Remote work has its own challenges. Keep you and your team’s productivity and morale high with our favourite remote-work tools, best practices and first-hand real-life stories.
[Editor's Note: this article was originally published in March 2020, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness].
Here's something we can always get better: how to be productive. How to guide our teams on being productive. In the office or remotely.
In this article we’ve gathered our remote-work best practices, our favourite tools and our onboarding, team and leadership experiences with full-remote.
Our favourite Remote-Work Tools
We’re remote friendly at our HQ, and most of our partners and clients too. So we’ve gathered our favourite productivity tools, have a check on how we use them:
- Asana to plan and organize our team and individual tasks for all our projects;
- Basecamp for company-wide and team-focused documentation and management; and for company-wide internal communication, organized by team and project;
- ClanHR to manage our team’s holidays and expenses;
- Confluence for documenting our software engineering;
- Dashlane to keep all our passwords safe and accessible to everyone who works with them;
- Google Drive to share project files between team members;
- InvoiceXpress for all our invoicing;
- Perdoo to keep our OKRs on track and our teams goal-focused;
- Slack for quick chats with our teams and community;
- Zoom as our video-conference tool (sometimes we need to change, Google Meet is a good one too!) - remember to mute your mic when you’re not talking and to keep conference members to the essential.
Best practices for Productive Remote Work
Juggling conference calls, productivity, burnout and cabin fever isn’t easy. Basecamp has an amazing bible on working remotely: Remote: Office not required - It’s a must read. Meanwhile, healthy and productive work routines can be designed in just a few steps:
- Choose your workplace
When working from home make sure your work environment is well adjusted to your needs. Whenever possible choose a designated area just for work, to help you mentally switch on and off from work.
You should pay attention to your seating habits: use a sturdy adjustable chair and adjust height so that your forearms are parallel to the floor. You can also use a pillow for lower back support. Use an external mouse and keep objects close to your body.
Invest in your office setup: clean desk, productive mind. Be careful not to overload electrical outlets you might not be used to using as frequently and be aware of tripping hazards, minimizing extensions and power cords around the house.
- Create routines
Define a schedule and make it your routine. Morning and evening routines help your brain get ready to work. Maybe you don’t need to fight the traffic jam, use that time to create a distance between work and free time. Exercise, yoga, stretching, breath work, meditation, writing and sketching can all be used to mark the beginning or end of work time.
- Kill distractions
Keep all the objects you might need close to your workstation to avoid distractions. This includes water and snacks so you don’t leave your desk every 5 minutes. Turn social media off when you start work and turn work notifications off when you call it a day. Just as at the office you can use headphones to help you focus, even if you’re alone at home. Pets, kids, family and flatmates can also be sources of distraction. A good dose of patience with a side dish of productive Pomodoros will help!
- Stay healthy
Place your feet entirely on the floor and alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Remember to take short breaks every hour and relax your eyes, looking away from the screen and wiggle your toes and feet every now and then to promote a healthy blood flow. Also, remember you’re a little plant: you need some sunlight and water. Try to work close to a window and stay properly hydrated.
An important part of working from home is staying active. Your pedometer might not be as happy, but not all is lost. Enjoy brief breaks to keep your mind clear and your body healthy. Some stretching or yoga can help during the day, and make sure to plan and follow a workout routine.
Another challenge that comes with working remotely is maintaining our interpersonal bonds and motivation. That goes for onboarding processes, team communication and leadership.
- Remote onboarding
Yes, we’ve even had full-remote onboardings!
We had just signed with Vítor when his project decided to go full-remote, so his whole onboarding process was remote too. Ana Belo was the KWAN Ambassador who followed up with Vítor’s onboarding. Her main concern was the lack of personal contact:
There wasn’t any big struggle, everything went smoothly, but I was worried with the lack of personal contact. However as we’re always in touch and we have video-calls it somehow seems like you’re closer, because in a sense, you’re entering the other person’s world, their home, and that brings us all closer. Somehow it makes us all more human. - Ana Belo, KWAN Ambassador Alumni
Vítor has been impressed with his remote onboarding experience although he only met four of his teammates during the interview process:
A remote onboarding is definitely different from the usual in-person process where certain inconscient filters separate personal and professional life are taken over by a more real, visceral and authentic approach by both sides.
Kickoff meetings and knowledge transfers that are usually sterile are replaced by video and conference calls, connecting us directly to our remote-work locations and transporting us into each other’s realities.
The impersonal side of technology has now the potential to become the new intimacy reality due to our current social distancing needs.
We’re living new times. - Vítor Correia, Support Engineer at KWAN
Read more testimonials about IT professionals who did their onboarding virtually - and not only survived but actually enjoyed it - in this article.
- Remote teams
We’re still having our usual after-lunch coffee as a team. We’re keeping track of each other through basecamp: sharing our lunch photos and recommending our favourite books, films and shows. Video-chats don’t need to be just for work, use them to boost your office friendships too.
To keep communication flowing, make sure you’re communicating clearly. Use video whenever possible, this helps a lot with non-verbal cues. If you’re writing to your teams through slack or even e-mail, try using a couple of emojis or GIFs, they’re worth gold! An image is worth a thousand words, right?
Vítor’s main challenge has been not being acquainted with his team’s non-verbal communication, it’s essential to him to quickly understand his colleagues during his team integration period.
For me it’s essential to contribute positively to the environment. To do so I need to understand my team. I already expected technical challenges during this ramp up. With little or a lot of experience, they’re always there. This time, the people are the real challenge. It’s not about being a crowd pleaser, it’s about understanding each other and building interpersonal bonds both with KWAN and the client I work at. - Vítor Correia, Support Engineer at KWAN
Being online or offline on Slack can be unclear, remember to tell your team you’re taking your lunch break, on the phone or having a snack. If you get messages you can’t answer right away, give them a quick acknowledgement, something like: “I’ll get back to you soon!”. Keep things light. We’re not a shoulder tap away, so remember to check in with everyone, we won’t guess what people are going through on the other side!
- Remote leadership
Remote leadership has its own challenges too! Nothing like a few of our team leaders to share first-hand what it’s like to manage their people remotely:
Duarte Fernandes, Chief Operations Officer at RUPEAL Group, gives us some food for thought regarding remote leadership.
In the context we’re living, it’s even more challenging to define what really works in leadership since a new highly impacting variable that affects our relationships and group dynamics entered the equation: working remotely. It’s fundamental to help eliminate noise, or friction, if you prefer, so that teams can become more efficient in performing their functions. The question a leader can constantly ask himself, and that I think will make him improve is: What can I do now that will reduce noise/friction in my team’s performance? - Duarte Fernandes, COO at RUPEAL Group
If you’d like to read more about how Duarte has been reflecting and acting on Remote Leadership during this Covid-19 crisis, you can learn a lot about team dynamics and trust, performance indicators and Critical Drivers, and how to make communication flow for your team in his latest blogpost.
Ricardo Castelhano, former Head of Engineering at InvoiceXpress, cuts straight to the point:
Improve communication and avoid micromanagement.
The Servant Leadership ideologies can be applied to full-remote situations like the one we’re living today. Communication and trust are essential, but don’t expect your team to be always available to answer and online. Empower your teams and avoid the micromanagement temptation. If you take care of your people, they will take care of you too. - Ricardo Castelhano, Head of Engineering at InvoiceXpress
Hugo Fernandes, Head of Product at RUPEAL Group, has been our ‘productivity guru’. He’s always onto the latest tools to keep us focused and motivated.
With great power comes great responsibility - Peter Parker principle. This could also have been said by a remote leader. Agnostic companies think of remote working as a way to distract or be less productive, but when you give power to the people, a good team will respond with responsibility. As a leader, you must set the tone. Great communication, routines, “being here”, documentation and virtual social gatherings are must-haves. Also, it is necessary to have the right KPIs to track performance. Not time, performance. This will give you a clue of the mental and physical state of the team. - Hugo Fernandes, Head of Product at RUPEAL Group
Bruno Luís, former CMO at RUPEAL Group, gives us a wise all-rounder.
The way I see it, remote work enhances your leading style. If you’re a micromanager at heart, you’ll find yourself running around trying to micromanage every team member via Slack or Zoom. Side-note: Don’t be a micromanager. No-one wins. If you’re a control-freak, you’re going to want your team to ask permission before going to the loo. Don’t do that either. Now if your leading style inspires trust, and if you communicate properly what is expected from your team, remote work will only make that even clearer. That’s my tip. If you haven’t done that background work yet, build a workflow with a good task manager (we use Asana for our Kanban) that promotes clarity on goals, where every team member knows exactly what to focus on and when. You just need to make yourself available for any roadblock they come across and be there to help them overcome it.
Also, if you thought that in the office you could relax when your team was at their workstation, let me break it to you gently: that doesn’t mean they were being productive. I’m sure you know all about the wonders and distractions of the World Wide Web. I suggest you build a system on metrics, goals and critical drivers. THAT’S how you know your team is being productive. Another thing, respect your team’s time management. That includes scheduling meetings in advance, and having a clear intention for each of them. Leave some time aside for social engagement in meetings, we’re still humans and in need of connection during these times. Don’t forget your 1on1s, folks! - Bruno Luís, former CMO at RUPEAL Group
Working fully remote takes a lot of discipline and flexibility. On one hand you’ll need to make a plan to guide you through routines, on the other, you’ll need to keep in mind that plans are made to be adjusted. What we need the most? Empathy! Our humanity needs to grow stronger than our avatars.