This post was written before COVID-19 was labelled a pandemic status. Some of the things discussed, such as in-person onboardings and meetups, as well as going to gyms, aren’t possible at this time. We, however, still believe the article has a number of beneficial ideas for those who are working remotely and looking for things to suggest and implement within their own companies.
In my career thus far, I’ve been fortunate to work for several forward-thinking companies that enable their employees to work flexibly in both hours and /or location. Whether that came in the form of hot-desking, ability to work from home, or coming into work on a schedule that suits you, there’s always been something in place that meant that I’ve never worried about when to visit a dentist or whether a large delivery would have to come on the weekend.
Despite this good fortune, I was still daunted (yet intrigued) at the prospect of going fully remote. I’m not one to shy away from a risk or challenge (and I firmly believe that getting out of your comfort zone leads to learning and life experiences). So this is exactly what I decided to do when joining Impala in January.
If you’ve been contemplating making a permanent move to working remotely or are having difficulties in structuring your time when working from home, some of the tips in this post should benefit you. It should also give people leaders insights on the sorts of ideas that can make a fully remote culture run successfully with inspired, engaged employees.
In the post, I’ll run through a number of common concerns that going remote may raise along with some suggested ways to alleviate those problems. These could be things that you can do personally, or schemes that could be introduced by an employer.
Ramping up knowledge when you’re working remotely could potentially be difficult — you don’t have colleagues sitting around to nudge every few minutes for questions and it can be hard to judge how to communicate with someone that you’ve never met.
Fortunately for me, I was buddied up with someone from the team and we were both brought to London for a week-long onboarding session to make sure I had the tools to succeed in my new role. During that week, I learned all about the business, tools and communication etiquette to work effectively with colleagues based all around Europe.
Whilst being co-located was useful, that doesn’t have to be the case. Anyone can have a great start and be up and running in no time, providing investment is made into introductory materials and a buddy is assigned to the new joiner. The assigned buddy has the responsibility for guiding them through their first experiences at the company.
The proliferation of collaborative web-based tools has made fully remote teams working effectively a reality. I’d argue that communication forms the primary challenge to being distributed geographically from your colleagues, and apps like Slack and Zoom allow for conversations to take place anywhere with a stable, fast internet connection.
Having an area where you can work comfortably and uninterrupted is going to play a major part in how well you can focus at work, but equally how well you can maintain your work-life balance. Another risk with working from home is that there is more working and less living.
Separating your workspace away from the areas where you live or sleep will help to keep you in the right mindset. Ideally, you’ll have a proper home office, but spaces like spare bedrooms work well, too.
I thought that the 1000+ hours of my life I’d invested into World of Warcraft as a teenager would have me well primed for a new commute-less life sitting in front of a giant screen. Alas, I’ve learned that I absolutely have to leave the house at some point in the day in order to maintain sufficient focus to maintain a high level of output.
Thoughtful policies can help with this. Impala allows for an “extended lunch” for remote Impalans that allows me to go out for a long walk and make the time up later. Since starting, I joined a new gym and began doing a lot of swimming, something I always struggled to achieve working in an office in the city.
If you’re somebody who often struggles to work from home due to concentration, there is a lot of material to help structure your time better. I enjoyed Getting Things Done by David Allen, and try to utilise some of those techniques in my day-to-day routine.
Top tip: try not to snack too much.
For some reason there is the additional temptation to comfort eat at home between meals and it’s very easy to get carried away. If you get hungry, try to make sure you’ve got plenty of healthy options available (and employers could even fund some of these!)
One of my personal fears when making the move to working predominantly from home was the feeling of social isolation. I’m quite a social person and I consider a lot of colleagues from former workplaces good friends.
Creating safe spaces for remote colleagues to get to know each other can help foster relationships, and company policies can really help in this area.
Impala recently employed a Remote Experience Manager with the job of making the remote team as effective as possible. We’ve already had some great ideas put in place to help the team bond.
For example, we recently took part in a scavenger hunt where the company was split into teams and every day we were challenged to take selfies with random objects around where we live.
We had a lot of fun doing this and got the opportunity to interact with colleagues across the business. It also helped to encourage the team to get away from the desks for a while!
“Dev Chat” is another way we get to know the team. We all jump into a zoom room once a week and talk about anything (not work related). We often invite special guests from the business to participate and it’s always a lot of fun. We also recently introduced a scheme where colleagues can have lunch together over zoom — and providing they post a screenshot they get their lunch paid for!
Setting a social budget for remote employees to get together can also help everyone let their hair down and share experiences that will form stronger bonds within the workplace.
Personally I’ve found that keeping up hobbies that get me out in the evenings has helped. This may not be possible in the current pandemic period, but my own personal hobby is playing with a brass band. Meetup.com can also be a good source of things to do outside of work, and can help you meet new people.
I don’t think it can be understated how important it is for a company to think differently about the benefits it offers for remote employees. Impala has introduced a number of initiatives to try and help this, such as the loved ones budget, and the previously mentioned Remote Experience Manager.
Although it’s only been two months so far, a lot of the concerns I had prior to starting my role have evaporated. I feel empowered and autonomous and have found that my colleagues are proactive in making the remote experience work. For anyone considering a remote role who has concerns, I’d encourage you to give it a go!