Working from home: 50 Best practices of remote teams (Part 1)
Since the Coronavirus breakdown, millions of people are stuck at home; and for those who are still in the job market — are working from home too. The so-called “social distancing” measures have increased the Internet usage all around the world by 50–70%. Streaming has also jumped by at least 12%, according to Forbes.
Not all of us are used to this new remote way of working. For the majority, going to the office, having in-person meetings, workshops and sales talks is a norm; so it may be hard to adjust being fully online during the pandemic.
Our team talked to over 50 companies (big & small), who have been operating remotely even before the pandemic broke in. For them — the change has not been as big as for the rest of the world.
Read on to learn their best practices & how you can better adjust being outside of the office 👇
- Having focus when working from home
- Time management advice
- Team engagement tips
- Keeping a strong relationship
- Risk management
- Best tools & tech stack
Having focus when working from home is one of the main challenges. What’s your advice when it comes to time management?
“Create time blocks and take frequent breaks. Time blocks are great because they keep you rallied around a single task and you can then shut out working on it at other times. For instance, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening for email. Breaks are critical and when working from home it can be easy to lose the boundaries of plugged in and plugged out and forget about breaks. The key though is structured breaks. Pre-set them in your day vs. taking them whenever you feel like it.” — Casey Hill, Head of Growth at Bonjoro (20+ employees; working remotely since 2017)
“The one thing that has helped us do this well is having a well-documented onboarding process in place — for our own team and for the clients as well, and we have 27 of them! This has not just helped us prove that remote working is effective, but also helped their teams adapt to this new culture. So even when we’re travelling, we’re on top of things — touchwood!” — Vanhishikha Bhargava, Founder and CEO at Contensify
“We tag tasks based on urgency, so we know what we should be working on first.” — Roman Peysakhovich, Co-Founder at Onedesk (3 team members)
“Create a to-do list for every week and every day and stick to that list. I find it can be tempting to end early or keep working without noticing, so I have a guaranteed rule that once 4 o’clock hits, no leaving my office room until 5. Throughout the day, I’ll allow myself the same breaks I would in the office, get up, walk around, maybe throw in a load of laundry, then back to work. I also find that having a dedicated space to do work is incredibly helpful. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but having an actual desk and a chair is critical — and saves you a ton of back problems from sitting on the couch all day!” — Victoria Harkes, Marketing Manager at SchoolBundle (25 employees; working remotely for 2 years)
“I use the Kanban method and Pomodoro technique (time-boxing) when I need to focus.” — Lena Boiser, Content Writer at Kanban Zone (12 employees)
“The whole team is usually active from 8am to 4pm. We have daily standup meetings, and weekly coordination meetings every Monday. Every team member plans their own week, and puts their tasks in Monday.com accordingly.” — Teodora Nikolovska, Founder & CEO, Vrootok Marketing & Consulting (10 employees)
“We give full flexibility to team members to decide when they want to work and in return, we expect that assigned tasks need to be completed for the weekly goals.” — Vansh Soni, Co-Founder at Botosynthesis
“I always organise my time, log my hours and use tools for time and productivity management. Every day I make a list of tasks estimated for 7–8 hours. I make 2 breaks for meals and one for workout, everyday at the same hour.” — Martyna Uliasz Account Manager at bPol
“Kill all mobile notifications. I don’t have my phone ever go off unless it’s a call. There is no reason you need to answer a text that can wait, see a non-important Facebook update or see the latest TechCrunch article immediately. Since starting the Onedesk project, I have managed to shrink my mobile app count from 103 to 28. The truth is most mobile apps have become a distraction more than a convenience in the modern world. Chances are 98 percent of your notifications are not urgent and every time your phone pings you, it can take forever to get back on track with your work tasks. Try flipping your phone over and killing your notifications for one week while you work from home, I guarantee you will see great results.” — Roman Peysakhovich, Co-Founder at Onedesk (3 team members)
“Black and screen white filter, noise cancelling headphones and a ‘don’t disrupt me when I’m in this zone’ office.” — Elias Helou, Director at Bundy
“We work in 2-week sprints: we select our goals, and by the end of the sprint, we share what we’ve achieved (and nobody wants to be the one that couldn’t get things done). We also have a “Weekly Achievements” board.” — Jean Carl Cohen, Co-founder at Octopush (4 team members; went remote at the beginning of 2020)
“One of the best parts of working as a remote team is picking the best people from all over the worldwide talented pool and making them part of our strong team. We only hire “doers” who can make our work done from anywhere in the world.” — Vansh Soni, Co-Founder at Botosynthesis
“We mark our attendance on our online attendance portal as well as on our Skype chat group so others in the team would know who’s available. We also have a check in and check out call each day of 15–20 mins in which functional teams discuss what they will and have to do/done in the entire day.” — Arsalan Sajid, Digital Agencies Community Manager at Cloudways (200 employees)
Some teams do daily 10 mins update calls, others keep it all in chat, some have WhatsApp chat for random sharing. How do you engage with your team and keep a strong relationship?
“Our team keeps an open channel throughout the day using Microsoft Teams. Generally speaking we also try to call rather than send an IM, it really boosts team morale and feelings of comradery when you actually speak to one another.” — Victoria Harkes, Marketing Manager at SchoolBundle (25 employees; working remotely for 2 years)
“For big projects, we meet on a daily basis, and for smaller projects, it’s every 2–3 days. We use Slack all the time, and also meet for a remote coffee twice a day.” — Martyna Uliasz Account Manager at bPol
“If you take one piece of advice when moving to a remote workforce, let it be this: over-communicate. We ask our teams to provide feedback, collaborate, ask for help, ask questions and put their hand up if they are struggling. The biggest challenge you will face in a telecommuting environment is the inability to naturally observe body language and ensure your team’s health and wellbeing is positive. We have regular one on one catch ups, as well as team meetings, and as part of our Objective Key Results (OKR’s) we check in on team health every Monday as a leadership team. We want every single team member to thrive in our virtual workplace, and we use all communication tools at our disposal to do our best to check-in.” — Katie Lio, Chief Operations Officer at WORK180
“We do a morning digital stand-up for a few minutes and track all of our work across Bundy and Trello.” — Elias Helou, Director at Bundy
“We encourage people to post funny things about the crisis in Slack, have a laugh about our own miseries and usually have two 30 minutes circle meetings a week. We also have a retreat with all colleagues once a year where we all meet for 8–10 days and chill.” — Dennis van der Heijden, Founder and Chief Global Happiness at Convert.com (30+ employees; working remotely for 6 years)
“As long as there’s an agreement on how the team is expected to work, engagement and collaboration follows.” — Lena Boiser, Content Writer at Kanban Zone (12 employees; working remotely for 2 years)
“Daily stand-up has proven to be the most effective so far. We don’t have a stand-up meeting call, but rather share our tasks in a stand-up channel on Slack. That way we make sure everything is written down and the team can see who does what at any given time.” — Teodora Nikolovska, Founder & CEO, Vrootok Marketing & Consulting (10 employees)
“We’ll send short voicemail notifications of upcoming work to help our remote workers plan their weeks and swat up on the matters.” — Mark Phillips — Founder — Nomad Stays
“Every Monday, every department presents activities they worked on last week and also what are their plans for next week. We have #random channel on Slack where we share some funny stuff, articles, pictures; and on our channel #coffee_time where we agree on group online coffee time 😃 ” — Kris Fischer, Saas Marketing Specialist at Cloudtalk.io
“We give our team members 100% reimbursement on their internet to make sure they are getting the best connection possible.“ — Timothy Murenzi, Founder of Social Mako (working remotely for 2 years)
“My team uses Slack where we share new research, catch up on work progress and make new plans, but I love chatting with them on Whatsapp for more personal conversations— this separates the work and personal relationships.” — Elena Cismigiu, Co-founder and Research Director at HX Lab (3 team members)
“Discuss what it’s like working from home–with an occasional cat, dog or child popping into the screen, and share some life hacks on staying productive.” — Marya Kazakova from Seranking
We all have times of slow internet when a neighbour is playing a video game, or when we got to work next to our toddlers. How do you risk-manage those situations?
“I make arrangements with my 5 years old daughter, that while she’s watching a movie for children, I’m having a call with a client and I can’t be interrupted. After that, I spend 10 minutes with her to give her some attention and together we find out what she would like to do next, so that I could productively work again.” — Alina, Sales and Marketing Manager, Xplicity
“Always have a back up plan. Like a portable WiFi. Set a schedule to separate personal obligations with work. And just communicate your situation with your team if you really find yourself in a bind.” — Lena Boiser, Content Writer at Kanban Zone
“Most countries have poor internet coverage in regional areas (where we prefer to travel). So we tend to use more lightweight messaging systems and apps that work both offline and online. We also use cloud based document sharing that can be cached when offline or intermittent connectivity.” — Mark Phillips — Founder — Nomad Stays
“Sometimes we have to get up and move to a cafe (in case of an electricity blackout). As to the Internet connection, we all know how to create a mobile hotspot which is enough with today’s LTE” — Jacob Baytelman, Founder and CTO at BTLR
“Remote work requires a lot of creativity and planning. When there is slow internet, I work with offline tools like MS Word. I compose outreach emails and write content for my next guest posts. And when my toddlers are around, I keep them engaged with their favorite TV program or books. I always find creative ways to stay productive even when there are technical issues and ‘down times’ — Chioma Iwunze, Content Marketer at Time Doctor
“I personally have the fastest internet option available. I use my phone and tether as a back up.” — Rachel Jackson, Computer Science Teacher, Fusion Academy
“Slow internet or no internet was a big factor which the management had to eliminate so they announced a fund for Internet devices (LTE), so whoever has internet issues at home can use dedicated internet to come online.” — Arsalan Sajid, Digital Agencies Community Manager at Cloudways (200 employees)
“Be open and keep all notes online. Use task trackers. I don’t trust my memory. I also don’t trust my devices. Even if everything will burn to the ground — i’ll be able to jump to another laptop and will continue my work” — Arthur, Software Editor at HackerNoon
“When we first started working from home, I made sure I was ready with all the necessary tools needed to work efficiently. I upgraded my Macbook to the new MacBook Pro, upgraded my internet to run via Google Nest Wifi. My entire home now has Mesh Wifi coverage, so I never have to worry about slow speed again. This is huge for productivity, as it ensures I am not wasting time loading websites and web apps.” — Roman Peysakhovich, Co-Founder at Onedesk (3 team members)
“No one can anticipate everything that can go wrong. The best way to tackle problems is by communicating, asking for help, actually allowing others to help & have faith and trust in your own team.” — Alexandra Nicolae, Product Owner at Axel Springer Ideas Engineering (40 employees)
A few insights from teams who are new to working from home
“It’s important to keep the social side of work going — don’t postpone birthdays, do them online. Don’t forget that the company is made up of humans, so keep the human interaction on — writing is cool, but seeing faces is cooler! And from my personal experience — having a good chair for work at home is an investment, not an expense.“ — Marta Kostulska, Business Development Manager at subko&co
“We never worked from home until now. It is a huge challenge for our team, especially for those that have children. What is working out for me is to keep the same schedule as if I were in the office. That means I wake up at the same hour, do my morning routine, and start my day normally. I use Asana to define precise tasks and follow the project stages, and I keep in contact with my team during the working hours. I try not to change the office routine too much. Every night, before going to sleep, I’m planning for next day activites and all my conferences during the times when my child naps.” — Elisa Salcudean, Sales Executive at iFlow (22 employees)
“Time management is a huge factor. Don’t let being at home make you feel lethargic. Keeping constant communication with threads and video calls is great since you don’t feel isolated and always can get the help you need. Focus on the positives, no commuting, being able to have the comforts of your own home, comfortable clothes (if applicable), less rushing around, etc. It is very important during times like these to focus on the bright side of things.” — Rachel Jackson, Computer Science Teacher, Fusion Academy
“We check in every morning via Google Hangouts and it seems to help everyone stay accountable and keep on track with deliverables. I recommend using the calendar wisely, blocking out time for deep work, scheduling calls with coworkers and clients, and taking breaks for pushups and squats or just going for a walk (at a distance from others).” — David Esau, Sr. Account Manager, Customer Success at MotiveMetrics (30 employees)
“After work go on video chats with your friends and family. Try cooking, this is a good time to learn this very important life skill. Workout for at least half an hour to release stress. You can also go for some meditation after your workout session.” — Pranay Rathod, VP of Marketing at Gridle.one (40 employees)
“We do daily huddles in the morning where we discuss plans, challenges and wins. General communication is on Slack, no email so that our messages aren’t missed or aren’t sitting in people’s inboxes for days. I find the key to productivity when working remotely is to get on a phone call or a video conference to sort out deeper technical or logical challenges. Not all issues can be adequately explained or resolved through messaging alone.” — Ayush at Audacix (40 employees)
1. Dress comfortably, but definitely be ready to have a video chat with your colleagues at all times.
2. Don’t eat lunch at your desk.
3. Set a time when you start and stop working.
4. Take breaks and even more important — plan for a break between meetings.
— Alexandra Nicolae, Product Owner at Axel Springer Ideas Engineering (40 employees)
“Making a strict timetable similar to the one you had at work is key. I wake up at the same time (it’s tempting not to) and put on nice clothes to motivate myself. Taking a break and doing some exercise is also very important- it’s very easy to work until late and being at home and on a chair for hours can affect both your mental and physical health. If you want to focus during your “work hours”, Focusmate is a great platform to find a partner to work with and minimise procrastination” — Elena Cismigiu, Co-founder and Research Director at HX Lab (3 team members)
“Try it! It was scary for me the first time as well, I wasn’t sure if and how I will be able to manage my team, but it turns out we are more productive when working remotely. There are a plethora of tools for tasks management, time management and team coordination these days, so you can make your choice and decide on the ones that will fit your team the best. Of course, not all industries can have the luxury of remote work, but if your team is working on the computer, try remote working, you will love it!” — Teodora Nikolovska, Founder & CEO, Vrootok Marketing & Consulting (10 employees)
— — — —
For those who made it to the very end of the article, congratulations! 👏👏
Here’s a short summary of the take-aways:
— for businesses —
- Have daily standup meetings, and weekly coordination meetings every Monday
- Work in 2-week sprints, consider having a Weekly Achievements board
- Have a check in and check out call each day, or meet for a remote coffee twice a day
- Hire ‘doers’ who can get work done from anywhere in the world
- Give full flexibility to team members to decide when they want to work
- Have a well-documented onboarding process
- Have a retreat with all colleagues once a year
- Set clear expectations
- Reimburse internet & healthcare costs
— for employees —
10. Create a to-do list for every week and every day
11. Organise your time & log hours
12. Tag tasks based on urgency
13. Consider Kanban method and Pomodoro technique to stay focused
14. Create time blocks and take frequent breaks
15. Kill all mobile notifications
16. Consider noise cancelling headphones
17. Call rather than send an IM
19. Send short voicemail notifications instead of texting
20. Use Whatsapp for more personal conversations
21. Discuss what it’s like working from home
22. Make arrangements with the family who are aso staying at home
23. Have a portable WiFi as a backup
24. Use more lightweight messaging systems and apps that work both offline and online
25. Get comfortable working with offline tools when you need to
26. Consider using your phone and tether as a back up for Internet connection
27. Upgrade to Mesh Wifi coverage
28. Keep the human interaction on
And that’s not all! Because we’ve got so many great insights from teams all over the world, to make the best coverage for the story, we decided to split it into parts. So stay tuned for our next publication where we’ll be featuring the tech stack and other great advice from remote teams!
If you enjoyed the article, please help us spread the word by sharing it with your network and across social media channels ❤
We thank everyone who took part in our research: Komorabi, MotiveMetrics, Contensify, Audacix, Axel Springer Ideas Engineering, AVE Corporation AUST. PTY. LTD, BTLR. , Bonjoro, ThirstySprout, subko&co, Kanban Zone, bPol, Botosynthesis, Nomad Stays, Cloudtalk.io, Medina Tech, Octopush, SchoolBundle, Vrootok Marketing & Consulting, HX Lab, Xplicity, Onedesk, Time Doctor, MakersWheel, Fusion Academy, HackerNoon, SpdLoad, ESTRAD SAC, Cloudways, Social Mako, Precision Content Authoring Solutions, Edhabit, IQVIA, Bundy, WORK180, React GraphQL Academy & other.