Well, it's been a year.
One year since most citizens around the world left their offices and workplaces not knowing when they would be returning. There was speculation over whether it would be a few weeks or a few months. Some even joked that they'll see their colleagues next year.
Flash forward to "next year" and no one was quite prepared for the changes the pandemic would bring to our world. As humans do, we have all adapted and evolved to find new ways to communicate, stay productive, and remain connected. But, it hasn't been easy.
Our friends over at Standart had a fully remote workforce before the pandemic started, so they were already well-versed on how to properly WFH. We asked them to share some of their learnings and best practices as we reflect on this this one year anniversary and continue to exercise adaptability for the unpredictability that the future holds.
We invite you to consider these tips and strategies and use this opportunity to assess the effectiveness of your WFH routines. And, at the end of the day, it's always good to remember that we are all "alone in this together."
At Standart, we’ve been a remote team since the beginning. We believe that remote work offers a number of advantages when done effectively. But to work effectively is a challenge in itself, in all workplaces.
Given these uncertain times, we thought that, for those of you who are lucky enough to be able to work from home, it might be helpful for us to share some of the tips we’ve learned during the five years of Standart’s operations.
Going all in
First off, I don’t believe in half measures. As crazy as the situation may be, in order to make this period as effective for work as possible, it is important to pretend it is not just a stop-gap solution to a temporary crisis, but to go all in, as though this is the way you were going to work from now on. I happen to be a believer in a future where remote work is closer to the norm.
In (remote) teams, good relationships are productive relationships.
Of course, not all industries can afford to go remote, but for those that do, the switch can be a complex yet surprisingly uncomplicated one. Let me share with you a few of the tips that I and the Standart team have to keep in mind in order to be as effective as possible across the various time zones and borders that comprise our ‘office’ walls.
1. Keep an asynchronous mindset
Be careful not to get pulled away from the task at hand every time a new notification beeps. Better yet, turn off most of your notifications completely. When working remotely, it’s good to get used to an asynchronous approach to communication.
In reality, few requests need your immediate attention. It’s important to react to the questions of your peers in a timely manner, sure, but the necessity to drop everything in front of you right this second to do something else is very rare, and often damaging.
2. Shape your environment
I certainly know how easy it is to fall into the cosiness of pyjamas or the living room sofa to fire off those emails or draft that brief, but the mind is sensitive to its surroundings, and the home space is one where we are prepared to react to the needs of our loved ones, pets, or the doorbell. In order to minimise the effect of your environment on your work, take care in shaping the environment around you.
What I find useful is to dress for work, even if I’m staying at home. The simple act of taking a shower, shaving, and dressing for work is a positive psychological trigger that gets you in the mood. Also, try to work in a chair that is ergonomically closer to something like a good quality office chair—not the sofa or bed! It helps a great deal with fatigue and puts me in the right frame of mind. Getting a stand for my laptop (a stack of books will do) and noise cancelling headphones have turned out to be some of the best investments in my productivity.
Say one thing well. Keep it short.
3. Say it well
Being a good written communicator is an integral part of being a good remote worker. But that doesn’t mean you need to begin using flowery expressions and witty idioms. The good news is that clear writing can be learned and practised, and consists of a few relatively straight forward principles. At work, the purpose of all communication is aimed at productivity. Stick to being straightforward, trust in simple vocabulary, avoid jargon, and resist the temptation to embellish weak ideas. Say one thing well. Keep it short.
4. Tools not fools
Ever ignored an email invitation to yet-another-management-tool sent by your boss? Yeah, we’ve all been there. There are tons of effective tools remote teams can use, though. If you work in a larger team, consider avoiding massive chat rooms. WhatsApp groups are evil. At Standart, we use Basecamp to collaborate and manage tasks and Airtable for planning. Other good alternatives we’ve tested in the past are Asana and Trello. Stick to as few tools as you can manage, and make sure they aid your productivity, not detract from it.
If you get used to clear writing and asynchronous communication, you realise you actually don’t need to meet face-to-face (or, in our case, for a virtual cup of coffee on a video call) as frequently as you might be used to. To quote the famous Andy Grove of Intel: ‘Before calling a meeting, ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish? Then ask, is a meeting necessary? Or desirable? Or justifiable? Don’t call a meeting if all the answers aren’t yes.’
Though the temptation to stay connected with your colleagues is strong during periods of enforced remote work, we have found that even with fewer meetings, we still find time to catch up and stay in tune.
Remove ambiguity regarding what success look like.
6. Focus on contribution
Gear your efforts towards achieving results rather than to ‘doing work’. Ask yourself what results are expected of you instead of what ‘work’ you do. If you, as a team, focus on outward contribution and remove ambiguity regarding what success look like, support each other in achieving and swimming in the same direction, good human relationships evolve naturally. In (remote) teams, good relationships are productive relationships. Besides, no one can see you ‘looking busy’ when you’re working alone in your kitchen drinking coffee. Results are what count anyway!
7. Empathy rules
When you communicate with your team remotely, consider how your message might be heard by the other side. Always assume positive intent. Tone and nuance get lost when working from behind screens, so assume your colleague has good intentions by default. It helps with potential misunderstandings, and, in my opinion, is almost always the correct interpretation anyway.
8. Trust your peers
Remote collaboration is based on trust. You don’t need someone to look over shoulder to make sure you’re doing your job (not that it would help). If someone wants to watch YouTube instead of working, they’re perfectly capable of doing so in an office environment too. As long as you have clarity in priorities as a team, understand what needs to be done and by whom, have a simple but useful set-up of tools, you’re good to go. Trust yourself and people you’re working with and they’ll do the same.
Remote collaboration is based on trust.
These are just some of the useful little ways of thinking about remote work that have worked for us at Standart. We think these approaches make our work more efficient and more enjoyable and aid the work–life balances of our team members.
And who knows? During the coming weeks and perhaps months, you might find that remote work allows for more productivity from yourself and your teams, and perhaps you might take some of what you learn in working remote back to the office, along with advanced home coffee-brewing skills you picked up. Stay safe and take care.
Signing off from a safe social distance,
Founder and Editor-in-Chief