After spending the past 4 of my 6 years employed at Union Street Media working remotely from Pittsburgh, I have come to love the work from home lifestyle. It does come with its own unique challenges, and with Coronavirus forcing many to transition to remote work around the world, I’ll share my insights on how to be productive and happy working outside traditional office space. 

Set Goals for the Day

When working from an office, I found it was easier to get in the work mindset and hold myself accountable for what I needed to get done. This can be difficult when working from home, with house chores, family and the couch there to distract you (especially if you are feeling stressed or unmotivated on a given day).

I start each morning by jotting down a list of items I plan to complete. In addition, my immediate team meets daily to recap the work we completed the previous day, the work we plan to tackle that day, and anything that is preventing us from finishing a given task. A daily meeting may not be necessary for your team, but setting and sharing manageable goals with coworkers is a great way to hold yourself accountable and help you gauge when your workday is over. 

Take Strategic Breaks

When I first started working remotely, I was acclimated to the traditional 9-5 routine. I would sit down at my home workspace in the morning and suddenly realize it was 3 pm and I hadn’t taken a break or eaten lunch. Furthering this problem, I was sometimes hesitant to leave my desk because I didn’t want to miss a message and have a coworker think I was slacking off. 

I realized that in an office setting, I would naturally take breaks to talk to a passing colleague or be reminded to go grab lunch by the smells wafting from my neighbor’s desk. 

At home, with very few distractions, I needed to build breaks into my daily routine to prevent burnout. Now, when crafting my todo list in the morning, I check my calendar and strategically plan my lunch break or a walk with my dog if it is going to be a nice day. I’ve also found that sending a simple message to my team or adding an event to my calendar if I plan to be away for more than a few minutes, resolved the fear that someone would reach out and think I was neglecting my work.

Communicate Effectively

While a conference call or an email is easy when you are remote, it can be difficult to collaborate as you would in an office this way. You can’t brainstorm on a whiteboard, point out some key lines in a document you’re referencing, or read your teammates’ body language when you accidentally interrupt each other 🙂

Below are three points I think are most important when collaborating remotely.

Choose the Right Tools for Your Team

There are many virtual meeting solutions on the market that help teams communicate and collaborate effectively. Take time to select a tool stack that will work for you. My team has found success using Slack, Miro and Google solutions like Docs and Hangouts Meet. Don’t be afraid to try a new tool, you can always scrap it if it isn’t adding value to your meetings. 

Turn on Your Camera

In person, we all know how to pick up on visual cues from our coworkers. I find that turning on your camera makes it easier to communicate, mitigate the awkwardness of talking over each other, and helps foster genuine relationships with colleagues.  

Know When to Mute

When working from home, you are bound to have distractions. Your child might come in the room, your dog might bark, or your neighbor might start using a leaf blower outside your window. These types of distractions are often unavoidable, so taking a moment to mute when things get noisy will prevent you from interrupting a meeting.

Some people prefer to always mute unless they are talking in a meeting. While I do think this is a good policy in large meetings with many participants, I don’t subscribe to it as a hard rule. Having to fiddle with your mute button before adding to a conversation adds unnatural pauses, sometimes people forget to come off mute before talking which adds confusion, or a coworker makes a joke and hears crickets because everyone is laughing on mute. I prefer to risk my dog barking in the background and not miss out on the nuance of a conversation. I mute strategically when I know there is background noise that may be distracting and I use headphones with a microphone that help drown out subtle background noise.

Take Time to Chitchat

A traditional office provides a built-in sense of community and relationships with co-workers develop naturally. These connections can still be created and fostered from home, but it takes a little more effort. 

You are missing out on the office small talk, so allow yourself the opportunity to have non-work conversations with your colleagues. Take a few moments at the beginning of a meeting to check-in with each other… How’s the weather where you are? Did you take a new dog-walking route today? If you don’t have a meeting, send your coworker a message with an interesting article, share that delicious recipe you tried last night or ask everyone on your team to share a picture of their pets.

These small actions may seem unnatural when we want to be productive employees, but they build genuine relationships with your coworkers. Especially in the time of Conronavirus, while we limit social contact, these moments can really boost morale.

Reflect and Iterate

I’ll finish by saying that it has taken time to find a remote routine that works for me and my team and we are constantly tweaking our approach to improve our work life. If I could only give one suggestion, it would be to take time periodically to reflect on what is and is not working. If you discuss these topics, brainstorm solutions and iterate on your approach I have no doubt you can be productive and happy working from home.