Remote work. It’s an easier transition for some, but a whole new ballgame for many who have been unexpectedly launched into a work-from-home scenario because of COVID-19. It may take some time to adjust to this new normal, but you’ll get there. The question is, how do you speed up the learning curve?

Your inbox is probably full of tips to help, but it’s too much to sift through to find relevant information. Below you’ll find a single, comprehensive list of remote work best practices for employees. It’s full of tried-and-true tips that have immensely helped our team, and if you apply just a few, you’ll feel an immediate impact too.

Why listen to us?

Fusion Alliance has a decade of experience supporting clients with remote workers, two decades of remote work experience with our own employees, and in the past month, we’ve been fast-tracking many companies to get up and running remotely so they can provide business continuity to their clients. Our experience helping on the technology side -- with advice, implementation and support -- is so extensive that we can do it seamlessly and rapidly.

But it’s the human side that takes some adjustment. And that’s why our experts have passed on their most helpful best practices. Use them to boost your effectiveness and get comfortable with working remotely.

Best practices that will help you today

1. Create a thoughtful routine to increase productivity

If you’re new to remote work, your normal routine has been disrupted. But routine is your friend. It helps create calm and increases productivity. It is purposeful and sets expectations, including your own. You must be strategic and proactive to take charge of your new situation. Set aside time to create a new structure for your workday. Even if you’ve already been working from home for a few weeks, stop and re-evaluate. What do you want your remote work life to look like? What do you need to accomplish and what variables make remote work challenging?

Here are ideas to design and set a solid foundation:

  • Replace your previous commute times with something you do for your own wellbeing. Exercise or engage in an activity that gets you mentally and physically ready to do and be your best each day.

  • Start your day by looking at your schedule and making a short list of what you need to accomplish for the day. Cross items off you list as you meet these smaller goals. This helps provide a sense of progress.

  • Set up and maintain regular work hours. Communicate these to everyone affected.

  • Schedule the most important and challenging tasks at the time of day when your mind is sharpest. Plan to tackle other tasks, like answering messages or emails, when you’re not as focused.

  • Give your eyes, body, and mind a break by standing and stretching every 60-90 minutes. Set alarms or timers to keep you on track. Schedule a couple short breaks to look away from your computer, get up and moving, take a brisk walk, or have a little fun with people in your household.

  • Distractions and productivity are often the greatest challenges at the beginning of this process. Statistics show you lose more than 20 minutes of productivity each time you are interrupted. To combat this:

    • Decide not to immediately react to messages, chats, texts, emails, and calls (unless that’s what your job entails).

    • Turn off or ignore notifications during selected hours of deep work. Be thoughtful about setting aside two or three times a day to answer these.

    • Communicate this system to any relevant parties. A recent study shows that 85% of businesses say productivity has improved due to increased workforce flexibility, so be encouraged by that.

    • Set up your own visual system at home where others in your family can see if it is ok to interrupt you. Some people suggest a tented card that’s red on one side (busy) and a green on the other (ok to interrupt). This works for spouses too. If you have children at home, let them know when you are available and when you are “off limits.” (That said, we know that babies and young children are experts at testing best practices. Have reasonable expectations of them and of yourself. You can only control so much. Remember, this pandemic stay-at-home order is temporary.)

  • When your workday ends, stop working and leave your work area. Setting limitations isn’t just for children. If you’re checking messages or doing “smaller tasks” all night, it’s going to take its toll on you and your family.

  • If you’re the kind of person who will work overtime, define set hours to work each evening, and tell your family. Be fully present to those around you when you’re not working.

2. Create a setup for success

The right setup is critical to productivity and your ability to maintain a work-life balance. The following will help you mitigate the challenges that come along with this transition:

  • Choose a place that’s comfortable, apart from the main traffic in your home, and free from distraction as much as possible. Natural lighting and fresh air set a good tone. Clean up your space, remove clutter and make it a setup that is something you enjoy, not dread. Ensure that it’s a place where whatever papers and notes you left out will remain untouched when you leave the area.

  • Choose an ergonomic chair and desk. You have to be comfortable to be productive.

  • Organize everything you need for work in your “office” area and keep it there. That way when you leave your workspace, you leave your work too.

  • Get your technology in order. Is your internet reliable? Do you have enough bandwidth to do your work? If bandwidth is an issue, try designating a time when your kids can play online games or watch videos. If you still have issues, talk to your employer about your options.

  • Use a noise-cancelling headset with a microphone, and make sure it’s compatible with whatever online meeting solution you use.

  • Test your video-conferencing tool. Set up your computer or camera to look you right in the eye. Check to see what items will show in the background if you are in a meeting. If it doesn’t look clean or work appropriate, remove it.

  • Stick to your normal morning routine (showering, dressing appropriately), and be mindful that you may have to jump on a video call at any point during your workday. Consider the expectations of your potential audience and how you should appear on a business call.

3. Take charge of your mind, mood, and tone

We’re all aware which brands are stepping up (or not) during this pandemic, and intended or not, that will have a long-term impact. Similarly, your actions and attitude are noticed. Take charge of your ability to handle this transition professionally.

  • Be a positive, encouraging force, and show your ability to adjust to everyone’s new circumstances.

  • Work collaboratively with colleagues and customers who are undoubtedly going through stresses similar to or worse than yours. And do so with great empathy and patience because you don’t know what someone else might be going through.

  • Remember that different family situations are not as conducive to working from home. If you hear a toddler in the background or see a spouse/child walk into view during a videoconference, understand that everyone is doing their best. You can’t expect the same environment as you would in the office. Everyone is adjusting to this new normal, so give yourself and each other grace as we all adapt. If your colleague seems to be operating in the midst of chaos, think about their situation, and interact with flexibility and kindness.

4. Communicate well

As a remote worker or manager, your job is to continue to provide the level of service your company and customer are used to, with minimal disruption. Your ability to communicate well will help.

  • Be fully engaged and collaborative in your interactions.

  • Make communications personal. Take time to ask colleagues about themselves. How are they handling life under coronavirus restrictions? How are their families?

  • Initiate a conversation with your team to make strategic decisions about communication channels, daily standups or check-ins, and team meetings with videoconferencing to keep it more personal and connected.

  • Set expectations. What’s everyone’s regular schedule? What’s the best ways to reach each of you? If you’re checking emails and messages only periodically on Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Slack, Zoom, Skype or whatever other channels, let people know how often you plan to do that and the best way to reach you when it’s urgent.

  • Make sure you’re all logged into your business collaboration tools or chat channels all day or at whatever times are expected.

  • Update your calendars. If you can, block out time for deep work on projects where you shouldn’t be interrupted. And tell your colleagues to keep their calendars current too.

  • Schedule regular meetings to keep people connected, organically increase accountability, and give your team a chance to chat. If anything, managers need to be communicating more, not less, until they find a comfortable cadence.

If you are a leader or manager:

  • Make sure you call each employee on your team to check in and see how they’re doing. Start with a personal conversation and ask if they need any help professionally. It will go a long way if your focus in on your employee, not the business.

  • Make meetings fun and personal. Maybe add a giveaway now and then, even if it’s as small as a $5 gift card to a coffee shop. Change it up.

  • Make sure all members of the team clearly know their own roles, assignments, and the common goals you are all working toward.

  • Be intentional with your communication. Figure out what works best for your company and team. A lack of communication often results in employees feeling isolated and uncertain.

  • There’s a fine line between communication and over-communication. Don’t cross it. Employees of larger companies often complain that they get the same forwarded email from multiple managers. Their inboxes are getting filled with redundant information. Leaders, make sure you are sending your messages to your entire intended audience to avoid overwhelming your teams with the exact same message again and again.

5. Get the most out of online meetings

Video meetings are great opportunities to connect with your audience both visually and audibly. Be mindful of your body language and gestures to create a positive, collaborative tone. These small tips can make a tremendous difference:

  • Before a meeting, add your picture to your meeting app. Include your contact information and mobile number. If you are meeting someone new, precede or follow up with a simple message welcoming them to reach out to you. This lays a positive foundation.

  • Introduce yourself. In larger meetings, say your name when you begin speaking. And, if you are in a meeting with people you don’t know, state your name and provide context about your role. “I’m Lisa Jones, operations manager.”

  • Be present. Are you multitasking or listening intently?

  • Mute your microphone when you’re not talking or actively participating in the conversation. The sound of shuffling papers, typing, or your dog barking will be distracting.

  • Be heard. Share your thoughts and ideas. You are in the meeting because of your valuable knowledge and insights, so share them.

  • Don’t forget to dress appropriately for your audience.

6. Be social for sanity

To many, the lack of interaction with your colleagues is a hard part of this adjustment. You’re used to having lunch with others, chatting in the halls. But with digital resources, you can remove some of that isolation.

  • Use audio or a video chat to work together on something small instead of doing everything through chat. And have a little fun.

  • Plan a happy hour each week when you can all videoconference and chat over food and drink like you would if you were together.

  • Have virtual lunch meetings with your work friends. If your company can do it, have lunch delivered to the home of each member of your team.

  • Have a group chat where you watch a video, read a book together, or work on a community project.

  • Schedule a time to play games using a website that facilitates team-building activities or games.

  • Schedule some after-hours fun with some close work friends. If you have the technology in place, use it to your benefit.

7. Exercise

Are you more sedentary now that you’re not in the office? Get up and get moving. Here are some options for different levels of exercise:

  • Good: Take a quick break and stretch every 60-90 minutes. Set a timer so you actually do it. Take a walk during a call or lunch time. Do jumping jacks, situps, or some kind of exercise every time you finish a task or stop to get a drink or use the bathroom.

  • Better: In addition to the above, block out one or two 10-minute sessions to raise your heart rate and breathing with a brisk walk or jog, sit-ups, pushups, or anything else.

  • Best: Do all of the above, and also take an extra hour a day for walking, jogging, cycling, yoga, etc. Mix it up. Create a long-term goal, use an exercise app, find a plan online.

There you have it. We’re all feeling the impact of the changes as coronavirus becomes more prevalent. If you start applying these best practices now, and you’ll definitely feel the difference in your personal adjustment to remote work. Celebrate your successes and take time to breathe!

Meanwhile, there’s a whole technology side too, and if you need help with that or in acquiring and implementing tools like free Microsoft Teams collaboration software licenses, we’re just a click away. We’ve gotten clients’ remote workers up and running on VPN in a single day, and that’s only one example. We can do so much more. Our teams are activated and ready to help.