While the world grapples with how to carry on through the coronavirus pandemic, improving your remote working experience to stay happy, healthy, and productive has become a top priority for businesses, entrepreneurs, employees, and freelancers.
News outlets and social media are doing a great job of scaring and confusing us, but let's go to a source we can trust for a little education. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus." Additionally, it informs us that the virus is spread mainly from person to person (within 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
To avoid the risk of the virus spreading faster than our health systems can handle, the CDC is instructing people to avoid close contact with people who are sick and to put distance between ourselves and other people who may be infected and not know it. What that means for many people is that they will or must work remotely to avoid contact with people who can be contagious for up to two weeks before showing signs of the coronavirus.
Source: CDC.gov 03/14/2020
As the coronavirus pandemic pushes more and more people to work remotely, it's the right time to evaluate if you are prepared for a different way of doing business. Whether you are new to remote work, or you've been doing it for a while but know you can be more productive and organized, this post is going to get you remote working like a pro.
Happy, Healthy and Productive Remote Working Through the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond
With the thousands of digital online tools, software, and platforms available today, remote working continues to increase in popularity as a productive and profitable option for getting work done. As the coronavirus spreads worldwide, social distancing and self or forced quarantine means businesses must learn how to continue to function with employees working remotely.
If you've been working remotely on your own business or side-hustles, you know that all the remote life freedom everyone talks about isn't exactly free. You need the right tools, organizational and time management skills, and a solid get-sh!t-done mindset to effectively work remotely. Let's upgrade your digital work experience, minimize your exposure (or you exposing people) to the coronavirus, and show you how to improve your remote working experience.
Remote Working Basics for a Strong Foundation
Having more control over your work environment is great, except that it also comes with greater responsibility to ensure data is secure and readily available. Secure remote access to digital resources and the internet is a fundamental requirement for working remotely.
- INTERNET: We aren't talking about working from the corner coffee shop or the library, so you will need fast and reliable internet service at home. You may need to upgrade your home internet plans or phone data plans if you rely on mobile hot spots to work wherever you are. Before signing any long-term contract look at the historical data on how much bandwidth you use doing the work you do. If you need to sync or transfer tons of media or data or rely on web conferencing and videos to do your job, you'll want more than the basic home internet package to stay productive.
READ POPULAR SCIENCE'S "Here’s how much internet bandwidth you actually need to work from home”
- DEVICES: Basic remote working necessities include a computer, a smartphone, and a tablet. Depending on the work you do and how you will communicate with your team and clients, you could add a webcam, printer/scanner, and high-quality headphones with a built-in microphone to your list of essential equipment needs.
READ TECHREPUBLIC’S “How to set up a basic home workstation for remote employees”
- VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK (VPN): A VPN sits on a computer or laptop to create an encrypted network connection that makes it safer for you to access online data and networks. Secure internet access is a must whether you work for yourself or someone else, so finding a reliable VPN solution is a high priority task for anyone working remotely. VPNs can be tricky, and there are several alternatives, such as secure remote desktops that can often do the job if you don't have skills or budget to go the VPN route. You just need to research your options and ensure you are working in a way that protects everyone’s data.
- CLOUD SOLUTIONS: There are thousands of applications and tools out there that make businesses run more efficiently. Even a one-person operation will have dozens of applications to handle documents, files, data, reports, processes, systems, storage, marketing and more. Invest in and leverage cloud service providers to do the heavy lifting for your business.
Digital technology is made available to remote workers anywhere in the world on cloud servers such as Amazon AWS (with 39% of the market) and Microsoft’s Azure. Add to that cloud storage services such as Dropbox and Google Drive that bank on your need to store all your information and install applications on virtual machines to free up space on your devices.
Cloud services not only make it easier to access and manage data critical to getting your work done. They improve communication within remote teams with file sharing, let you work on the go by syncing with multiple devices, and provide increasingly secure platforms for your files. Look for cloud services with automated backups so you can recover data that has been lost or accidentally deleted.
Tools That Upgrade Your Remote Working Experience
The ability to share and store knowledge and assets, run applications, and communicate worldwide is what makes remote working possible. The advanced technology now available on current electronic devices combined with cloud services enables you to work from anywhere, so let’s look at the tools that will improve your remote working environment.
(The links below go directly to each tool’s pricing page because when you’re working small, the pricing can be more important than having a multitude of features you won’t use.)
Team Communication and Collaboration for Remote Working
With the isolating nature of remote work, digital collaboration tools such as email, phone, web conferencing, and chat enable you to connect with your team and clients without in-person contact.
SLACK - an integrated messaging and chat app that connects your conversations with your online tools using a robust API that integrates with 1500+ apps making it easier to access and share files.
ZOOM - a cloud-based video communication tool that offers multiple collaboration features. Zoom can be used for voice or video conferencing, chat, document collaboration, file-sharing, and webinars on multiple platforms.
MICROSOFT TEAMS - host audio, video, and web conferences internally and with third-party organizations on a platform that allows you to schedule bookings, set deadlines, take notes, screen-share, upload files, and instant message. Obviously, this works well with other Microsoft products but doesn’t play so nice with non-Microsoft tools such as Google Docs.
Web Conferencing and Meetings
Keeping all the chat messages, emails, and phone calls that come in every day straight can get overwhelming when working remotely. Sometimes its best just to focus down, sit still, and have a meeting to connect with your team or clients. A simple web conferencing or online meeting tool makes working remotely more manageable and not so isolating.
SKYPE FOR BUSINESS - host online business meetings (accommodating up to 250 people) with real-time input features on this video conferencing app where you can record meetings, share screens, and annotate PowerPoint presentations.
JOIN.ME - lightweight web conferencing tools you don't need to download any software to use. Just log in from your web browser and get started with a conference or video call. Join.Me also has screen-sharing and customizable URL and background.
GOTOMEETING - a web conferencing tool that lets you collaborate and communicate with audio, visual, and on-screen drawing tools, with the added bonus of automatic transcripts for meeting notes. Additional features include chat, toll-free calling, and meeting rooms.
UBERCONFERENCE - no-frills, easy to use minimal video conference tool with features such as screen-sharing, record and playback, and mobile access.
FREECONFERENCE - free, with no hidden charges, this web conferencing tool is similar to UberConference, in that it is super easy to use by clicking a link to join a meeting immediately.
WORKPLACE BY FACEBOOK - this new Facebook product enables companies to host live video broadcasting for meetings with real-time feedback from users through comments and reactions. An auto-translate feature is an added bonus.
GOOGLE HANGOUTS - makes meeting on-the-go fast and easy with link sharing and a lightweight user interface that allows access to conference calls without needing permissions or plugins. Full integration with G Suite lets people directly join meetings through a calendar event or email invite from a computer or phone.
Source: Google Hangouts
Cloud Storage for Remote Workers
GOOGLE DRIVE/GOOGLE ONE – get free document creation and storage for uploading, sharing, and collaboration in real-time on Google Docs files on Google Drive. Or you can just use it to store any of your data online for easy access. Google One provides upgraded paid storage plans starting at $2/month for 100GB.
DROPBOX - popular free cloud storage, with a web interface that remains streamlined and easy-to-use but has one of the least generous free packages for new users at just 2GB.
ONE DRIVE - ideal for Windows users this is already integrated into file explorer and includes a feature called Personal Vault for an added layer of protection.
IDRIVE - offers continuous syncing of your files, even those on network drives, and supports sharing files by email, Facebook, and Twitter. Files deleted from your computer are not automatically deleted from the server, so there's less danger of removing something important by accident as up to 30 previous versions of all files backed to your account are retained.
Time and Project Management for Enhanced Remote Working Environments
Software for managing projects and time help you work more efficiently and with less stress while staying organized and tracking your “to-dos” and “dones.” Standard features that will improve your remote working environment include task management, document sharing, communication tools, and project dashboards.
HIVE - time-tracking, AI-based analytics, and flexible view capabilities allow for next-level project management. Hive also has one of the first full email integrations, which enables you to send and receive Gmail and Outlook messages from the app.
ASANA - web-based project management and communication that puts tasks and conversations together. Plan and monitor projects, track assigned tasks, share files, and communicate with features such as cards, boards, timelines, calendars, and portfolios.
TRELLO - a visually appealing and clear space for uncomplicated project management. Using the Kanban board concept to monitor project progress conveniently.
MONDAY - fully-featured management platform that offers a more advanced set of features than some of the better-known alternatives like Trello. You get extensive project and task management, multiple views, progress tracking, file sharing, and task assignments.
BASECAMP - a project management tool to organize projects and track deliverables featuring task management, chat and messaging, file sharing, document management, and milestone tracking on a large scale for bigger teams with remote workers.
SCORO - plan your time and projects, manage your clients with a built-in CRM, send invoices, and track business results with one-page full project management. You can also schedule your own or your remote team’s work, create quotes for clients you can send as PDFs, and integrate with thousands of apps through Zapier.
TOGGL - time tracking app that runs in the background while users work on tasks, providing data visualization to compare profits against time spent on tasks and labor costs, showing you which projects and clients are most profitable.
DOODLE - web-based collaborative scheduling app for arranging meetings across time-zones that lets you set your availability, send reminders, and hide your personal events.
ACTITIME - time tracking software that allows you to record hours spent on various job activities and compare actual performance time with the estimated one. You can review who on your remote team is engaged with which project or task (in case your curious who is working on what and when).
TIME DOCTOR - tracks time automatically while taking into account the websites and applications a person uses and creating a report of how they used their time. You could also take screenshots of employee’s workstations and review daily task performance for everyone on your team.
Creating a Happy and Healthy Remote Work Environment
If you’re not used to remote working, or it doesn’t vibe with your personality, working outside the office can be a considerable challenge. Creating or improving your remote working environment is crucial if you want to remain happy and healthy. You’ll need to stay focused and intentional in your efforts to take care of both your mental and physical health.
Create the World You Want to Work In
If you are lucky, you can carve out a little workspace of your very own at your home. If you don’t live alone and you’re really, really, really lucky, this space will include a door you can use to shut out distractions such as kids, your spouse, roommates, friends, and pets. Be clear that door shut means it is office hours for you, and that needs to be respected.
Your workspace should be a place you enjoy spending time, so while you are setting up how to best organize and store your stuff, be sure to add personal touches. Photos, quotes, dream boards, goal charts … anything that serves as inspiration and motivation for the work that needs to get done should be prominently displayed in your workspace. Fans or heaters, music or soothing sounds, tabletop fountains or aromatherapy misters - things that keep your mind and body closer to Zen should also be considered.
Whether you have an office budget or not, two things I recommend you invest are a comfortable desk chair and proper lighting. When you’re putting in long hours, an uncomfortable chair will make sure you won’t stay still long enough to get your work done. And poor lighting makes working harder by stressing your eyes, which can lead to headaches and permanent damage to your eyesight.
One more thing to remember is that when you are working, treat it like it is work. Yes, when you work remotely every day could be “wear your pajamas to work” day. But to get in the right mindset, most people are more productive when they go through the routine of getting ready for work. Shower, put on your day clothes, and prepare to be productive. Even faking a work commute with a quick 10-minute walk before you get started lets everyone know (including yourself) that some work is getting done today.
READ GITLAB’S “How do I design and build the optimal home office?”
Assert and Protect Yourself in Remote Communications
When communicating digitally, you never really know what the other person is doing at that moment or what you might be interrupting. Working remotely, you can lose a lot of context in your communications, so you’ll need to be more assertive and open than you usually would be when having face-to-face interactions. When you lose the ability to gauge people’s moods or emotions (or visually give cues to your feelings or mental state), it’s harder to “read the room” and be respectful of others’ current headspace.
For clarity, you should overcommunicate and avoid assumptions. And encourage others you work with to do the same. You might want to say “yes” to every request automatically but, especially when working remotely, it is critical to say something when your confused, overwhelmed, or offended. If requests on your time become too demanding or outside what you believe to be your agreed scope of work, you should speak up, and get clarity on what the expectations are from both sides.
CHECK OUT THIS FREE COURSE from Open HPI (a MOOC platform) “Introduction to Successful Remote Teamwork”
Source: Open HPI
Empower Yourself to Stay Focused
Between the stress of isolation and the distractions of being at home, it can be challenging to stay on task. Loss of focus is sure to damage your productivity, and your profits if you work for yourself. Here are five quick tips on staying focused as a remote worker:
- Use self-motivation techniques to remain in the right positive mindset, be intentional in how you work towards your goals, and be more productive. Deep-dive into self-motivation with Positive Psychology’s “Self-Motivation Explained + 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself.”
- Know your goals and track your daily tasks to ensure that they are working towards the priorities you have set. Restating your goals daily and monitoring your activities towards those goals is the best way to identify and remove (or delegate) busy work that isn’t working for you.
- Make your work tasks more enjoyable (or bearable) by creating a reward system that gives you a mental high-five when you get sh!t done. Try to keep the rewards healthy and in proportion to the task, but what’s really important here is finding a way to instigate taking action.
- Identify your distractions and remove them (or at least minimize them, so they are harder to do). If you watch too much TV, spend too much time on the phone, or keep eating those cookies that were supposed to be for dessert you should put those remotes, devices, and treats somewhere they aren’t easily accessible. Make it just enough work to get them that you’ll wait until your work is done. If you’re going to go through the trouble of getting them then you’ll clearly have to acknowledge that you decided not to work. Tools like Serene and Focus (Mac), Spark (email), Offtime (smartphone), and Cold Turkey (website blocker), help you cut out distractions on your devices so you can stay focused and get your work done.
- Turn off social media notifications. Just do it. You cannot be productive when your phone, smart watch, tablet, and computer notifications are popping up to entice you back to your favorite social media platforms. Tools such as Freedom.to and FocusMe.com block, restrict, or make you earn those screen time on the social media time-sucks that are just too addictive to quit.
READ THRIVE GLOBAL’S “How to Stay Focused and Productive When Working From Home”
Coronavirus and Working Remotely
As the entire population of the planet watches the pandemic spread and waits to see what the short-term and long-term effects will be, some of us will still be able to work. Having the ability to work remotely and still produce an income in a time when most industries are struggling and crumbling under the pressure of coronavirus fears is truly a blessing.
Look at it this way: You don’t HAVE to work remotely - you GET to work remotely. And having a positive attitude while working will go a long way in relieving the stress we’re all experiencing right now.
Source: World Health Organization
While the “laptop” lifestyle is a dream for some and a nightmare for others, it is now evident that it has the powerful added benefit positively impacting the current health crisis. The restriction and removal of social, in-person interactions slow down the spread of not just coronavirus but also other infectious diseases such as the flu in a time when health systems are easily overwhelmed.
You’re doing a good thing so press forward knowing that if working remotely is new to you, or you need to improve your remote working experience, there are a multitude of solutions that will make communication, collaboration, and productivity better, easier, and more fulfilling.
NOTE FOR EMPLOYEES FORCED TO WORK FROM HOME: If you work for an organization that is instructing you to work remotely to protect your health and help stop the spread of COVID-19, then your first task is to obtain a list of all the tools and software they have designated in their contingency plans to facilitate remote work.
Do they provide a laptop? Is there timekeeping, screen-recording, or other tracking software installed? Will you communicate through email, phone, or Slack, or have meetings on Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts? Where should you store or submit work and support materials? How do you keep work and personal data secure on your home network?
You’ll want to get specifics on workflow and output expectations and requirements as well, so you’re not home alone trying to figure everything out. And then you can apply the advice below to create a productive and healthy remote work environment for yourself and your team.
GET MORE INFORMATION ON COVID-19 AND CORONAVIRUS ADVICE:
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