It’s taken a while for corporate culture to change, but change it has. More and more employees — from startups to large corporations — are starting to work from home or join distributed teams. If you’re thinking about transitioning to this type of work environment I’ve written down a few pieces of advice to consider when pondering the next move.
First, some qualifications. While limited, I do have some experience working on both sides of the remote team concept. At Typekit our team of 20 was located in San Francisco with remote offices in New York and Chicago. During the independent days of Typekit I was located in our San Francisco HQ of 13 employees. Even though our HQ was small in size San Francisco was the official home for the company.
After leaving Adobe / Typekit for Zemanta the situation was completely reversed. At Zemanta we have offices in San Francisco, New York and Slovenia. Slovenia is home to our product and engineering teams, and New York holds down sales and account management. I hold down the fort for product management, partnerships and marketing. An office of one.
Last year, I also had the opportunity to live in London for 3-months while my wife Emily was on rotation at Google. We were extremely fortunate and privileged to have that opportunity but once again another example of remote work. An office of one in London with the rest of the Zemanta teams still in New York and Slovenia.
After working through each of these situations over the years I’ve found a handful of tips that I believe people should keep in mind if they are thinking of working for a distributed company, or they work from home full-time.
Set a schedule. Depending in your time zone it’s easy to wake up for a 7am call, work til noon and completely forget to shower or eat breakfast. Even if you’ve been super productive in your work — if you’re like me — it’s hard to feel like you’re having a good day if the essentials like eating and bathing aren’t on schedule. Whether you’re a morning person or night owl I’ve found it helpful to set designated work hours so you have some guidelines built into your day.
Offline means offline. This goes hand in hand with #1. If you’re living in Europe and communicating with a team and clients in the United States it’s very easy to wake up to a full inbox and end your night with a flurry of instant messages or meeting invites. Letting others know your hours of availability will lead them to be more conscientious when communicating with you. It also gives you the mental freedom to stop checking your email and messages when you’re supposed to be spending time with friends and loved ones.
Have a designated work space. It doesn’t matter if it’s your couch, the kitchen table, an office space or a local coffee shop. Wherever you choose to work make sure you make that space your own. Maybe it’s an extra monitor, custom notepads or just a comfy chair, these subtle changes enable you to focus directly on the work rather than trying to get comfortable every 10 minutes.
Tools bridge the distance. I’m not going to tell you which tools are the best, that depends on the type of work you do, the company you work for, and how you personally like to organize and work. That said, it’s important to choose tools that help you communicate effectively and collaborate with your colleagues. Great tools make you feel like everyone is sitting in the same room, and poor tools will leave feeling even more cutoff than you already are. My advice is to do your homework on the types of tools and services you believe will help you be more productive, and then constantly evaluate them. Why continue using a service if it’s not providing you and your team value?
Get outside. For anyone working from home full-time, this is a requirement. Even for introverts like myself staying in the house all day is not healthy long term. We all need to get some fresh air, see our friends and experience life beyond the computer screen. Whether it’s going to the gym, having coffee with friends or seeing a movie, schedule regular outings so it’s easy to get out of the house at least a few days a week.
Working remotely often has a lot of benefits — flexible schedule, independency, and much more — but if you’re not careful it can really put a strain on your personal and professional lives. Make the necessary preparation and then dive in. Good luck!