A guide to working from home by Planted CTO, Kevin Lawver.

Now that the Coronavirus has broken out in cities across the US, a bunch of companies are telling their employees to work from home; workplaces that have heard about this whole “remote work” thing and ignored it until now, when the Coronavirus has everyone running for hand sanitizer (or vodka… or both).

Luckily, the Planted team has been at least partly remote for over five years now (and I’ve been remote for almost 10) and we have plenty of tips to help you get things done, stay sane, and collaborate with your coworkers while you’re stuck at home.

You’re not in the office; no one can see you.

When you’re remote, you have to be more deliberate about showing your presence and availability, because no one can see that you’re at your desk.

At Planted, we use Slack and have a system for declaring when we’re away from our desks and when we come back. When we leave for a break, to make lunch, switch out the laundry, or put some bread in the oven, we say brb in our #general channel. When we return, we add the 🔙 reaction to it. We also use the Google Calendar add-on, which automatically changes our status to let everyone else know when we’re in meetings.

It’s also easy to forget you have coworkers sometimes when you’re toiling away at home. It’s important to reach out when you need help, be there when other people need things, and if typing in Slack isn’t solving the problem, hop on a call - and video is better than just audio. They’re even built in to Slack!

Build a commute

Working from home, it’s easy to always feel “tethered” to the office… since your office is now also where you live. So, it’s important to build a “commute” for yourself from being “home” to being at “work” that allows a mental transition, now that you no longer have to brave traffic, other commuters or the subway to get from home to work.

For me, that means having a daily ritual around making coffee (a pour over that goes into a thermos that sits next to my desk all morning and wakes me up), a little meditation and some exercise. Doing that as a morning routine, I’m ready to get to work (without having to spend 45 minutes in traffic.)

It’s also important to remember to leave work when you’re done for the day. I shut down Slack and all work-related apps on my laptop, so even if I’m working on a volunteer project or something else, I’m not tempted to check in on the “office”.

Have a “place” for work

I’ve heard a thousand horror stories of remote work falling apart at companies because employees abuse it. In almost every case, it seems to come down to people thinking they can be productive in the same locations they relax - on the couch or in bed.

For me, it’s important to have a place set aside as much as possible for productivity. Since I’m remote all of the time, that means having a separate office with my comfy chair, huge monitor, fancy keyboard, huge headphones, etc. If you’re not going to be remote full-time, it means finding a place where you can concentrate on work without the normal distractions of being home. Set yourself up for success by having everything you need to be productive in one place - whether that means coffee, headphones, a special pad of paper and pencil, whatever works for you, as long as it’s a separate place that will allow you to get things done.

Take breaks

When you don’t live by the normal rhythms of the office, it can be easy to forget to get up, move around, and take breaks. It’s a good idea when you’re just starting out to think about scheduling these breaks into your calendar, or you can try out something like the pomodoro technique to break up your day.

And, since we’re only talking about this because people are trying not to get sick, stay hydrated.

Have a plan for the day!

Without all the distractions of an office, it’s easy to get lost in individual tasks. Make yourself a list of what you know you need to get done during the day, and check it often. You don’t have to go full-on GTD, but, you know, it wouldn’t hurt. If you’re using the Google Calendar add-on for Slack, it makes sense to block off time in your calendar for getting things done, so your status updates and your coworkers know you’re busy accomplishing things.

You might not want to go back…

Like I said at the beginning, I’ve been remote for a while now, and I can’t imagine having to deal with a commute or an open plan office again. I’m far more productive at home than I am anywhere else. That time wasted on a commute for others is prime Getting Things Done time. I think I work more now than when I went into an office every day, because I spend less time in the car.

Oh yeah, managers...

For the managers reading this, the success of your team’s new remote experiment is up to you. You need to set the standard for communication, availability, and collaboration. Be more deliberate about reaching out to the people who work for you to check in on how things are going, what they need, etc. It wouldn’t hurt to do daily standups in the morning and ask the standard questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you going to do today?
  • What do you need help with?

It’s that last one that’s Really Important™. It’s easy to forget to ask for help, so be proactive about checking in. We’re not going to go into it here, but the fine folks at Truss have a great blog post on effective remote meetings. They also have a super useful “playbook” for distributed teams.

In the end, remote work is awesome. It’s better for the environment, better for work-life balance and better, personally, for productivity. You just can’t treat it the same way you do working in the office, because it’s delightfully different. So, while being stuck at home and avoiding Coronavirus germs may not be ideal, we hope you’re able to make the most of your work-from-home experience — but you still need to wash your hands.

And if you’re looking for remote opportunities, we’ve got some! Sign up for Planted and create a free profile. Or, if you’re looking to hire some remote employees, we can help with that too. Create a company account here.