I’ve been working fully remote for the past 5 weeks in quarantine and wanted to share some tips about what I’ve learned. Our company Lightmatter has a few fully remote employees, but never has our entire team been remote all at once.
These aren’t your usual remote work tips though. I’ve tried to deviate from what’s common like getting a second monitor, investing in a good microphone, or wearing blue light blocking glasses late at night if you’re working late.
Here are 5 tips on creating a remote work setup that you may not have thought of.
This is the single most important tip I can share. I’m lucky to have an old iPad that I use to take video and voice calls. Remote work fundamentally requires more time on conference and video calls, and they can be fatiguing on both you and your computer to run them alongside other apps and collaboration tools.
Before using a second device, every time I joined a Hangout or Zoom call my computer would start to slow. The fan would spin up and the keyboard would grow hot in a matter of minutes.
Whether you have a phone, tablet, or even another computer, download all of your conferencing software and offload the CPU to a second device. Don’t worry about needing to screen share on your calls - you can always join quickly and mute yourself from your primary device.
Ever joined a video conference with your camera on by accident? There's usually a setting that allows you to enter meetings with your camera on or off by default. But given how many conferencing platforms there are (Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Slack Calls, etc) it's hard to plan for every one.
For a few dollars a shutter, you can solve this problem forever by buying a pack. My favorite are the ultra thin ones by Yilador, so you can even put them on your phone camera without noticing and feeling bulky.
The way I see it is that no harm can come from having an extra layer of security, whether physical or digital. Consider this a 2 factor authentication for your camera. For your own privacy and bad hair days, these little shutters are clutch.
Being remote I’ve found that it’s more important to invest and practice the company rituals we have.
Tasks and activities that we took for granted in-person suddenly become cumbersome digital chores: scheduling meetings, waiting for others to join, and reading mile long chat messages in Slack to catch up on what happened.
By sticking to the routines we create (standup starts at 11:00, not 11:05, tickets should be updated right after, code pushed to Github before signing off each day) we can avoid these lingering digital loose ends that creep up when we're all not in the same office together.
I’m amazed and inspired by teams that are fully remote. And whether you’re a leader or contributor to your company, being deliberate about the rules you create goes a long way in keeping everything running on time.
Taking this idea further, when you’re fully remote it can be easier to waste time.
I've seen hour long conversations happen in writing on Slack about problems that could have been resolved with 5 minutes of screen sharing.
When reading and writing it's especially easy to misinterpret tone, emphasis, or importance. This perpetuates a cycle of over explaining, correcting, and confirming that the other person understands you, and you understand them.
The best way to solve this is to escalate your communication a level. If after 5 minutes you’re not understanding each other on chat, move to a voice. 5 more? Jump on a video call and screen share.
It's hard to remember to do this, so why not just default to video from the start? If you're worried about having something in writing for record keeping purposes, you can always send a message after with a summary about your call. Don't forget to ask the other person to confirm back in writing too.
Special things can happen regardless if you’re working in-person or remote, but they have the highest chance of happening the more present you are.
Thinking about communication, if you can't for some reason hold a video call, writing in a publicly shared space is key to effectively distributing information across your team.
We've gotten into trouble by communicating in private. Two of our engineers once made a critical feature decision for a client of ours, but did so across direct messages with each other rather than in a public channel.
Our designer didn't know, and spent a few days creating a workflow that would never be built. Similar instances have happened when an employee took a vacation but left key information in a direct message to another person, also out on vacation!
Keeping as much communication public as you can will drive down the cognitive overhead of managing your team. Of course, personal or sensitive information should be saved for DM's. But reminding colleagues to chat in a public channel if they message you directly can significantly reduce repeat meetings and the stress caused from status updates.
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