5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

Communicating effectively is one of the most difficult challenges for teleworkers and virtual teams. The physical separation from your team can inhibit trust, visibility, collaboration, focus, effectiveness, and the building of relationships, and is often cited as the least enjoyable part of remote working.

Nonetheless, these challenges can be mitigated and overcome with deliberate practice and effort. Here are five tips to help you communicate more effectively as a teleworker:

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

1. Make your calendar visible to coworkers. In a recent post, I introduced the WIPS time management technique (Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling). WIPS advocates for the use of a calendar tool, like Outlook or Google, and most organizations will have access to this type of technology. I highly recommend ensuring that your teammates have access to your schedule and that you make the details of that schedule visible to your immediate team. When used in conjunction with WIPS, your team will be able to see the meetings you are taking, the projects you are working on, and how you’re spending your time more generally. Now, this may seem a little intrusive, but it will build additional trust with your colleagues and provide everyone with visibility on the projects you’re working on.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

2. Seek feedback proactively and frequently. Because many teleworkers don’t regularly interact with their colleagues face-to-face, we often miss out on opportunities to get feedback on our work. In a traditional office environment, this can come from non-verbal cues during meetings, during chats in the break room, or in a number of other ways. To remedy this, I recommend being proactive about seeking feedback. Techniques like email follow-ups, regular touchpoint discussions, and asking for thoughts on a teleconference can all lead to valuable feedback that you wouldn’t otherwise have obtained. This will not only help you perform better as a contributor to your team, it will often foster enhanced collaboration throughout the team as a whole.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

3. Call out others’ successes. One characteristic of a high-performing team is the ability to share ideas and feedback in an open and safe atmosphere. Many teams take this to mean that they can challenge and debate their colleagues, which is true, but the role of positive feedback and affirmation is often underutilized in this dynamic. The best teams have a healthy degree of both, which can contribute to a sort of positive feedback loop; positive feedback leads to better relationships and higher trust, which in turn leads to more and better collaboration, making the team even more effective. So call out those good ideas during meetings, reach out via IM to congratulate a colleague, and pass along your praise of a teammate to your manager; it will highlight your role as a team player and make your team more effective.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

 

4. Maximize calls and minimize emails. How great are emails? I mean, nothing beats that pile of Monday morning emails that takes you hours to file through, right? WRONG. Emails have value, but they are overused by almost every organization. The vast majority of emails, especially internal emails, would’ve been better as a quick call or instant message. There’s also the added clarity inherent in voice communication. We’ve all received a email or text message with an ambiguous statement and thought, “what do they mean by that?” That’s because vocabulary is only part of communication. According to Albert Mehrabian, words only contribute 7% to a statement’s meaning. The other 93% comes from tone and body language. So not only are voice calls (or better yet, video calls) more efficient in communication, they’re also more effective. By calling more and emailing less, your team will have better time management, clearer messages, closer relationships, and will perform at a higher level overall.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

5. Use collaboration tools. Speaking of reducing emails, an entire industry has emerged based on this principle. Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms focus their business on helping teams work more effectively. The reduction of emails is part of these platforms, but their missions are beyond that; to help teams collaborate better. And while this includes more emphasis on voice and video calls, they also incorporate hubs and channels where teams can work together in a shared virtual space. This principle is also shared in project/task management software, like JIRA, Asana, and countless others. And while none of these tools are perfect for every team, and team members can dread using them at times, they really do work. So try them out! As a general rule, the more ways virtual teams can emulate co-located teams, the better they will perform as a single unit.

As you can see, there are many ways to communicate more effectively as an individual, and as a team. The 5 tips highlighted here are the best in my experience, but I’m sure there are others out there! What communication tips do you have for remote workers and virtual teams? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly! Thanks for reading.

Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling (WIPS) & Why You Should Be Doing It

Getting the right things done at the right time is a challenge for everyone. And balancing the demands of work (projects, meetings, deadlines) and home (cleaning, kids, errands) is especially difficult for the teleworkers of the world. There are countless tools and endless advice out there to help, so I’ll throw in my strategy as well; everyone working outside an office should be using WIPS.

What is WIPS? Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling. As the name suggests, this is a personal scheduling strategy done at the weekly level and, most importantly, done with intent. That means that those practicing this strategy need to commit to the schedule they keep; after all, a huge part of remote work is holding yourself accountable. Now, that’s not to say WIPS isn’t flexible, it absolutely is, but there is a framework to work within. But we are getting ahead of ourselves; first, we need to discuss how to properly use this strategy.

Part 1: Schedule Your Week

WIPS starts at the beginning of the workweek; Monday morning for most of us, Sunday evening if you’re really proactive. The first task is to set your high-level goals for the week. As I wrote in part two of my series Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely, this should be no more than three objectives that, once complete, will signify a successful week.

Once those goals are set, schedule the time required to accomplish those goals. I recommend using a digital scheduling tool, like the Outlook or Google calendars, but any old fashioned planner will do. Work around your previously-scheduled meetings and reserve this time in one-hour blocks. And be generous with this time; after all, these are the goals that will determine your success for the week. At the same time, be realistic; these goals are your most important commitments for the week, but not the only commitments. Lastly, choose the time slots where you’re most productive to work on these goals. For most people, that will be the early portion of your day, before any fires flare up that require your attention.

Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling (WIPS) & Why You Should Be Doing It
Part 1: Schedule Your Week.

Once you’ve scheduled time to accomplish your main goals for the week, pencil in time for those secondary objectives, like preparing for meetings and more routine to-do items. Stick to one-hour blocks to ensure that you have enough time to do quality work, but feel free to lump similar smaller tasks together, like “respond to queued emails.” Also, feel free to reserve “open time,” especially toward the end of the week. Workweeks rarely go as planned, so anticipating and scheduling time to fight fires and high-priority action items will reduce time swapping and the associated headaches down the line. In the rare cases where these timely action items don’t pop up, you’ll have some extra time to work on important future objectives or focus on your personal development.

Part 2: Regularly Review, Re-Prioritize, and Reschedule

So you’ve dedicated the 30-60 minutes needed to set your goals and schedule your week; that means you’re done scheduling until next Monday, right? No way. In Part 1, you’ve built your ideal week based on the inputs available on day one. During the week, new inputs are constantly streaming in, which means that you need to review your weekly plan and make the necessary adjustments. We do this by weighing the priority (‘importance’ x ‘time criticality’) of incoming items against those that you’ve already scheduled.

Say that you’re in the middle of a two-hour block of time reserved to accomplish one of your three weekly goals; a critical time for the success of your week. Zooming in on your email comes an ALL CAPS email from your boss requesting that an excel sheet be put together and sent over immediately. In the WIPS system, you don’t blindly redirect your attention to this new shiny object, however important it may be. Since this system is based on commitment, you must first determine the new item’s priority, evaluate its impact on your weekly schedule, insert it where appropriate, and adjust the remainder of your schedule around it. WIPS allows for adjustment, but you must still commit to the schedule you keep, before and after adjustments take place.

In a situation like this, I would probably redirect my attention to this timely task and reschedule the work I had been doing for later in the day or the next morning, reshuffling any other tasks that may be affected as appropriate.

Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling (WIPS) & Why You Should Be Doing It
Part 2: Regularly Review, Re-Prioritize, and Reschedule

That’s the beauty of the WIPS system; it’s a balance between setting rigid goals for the week and flexibly responding to new requirements as they come. The value of this system is that it’s built on informed decisions. While building your schedule in Part 1, you’re setting objectives with the full context of your competing priorities at the time. You’re doing the same thing in Part 2 as new items emerge to challenge those established priorities. Without this system or something like it, most people will chase the newest, shiniest item that comes across their screen. This diverts attention to fighting fires, while also distracting people from the truly important items.

When done right, the WIPS system will help remote workers:

  1. Focus on the right things
  2. Dedicate the appropriate time to each goal
  3. Effectively gauge capacity and commitments
  4. Stay focused on professional development
  5. Appropriately accommodate personal time

 

What do you think of the WIPS system? Ever tried anything similar? How did it work out? Drop a comment below or reach out via the Contact section.

Thanks for reading!

 

5 Tips for Setting Up Your Perfect Home Office

Working from home has countless benefits, but realizing these benefits takes forethought and planning. Creating your home office is no different. Here are five tips to maximize the benefits of your home office:

  1. Create a dedicated space. This one was #1 on my series Critical Tips To Help You Succeed While Working Remotely for a reason. If you have the means to create a dedicated home office, I highly recommend it. One of the biggest challenges facing remote workers is separating “work life” from “home life” — and having a dedicated home office will go a long way in helping you overcome it. Having the ability to close the door on your day (literally and figuratively) will provide a subconscious cue that work has ended and me time or family time has started.

    business-chair-coffee-265072
    A dedicated home office will lead to higher productivity and better work-life balance.
  2. Choose a setup that will maximize focus and minimize distractions. When designing my first home office, I had a vision of man cave meets worldly professor. The two focal points of the space were to be a large flat-screen TV on one side of the room and a wall-sized world map on the other. Turns out, I find both of those things terribly distracting, so I removed them both. In their places went simple works of art that I enjoy looking at, but wouldn’t unduly distract me. Choose colors, furniture, and artwork that you enjoy and bring you calm, but won’t serve as competition for your attention.

    blur-bottle-bright-273238.jpg
    Simple decor and calm tones will help maximize concentration.
  3. Consider comfort and ergonomics. Like any office, your home office is one in which you are likely to spend the majority of your time sitting. So choose a comfortable chair. And not one that’s soft, choose one that will be supportive over several hours and will position you at the proper posture. Also, align your desk to maximize long-term comfort. Ensure that it is low enough to comfortably write and type and position any computer monitors at eye level. Making the desk surface low and monitor position high can be difficult, so use some vintage wine boxes or an aesthetic storage container to prop up the screen; your back will thank you!

    blond-hair-chair-computer-1181657.jpg
    Ensure your home office has a proper chair and ergonomic setup.
  4. Design the space to be versatile. I love changing up my workspace every few hours; the slight environmental change helps keep me focused. I’ll often lead webinars while standing, placing my laptop on an elevated surface. If you have the means, definitely invest in a standing or convertible desk; they’re all the rage and the health benefits are real. Additional pieces of furniture, like a couch or an armchair, can serve as temporary oases from your desk during slower periods of the day. Even sitting on an exercise ball for a couple of hours can keep you on your toes and improve posture at the same time. The point is, your home office doesn’t have to be a stuffy, static environment; design it to be agile and versatile to support whatever you might need during the day.

    desk-furniture-interior-design-37347.jpg
    A versatile home office will allow you to adjust to the pace of the day.
  5. Turn to nature. Studies have shown that having live plants in a room makes its inhabitants happier. So add some plants to you home office; a standing plant for the corner, a cascading plant for the top of your bookshelf, a potted plant for your desk. Add flowers for a splash of color and pleasant scents. Also, if you can, choose a room with a view of exterior greenery. Move your desk near the window with a view of your neighbor’s old oak tree or position your monitors such that you can see the nearby park, but not the buildings below. The more time you can spend in proximity to nature (physically or mentally) the less likely you are to feel penned in, one of the major side effects of working from home. A window with a view of nature is also a good place to take a break and daydream for a few minutes, something that’s critical to maintaining productivity over the long term.

    bloom-blossom-daisies-531597
    Working indoors doesn’t mean you have to be separated from nature.

What are some additional tips that you have for setting up a home office? Did something you try work out really well, or very poorly? Share your ideas and feedback in the comments below or reach out via the Contact section!

Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 2: Excelling)

This article is number two of a three-part series that will help you succeed while working remotely. Part 1 focused on the basics: create a dedicated work space, commit to a schedule, and empower yourself to sign off. This second installment focuses on tips to truly excel while working away from the office. Enjoy!

  1. Develop a morning routine. What do you mean “morning routine”? I thought working remotely meant you didn’t need a morning routine?! While that might technically be true, those who excel while working from outside the office generally have a regular and consistent morning routine—and I am a big advocate for it. You see, morning routines do more that physically shift your body into a certain place at a certain time, they prepare you mentally for the work of the day. How one prepares themselves will vary notably from person to person, but I like to do things that get me into “work mode.” First and foremost is getting dressed. It may seem trivial and unnecessary, but your brain probably links pajamas to rest and relaxation, so getting out of your PJs—however comfortable they may be—is a good first indicator to your subconscious that it’s time to get to work. After putting on a pot of coffee, consider some form of mild physical and/or mental exercise. On the physical side, it might be some light stretching or taking the dog for a quick walk around the block; on the mental side, try setting aside a few articles to read as you enjoy your coffee. This need not be work reading, but it also shouldn’t be fluff; pick articles that are engaging and interesting. Everyone’s routine will vary slightly, but it’s important to build consistent triggers into your morning to help you hit the ground running when you’re finally ready to log in.
  2. Set two goals for the week. This tip can apply to anyone, but I think it’s absolutely critical for teleworkers. Why? Because those of us working from home have ample opportunities to become distracted. Family, odd jobs, solicitors, and a million other things are constantly present to pull you off track, in addition to many of the same work distractions and short-term fires that plague your in-office colleagues. In this wash of distractions and time-suckers, these goals will help keep you oriented and aligned with what’s truly important. And it doesn’t have to be two goals; depending on your day-to-day workload and schedule, it may only be one. It could also be more, but I caution against making more than four, because then it becomes a to-do list—which these goals are not. To-do lists tend to be collections of tasks that are agnostic to timeliness, priority, or both. These weekly goals should be how you define success for the week; these are high-level strategic objectives that will drive you, your colleagues, your partners, and your customers forward. For example, my goals for this week are to support the transition of my development team to a new sprint and to successfully brief my new boss on a suite of internal tools that I manage. These may seem fairly mundane, but each include a number of sub-tasks, as well as significant preparation and follow-up. Looking back at the end of the week, barring any cataclysmic events, if I have been successful in these two areas, I will have had a successful week.
  3. Make yourself visible. By far the biggest downside to working remotely is your physical separation from peers and superiors. This is especially pronounced if most of your team is collocated. It’s easy to take for granted the amount of team building that takes place in the office, even in informal settings. This can make it hard as a remote employee to connect with your teammates. Similarly, it can be more difficult for your accomplishments to get due visibility and credit when you’re not interfacing directly with your superiors. To remedy this, it’s important to find ways to make yourself and your accomplishments as visible as possible. Obviously, this must be done in a measured and tactical manner; no one wants to hear you brag. Instead, send drafts of work out to peers and superiors for feedback. Rather than sending an email for assistance, try to schedule a brief call to talk through what you need. To build better relationships with your teammates, connect, engage, and endorse them on LinkedIn. To stay involved, schedule recurring (but brief) meetings to touch base with peers and superiors to discuss important projects and ways to contribute. If you manage your time closely, as I do, make your calendar visible to others so they can see what projects you’re working on. Being proactive about making yourself more visible will take additional effort, but will be well worth it in the long run.

The final part of this article series, focusing on enjoying your time while working remotely, will be released tomorrow. In the meantime, please share your experiences and feedback in the comments below and reach out via the Contact section above. Thanks!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com

Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 1: The Basics)

May of 2018 marked seven years since I started working remotely full-time. I’ve worked for the same company over this span, but held several different positions in multiple departments. The teams with whom I’ve worked have been diverse as well; some were fully collocated, others fully remote and spanning multiple time zones. Through all of this, I’ve developed a laundry list of tips and best practices that have helped me continue to thrive from afar:

Part One: The Basics

  1. Create a dedicated workspace. Everyone operates most efficiently when they are in a familiar and comfortable work environment. For most people, their company office or desk serves this purpose; a place designated solely for business and designed—intentionally or not—to foster productivity. The most important thing to do while working remotely full-time is to create this dedicated work environment. If you have the space, I highly recommend a dedicated home office. Creating and customizing this space not only empowers you to work most effectively during business hours, but allows you to “clock out” at the end of the day by leaving the room and shutting the door. You’ll be amazed at the psychological benefit of this practice over the long term. If you don’t have the space for a home office, create that dedicated business environment in some other way. Pick a chair at the dinner table that you don’t normally use and designate it as your “work spot.” The location, layout, and size of your remote workspace isn’t as important as it being a dedicated and unique environment specifically for work. Over time, this will create a subconscious trigger in your mind when it’s time to “clock in” and “clock out,” which is critical to working effectively and happily from home over the long term.
  2. Commit to a schedule. Strictly adhering to this tip may not be for everyone; after all, one of the big benefits of working from home for most people is the ability to quickly bounce between work tasks and home chores as the need arises. And while I understand that, to me the most effective way to have long-term success while working remotely is separating work time from personal time. I do this by creating and committing to a weekly schedule, which outlines the time that I will be spending on specific work tasks each day. I refine this as needed throughout the week, but I rarely make on-the-spot changes. In order words, I’ll bump movable work time a couple of days ahead to accommodate a plumber, but I won’t delay the start of my work day because I want to rearrange my living room—that can wait until personal time. The schedule can be different every day, but the most important thing is to commit. When done right over time, your mind will more easily switch between work time and personal time. Additionally, this often has a side benefit of making you more effective at work, as people are more likely to succeed when they commit to a specific goal.
  3. Empower yourself to sign off. The longer you work remotely, the more you’ll realize that separating work time and home life is more difficult than you expected. Done improperly, work mind and non-work mind never really separate which often results in a constant feeling of residual anxiety as your conscious and subconscious minds regularly jump between personal and professional thoughts. To combat this, it is critical to effectively “sign off” when your workday ends. When I had a home office, the act of shutting that door (and keeping it shut) was an effective trigger to signal that work was done for the day. More important than any trigger, however, is the commitment to respect the boundaries of your professional and personal time. Plainly put, this means resisting the urge to check your email after you’ve concluded your workday. If you use your computer for personal and professional tasks, make sure that your work applications are closed out before you sign off. Even before finishing your day, make sure that you’re respecting your personal time. It’s very easy, especially when others know that you work remotely, to get roped into a late meeting or continue down whatever rabbit hole you find yourself. While exceptions can be made in certain circumstances, make sure they don’t become the rule. Use language like “I’ll be signed off at that time” to set these boundaries with others, you from two years from now will thank you.

This is just the first in a multi-part series to help you work remotely more effectively. I’d love to hear your feedback, stories, successes, and failures too! Leave a comment below or message me in the Contact section.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com