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Making the Most Out of Remote Work

Staying productive — and social — is possible.

G-Stock Studio / Shutterstock
G-Stock Studio / Shutterstock

As a company that has always valued flexibility of work schedules and a healthy work-life balance, Ellevate team members have lots of experience navigating a remote work lifestyle. To help you handle the transition if it’s new to you, or if you just want to feel like you’re not alone in the challenges you face, we put together some of the best tips, tricks, and advice that came out of our Making the Most Out of Remote Work AMA.

Rebecca Spitzer (Director of Product), Sam Giannangeli (Operations Lead), and Sivi Ananthasingam (Enterprise Relationship Manager) shared their personal best practices and answered questions from Ellevate members about how to stay productive (and sane!) if you’re suddenly required to work from home. Click here to watch the recording of the AMA, or read on for a collection of our favorite parts.

General Work from Home Best Practices

First thing’s first — if you’re totally new to the working-from-home life, you’ll want to make sure you’re familiar with the basics of making it work for both you and your coworkers. Sam G., our Operations Lead, has been a remote worker for 6 years. Here, she shares her best WFH-101 advice.

  • Over-communicate what your intent is, what you’re looking for, what you need, and when. When you don’t have the opportunity to quickly turn to your teammate to clarify in an office setting, it’s important to get as much information as clearly as possible at once.
  • Consider that typing is tone-less — use emojis since body language and facial expressions can’t be seen, nor can your inflections be heard. Or, default to video calls instead of just text or audio when you can.
  • Be as responsive as you can be, and use a status bar or let your team know if you’re stepping away for a long period of time to eat, take care of something, etc. No one can tell if you’re not at your desk, and they might wonder why you’re not getting back to them.
  • Minimize distractions. If you can, create a separate space away from other people working from home when you need quiet for a meeting or to just put your head down and get stuff done.

Maintaining Human Interaction

It can be jarring to go from seeing your team throughout the day to not being physically in front of anyone at all. Here are some easy ways to maintain human interaction — it’ll help you feed the relationships that keep cross-company work flowing.

  • If you’re able, consider walking meetings via phone, with or without video. You’ll both get some fresh air, it forces you to get up and stretch, and the change in scenery can help spark some new ideas.
  • Schedule regular 15 minute social meetings via FaceTime or Zoom with one or 2 other coworkers. It’s likely you were stopping by someone’s desk in the office to ask how their weekend was — try to recreate those moments virtually when you can.
  • Talk to your team about creating a safe space to share feelings and advice about mental health. Many people are dealing with anxiety about the global situation, and being able to make those feelings known(if they want to!) builds trust within the team. Ellevate has a Slack channel where we can pop in to say we’re having a particularly hard day, or to share new self-care practices.
  • Optional weekly community hours with the whole team are a great way to bond over specific topics, or to wind down. We have video calls on Thursday mornings to discuss things like anxiety or current events, and Family Happy Hour on Friday afternoons that have now gone fully virtual.

Staying Productive and Defining Work Hours

It’s a privilege to be able to work remotely, but the caveat is that there are no longer clear“office hours.” Learning what keeps you productive and communicating that to your colleagues early on will make working from home a lot easier, and will help build trust in the work that you’re doing.

  • We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — over-communicate. If you’re getting requests to work on multiple things at a time, let people know that you’re prioritizing several projects, and give them a reasonable timeframe when you can. As one of our listeners on the AMA put it:“I say that I prioritize XYZ and can start your ABC in two days; usually, two days is my default.”
  • If you’re the kind of person who gets really into their work and doesn’t stop for lunch, to stretch, or for a break, that habit will get much worse while working from home. We’re big fans of a pretty simple life hack: block time for everything in your calendar. Schedule breaks, lunch, and official sign-off times. And make your calendar viewable to the rest of your team so they know when to expect you to be available or not.
  • If the opposite is true for you and you have trouble focusing or get distracted easily, the calendar method can work for you, too. Give yourself 20-30 minute blocks to work at a time, and reward yourself with a break after.
  • Phone calls a big part of your job? Look into Google Voice, a telephone service that lets you set up a separate number that directs to your phone, which you can schedule to be available for certain hours. Anything outside those hours goes straight to voicemail.
  • In that same vein, you can customize notifications for pretty much any messaging or emailing service you use. Set your Slack to Do Not Disturb during off hours. You can even set up an auto-reply from your email to let others know they can expect a reply from you during your business hours. Another Google calendar trick: You can set your online hours there too, so that if someone tries to set up a meeting outside those hours, they’ll get a notification that it’s outside your availability.
  • It can be pretty easy to get distracted and off course when no one’s around. If you’re the type to lose an hour on YouTube (you’re not alone, I promise)… plan for it! Rebecca suggests planning time in your schedule to feed your habits if you have to, especially if they’re the things that keep you feeling positive. You’re not going to change those habits overnight, but you can prepare to make sure they don’t cut into your work hours so that you stay productive and effective.
  • Speaking of distractions, you might have some new“officemates” if you and your spouse, roommates, or kids are all staying home. Do your best to communicate at the beginning of the day about what your schedules look like, who needs quiet for phone calls when, and maybe line up your breaks or lunch times so you still get to spend time together.

How Managers Can Prepare Employees for Remote Work

It’s important to set your employees up for success as everyone starts to work remotely. As with anything, open communication with your team will be key.

  • Ask what your employees need to work successfully from home(i.e. a monitor or a laptop stand).
  • Set up team huddles to check in — not just related to work, but how everyone’s adjusting and mentally holding up.
  • Continue your regular meetings as you can. At Ellevate, managers have weekly 1:1 meetings with their team members to catch up, answer questions, and make sure everyone’s clear on their objectives. They’re important to us, now more than ever, so keeping them going virtually is a non-negotiable.
  • As a manager, being able to open up and start difficult conversations will set the stage for the employees you manage. Share your own challenges(when appropriate) so that others feel comfortable sharing theirs, too.
  • Be understanding of your teams schedules — chances are, their working hours will need to change as they deal with changes at home, too. Work with them around times for childcare/caregiving, doctor’s appointments, and other important daily tasks.

Tips for leading remote meetings via phone or video

  • In large phone meetings, encourage introductions before starting and stating who’s speaking before providing input.
  • Ask for active participation — Sivi suggests using engagement exercises and calling on people you haven’t heard speak in a while.
  • Sharing an agenda in advance will help everyone feel involved and give them a chance to prepare.
  • When you can, keep phone meetings on the shorter side. It can be easy to lose focus after a while with no visual engagement.

Stay Positive!

It can be very easy to feel burned out, overwhelmed, and anxious without face-to-face interaction, especially during scary times of uncertainty. But there are lots of ways to help you snap out of the funk and maintain positivity. Here are some of our favorite resources and social media pages that brighten our days.

Bonus: Ellevate’s Virtual Meeting Schedule

Lots of you asked for an example of the virtual meetings Ellevate schedules, and the cadence of them. Sharing is caring, so here’s a list of the different ways we stay in touch as a(currently) 100 percent remote team:

Recommendations:

  • Always have your video on(excluding extenuating circumstances like wifi slowness or breastfeeding)
  • We recommend Zoom’s Gallery View so you can see everyone’s faces at once instead of Google Meet
  • The following are in addition to weekly team meetings and weekly manager 1:1s which for us are non-negotiable for building relationships.

Virtual All Hands (10-11AM on Tuesday)

Virtual Team Socials – optional (15 minutes on the off-cycle days from team meetings)

  • Scheduled time to chat about life with teammates when you can’t just shout across a table
  • This ensures everyone has some kind of social outlet at least a few times a week

Virtual Social Check-In – optional (15 minutes before lunch – generally 11:45AM)

  • Same randomized group of 3-4 people meets each week for a month, then we rotate groups
  • Short enough to notfeel like a formal meeting
  • We tried“lunches” but it was too long, and everyone ended up eating before or after – didn’t work. 15 minutes has been the sweet spot.

Virtual Community Hour – optional (10-11AM on Thursday)

  • Everyone’s invited to take an hour to talk about that week’s topic, ie. mental health, current events, meditation.

Virtual Happy Hour – optional (4:30-5:30PM on Friday)

  • Games that work well remotely: Jackbox, Codenames, Trivia
  • Conversation Prompts
  • Guided Meditation
  • Bring-Your-Family Happy Hour — hard to avoid seeing significant others, roommates, kids, and pets when everyone’s home! Might as well include them to say hi.

Overall, We’re in This Together

Practice patience and empathy: this is a new situation for a lot of us, even if you’ve worked from home before. You never know what the person on the other end of your screen is taking care of alongside work — elderly parents, kids, pets, their own mental health. Lead with empathy, communicate with empathy, and remember that everyone’s going through a crazy time right now. Be mindful of that and be there for each other. We’ll get through this together.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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