to quickly gauge the satisfaction or frustrations of their team.
Visual Commenting Made Simple
Those Slack comment threads and handwritten notes are now a thing of the past. MarkUp is a free visual commenting platform that allows users to upload any webpage and leave simple, clear, effective comments for editing. It’s the easiest way to get digital feedback on your creative work… and we know that because we built it 😉
Tools and apps for working anywhere
As these tools and apps make clear, it doesn’t matter so much where you’re working as much as how you’re working. Many of these tools are essential to good work whether you’re working remotely or just trying to boost your productivity at the office. Ultimately, the point is that they make your work more transparent and available to your team members and managers. So, whether you’re working from your couch, your cubicle, or a beach in French Polynesia, it will be easy to stay on top of it all once you have the right organizational setup.
How to Manage a Remote Team
It’s hard enough to manage a team when everyone is right in front of you… so how are you supposed to manage a remote team that doesn’t share physical space?
Hybrid work is growing at an exponential rate, so chances are that your workplace is about to go hybrid (if it hasn’t already). Around 85% of companies based in the U.S. now offer remote employment options, and more than half of all global companies have become hybrid or are fully remote by now. While offering remote options can be great for productivity, there are some specific challenges unique to managing a remote team. It can be difficult to keep track of all the moving pieces and to align flexible schedules for optimal workflow and collaboration. Whether you’re a manager who’s remote or on-site, here’s a guide to managing remote workers.
Create clear expectations with your remote workers
Time differences and flexible hours make it challenging to keep track of what everyone’s working on, so it’s important to set expectations early. Make sure that you’re on the same page regarding a project’s time frame, that you’re clear about what to prioritize, and that you clear any issues of availability ahead of time.
This also means being comfortable with giving specific feedback, both positive and negative. When you’re a manager of remote employees, it’s not enough to simply tell someone that something is good. You have to tell them why it’s good. That way, if something falls short in the future, there are clear guidelines for getting back on track. When you’re not working in the same place at the same time, clarity matters more than ever.
Set boundaries around remote time
Even a flexible schedule should have its limitations. Figure out a schedule that both you and your team member can agree upon, and then stick to it. This will protect you and your remote team members from accidentally pinging someone in a different time zone in the middle of the night. It will also make your team feel like their time is more valued. If your remote team feels like you respect their work-life balance, then they’ll be more inclined to respect yours, and take your requests and feedback seriously.
Have one-on-ones with your remote workers
If you’ve been reading along with our series on remote work, then you know how we feel about check-ins. Frequent communication is the key to successful remote work relationships. Your teammates need to feel like you are present in their work lives—especially since you aren’t face-to-face. A regular one-on-one—whether an informal daily rundown or a weekly video conference to go over whats on the docket, or even a live IRL conversation on occasion—will help establish trust.
Trust the project management system
Part of being a great manager is knowing when to leave your team members alone so that they can get their work done. You want to strike the right balance: be present and available, but also give everyone enough space. This can be a tricky tightrope to walk when you’re at the helm of a hybrid team. But it might help to use a project management system to keep track of the whole team’s progress—and to curb any impulses you might have to micromanage. Check out our list of the best tools for remote working to figure out what the right management tool might be for you.
Just because your team members might be on different schedules doesn’t mean they ought to feel siloed from each other. Find ways to encourage your team members to collaborate—and start by making spaces where they can all share what they’re working on.
Organize a weekly hangout, which can rotate times depending on the time zones that you’re negotiating. If you’re a small team, this can be an informal, standup-style meeting, where everyone shares a little bit about what they’re working on. If you’re on a larger team, make this more of an all-hands meeting, with brief demos and presentations from a rotating cast of employees. This will help bring awareness to all of the good work that’s happening in the company—and ultimately, it’ll bring people together.
This kind of weekly meeting would also be an excellent time to celebrate your team’s successes. As a manager, you want to make sure that when good work is done, it’s rewarded—this will also help keep your many remote employees motivated and connected.
Foster team bonding
Find ways for your team members to get to know each other outside of work. If you’re on a small team, you can easily encourage team bonding by instigating it yourself: Initiate group messages on Slack or plan occasional in-person events, like a monthly team lunch.
If you’re managing a larger team, you might need a little help fostering camaraderie. Try Donut, a Slack plug-in that randomly pairs different team members together for a virtual coffee or lunch—encouraging skill-sharing and mentoring. This will help foster a more collaborative work space over time.
Remember why managers are important
Ultimately, the role of a manager is to be as helpful as possible. You’re the glue that keeps your entire hybrid team together. And the more receptive you are to your team’s problems, the better things will run. This also means being willing to receive feedback, especially on how you can do better at setting goals and expectations. The more you can work toward fostering positive relationships between you and your team, the more solid your team will feel—and the better its performance will be, whether your teammates are working from the beach or from their couch at home.
How to Stay Connected as a Remote Worker
For all its benefits, like saving some dough and getting to work in your pajamas, remote working also has its challenges. Loneliness is primary among them. The trick to getting the most out of your remote time is making sure that you never feel isolated or siloed—even if you’re working on your own. Here’s how to stay connected as a remote worker, including as an employee and as a person, during your work hours.
Set up regular remote meetings
It’s a common misconception that remote workers don’t attend meetings. They do—in fact, a survey from Owl Labs shows that they often go to more of them than in-office workers. That’s because getting regular, consistent feedback is an important part of productive remote working. If you’re the manager of a remote worker, or a remote worker yourself, consider implementing some of these strategies for staying in touch:
- A daily check-in: It’s always good to make sure that everyone’s on the same page. Even if it’s just over Slack, make sure that everyone knows which daily tasks to prioritize.
- A weekly team meeting: When you’re part of a hybrid or remote team, it can be important to hear about what otherpeople are working on—even if it’s outside of the scope of your focus. Pro tip: For remote meetings, try to encourage using Zoom or Google Hangouts. Video can be a bit awkward at first, but it’s more personal than a conference call—and can help bond a team together, setting the groundwork for collaboration (even at a distance). After all, much of communication is non verbal. faces need to be seen, expressions interpreted, for full effect.
- Occasional in-person meetings: Whether it’s one-on-one or with the entire team, nothing beats face-to-face. If there’s another remote teammate of yours located close by, plan days to work together. If it’s feasible, get everyone on the team together a few times a year—for a meeting, retreat, or even just an office hang. You can use the space to share business updates, individual successes and failures from the past quarter—whatever the format, the point is to make everyone feel included. Remember: The purpose of getting everyone together is ultimately to help everyone feel more connected to each other.
Designate an in-office contact for remote workers
When you’re working at a distance, it can be easy to feel out of the loop—or worse, like your concerns or questions aren’t being addressed. One way to combat this issue is to designate an in-office liaison to field all remote-related queries and issues. This person can be a manager, or they can be on the same level as the rest of the team. One part of this liaison’s responsibility would be making sure hybrid meetings run smoother—by letting remote workers take the floor when they have something to say, and making sure that their issues are heard. In some cases, you’ll need a manager or an HR professional to help designate this liaison. But that doesn’t mean you can’t approach them with the idea.
Find a remote working buddy
Friends and so-called “work wives” can have a huge impact on productivity. According to research done by Gallup, women with a work buddy report feeling 63% more engaged with their work than those without one. If you’re a part of a hybrid team, try to find someone that you can regularly check-in with who can help keep you motivated when working alone is getting to be too much.
Use a remote working office platform
Communication is clearly the key to successful remote working. But sometimes too much communication—or the wrong kind of it—can actually put a damper on productivity. Micromanaging can have a damaging impact on output. That’s why office platforms like Trello, Asana, or Todoist, where team workflow can be monitored and important documents can be shared, are so important. They can help keep a micromanager’s worst tendencies at bay—giving a transparent way for everyone to monitor each other’s progress, as well as their own.
Communicate about more than your remote work
Slack is good for more than just workflow. When you’re out of the office, keep in touch with your coworkers about more than just your daily tasks. If you can, try to stay up-to-date with people’s birthdays and what’s going on in their lives. Don’t be afraid to touch base with other people about things that aren’t specifically about work—relationship building is part of your job, too! Communicating with your coworkers in lighthearted ways can help keep the out-of-office malaise from setting in, and keep your work on track.
Change up your remote work routine
Sometimes feeling more connected when you’re remote working doesn’t have anything to do with the office at all. Sometimes, you just have to feel connected to the world. If you work from home, consider trying a new location. Head to a coffee shop, investigate renting a desk at a coworking space, or just get lunch with a buddy in the neighborhood. Changing up your routine, and breaking out of your isolationist tendencies, can often have a very positive impact on your work.
And remember, the workday should have a little room for enjoyment. Whether that means implementing a fun team-building channel on Slack or simply giving a friend a phone call when you complete a difficult task, don’t hesitate to take breaks and reward yourself for putting in the time and doing good work. Having fun is also part of the productive rhythm of a workday.
Finding the right solutions to the challenges of remote working
Learning how to stay connected as a remote worker is important. But finding the balance between being connected and also having enough space to actually do the rigorous work that remote schedules are best suited for—that’s what this is all about. It might take some time to figure out which techniques for staying connected work best for you, but just remember: You’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, that’s what adopting a flexible schedule is all about.