by Adam Feber
I recently read Buffer’s post about ditching their office and going 100% distributed. It reminded me of a great post our own Eric Farkas wrote, where he shared his experience after working remotely at Chargify for 2 years.
Chargify has been a remote team since inception, and while I may be biased, a very efficient remote team. So I sent an email to the team with one request:
“Share one tip that has helped you be more productive or work more efficiently in a distributed environment.”
When the responses (below) started to roll in, some common themes emerged:
- Work/Life Balance – It is easy to roll out of bed and immediately start working until the sun goes down (and beyond), but finding a healthy work/life balance will make you happier and help prevent burnout.
- Work Environment – As a remote worker you get to decide where you work! The preferred work environments for Chargify employees vary greatly from an outdoor porch to a cowork space on the beach.
- Communication & Transparency – Poor communication is among the biggest concerns for a remote team. But with the right tools and mindset, communication barriers almost disappear.
- Productivity Hacks – No matter where you work, there are always distractions! From dirty laundry to twitter, find out how the Chargify team avoids distractions and stays focused.
Here are the responses…
Set and keep “office hours”
Michael Klett, Co-Founder & CTO
My favorite thing about remote work is that your office is wherever you are. This provides tremendous flexibility but it has a cost: sometimes it is difficult to keep work life from bleeding into personal life.
I think it is important to keep a fairly consistent start and end time to your day. This will help you achieve separation and balance between work and life. Also, knowing that each day has a “deadline” helps you time-box your work, and keeps you from falling into the trap of telling yourself “I can just work late on this.” That trap is a sure path to unfocused work and procrastination.
Of course, work doesn’t always fit into your perfect little time-box. When I find this happening, I like to front load my day. Since there is no commute or dress code for my office, I just set my alarm an hour (or two!) early, roll out of bed and into the office in my pajamas (with a requisite stop at the coffee maker). The house is quiet and my mind is sharper. What may have taken me 3 hours the night before usually turns into an hour long task under these settings.
There is also a benefit to the team when you keep a schedule. Your co-workers will learn your office hours and a natural rhythm develops that helps everyone collaborate effectively.
Stick to a routine
Keith Kacin, Customer Success
While others enjoy working from home because of the ability to roll out of bed and get to work right away, I’ve found I need to follow a pre-work routine on work days. If I were to try to start working right after waking up, still in my pajamas, I would not be able to concentrate because it wouldn’t feel like I was “at work.”
Each morning I prepare for work just as I would if I were going to a non-remote job. After waking up, I eat breakfast, shower, get dressed, get my coffee, and finally go to my desk to start working.
Following this routine gets me in the mindset to start my work day. In addition to helping me concentrate throughout the day, the routine also gives me a separation between home and work.
Incorporate personal wellbeing into your daily schedule
Bob Orchard, Product Designer
When I first started working remotely, focus and personal wellbeing got forgotten. I’ve always organized, planned, and wrote lists of things to achieve, but all too often items on my personal list got pushed down to the bottom (or forgotten). Now, I organize everything into my calendar, so that I know in advance when I’m taking time for myself. A few things in my calendar right now include “Grab a book and read,” “Sketch something fun,” “Take a Walk,” and “Disconnect.”
Center yourself before you begin to work
Kayla VanBaak, Customer Success
Before I start working each day I like to mentally prepare myself. If you work in a ‘normal’ office setting there would be the time it takes to get up, get ready, and commute to work. When you work from home, you wake up and your office is around the corner from your bed.
I like to start my morning by doing something relaxing like yoga, therapeutic coloring, or reading. Your brain needs some time to wake up in order to be efficient and have a successful work day. Stretch that noodle!
Consider joining a cowork space to get out of the house
Adam Feber, Director of Marketing
While remote work provides the convenience of working from home, being confined to your house day and night can lead to cabin fever. With the rise of coworking spaces across the globe, most cities have affordable options worth checking out.
I have found that going to a cowork space for a few days a week has helped provide an escape from my house, allowed me to interact with other technologists in my community, and made me a happier, more productive person. Sure, it doesn’t hurt that my cowork space has a nice ocean view 🙂
David Cole, Software Developer
For lovers of the outdoors like me, the fresh air, natural light, and natural temperatures will do wonders to keep your mind alert, save your eyesight, and raise your feeling of overall health.
Weather permitting, I work most days on an upstairs porch where I am able to look away from my laptop, clear my mind, and exercise my eyes on a variety of natural colors and distances. I see the birds, animals, and neighbors as they are out and about. I live near a river and I sometimes see a Bald Eagle carrying a fish home for dinner.
Of course, not all days or seasons lend themselves to outside work. Sometimes I head inside to escape the noise of neighbors doing their yard work or just for a change. But for me, remote work is all about not having a commute and being able to work outside.
Stand up while you work
Suzanne Gedney, Director of Customer Success
Having worked from home for the past 6 years, I have given up my daily commute which would have included walking to and from my car, walking up and down stairs to get to the office, walking to grab lunch, etc. I found that I was becoming increasingly sedentary, so I decided to buy a standup desk. I tried a few different kinds, and ended up liking the Varidesk because I can easily adjust from seated height to standing height. I sit for video conference calls, but generally stand for most of my day. If I have extra energy to burn, I might even do some squats and lunges.
Get your house in order
Riki Crusha, Accounting/HR
I have been working out of a home office for most of my “very long” life. I’ve found I need to have my house and workspace in order before I can really dig into work for the day. If the house isn’t in order, somewhere in the back of my mind I think “I should get that done.” If the house is neat and my desk is neat, there are no distractions.
Communication & Transparency
Communicate early, often, and well
Eric Farkas, Software Developer
Don’t be shy about using your team’s communication channels (Slack, email, etc.) to let colleagues know if you don’t have what you need to do your work, are stuck on a problem, or you don’t understand something. You have to be a self-starter in that respect.
Working remote, the majority of your communication will be in writing — go out of your way to be clear and explicit. This is especially true for developers or support folks who are often describing bugs or proposing new features. If something isn’t clear, speak up.
Your team should also have a #random channel in their chat room (we use Slack) so everyone can talk about non-work stuff. Sharing funny GIFs and personal stories is a great way to build team morale and keep remote workers from feeling lonely.
Use video conferencing to add a human element
Drew Blas, Director of Operations
When you’re working remotely, you lack the in-person communication found in the standard work setting. At Chargify we’ve found that using video conferencing helps add a human element to communications. Zoom is great for one-on-one calls, daily stand-ups, ad-hoc meetings, and it can handle our entire team meeting (Google Hangouts, Skype, and GoToMeeting wouldn’t work for our entire team).
Some of the other things I like about Zoom: Every video conference is easy to access via a unique URL, it supports conferencing on mobile devices, the audio is top notch, and you can schedule recurring meetings.
Having one single, reliable tool that everyone in the company uses saves a lot of time and pain, plus it allows us to see each other on a regular basis.
Trust and transparency
Marcelo DePolli, Software Developer
Whenever I mention the way we work at Chargify to my friends at “regular,” non-remote companies, one reaction seems to come up more often than others: “But how can you be sure that people are actually working?” And the answer to that is trust. Of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Trust is the basis for everything. Initially it gets a work relationship going, but we also need trust to help things function in the long run. And there’s nothing better in that respect than full transparency. Be open about all things good and bad — especially the bad ones. Let people know if you’re stuck or if you found problems that are preventing you from moving forward.
Perhaps this is easier for programmers because we have great collaboration tools that enable everyone to see exactly what everyone else is working on at any given time. But the same principles can be applied to other areas and departments.
Just be open and communicate. If you have to choose between being annoying and not being transparent, be annoying. Be mercilessly transparent. All the time.
Track and improve your productivity with RescueTime
Zac Clay, Operations Engineer
One of the hardest things about working remotely (especially if you’re at home by yourself) is being accountable for your productivity. It’s easy to spend all day on Reddit or Twitter if you’re not careful, so I use RescueTime to help me stay productive.
RescueTime is a tool that helps you track where you’re spending your time online throughout the day, and it will even send notifications if you’re spending time on something that’s not productive. If you find yourself needing some additional assistance, the tool can block distracting sites/apps after you spend a specific amount of time of them.
Use Siri for reminders
Wendy Smoak, Customer Success
Working from home, the day is full of potential distractions. Walking into the kitchen to get a drink reminds me that I need to finish the laundry. Walking back into the office at night it occurs to me that I need to ask a coworker about something in the morning. I use Siri to schedule reminders, which allows me to stay focused. For example:
“Hey Siri, remind me to ask Drew about API rate limiting at 10:05 AM” … and then like magic, just as I open Zoom for the daily standup, the reminder pops up on my screen.
Whatever system you decide to use, being able to quickly add a reminder means you can remain focused on work and not worry about forgetting things.
Invest in a good pair of headphones
Kate Harvey, Content & Search Marketing Manager
My household is a bit unique in that we both work from home. We have separate home office spaces, but when he is on the phone I’ve found a good pair of headphones are a great way to help block out his work and keep me focused on mine.
One of the perks I enjoy about working remote is being able to work in different settings such as my backyard (it’s always sunny in Arizona!) or a local coffee shop. Headphones help block out noise distractions wherever I’m at. My favorite are Bose’s noise-cancelling headphones (bonus: these are awesome for travel!).
Go for a walk
Danielle Martin, Customer Success
Take a quick break and go for a walk outside! About five minutes of walking and taking deep breaths is great for clearing out mental blocks and feeling rejuvenated. It’s even better if the sun is shining…we all need a Vitamin D boost, right? This doesn’t need to be a run or mile hike. I like to take a few laps around my cul-de-sac, specifically because my only other option is a large hill, which seems too much like midday cardio for my liking.
Take quick power breaks
Matt Meo, Customer Success
A power break is a short break that acts as a “refresher.” The key to a successful power break is finding something meaningful that helps you relax. The beauty of working from home is that you can design your own type of power breaks. Personally, when I need a quick refresher, I pick up my guitar for a couple minutes. In a conventional work environment, I would never be able to do this.
Working from home allows you to be very productive because you can take short breaks when you need to, so you can always retain maximum focus. The more focus you have, the better employee you’ll be.
Do you work remotely? We would love to hear your tips in the comments below.