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3 min read | Author Pat FoxBusiness | Remote Working
Remote working: advice from a company that’s been doing it for years
Is your business one of the many that have suddenly found themselves forced to send staff to work at home? If so, and if it’s something you -- or your employees -- have never experienced before, then you might be wondering how you’ll ever make it work.
Here at Addictivity, we have a bit of experience in this area: in fact, we’ve been running a 100% remote-working business for over a decade. Our employees aren’t just separated by a few miles: in some cases, they’re in different countries. So we thought we’d pass on some of the things that we’ve found useful when establishing and maintaining a ‘virtual office’.
What you can do...as an employer?
Make sure your employees have the tools they need
This should be a no-brainer, but you need to make sure that -- as far as possible -- everyone has access to whatever they need to do their job effectively. That might mean physical equipment like a laptop, a webcam, a printer (and paper!), or even a dedicated mobile phone for work calls. It might mean facilities like remote access to their work email account, or resources kept on your company’s internal network. Or it might mean basic information like client contact details or access to internal records.
It’s up to you to ensure that you understand what these requirements might be and that they’re being fulfilled.
Stay in contact
Again, this should be obvious but when you separate your employees physically, you will need to make additional efforts to stay in touch with them. You don’t want to be bugging them all the time, but you should be checking in regularly to make sure they have what they need (see above) and are able to be productive.
Your employees should know that they are able to contact you and that you will make yourself available to them (when convenient) to help them in whatever way they need.
Monitor productivity, but show trust
Not everyone is innately suited to working in isolation: it does require a level of self-motivation and discipline that some people struggle to maintain. So it makes sense to establish between you some means of monitoring how everyone is performing, to ensure that they’re still being productive.
On the flipside, you also need to understand that unless that person is already accustomed to remote working then it will require some adjustment. It’s possible -- likely, even -- that their productivity level will suffer as a result of the change in circumstances, at least at first. You might also need to accept that there could be unavoidable distractions in the home environment that will affect their ability to work as productively as they do in the office.
The ideal situation is to encourage an atmosphere of mutual trust: you trust them to be as productive as they can be, and they trust you not to be constantly ‘looking over their shoulder’.
Enable and encourage interaction
At Addictivity, where we are all working remotely and rarely meet in person, we’ve found that it’s vital for team cohesion to interact with each other regularly. We use Slack (https://slack.com/) -- a real-time text chat tool -- for communicating one-to-one, but also as a team. And we don’t just discuss work: it’s also a ‘virtual watercooler’ where people can just chat about whatever -- where in the office they might bump into each other in the shared kitchen or stop by one another’s desks for a chat.
It might seem like a distraction, but we’ve found it an important tool for fostering and maintaining a sense of communal effort and teamwork. This is especially important in a time of additional disruption, stress and worry.
We also have weekly team meetings via video conferencing, even if there’s not a massive amount to catch up on. Again, it’s about maintaining contact and cohesion, and the visual connection of video is an important part of that.
Services like Zoom (https://zoom.us/) or Loom (https://www.loom.com/) offer video conferencing, screen sharing and even the ability to record your screen so that your videos can be viewed at a later date.
If you’re looking for simple, cost-effective intranet software for sharing information and training, check out https://getagency.io/.
The other side of the coin is that one downside of remote work is that it can be harder to know when someone is particularly trying to concentrate on their work. So it might additionally be useful to agree, collectively, a distraction-free ‘focus time’ -- a period of the day when everyone is heads-down at their work and avoids interrupting each other (except in emergencies).
Also everyone needs to accept that in some cases, it’s not always convenient (or necessary) to respond immediately to, for example, an email or a text. So try to allow each other some leeway when communicating.
What can you do...as an employee?
Create a separate space for work
When you’re in your home environment, it can be hard to get yourself into a ‘work’ mindset. After all, home is where you go when you’re not at work! So it can be helpful to set aside a specific space where you can think of yourself as ‘at work’ rather than ‘at home’. Obviously if you have a room that is -- or can be -- set aside as an office then that’s ideal. If not, then try to set up a defined space that will be your work area.
When you’re in this area, you’re working: when you leave it, you’re at home. This is an important distinction not just for you, but for anyone else you share your home with. Explain that when you’re ‘in your office’ (whatever form that takes) then, emergencies aside, everyone should try to behave as if that’s literally the case -- i.e. you’re not there, you’re at work.
Ideally you’ll want it to be away from distractions (e.g. the TV, your mobile phone), but if you can’t manage that then if you’re worried that the source of distraction might be too tempting, then do something to help you avoid succumbing (hide the remote, or install a focus app -- see below). If there’s noise going on around you, then you might find that listening to music on headphones helps combat this -- even better if they’re noise-cancelling!
Follow a routine
Just like the physical separation of having your own work space, it’s often helpful to establish a routine that separates ‘work time’ from ‘home time’. You know the hours that you usually work: the simplest option is just to stick to them. If that’s not practical for whatever reason then map out a schedule for yourself and try to adhere to it.
During office hours you’re at work, but it’s just as important to make the mental switch at the end of the day that work is over. We know of one individual who, accustomed to a regular office job but finding themselves temporarily forced to work remotely, would spend the day dressed as usual in a full suit and tie. The act of dressing for work in the morning gave them a psychological cue that they were working, but also at the end of the day it meant that changing back into their non-work clothes helped them make the break and switch into ‘home’ mode.
It’s probably not necessary to go to that sort of extreme, but in the end you need to find whatever it takes to allow you to manage a healthy separation of work and home life.
Use productivity aids
If you’re struggling to find the motivation or focus to work then you might find it helpful to try out some kind of aid to productivity. There are numerous such apps for both iOS and Android:
Pomodoro’ is a popular technique for structuring work and break time, helping you to focus by setting goals and track your time. Focus Booster (https://www.focusboosterapp.com/) is one such timer for Windows and Mac, while Clockwork Tomato is a free Android app.
https://focusme.com/ This application for Windows, Mac and Android actually monitors what you’re doing -- which applications you’re running, what websites you’re visiting -- and can block you from accessing them if they're taking up too much of your time.
https://selfcontrolapp.com/ As the name suggests, this Mac application also restricts your access to websites. And it's free!
Take breaks and stay in touch
Just because you can work all the time, doesn’t mean you should. Just like being able to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day, it’s also important to take the breaks that you’re entitled to, as you would normally do when you’re in the office. It’s important to step away from your workspace regularly: problems that seem intractable can often be solved just by taking a break and counter-intuitively, it can also help with concentration.
If your employer has set up a shared chat group, then this would be a good time to check in with your work colleagues and catch up on what’s going on. This will also help maintain office relationships and keep up with people you’d normally bump into regularly in the course of your work.
You should also check in with your manager/supervisor regularly, to reassure them that you’re on the ball, and to make sure that you’re up to date with whatever’s going on with everyone else.
What do you think?
Let us know what helps you work more effectively at home -- whether it’s a handy app that we might not know about, or just a different approach or way of thinking, we want to hear about it and pass it on to others so that they can work smarter too.
by Pat Fox
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