Working from Home: 19 Tried-and-Tested Tips for Remote Work
Businesses around the world are taking steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus, with many asking their employees to start working from home.
Of course, not everyone has this privilege — approximately two-thirds of the US population is unable to work remotely, the majority of which are healthcare and service professionals supporting us during this challenging time.
But for those who can, this opens up a totally new way of working — while slowing the spread of the disease and “flattening the curve”.
Working from home has plenty of advantages (hello, extra hour in bed) but can also be filled with productivity and well-being challenges.
Later has been a remote-friendly company for almost 3 years, with full-time remote employees spanning 6 countries and 3 continents — so it’s fair to say we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way.
In this post we are going to cover how we approach remote work as a company, as well as our top tips for working from home:
How the Later Team Works Remotely Worldwide
We have a range of different setups at Later — some teams are almost entirely remote, while others are a hybrid with a flexible work from home policy.
To support this, we rely on a range of different programs to help us communicate across multiple time zones and locations. Here’s just part of our remote work stack:
- Slack for internal messaging
- Zoom for video conferencing
- Asana for assigning tasks and tracking progress
- JIRA for issue and project tracking
- Google Suite: Docs, Sheets, and Slides for collaborating on and sharing documents, spreadsheets, and slides
- Loom for screen recordings with voiceovers
- Later for social media planning and scheduling
- Clockwise for time management
- Jackbox for remote social games
- Notion for shared documentation
Finding the right tools to help your team successfully communicate while working from home can be a huge step in the right direction, but it doesn’t stop there.
It’s also important to adjust how you work together on a day-to-day basis. Losing face-to-face interactions can make it easier for things slip through the net, and working relationships can often suffer without the familiar camaraderie of an office.
Here are our top tips for creating a successful remote work culture:
Working from Home: Communication is Key!
Making the switch to remote overnight can come with its challenges, but the best way to smooth out any initial hiccups is with great communications.
At Later, everyone in the company uses Slack as a central messaging platform (no overflowing inboxes here!). And while every team has a dedicated channel, this “one source for all” platform ensures everyone is in the loop with relevant updates, without being bombarded with too many messages.
Here are some of our key tips for success for sharing information with your team while working remotely:
#1: Share a Daily Standup With Your Co-workers
At Later, everyone shares when they are online and when they have signed off for the day in a dedicated “standup” channel in Slack.
It can be super useful to know when your colleagues are online and offline, especially when you’re working across different time zones.
But standup messages can go so much further than just knowing when your team is online — it’s an opportunity for everyone to update on their projects and their daily tasks.
At Later, our Customer Happiness team (which is partly remote and spread across Canada, US, and Europe) shares a daily “Welcome Note,” so that it’s super clear each day who is working on the shared project workload.
For our Engineering team, a daily stand-up is shared through Standuply app — a dedicated program that’s integrated into the Slack platform with automatic messages to each member of the team.
“Having this app integrated into our Slack channels means that we’re always reminded to report on what we’ve done each day,” says Matt Fenlon, Senior Android Developer at Later.
“As we’ve moved to remote work, it’s also a way to simulate our daily in-person stand-ups so no one misses out on a project update.”
Not on Slack? Don’t worry — host a daily standup meeting over Zoom or conference call like Later’s Growth Marketing team!
They can be super quick — 15 minutes should be enough for a team of about 5-10, but they can be longer or shorter as needed.
Aim to have a clear list of updates to share with your team and highlight any potential blockers standing in your way for the day or week ahead. But don’t forget to have a little fun with it too!
#2: Don’t Be Afraid to Over Communicate
When some (or all) of your colleagues are remote it’s important to encourage as much participation as possible by starting threads and tagging people into conversations if you’re working on a messenger platform, like Slack.
Over email, make sure to include everyone you think needs to be involved in the conversation, no matter how small the news.
It’s also worth thinking about the most effective format to communicate with your team. If you’re sharing information on a complex process, an email or message might not be the best option.
Our Customer Happiness team at Later uses screen-recording tools, like the Loom Chrome Extension, to record and share quick tutorials with a voiceover. This can often be quicker and easier than typing out a step-by-step guide.
#3: Create Public Channels for Transparency
At Later, we like to keep our conversations “out in the open”. So regardless of what team you’re on, you can check in with any department on Slack and learn more about what they’re working on and how.
This is a great way to make sure the whole team has access to the information they need, whenever and wherever they’re online.
However, it’s important to avoid information overload.
Try organizing messenger channels by teams and key campaigns — so that people can choose which channels they join and receive updates from.
For example, the content marketing team has a dedicated Slack channel, but we also create more niche channels for our current projects like LaterCon, as well as other on-going campaigns, like our IGTV series, Screen Time.
But public channels don’t have to be all business!
In light of the current COVID-19 situation, the Later team has banded together to create some feel-good channels to see us through the challenges.
From channels dedicated to just good news, to “what should I have for dinner?” and the team’s “quarantivities” — all the hobbies and activities we want to take up or start while working from home!
Looking for some inspiration to bring your team together during these difficult times? Here’s a couple of Slack channels we created:
- #good-news: for anything positive, uplifting, or cute that’s making headlines.
- #quarantivities: a place to share how we’re dusting off old instruments and trying our new skills at home.
- #what-should-i-have-for-dinner: dinner time inspo (but may include breakfast, lunch, and most importantly snacks).
- #gaming-club: company-wide games’ nights just got really competitive!
Tip: Keep your staff and team in the loop of COVID-19 updates by creating a dedicated channel for those news updates. During a time of crisis, information overload can feel overwhelming, it’s important to try ease that while at work.
With a dedicated channel, teammates can manage when and what they consume about the coronavirus news.
#4: Be Clear and Transparent with Your Handoffs
With all this information being shared in one central place — it’s important to find ways to manage who is working on what, and at what time!
If your team is going remote, or working across multiple time zones, try to find ways to have clear handoff processes in public channels too.
The marketing team likes to end their day with a clear, bullet-pointed list of everything that they worked on that day — it’s a simple way to update everyone on your project’s progress or flag any blockers that might have come up.
But for the remote editorial team, a detailed handoff meant production never stopped!
At one stage, Later’s editorial team was spread across 4 countries with different time zones. “We quickly became experts in time zone hacking,” shares Nikki Canning, Blog Editor at Later.
“Almost ‘overnight’ a blog post could be reviewed, finalized, and published — as long as we had great handoff communication!”
For example, while Content Marketing Specialist, Benjamin Chacon was wrapping up his day in Toronto, Nikki would be starting her morning — a full 15 hours ahead! That meant that there was someone always on hand to continue working on a blog post, even if half of the team was logged off or sleeping!
By signing off with a clear update on each blog post and the tasks required from the rest of the team, everyone could carry on with their projects without having to wait for each other to come online again.
Having this level of transparency helps teams to work more efficiently and makes it easier to gauge how much work is on other team members’ plates.
#5: Schedule Regular Team Catch Ups
Have you got a core team you regularly work with day in, day out?
Not having them within arm’s reach or across the desk from you can feel like a challenge at first, so make sure to have dedicated time each week or day to have catch ups.
Our social team at Later is made up of two employees, with one based in the UK and the other in the US.
“Having a weekly check in for the both of us is really important,” explains Mel Brittner, Later’s Social Media Strategist. “We also have a dedicated channel on Slack to talk all things social so everyone has visibility, but it’s mostly just for our back and forth to plan our week ahead!”
This can be a great way to stay in sync with your team members, and can create a valuable free space to bounce ideas off one another.
#6: Deliver Feedback in Appropriate Channels
Being open and transparent is always a good thing, but it’s important to consider how and where you deliver feedback in a remote team.
It’s often best to set up a quick video call rather than writing out long back-and-forth messages or emails to discuss the details. This can give everyone the chance to share their opinions, and having a face-to-face exchange can often feel much more personable.
Similarly, sharing feedback around personal development should take place in a private message or call — not in a public channel.
Working from Home: Host Face-to-face Meetings with Video Conferencing
All of Later’s company-wide meetings (as well as our partly remote team meetings!) are hosted via Zoom video conference, even when the majority of participants are based in the same location.
But the trick to remote success isn’t just hosting a video call — it’s about having face-to-face interactions and making sure everyone feels involved.
Here are our best practices for video conferencing with remote employees:
#7: If One Person is Remote, Everyone is Remote
Video conferencing can be an awesome way to connect employees from all over the world, but it’s important to ensure everyone feels acknowledged and has an equal footing.
One of the best ways to overcome this is by asking everyone to join remotely — even if some attendees are located in the same office.
“When joining a remote meeting there is nothing worse than being the person on the laptop on a desk, you’re not really participating at that point,” explains Later’s Co-founder, Matt Smith.
“Ideally, try to have everyone join “remotely” via their own laptop, or at the very least have the person running the meeting go into a different room and join.
“This sets the meeting pace and brings everyone to a more equal level throughout the meeting.”
#8: Turn on Video During Conference Calls
Encourage all team members to join with their video turned on, but acknowledge that it may feel daunting for some people at the beginning.
Face-to-face interactions are important for ensuring everyone is engaged, and also really helps to build interpersonal relationships. Plus, you might be able to spot a colleague’s pet on screen, and that’s always a meeting highlight.
ICYMI: You can add a filter to your Zoom video stream by changing your settings — just go to the lower-left-hand corner of the screen, find video settings, and check the box marked “Touch Up My Appearance.”
Or turn it on with the mobile Zoom app:
You can also display an image or video as your background during a Zoom call with the Virtual Background feature!
While there are tons of professional backgrounds to choose from (think: The Golden Gate Bridge and sleek conference rooms), you might want to pick something a little more lighthearted for your co-workers to enjoy!
A protip for my fellow professors plunging into online education: Zoom lets you select a "virtual background." I'm looking forward to lecturing at Hogwarts this Spring: pic.twitter.com/LQE93H9LLS
— William H. Grover (@wgrover) March 11, 2020
#9: Have a “Video First” Mindset as a Meeting Host
Video conference calls can have a bad reputation — but some small tweaks can make a world of difference for hosts and the participants.
Making sure that members of the call can hear what’s going on is hugely important, and something that can be easily forgotten during a Q&A between multiple people.
“Don’t forget about the people on a video call,” advises Later’s Director of HR, Jessi Hodgson.
“Remember to face the camera when you’re hosting and clearly repeat any questions asked in the room before you answer them.”
#10: Make Time for Questions During Calls
No one likes interrupting, especially on a video conference call, so having a dedicated time for questions is important.
Every member on the video conference should feel as though their voice is as important as the next person, regardless of their physical location.
#11: Stay Organized with Your Meetings
Video conferences may be great, but anyone who works from home will have a link mix-up or a calendar clash at one point or another.
Keep on top of your meetings by connecting your day-to-day calendar with whichever conferencing tool you use.
Zoom has a free Google Chrome Extension, which allows you to schedule Zoom meetings directly from Google Calendar.
Working from Home: Team Building is Still Important
Transitioning to remote work overnight can often feel lonely — especially if you’re used to the hustle and bustle of an office space.
Taking a colleague out for a coffee or walking over to their desk to ask a question can’t always happen when your team is remote, so you need to find ways to continue building relationships with your team, despite the distance.
Here’s how we try to do it at Later:
#12: Meet People IRL When Possible
Try to meet your co-workers in person where possible*. We host an annual company retreat at Later to bring our employees together and encourage localized gatherings as much as possible.
Face-to-face meetings are a great way to build stronger inner and cross-team relationships.
#13: Join a Team Video Call While You Work
Nothing is quite the same as working next to someone in an office, but joining a video conference call with your team members during the day can really help bridge the gap.
“Set up quick 15-minute calls for issues or discussions you would normally have at your desk with your teammates, rather than typing out a long message or email,” advises Sukhman Perhar, Customer Happiness Lead at Later.
“This encourages more face-to-face time, while creating space to “bounce ideas” off someone in a casual way.”
And if you’re stuck for inspiration or looking for advice, a little breakout time to chat your colleagues informally can make a world of difference.
#14: Acknowledge Birthdays and Special Events
A small gesture can go a long way when it comes to building community in a remote setup.
Think about adding messages to Slack (or whatever messaging platform you use) to mark birthdays, milestones, and achievements.
#15: Make Time for Social Chats with Co-workers
Taking a little time out of your day to chat with your teammates can really improve working relationships, and it’s a good move for your own well-being, too.
That being said, finding a casual opportunity to chat while working from home isn’t always easy.
“Take time at the beginning or end of a call to have that water cooler chat,” explains Jessi Hodgson, Director of HR at Later. “It doesn’t have to be all business when you come together on a call.”
Even if all you learn is what they did over the weekend, it can go a long way to building relationships for remote teams.
In addition to making small talk during calls, it’s also a great idea to set up communication channels that are dedicated to none-work related topics.
At Later, we take our non-business channels very seriously, from #cat-club and #dog-club, to #later-yogis and #truecrime-club, we have a creative channel for everything.
And if it doesn’t already exist, we’re encouraged to make it happen and reach out to our worldwide team to join!
Want to start your own social chit-chat channels? Here are a few of the Later favorites for inspiration:
- #cat-club: for those who believe cats are the best
- #dog-club: for those who believe dogs are the best
- #later-yogis: a place to share our favorite online classes or local studios
- #truecrime-club: a dedicated place to discuss true-crime podcasts (no spoilers allowed!)
- #bookclub: the good, the bad, and (sometimes!) the ugly of what we’re reading
- #ski-club: tips from the slopes from Canada and Europe!
Working from Home: Protect Your Mental Health and Well-being
Avoiding the daily commute and winning back an extra hour in bed may sound like the dream work scenario.
But without that reason to get up and go, you could find yourself missing human interaction, or skipping out on your weekly run club or yoga class — simply because you’re not in the same routine anymore.
“Having worked remote for so long, the biggest challenge for me has been the solo time,” shares Matt Fenlon, Senior Android Developer at Later.
To combat this, it’s important to take care of your mental health. Here are some of the tips we share with our employees at Later:
#16: Go Outdoors to Refresh*
Sitting in the same room all day without human interaction can be challenging for anyone, but factoring in an outdoor break can make all of the difference.
Go for a walk, hit the gym, or even do a spot of gardening… Whatever makes you feel good! Fresh air and a change of scenery can reset your mind — and will give you a valuable boost for the afternoon ahead.
#17: Set Clear Working Hours (and Stick to Them!)
Working from home may mean you can be more flexible, but that doesn’t mean you should be online 24/7.
Daniel Bergamini, Customer Happiness Lead at Later, recommends always ending the day at a set time. “It’s important to have and support a strong work-life balance culture. Emphasize the importance of ending the day at set time and not checking Slack until the start of the next day.”
If you can, turn off all notifications outside of your working hours. Let your team know when you are available for calls and email replies.
#18: Create a Dedicated Work Space
Missing the focus you have at your office desk? Don’t worry — it can be recreated at home!
If possible, try to create a dedicated space that’s just for working, ideally away from the bedroom. Whether that space is the kitchen table or a home office, it should feel like your “work space” to help you focus and get into work mode.
Some people are most productive in quiet libraries or bustling cafes, but whatever works for you, make sure that you can walk away from it at the end of the day so work doesn’t creep into your downtime.
#19: Take Screen-time-free Breaks
Going from your laptop to your phone can be seriously draining. Not to mention the strain it can put your eyes under!
So think about scheduling some screen-time-free breaks into your day. Go for a walk, step out to get a coffee*, or even read a few pages of a book to take some time away from your phone and laptop.
Going remote doesn’t have to mean losing productivity or missing out on building team relationships.
With just a few small changes to your daily work habits and processes, you can still be able to run your business and manage your teams efficiently and effectively while working from home.
Think the remote life is for you? Later is hiring roles across our marketing, product, customer success, and engineering departments! Check them out here!
*Please note that during this difficult time combatting the spread of COVID-19, some activities may not be recommended. For more information on how to stay healthy and safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, please consult your national health authority or the WHO website.