Hey! Sam here, one of the many remote employees at Polarr. I joined Polarr in early 2017 and I am based in LA ever since. Being a remote worker has been pretty great and that's why over half the team here at Polarr works fully remote. Everyone else has a super relaxed work from home policy in the Bay Area where our HQ is located. The benefits of working are hard to dismiss. You're more productive when working remote, it's linked to happiness, commuting literally kills you, you get a more diverse set of colleagues, and so much more.
It's not all meadows filled with wildflowers as Ryan Hoover recently chronicled in a blog post where folks from Twitter shared their frustrations with working remotely. Each of the main points identified I've personally encountered once or twice as a remote employee.
Here's how I reduce those problems in remote working and make it suck less.
☕ Find a local coworking space or coffee shop to combat loneliness
Solution: Coworking spaces or coffee shops
Feeling lonely is the most common frustration when you're a remote worker. It's pretty easy to go the whole day without any face-to-face human interactions when you're working from home all day. I fight that by spending a few hours each day at a coffee shop getting work done. That might not work for you, but you can try other places to combat the feeling of loneliness. Find a local coworking space and work there once or twice a week. Maybe try out a library.
One of the best places of being a remote employee is that you can effectively do your job anywhere you have your laptop and solid WiFi. Take advantage of that and get out. It's my most effective way to not feel isolated or lonely.
Sam's choice: Stell's Coffee in Redlands, CA
🕕 Set office hours to force yourself to disconnect
Solution: Set office hours
I still struggle with this. Working from home means it's hard to separate and balance your work and your home life. Our team is global and that means Slack is active 24/7. It's tempting to check Slack before bed and get into semi-real-time conversations with colleagues all around the globe. This is not healthy and leads to long work days, which most people can not sustain.
So set office hours and enforce them. Again, this is probably my biggest weakness right now as a remote employee. But I'm working on it and I find that not allowing myself to check Slack or email after the workday ends is the best for my mental health and allows me to enjoy being home. Try it out. Set office hours, share them with your team, and foster a work environment where people respect and don't expect a reply until the next morning.
Sam's choice: Online by 9am and offline by 6pm. Gives me time to make the 630pm class at my local CrossFit gym.
🧘 Make a professional workspace to avoid distractions
Solution: Emulate an office environment
Home is distracting. It's where you live and over time collect your favorite things in the world. How tempting is it to grab that Xbox controller and sneak in a game or two during a break in the middle of the day? Very. Which is why I had to physically remove that Xbox from my home office.
This is going to sound counterintuitive but try it. Create a workspace in your home that you'd find in a traditional office to avoid distractions. Wait? Don't you work remotely so you don't have to ever think about a traditional office? Yes. But create you need to create whatever environment makes you less distracted at home and for me, that's one with a clean desk and nothing around to grab my attention.
Sam's choice: My desk is an Ikea monster probably inspired years ago by something I saw on Ikea Hackers. It's big and wide and has just a MacBook Pro on top. I'd share a photo but the surrounding area is messy now. Next time!
🦜 Share more with your team to emulate watercooler conversations
Problem: Watercooler serendipity
Solution: Be OK with being vulnerable and looking dumb
Still figuring out this problem as a remote employee. How do you emulate the spontaneous conversations that might occur around a watercooler in a normal office? It's hard to get that virtually. So a few things I try to include being vulnerable when communicating with the team.
We've set up a "random" channel in Slack that serves as a virtual watercooler of sorts. It's the channel where everyone is encouraged to share stuff that might be random, weird, dumb, or just interesting.
The text you type is permanent in Slack and that usually forces people to be more thoughtful and careful in their communication to not share ideas that might be the brightest. That's not what our random channel is about. In there I'm vulnerable and share whatever's floating around inside my head.
Sam's choice: Let your personality shine and share whatever weird stuff you find online. Even if nobody on your team adds a reaction on Slack 😞
Some of those moments in Slack.
🗣 Communicate with purpose
Remote collaboration tools try to replicate that feeling you get face to face, but they still fall short. And it's one area I haven't completely figured out yet. At Polarr, we use Slack for asynchronous and real-time text communication. We also have weekly meetings that take place through Zoom with the entire company. Though Slack video is still used for meetings between small groups of people. There's still no good way to collaborate on a whiteboard together and it's an area where we're exploring a few different tools.
Beyond the software we use, I try to communicate with a purpose to my colleagues no matter what the actual medium may be. When you communicate with purpose you're actively fighting to be as clear as possible and avoid any ambiguity with your ideas or feedback. It's the best way for a remote team to stay on the same page and not have to have a ton of back and forth in order to move forward.
Sam's choice: Words matter and I try to be as explicit as possible when communicating through messages. For anything that's complex or I think a visual explainer might help I'll use Loom. Loom obviously doesn't pay me to endorse them (yet), but I've recently started using their product and it's great at creating videos you can share with your team.
👨💻 Respect follows when your work speaks for you
Solution: Doing good work
This was an interesting thing to see in Ryan's blog post. It's not at all an obvious issue that remote employees might struggle with feeling respected for their work. I think the best way to shake that feeling of worrying about others judging your work is to just do good work. Good work will always speak for itself.
Sam's choice: This one is harder to articulate. But for me I know I'm doing good when I'm proud of it and excited to work on it. When I have those two emotions I know I'm doing good and never have stress about seeking respect or validation from my coworkers. Your passion will shine through your work.
Hey! You're still here, great! Thanks for reading. I'll leave you with my personal tips that I use to make remote work, work for me.
- Create a schedule and plan ahead. My favorite generic and super obvious tip. You'll be more productive when you know what your week and days will look like if you plan it out.
- No pajamas. Physically shifting from pajamas to "work" clothes shifts my mindset and gets me ready to be productive.
- Communicate with purpose. As listed above in dealing with communication. Always try to be clear when working with remote colleagues.
- Create work and home boundaries. This is for my mental health. Home is now a weird place that's both my sanctuary and place of employment. Create boundaries and respect them.
- Remove distractions from your workspace. Why set yourself up to fail when you could set yourself up to succeed? Put the Xbox out of your sight. And keep the cat out of your office.
- Mix up your work environment. Take advantage of being a remote employee and go to work somewhere else.
- Be active. No commute means you're probably not moving around a whole lot. Fight that sedentary lifestyle and join a gym or get a standing desk. Take short walks throughout the day.
- Set office hours and end the day. Again, I struggle with this one the most but it's so important. Set office hours and enforce them.