Last week, my wife and I decided we needed to stock up and hunker down.
We’re washing our hands. We’re social distancing. We’re a bit anxious.
But…we’re extremely fortunate.
We haven’t lost our jobs. The business hasn’t gone under and we have a roof over our heads.
I know it’s crazy right now.
The health crisis is real. There are thousands of people losing their jobs and businesses, with thousands more to come.
With kids home from school, a perplexing economy, and a world in crisis, it’s become impossible to function as normal, but I’m hopeful.
If you’re fortunate enough where business is doing okay, it’s time to adapt to change and plan for the future.
One of those changes, whether you like it or not, is remote.
Truthfully, I didn’t even want to drop this post because I felt weird about the timing, but Nathan encouraged me. 🙂
If you don’t know the Groove story, we’ve been working 100% remotely for the last seven years and know how to manage this lifestyle.
We’ve learned a lot—and so will you.
Our most practical work-from-home tips
This week, I asked the team to share their best strategies for staying productive while working from home.
Below, you’ll find 47 of the most practical work-from-home tips we could come up with—everything from the kind of chair you use to what you should do on your lunch break.
We also created a new work-from-home cheat sheet, which includes everything you see in this post plus a few bonus tips to help you and your team perform at your best.
Next week, I’ll be writing about why Groove has always been 100% remote—and the unexpected pros and cons of that decision as we’ve grown (Hint: There have been way more pros than cons).
My best work-from-home tips as a founder and CEO
Let me start with a few tips for those of you leading organizations or teams.
1. Get outside
Weather permitting, I try to get outside for at least a few minutes every day.
I love to surf and I live close to the coast. If it’s warm enough, I try to get down to the water as often as I can.
Even if I can’t surf, a quick walk through our neighborhood does wonders for my productivity when I get back to my computer.
2. Take 20 (for meditation)
Meditation doesn’t need to be a religious thing, and there are tons of great resources out there to help you get started.
I like to spend about 20 minutes a day meditating—usually first thing in the morning. It puts me in the right mental place to start my work with a clear head.
If you’re brand new to meditation, check out the Headspace app, which will introduce you to the practice in just a few minutes a day.
You can also find hundreds of guided meditations for free out on YouTube.
3. Trust the process
As a founder and CEO, my job is to set a direction and to design processes that guide the work of my team.
But even with my commitment to processes, it’s easy as a founder to get impatient—to jump in and try to “help” the team mid-project and unknowingly mess everything up.
No project produces results overnight. Set the direction, design your processes—then get out the way and let your people do what you hired them to do.
4. Trust your people
Yesterday I heard about a company that obviously didn’t trust its employees to stay productive while working from home.
They had managers calling their direct reports every hour—asking what they were working on, whether they were being productive or not.
I’m sorry. But that’s just insane.
Badgering your people is a recipe for resentful, low-performing employees.
All our teams have daily “standups” (we do them through Zoom). The meetings rarely go more than five minutes.
Each team member answers three simple questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What are you going to do today?
- Is there anything standing in your way?
Everyone is accountable to the team, not just to me or to their boss.
And, if something is standing in someone’s way, we (as leaders) can take action to remove the impediment immediately—so our people can do their work.
Trust your people.
They’ll be far more likely to do amazing work for you—remote or not.
5. Plan a trip (when you can)
Obviously no one’s traveling right now.
But whenever the world gets back to normal, getting away from my usual surroundings for a few days always recharges me—even if I’m still working.
During normal times, my family and I often travel up to Maine for a change of scenery and to get out of our normal routines.
Even just planning a trip puts some energy in my tank since it gives me something to look forward to.
A peek at my home workstation
Since everyone always asks…
This is my workstation. As with most things in my life, I prefer to keep it simple and uncluttered.
The team’s best work-from-home tips
I wanted to give you more than just my perspective on working from home.
Here (in their words) is what some of the team had to say about how staying productive while working remotely, along with some pictures of their home setups…
Nick McCreath: Co-Founder and Head of Product
Currently working from: An isolated farm somewhere in South Africa (no joke, it’s a little village called Bathurst)
1. Don’t expect immediate answers
When you work in an office, it’s easy to see when someone is at their desk, or if they’re tucked away in a meeting room having a conversation with someone else.
You don’t have that luxury in a remote environment.
You usually have no clue what your teammates are up to even if they’re actively working at any given time.
Don’t expect answers immediately if you send someone a note. Even if it looks like they’re active on Slack, they might just be busy with other things at the moment.
They’ll get back to you when they’re ready.
2. Get a second screen
I really like having a second screen for my home office. That way I can have Slack or my inbox available without cluttering my desktop or having to navigate between apps, which is a huge time waster.
No extra screen, no problem. Check out Duet or Sidecar, which can turn your iPad into a second monitor.
3. Use lots of Slack emojis
Make liberal use of emojis in Slack or your team chat application.
When people can’t see you physically, it’s tough to know if you got the message, if you’re at your desk, busy, etc… So a little emoji with a status that you’re heads down on a task or out for lunch can go a long way.
It’s also completely okay to snooze notifications for a while so you can focus.
4. Keep your furry friend close by
Frustrating meeting? Give your pet a belly rub and watch that stress vanish.
5. Be aware of your team’s schedule
When working with teams across multiple time zones, keep tabs on when people’s days start and end so you can make sure you ask for things during times that are convenient for them, not just you.
6. Keep your workspace clean
Do your best to keep your workspace tidy.
I have a routine of tidying up first thing in the morning (not the evening before) which puts my mind in the right place for the day and keeps me as organized as possible.
Lisa Foster, Head of Customer Success
Currently working from: Las Vegas, Nevada, where even the casinos are closing right now
1. Stick to your normal schedule
Stick to a schedule. Have a set shift. Start working at a set time, take a lunch break like normal, wrap up your day just like you were in an office. It’s not a free-for-all; it’s just a location change.
2. Use status updates in Slack
I use status updates and emojis in Slack to keep my whereabouts known.
When I’m on with a customer, in a meeting, or away for lunch, I set my status so people know what I’m doing and whether I’m available or away from my keyword.
3. Have an office, but move around
You need a dedicated space to work, but don’t be afraid to move around too.
Sit outside, in the kitchen, at a coffee shop (whenever that becomes “safe” to do again). See where you like to work and are most productive, then do more of that.
4. Make a technology backup plan
Have a back up plan for staying connected.
Know what you’ll do if you have an internet outage or your computer crashes to get yourself back online asap. Don’t wait until it happens; have a plan in advance for getting back up and running quickly.
Marcin Bunsch, Head of Engineering
Currently working from: Kraków, Poland
1. Establish rituals
Have a ritual for start and finish of work. It’s very easy to blur the lines, so you need something that marks the start of work, like getting dressed or making a pot of coffee.
More importantly, make sure you have an end-of-day ritual so you can switch off thinking about work and start resting.
2. Change clothes when you’re done with work
Get dressed for work, but then change clothes when you’re done. This helps me maintain work-life balance—even when the commute is 3 steps long.
Antonio Marcello, Marketing
Currently working from: Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.
1. Add 10 minute breaks to your schedule
Try to establish a routine, including one or two 10 minute breaks throughout your day.
2. Eat meals away from your desk
Don’t work through your meals. Stand up and go somewhere else in your house to eat—preferably away from your desk.
3. Reach out if you’re feeling isolated
Take advantage of the company’s tools to organize and communicate your work better (Trello, Confluence, Drive, Slack, etc.). And if you’re feeling alone or isolated, let someone know!
Your work friends are just one message away! 🙂
Cristian Todorovic, Design
Currently working from: Berlin, Germany
1. Put your phone in the other room
Make sure there are no distractions around your working space. I leave my phone in the other room and only check it during lunch time.
2. Have some basic fitness equipment
Every other day, I grab my dumbbells and fire up a 15–20min session. You’d be surprised how many exercises you can do just with a simple set of dumbbells.
3. Raise your laptop
Stand up and put your laptop on any higher surface, I use a regular komoda from Ikea as my improvised standing desk and it’s great.
4. Get away from the screen
Your productivity is a finite resource and it will reach a peak sometime during the day, so the best way for me to recharge is to move away from the screen.
Go walk your dog, grab a snack behind your house, go for a 15-20min walk.
You’ll be surprised how much these simple things will help you reset and get extra hours of productivity in your day.
Ena Sadikovic, Design
Currently working from: Setúbal, Portugal
1. Invest in good headphones
Get a pair of good headphones for minimizing distractions from outside. I find this super important for creative work as it helps to stay in the flow.
2. Schedule your work
I sit down in the morning and plan out how much time I’ll need for each task I have coming up. It helps me stay productive and it keeps me from overcommitting.
Erika Trujillo, Customer Success
Currently working from: Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.
1. Use small packages for snacks
Have snack sized packages of items, and not large bags.
Keep a happy appetite but avoid the binges by preparing smaller sized food items and fruits ahead of time.
1. Don’t sit all day
Regular standing breaks and stretches help keep me loose and focused when I may get tunnel vision while working from home.
I use my Apple Watch to remind me to move every now and then. You can also use a mobile app on your phone. I used Stand Up! before I got my watch.
Glenn Roberts, Engineering
Currently working from: Australia
1. Noise-cancelling headphones
Noise. Cancelling. Headphones. Now.
2. A high-quality headset and microphone
Get a contact-center-quality headset—one that can filter background noise while you’re speaking on a call. I recommend Jabra office headsets.
3. Use ergonomics to your benefit
Get your chair and screen positioned comfortably. Use adjustable swinging arm mounts for external monitors. For laptops, try a Roost laptop stand.
4. Batch you work
Write in chat rooms, write emails, share screenshots, record screencasts.
On the receiving side, process your communication channels in batches, when you are ready. Turn off unimportant notifications that interrupt you.
Jared Scheel, Engineering
Currently working from: Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.
1. Set boundaries with family and friends
Set clear boundaries and expectations with family and friends. Just because you work at home does not mean you are freely available during all hours of the day.
2. Create a separate, focused space for work
Your kitchen table might do in a pinch, but separating environments will help you focus during work hours and disengage during home hours.
3. Turn your camera on during meetings
Let people see you on video calls. Seeing other people’s faces builds empathy and trust, encourages (some) level of body language expression, and prevents feelings of isolation.
Matt Beedle, Engineering
Currently working from: Thailand
1. Eliminate distractions
I use Focus, which blocks websites and apps where I’m likely to get sidetracked.
I have it hooked up to my Vitamin-R so when I start a pomodoro, it cuts off Messenger, Airmail, youtube.com and a load of other stuff.
When my pomodoro finishes, everything is automatically re-enabled
2. Find your most productive hours
Work in your most productive hours.
Personally I like to go to bed super early and work early in the morning.
Matthew Spence, Engineering
Currently working from: Canterbury, Kent, U.K.
2. Pajamas aren’t for everyone
If you are struggling to get in the right mindset, maybe working in your pajamas isn’t the right option for you. Try getting dressed in whatever you would wear to an office.
1. Create an isolated space
Find an isolated spot where you can work without being interrupted.
If you know there will be people around, noise cancelling headphones can go a long way to creating an isolated “space.”
Melissa Rosen, Marketing & Customer Success
Currently working from: San Diego, California, U.S.A.
1. Put extra effort into planning
Put more time into prep work so you can work asynchronously. We use sprints here and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Since you won’t be able to grab your coworkers anytime throughout the office, have a plan for deciding what work will get done, who is responsible for what task, and what your deadlines are.
Hold meetings to get any resources or ask any questions before starting work. You’ll be able to work on your own for hours or days at a time without needing to reach out to other team members constantly for more info.
You’ll be way more productive.
2. Ignore any advice that doesn’t work for you
Feel free to ignore any and all suggestions that don’t work for you.
I personally love working from my bed or couch, and I’m definitely not getting out of my pajamas during this pandemic.
Don’t force it if something isn’t working for you. Do what feels natural and what helps you get things done.
Nathan Collier, Marketing
Currently working from: Dayton, Ohio, U.S.A.
1. Get a virtual accountability partner
I use a service called FocusMate, which is a bit like virtual coworking.
You schedule a time to do a one-hour video call where you’re committing to work on one major task during that time.
The service matches you with someone else who wants to be productive in that hour.
When the time comes, I log in and we do a video conference call, but we don’t talk. We just work with the camera on and our microphones muted.
I know it sounds weird, but it’s my personal secret weapon for getting a ton of stuff done in a small amount of time. I often do 4–6 sessions a day.
2. Lift your laptop to eye level
I do everything on my MacBook Air. After about a year working remotely, I noticed it was hurting my neck to stare down at a screen all day.
So I bought an adjustable laptop stand that raises the screen to eye level. It’s been a big help for my posture and my neck feels a lot better.
The stand also folds up really easily, making it portable, which has been great since I’ve been stuck at home lately. I normally work from a coworking space.
3. Don’t rely on bluetooth headphones for calls
I have a couple of sets of bluetooth headphones that I love and use all the time. But they have a habit of dropping when I’m on Zoom meetings.
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to join a meeting and not being able to hear the audio. Or to hear the audio and have people not be able to hear me.
For that reason, I usually use my old corded EarPods that came with my iPhone 6 for calls and meetings. At the very least I always have them nearby.
Tair Assimov, Engineering
Currently working from: Barcelona, Spain
1. Work from cafes or coworking spaces (when it’s safe to do so again)
To escape cabin fever, work once or twice a week from cafes, or better, from coworking spaces. This should give you a motivation boost and appreciation of working from home.
But only after COVID. 🙂
2. Don’t skip your workout
Exercise is even more important when working from home because it’s easy to just stay inside all day.
Working remotely gives you immense flexibility with your schedule, so take advantage by working out during times that other people find difficult.
For instance, can you go to the gym, go swimming, go jogging, or take a bike ride before noon while others are at the office?
Tayo Agagu, Engineering
Currently working from: Cape Town, South Africa
1. Get used to asynchronous communication
Be comfortable with asynchronous communication.
Messages you send to teammates might not get an immediate response, but that’s okay.
Check out this post for a detailed description of how asynchronous communication can boost productivity: Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive.
That’s us. What about you?
Of all the responses we got from our team, I think I liked the one from Melissa the best:
Feel free to ignore any and all suggestions that don’t work for you. What works for me may not work for you.
She’s right. Try things and see what works best for you. Keep what works. Ignore what doesn’t.
But always be open to getting better.