Tried And Tested Remote Work Tips To Keep You Happy And Productive

Alexandra Cote

Written by

Alexandra Cote

Read Time

11 minutes

Previously, working remotely was a lifestyle only a few employees tried out. Now, every company has moved its “offices” at home.

Remote work is no longer just remote. It’s simply working from home.

The change, however, is all too sudden for most people who’re used to the office life. They aren’t ready and trained for this type of work in the first place. That’s why they experience similar challenges such as feeling stuck or unable to focus on their daily duties.

What’s worse is that organizations were caught unprepared, with little or no time to implement the best policies and tools to transition employees to the new normal – remote work.

That’s why we reached out to 14 of our clients who’ve been working remotely for a while or are just getting the hang of this type of work to see how they’re handling it.

WHO ARE THESE REMOTE TIPS FOR?

Anyone who is just starting with remote work or wants to improve the way in which they work from home.

Time to prioritize client management

Besides getting accustomed to remote work, many freelancers [even those who’ve been working remotely for a while now] are struggling with getting clients to understand the values of continuing to do marketing. I’ve always believed in “working while everyone else is sleeping” and I’m happy to see other professionals are taking this to heart:

“My biggest challenge is to persuade my customers that they should work on marketing right now BEFORE everything goes back to normal and gain new customers with this idea.” – Ondrej Hauser @PLUTO design

“As a small PR/marketing business, the biggest challenge I am facing is that the bulk of my clients are in the tourism/hospitality sector so the work for them is at a standstill. There is not much I can do other than encourage them to diversify and let us help raise their profile and to work on some of the projects we don’t always have time to do, such as reviewing/improving their web content ready for when the lockdown is lifted. We need to source new clients in other sectors who are still trading during this time and help them promote their profile.” – Jane Ellison-Bates, Managing Director @Manifest Marketing Ltd.

jane-workspace

Jane’s workspace

Marcus has been using the benefits of strong client communication to fix this issue:

“Our biggest challenge is that our clients need to prioritize other projects. So we need to stay on top of all projects by keeping up the communication. Thanks to Paymo we can manage this. It helps us to keep track of time spent, agreed estimations, calendar planning, etc. Also, we make sure to invoice more regularly, on a monthly basis, so that we reduce risks.” – Marcus Wendin @Miljögiraff

Take care of your mind

The situation has caused an overall anxiety that creeps workers and clients alike. It’s ultimately up to team leaders and company owners to help their workers cope with this on a mental level.

MJ&Associates, a boutique marketing agency, are turning to video calls to keep the team bonded and remind clients that there’s a human on the other end you can turn to for support and help:

“I think the biggest challenge as a leader in our small company is to try to help alleviate the anxiety of the team, and still keep the work flowing. At the same time, we must be a resource for our clients as they are not only anxious, they have real marketing and communications needs. So, we’ve had to regroup on projects that we were working on and develop content and exposure for our clients’ brands in this crisis. As an agency, we’re on an internal schedule of morning Zoom meetings and afternoon check-ins. Videos are important so we are reminded of the impact on each other.”

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MJ&Associates Zoom meeting

Cyndi Garrison, Consultant @Five Points Infrastructure Services, also supports cutting meetings short to focus on other efforts or just take a break:

“What we found works well is to allow planned web meetings to end 5-10 minutes early on the agenda. Leave them open for people to discuss other topics that usually happen after a meeting AND/OR for the others to leave early, take a break, and have time to prepare for their next meetings – since this type of communication fills our days.”

Other teams are using video to cope with the new issues and solitude:

“Keeping the team spirit alive is our biggest challenge. We have set up online conferencing rooms where our teams work together the whole day. Everybody can see and hear each other, so they quickly share information when needed.” – Erik Poels, (Remote 😉) Agile Coach @Bizzomate

“We have a daily catch up call. This can be done first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. These calls are limited by time (15-30 mins max). This ensures that all of us are aware of what everyone is doing and help in prioritizing and keeping track of work and deliverables.” – Arun Kumar, Team Leader @GetIT

“It’s difficult to work while also dealing with the anxiety of living in a global pandemic. I’ve been listening to NPR outside of work which helps me stay informed, and I don’t listen to the news while I work which helps keep me focused.” – Annie Miteva, Graphic Designer @Daylight Studio

“Make sure that you have the tools you need, especially communication. Team communication to make sure everyone feels connected rather than isolated (we use and love Glip by RingCentral). Client communication to make sure that your customers feel supported and heard. Project communication to make sure that projects stay on course and moving forward (we use Paymo for this, and it takes care of our timekeeping and invoicing for us as well).” – Jillyn Dillon @Technology Aloha

invoices-table

Table view of invoices

What about freelancers and solopreneurs?

Not everyone is part of a team. But there are many things you can to do keep anxiety at bay as an individual:

“The biggest challenge I’m facing is uncertainty and anxiety. It’s tough to focus on work when you’re stressed out about health and the economy. I’m handling it by taking 45 minutes to practice self-care in the morning, my routine includes yoga, meditation, and reading. It’s a habit I’ve been building for a while, but it’s been grounding me during this period of turmoil. This is just the remote work tip that worked for me, but whatever feels right for you, do it! I also limit my news consumption throughout the day so that I’m able to focus and use productivity timers when my focus is really waning.” – Daisy Quaker, Digital Content Marketer

daisy-home-office

Daisy’s home office

As someone who’s been working remotely from day one, I second that. 😉

Keeping in touch

Social distancing has proven one of the most difficult challenges to remote work – especially for extroverts who were looking forward to going to the office to interact face-to-face with their colleagues. It’s not only keeping people away from all the fun, but also from professional growth opportunities:

“The biggest challenge is being isolated from industry peers. Within an office environment, you are exposed to other people’s ideas, trends, and skills which contribute to your own daily growth. When working remotely you rely only on yourself, which can lead to disconnected and old ideas over time. To make up for this we listen to talks and lectures while we work, we subscribe to industry news websites, and follow influential industry thought leaders on social media so that we are always kept up to date.” – Zah Zondi @Heita Daar

Something as simple as having established process in place and keeping everyone on the same page can go a long way too:

“I don’t have employees but I regularly work with partners. We are productive because we have set processes and we centralize information in a tool we choose together and we’re comfortable with.” – Coustellié Cédric, Owner @Pixeliz

The importance of a set schedule

Now that you find yourself with so much apparent freedom, it’s so easy to get caught up with other activities that are not so productive. Follow a routine if needed and have a backup plan so you won’t postpone things indefinitely when tasks go sideways or you’re stuck:

“Create a schedule, make daily ‘To do’ lists and set daily targets for yourself to help you stay productive. Try to tick off as much as you can off your list at the end of each day. Keep a close network of contactable peers should you get stuck on a task, need assistance, need to bounce off ideas or collaborate.” – Zah Zondi

zah-workspace

Zah’s workspace for working from home

Lacking ideas? Here’s a brief look at what Pablo’s team does when this happens:

“What we do is to review at the end of each day what tasks were left unfinished or new ones that have just been added.

Then we distribute the tasks and the next day, at the beginning of the day, each one of us checks his emails, prepares his things, and reviews the tasks.

What we must do is to include in the list of things to do during the day, some tasks that normally we wouldn’t include if we were working normally, that is, from our office.” – Pablo Gaitan

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Table view for managing tasks in Paymo

Keep productivity levels high

Productivity at work has always been a challenge people have been trying to tweak and find new hacks for. Now more than ever, staying productive at work is a collective effort that starts from the top, with management, but also involves every single team member.

“Each team member has weekly and monthly targets to meet. How they distribute their time is completely up to them as long as they meet and exceed those targets. We track our time, and view timesheet reports on a regular basis to ensure that each member is held accountable for their contribution to the company’s performance.” – Zah Zondi, Graphic Designer and Co-owner @Heita Daar

paymo-time-tracking

Time tracking features in Paymo

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

The PXP team is also taking a similar approach by ensuring productivity through communication:

“Set consistent times that you update your team on their tasks. We do a beginning, middle and end of week check in. It should be a personal connection like a direct message or a one-on-one call. Take just a second to ask how they are doing before throwing a list of todos at them. We use the Team Tasks view with filters in Paymo to quickly make the list of tasks for that team member before calling.” – Wylie Thomas, Managing Partner

Leonardo Baptista Lopes, Founder @Strongway Webstudio made a point out of using more than just simple written messages:

“Use the phone whenever you need to explain something or just talk to a colleague. Written communication is very important, but lacks a lot of nuances and is much slower. When you want to reach out to somebody, turn to your phone or a video call to make sure you get all details correctly, avoid misunderstandings, and also keep the conversation friendlier.”

Keeping a clean, distraction-free work environment

Some of us can work from anywhere. Others are completely bothered by everything that’s going on around them and simply can’t focus if they haven’t cleaned up or put their files in order. Beyond keeping your desk clutter-free, individuals are turning to setting up their own space or room for working from home:

“To stay focused on the work and not get distracted by other issues, have a special place in the house for work. If you don’t have a dedicated office space, you have to adapt another room in your home in the best possible way. For example, one that has adequate lighting and little to no noise or movement of people, but is also not too far from the center of the house.” – Pablo Gaitan

Pablo also states that distractions are bound to happen but they shouldn’t keep you from the work you’ve already started:

“Don’t despair if your list of tasks increases instead of decreases, and don’t try to do more than one thing at a time! You will be interrupted and there will be distractions or difficulties. So what you should do is take it easy, and always finish what you are doing first. Don’t leave tasks in the middle, you can say: OK, don’t worry I’ll take care of it, but as soon as I finish what I’m doing now.”

Avigail has also been experiencing these issues and setting up her own customized space:

“The biggest challenge I’m facing is not getting distracted while working at home. The advice I’d give and what works for me is setting up a workplace for yourself in the house. I set up a desk for myself in the basement and in the morning I wake up and get ready for work, eat breakfast and go down to my “office” in the basement. It is still not the same and may be challenging, but it definitely gives me more of a work environment with a motivation to be productive. – Avigail Mizrachi, Graphic Designer @GCNY Marketing.

This also helps you reach that boundary between work and life. Pair it with a strict schedule and it will be just like going to work:

“Tell your family you’re working, it’s no holiday. Get dressed, to give yourself the feeling of getting ready for work. Start early and have a finish time, as if you have a schedule at work.” – Erik Poels

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Erik’s remote work setup

Remember we’re all human

The most impactful negative thing switching to a remote lifestyle does is disconnect people. At least for the time being. We’re suddenly moving from a collective workspace to our own tiny homes with few to no people in sight.

In return, this does not only hinder our communication skills, but can also take us through an unwanted path of loneliness and isolation. But the Internet shouldn’t be a border you can’t cross. It’s now easier than ever for anyone to reach out to their colleagues, ask about their day, and just bond beyond any work you need to take care of. Virtual team building activities can also help your team connect and have some fun together, even if you’re not sharing the same workspace.

“Remember things about their family, hobbies that they share that you can ask about. Be genuinely interested in them outside of the tasks. Yes, the tasks are super important to our clients, and we use Paymo to help us stay on top of everything. But, our developers that do the task are human (sometimes we wonder), but they are human and have pretty normal lives.

Working remote means your lives are connected at a more personal level than if you only talked at the office. When you work remotely, you talk to co-workers while kids are in the next room practicing piano, or the dogs are barking. You get glimpses into each other’s lives that you don’t get at the office.” – Wylie Thomas, Managing Partner @PXP

All in all, focus on the positive side

Thinking about all the things that could go wrong will only put you in a deeper state of anxiety and stress. Instead of worrying, Ondrej from PLUTO design advises focusing on the benefits. All those little perks you’re getting at the moment:

“There is nothing you can do, so try to enjoy it if you can. You don’t have to commute, so sleep longer, exercise, have a good breakfast. Suit up like you would actually do for work. Use a proper chair and table, make yourself comfortable but not too comfortable. Try not to procrastinate but again, enjoy your lunch (don’t eat and work simultaneously) and stretch a bit from time to time. Your mindset is important and if you hate it at the beginning, it will be a painful change for you.”

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