Back in March, remote work seemed like a temporary and short-term adjustment for many. But as we draw closer to 2021 and the upcoming winter months, the shift continues to be uncertain and a lot harder than any of us could have imagined earlier this year.
Working productively and efficiently plays a part in your mental health and preventing burnout, and being healthy helps you work productively and efficiently. The two are closely intertwined and in the long-term, you can’t be either without the other. There are plenty of tips and resources on how to be a productive team member, but being productive while dealing with all of the external stressors we face, has been an unprecedented challenge.
Establish an Org-wide Policy
The first and most important step you could take is setting or advocating for an org-wide policy around remote work, and if not a policy, at least guidelines on what to expect. Doing so prevents misunderstandings and helps with decision-making; is that meeting necessary? should you reach out to that colleague in a different time zone right now? Mux put together a great post on how they landed on a Remote-Equal policy and what that entails.
Document Everything, Upgrade Software, and Embrace Asynchronous Tools
If you haven’t already implemented the advice remote work expert Darren Murph offered back in March, the slower Q4 months is a good opportunity to take the time to do so. The stress of potentially being the single point of failure is avoidable.
Instead of DMs, consider creating purpose-centric public channels so that knowledge is accessible and searchable. If a particular piece of software is slow and a constant source of frustration, upgrade or migrate. Introduce new workflow tools that allow everyone to collaborate asynchronously.
Create ‘No Meeting Days’
Deep work, without distraction and code-switching, has been proven to boost productivity and many companies have started supporting ‘no meeting days.’ Some have gone as far as to cancel meetings for a whole week to allow folks to dedicate their time to personal or hackathon projects. If that’s not an option, use calendar management and time tracking tools to block off time for yourself and tasks that need to get done.
Communicate Clear Goals and Deadlines
A misconception about remote workers is that they’re slackers. But really, a healthy workplace, regardless of location or distribution, focuses on output over input. The key to making remote work work is a clear understanding of what someone is responsible for (goals) and when it needs to be done (deadlines), plus good communication around status updates.
Being clear and on the same page about deliverables and deadlines not only sets realistic OKRs, but for those who are used to having being in an office together factor into peer reviews, it’ll help you with fair and constructive performance feedback.
Mental Health Tips
Regardless of whether you’re working from home or in the office, there are different things that you can do for your mental and physical health, such as taking breaks to go for a walk and drinking plenty of water. In addition to implementing practices that work best for you, below are a couple of work-related tips that are pertinent now, especially as work-from-home goes into the winter months.
Humanize 1:1 Meetings
Hopefully, 1:1 meetings with your direct reports or managers were already commonplace, but with the forced absence of in-person connection, you might want to consider changing them up.
Structure them with an agenda or start an ongoing doc to create a sense of predictability and routine. Start meetings off by checking in with each other on non-work related concerns and events. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of burnout and create space for colleagues to address them comfortably while it’s still manageable.
Wellness Days and Stipends
In an attempt to combat loneliness, which is an unfortunate side effect of working remotely while sheltering in-place, lists of fun, virtual team-building activities have been circulating but honestly, I think the best thing you can do for your team is offer the whole company a day off (separate from PTO and sick days) to spend with their family or pod.
If you have the budget to do so, offer a small stipend for folks to get a massage or that ergonomic chair they’ve been eyeing. Review the company health insurance policy to see if mental health resources are covered, and if not, sponsor subscriptions to apps like Modern Health or Headspace.
Flexible Work Hours
As we approach winter, not only do the days get shorter, some of your team members in different parts of the world may be getting only a few hours of sunlight. Offering flexible work hours will give everyone the choice to work when they work and feel best. Some may be early birds, others, night owls. Colleagues with kids can work around the family’s schedule. Allow everyone to maximize the amount of time they can get outdoors.
Too Much Sunlight Isn’t Great Either
Not so much a work-related tip, but since most of us spend a majority of our work (and personal) hours in front of a computer screen, I wanted my last tip to be something effortless that you could incorporate right now. Blue light emitted from a lot of our electronics is designed to look like the sun, and it’s what makes your eyes tired and keeps you awake at night. Using software like f.lux will make the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day and leave you feeling more energized, rather than drained.
Companies like GitLab and Zapier are the pioneers of remote-friendly culture but you don’t need to be a massive org with a budget and a HR team in order to incorporate their best practices. I collected tips from early-stage Heavybit companies Gradle, Rainforest QA, Mux, and Sanity to put together this post.
If you’re a small team, as founder or CEO or manager, the best thing you can do is lead by example. Take these measures yourself, encourage others to try, and then come together to talk about what worked or didn’t and what could be adopted as an org moving forward.