Over the past few months, the world has seen many companies moving from the traditional in-office work environment to a mostly remote setup. At IPinfo we’ve been a fully remote, distributed team from the start, but all of the team have spent time working in conventional office environments, so we thought we would share some of our hard-won tips and tricks that can help you make the most of remote work.
For the sake of brevity we will be using the following terms generically:
- Slack = Chat platform such as Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, etc.
- Zoom = Video and audio for calls and conferences. Other options include Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Slack, and GoToMeeting.
While we’re on the topic of the tools you’ll be using:
How to be a Superhero and Not a Supervillain … (aka tool tips)
With so many tools and features at your disposal you now wield quite a bit of power. Remember the Peter Parker Principle:
With great power comes great responsibility.
The following tips will help you and your teams well on your way to becoming productivity superheroes.
- Walk before you try to (web) crawl. With these new tools at your disposal, it can be tempting to try to utilize every feature at the beginning. It’s best, however, to start small by just using a few features so you and your team can find quick success. Just start with a few channels and private messages. After the team is comfortable using the basics, you can decide whether or not you need to utilize more features available to you.
- Don’t use a screwdriver on a nail. Slack is best-suited for shorter, temporary messages that you don’t want to go back to, link to, etc. Slack is not an issue tracker or project management tool. Slack is chat. There are much better tools for issue tracking (GitHub), project management and information storage (Notion), so use those. Many of these tools can be integrated with Slack, allowing you to have the best of both worlds.
- Avoid Spidey-sense overload (aka turn down the noise). Think of how peaceful email can be if you’re doing it right. You don’t need alerts and sounds every time a message comes your way. Incoming notifications at random times will take you away from you doing your best, deep-thinking work. If you’re someone who leaves your email open throughout the day and has notifications every time one comes your way, we have some life-changing advice: STOP IT. Try it for one day, and you’ll see that nothing has caught on fire. Try it for a week, and you’ll see that you’re far more effective and less stressed.
- Rock some new threads. Just like how Spider-man had different threads for different challenges, you should use threads for different topics. When a critical topic starts in a channel, start a thread. This way, you’re not spamming the entire channel with a conversation that only a handful of people need to be involved in. You wouldn’t stand up in the middle of the office and start a loud conversation around people who don’t need to be involved. You’d take it to a private room, which is what threads allow you to do in Slack.
How to Work #AloneTogether
Overnight you’ve gone from in-person to remote. You’re glad you don’t have to smell Chad’s microwaved fish lunch, but you might also be worried you’ll never hear from Chad again. Fear not, working #AloneTogether is easier than it seems!
- Set reasonable expectations. What should the expected response time be to people messaging each other? While it can be tempting to expect an immediate response, is this really how you want to work, responding to every request that comes your way instead of working on your priorities and projects? At IPinfo, we aim to respond within one working day so we can have a routine of checking emails and notifications in a batch and the beginning/middle/end of the day. We are a distributed company (meaning we have people around the globe), so for a more traditional company, perhaps a one hour turnaround time makes more sense.
- Be human. If you can respond quickly without taking you out of your zone, then do so. This way, the person contacting you can move forward more quickly. Also, when you don’t know the answer, agree with them, or are unsure, say exactly that instead of saying nothing. Saying nothing stalls the conversation. A quick thumbs-up response moves things forward.
- Be mindful of others. What kind of notifications do you think they’re receiving already? Should they be receiving your messages? What information do they need from you to give you the most helpful response? Taking 10 seconds to think this through will save you and everyone else quite a bit of time.
- Don’t stand on your desk. We are hoping you’ve never stood on your desk in the middle of the office and shouted for everyone to pay attention to you. So don’t do that in Slack. Avoid using @here and @channel and interrupting everyone in that channel. Unless it’s an emergency, just write a standard message, and they’ll get back to you.
- Don’t be creepy. Another thing you wouldn’t do in the office is to stand in someone’s doorway or next to their desk and say “Hi” and stand silently. It’s a bit creepy once you’re past the age of 7. So don’t send a message with just “Hi” and wait for them to respond. Also, don’t send “Can I ask you a question?” and wait for them. Yeah, we’re talking to you, Chris. A simple “Hi Elle. I hope all is well with you. [insert question here]” will do the trick.
- Overcommunicate intentionally. Great leaders know that there is no such thing as overcommunication. When using Slack, don’t assume the other person(s) knows something, agrees, disagrees, etc. State your assumptions, cite context, and don’t worry about overcommunicating. If you intentionally aim for overcommunication, you will be just fine. It’s far more effective than under communication. Also, remember that they will read what you’ve typed 10x faster than you wrote it, so if you feel like you’re adding too much detail then you’re probably adding just enough. In fact, a little bit more detail might be helpful.
How to Be Productive and Sane
So you have your tools, you know how to wield them and how to communicate with your team. But what about getting your actual work done? Believe it or not, this is the easy part.
- Get to work. It’s easy to catch oneself “sitting on Slack”, clicking, browsing, (FOMO kicks in), which is counter-productive. Your best deep work happens outside of Slack and email. Be careful not to engage too much with others without good reasons to communicate.
- Don’t be a helicopter parent/co-worker. Do not judge people by looking at the chat status indicator and assume it tells you how productive they are being. An always green indicator is no more predictive or reflective of their productivity than a rarely green indicator. As we mentioned above, the best work happens outside of Slack.
Don’t forget to add some fun
While you’re apart from each other, you can still capture some of the fun you had in the office and bring it remotely. Some tips from IPinfo team:
- Naughty or Nice. Make Secret Santa remote as your team is. Receiving a Christmas gift from a different country is fun! In our team, gifts made their way from Canada to the Czech Republic, from Russia to India, from the US to Romania, and not only. Here’s the Santa proof from the IPinfo team!
- Go Off-topic. Don’t forget to create #offtopic channel to share gifs, memes, and useful (not a must) information.
- Block Party. Offices help create social contracts, which go beyond work and that mostly happens because you talk something other than work at work. Share a meal together, chat about your hobbies, pets, family or interesting developments around tech, etc. and schedule it. They work better if its 1-on-1 as calendars take longer to align than stars.
- Goodies to Go. Send team merch to everyone’s homes. Stickers are still the thing. Wearing the branded T-shirt during team calls adds 100 bonus points to your karma.
As of this writing, nobody knows how much longer the quarantines will continue. Still, you can make the most out of this and might even find yourself and your teams more productive. By embracing #remote work, it’s possible to set everyone up for success.
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