If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to work remotely, now’s the time to find out.

In recent days there’s been a deluge of blogs written about remote work. We’ve long been a remote-first company and have kept up with the brilliant and original thoughts that’ve been shared lately (and have a few ideas of our own).

Whether you’re new to working from home, or you’re a veteran in need of some new ideas, this should help you make sense of it all a bit more. Here’s what we know about being healthy and productive during this period of increased home working.

Maintaining your health

Before you even start thinking about tech and business solutions, you’ve got to focus on your health. Without that, nothing else really works.

During times of isolation, the link between mental and physical health becomes even stronger than usual.

So now’s the time to focus on the basics.

Develop a routine - as tempting as it is to just do things whenever you feel like it, you can’t rely on feelings because they’ll often make the wrong decisions for you. Instead, make sure you’re sleeping and waking at the same times each day, and scheduling all your tasks as you would before. That includes meetings, admin, creative work, and other work stuff, but also personal tasks, like getting showered and dressed in the morning, doing physical exercise, eating and resting. Use your calendar and stick to it.

Keep your body moving - every 30 minutes, walk a few laps around the room, do some stretches, waggle your arms - whatever you need to get your heart beating a bit faster. A quick refresher like this can do you wonders, giving you a mental breather that’ll help you focus better afterwards.

Eat proper food - try to eat healthily as much as possible. While food supplies are a bit disrupted at the moment, it can be tempting to constantly snack or just eat noodles and ready meals. Fresh veg & fruit at proper mealtimes will give your brain the fuel it needs to do your best work.

Vary your workspace - while it’s important to carve out a workplace in your home, like a desk or place at the dining table, if you’re working from a laptop you should make use of it. You can do short periods of work standing up at the kitchen counter, on top of a chest of drawers in the bedroom, or even in the bathroom if you have space! Working from the sofa is possible, but it’s easy to fall out of the working mentality if it’s the same space you normally relax.

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Communicating with colleagues remotely

This is something we’ll all figure out as time goes on - as a business community and as a society. Currently, the business world is relying heavily on Zoom and Google Hangouts for video calls, and it won’t be too surprising to see outages and downtime as this trend grows. That’s not a dig; these companies are doing a great job keeping up with a huge influx of new users. As infrastructure is scaled up, hopefully it’ll become less of an issue.

So there’s a few different ways to do this, and you’ll need to strike a good balance between them to stay happy and productive.

Daily check-ins

This is a great idea for small teams. A quick 10-15 minute call in the morning to share what you’re working on for the day gets everyone in the mood to work. It’s the kind of necessary social interaction that keeps us sane; just like walking into the office and saying hello to everyone.

Longer meetings

You’ll also need to join in larger (or longer) team meetings to discuss projects and have more productive discussions. During these it’s important to make it a seamless and comfortable process for everyone.

Here’s a few tips on making your video calls smooth and free of distractions.

  • Mute yourself when the meeting leader is talking - otherwise the whole group will hear your dog barking, children yelling, or other various sounds. If you’re new to videoconferencing, look out for the microphone icon 🎙 and click it - there’s usually a line through it when mute is active.
  • Make yourself presentable - that means sitting somewhere there’s plenty of light. Make sure the light source is in front of you, not behind you. Also, of course, get dressed and brush your hair. It’ll put you in the mood for work.
  • Charge your headphones and gadgets beforehand - if you’re using wireless bluetooth headphones, you can’t usually charge them while using them.

Ad-hoc fun meetings

Socialising and connecting is hugely important now, so it’s a great idea to schedule some non-work chat in place of everyday water-cooler conversations.

You could have a half-hour chat on any random topic to keep people’s spirits up:

  • Your favourite albums of the 90s
  • Which fictional character would win in a fight?
  • Would you rather…

Or you can have a virtual pub quiz, or play a virtual board game. More ideas like these (as well as services to enable them) will spring up as time goes on.

Scheduled time away from talking about business or global issues will be a real boost to people’s spirits.

Asynchronous communication

If a workplace chat system is available, you’ll probably use something like Slack or Microsoft Teams.

If you’ve not used them before, you’ll have to get up to speed with the etiquette of messaging. Expectations will differ between teams and companies, but you’ll have to think about how appropriate it is to message everyone at a time (rather than individual people) or if sending notifications to people to get their attention is okay.

It’s a good idea to talk openly about these expectations early on, so everyone’s on the same page and conflicts are less likely to occur.

As for email, almost everyone’s used it before and it’s unlikely to change much as we switch to remote. That said, people have different expectations on how long you should take to reply. There’s no rules, but just bear in mind that some folks treat email as a form of chat, and going without a reply for a few hours won’t sit well.

Again, try to open up the conversation here for clarity, and if you’re a manager, consider writing a short policy on what everyone should expect from their digital behaviours.

Finally, remember to clock off. We all need rest and recuperation, especially in challenging times, so don’t be tempted to do any unpaid overtime by answering work emails out of hours.

For more tips on working remotely, have a look at Gitlab’s Remote Work Starter Guide, and check in with us again for more remote work thoughts in the near future.