Many of Modern Tribe’s team members are veterans of work from home (WFH) culture.
As a fully remote digital agency, we’ve been working, managing teams, communicating with clients, collaborating and creating incredible work while spread across area codes and time zones for more than 15 years.
To help new communities as they settle into working from home, we asked our 130+ team members for their best WFH advice. We’ve got suggestions to support organizations that have had to navigate the transition quickly, as well as tips for the long haul, as some businesses take this opportunity to reconsider their work from home policy.
We hesitate to call these “survival tips.” That implies there’s something to survive, while the opposite is true. There’s a lot to enjoy about working remotely: unprecedented flexibility, sunshine breaks, pants with elastic waistbands, coffee just the way you like it, freed-up commute time and much more. (Still, it is fun to think we’re like zombie fighters who have been living in the woods for a while and already know which mushrooms aren’t poisonous.)
The following suggestions are about more than surviving. They’re about thriving as a team in a distributed setup—for the short-term and long-term alike. First and foremost, for your own sake, get dressed. We’ll keep all our tip-givers anonymous: “Wear pants. Cameras can tip, or you could forget and stand up during a call…” (You know who you are.)
Keeping your work secure
“Definitely use a VPN when you’re working away from a trusted internet source, like your home wifi.”
Have an internet backup plan.
“I have an unlocked MiFi. I purchase a local sim card with data and keep it nearby. Make sure it’s always charged up. Comes in handy if the power cuts, too! You can also use your phone to tether, but bear in mind that some networks block you from tethering.”
Upgrade your home’s broadband.
“Worth every penny.”
Building a routine
Make your bed.
“I live in a one-bedroom apartment, and my workspace is also my bedroom. It’s a big help for me to make my bed in the morning before I start work… I find that it helps shift my bedroom to my office space mentally.”
Set a schedule at the beginning of each day.
Mac users might like Be Focused Pro, and we’re all kind of Pomodoro Technique and time blocking fanatics.
Create focus time slots during your day.
“Disable notifications during that period of time.” Some tools we like:
- Time trackers. “It’s not only good for getting paid accurately, but holds you accountable to do your work.”
- Screen Time for Mac. “For things like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—it will help protect you from distractions.”
- Cross-app office hour timers. “Use something like Clockwise to help schedule focus time. It’s hard to get work done in two-hour bites.”
- Noise-canceling headphones. “If you don’t have the luxury of an alternate space away from others when working from home, the use of headphones is a good way to advertise to others when you can and cannot be interrupted.”
Put e-v-e-r-y-thing on your calendar and stick to it.
We mean everything:
- Working hours. (You can set these in Google Calendar!) “Hold regular working hours, if possible. Starting and ending the day consistently creates a good rhythm, makes you more dependable and helps you avoid working into your personal time, like nights and weekends.”
- Family stuff. “I schedule my weeks ahead of time and plan around life. Schedule in kid stuff, exercise, etc. Then fill meetings in between and block out some work sessions on specific topics (not generic work sessions), which may be in the day or late at night.”
- Lunch time. “In a 9-to-5 environment, the time and duration for lunch was very rigid, and I always felt like I didn’t get quality work done after lunch. Now that I manage my own time, I like to take a longer break in the afternoon for lunch and make sure I really get recharged before jumping back into work.”
- Housework. “Don’t get tempted to do housework since you are home anyway. Set aside time before or after work focus time to devote to housework.”
- Quittin’ time. “There’s lots of advice around not getting distracted, but it’s just as important for people with my type of personality to stop working when it’s time, as the backlog is infinite.”
Creating a work environment at home
Find a room exclusively for work.
“I rarely use my desk if I’m not working. Even when I’m in the house alone, my office door is closed when I’m ‘at work.’ It’s like a signal to my brain to focus on work and not anything else.”
“Once work is done, close the door and enjoy the rest of your day.”
Use a desk.
“Avoid the sofa for ‘work’ at all costs.”
Experiment to find what you like.
“I actually do my best writing from a couch. I’d say understanding where you do your best work is more important than having a single traditional office setup.”
“For me, successful working from home is about structure and rhythm. Rhythm is knowing when to be on and when to be off. Success is achieved by being intentional about those on and off times. Scheduling, environment, routine, location, dress, signaling and, for me, even lighting, are ingredients that make for a good work-at-home recipe. It all reflects intentional decisions.”
Invest in a home office.
“If this looks long-term and you have little people in the house and are lucky enough to be able to dedicate a room to being an office, upgrade to a solid-core door and add therapist soundproofing to it.”
Get outside at least once a day.
“I made a rule that if I ask Google or my spouse what the weather is like more than once a day, I’m required to go find out for myself.”
Leave snacks in the kitchen.
“I make a point of not putting snacks in my office and leaving healthy foods out in the kitchen in case I roam there while on a call. It’s way better to mindlessly snack on some grapes than on a bag of M&Ms.”
“I do mobility work [stretching] before I start my work day and after lunch, if possible. Especially lower back, hips and hamstrings.”
“It’s amazing how little incentive there is to stand up when there’s no one around to bug you. Standing desks and walking treadmills are good options.”
Dealing with isolation (aka social distancing)
Make time for non-work-related interaction.
“Even if it’s as simple as drooling over photos and recipes in #cooking,” our food-related team Slack channel.
Use your video during calls.
“Zoom has virtual backgrounds in case life makes your space messy. No green screen needed.”
Schedule virtual team “outings.”
Working when others are in your home
Frame expectations and rules.
“Make sure anybody else who comes into your house knows your office rules. Your partner, your kids, anybody who happens to be working on your house, etc. Even the monthly exterminator, who has a key, knocks on my office door.”
Define communication preferences.
“Some people have a family Slack account instead of barging in to ask questions.”
“Whenever my husband wants to ask me something while I’m working, he’ll just stare at me for a few seconds. If I notice and ask him what’s up, he’ll tell me. If I don’t react or just shake my head no, he’ll text me the question for later.”
“Although family members may understand, rationally, that you’re actually working although you’re home, it can be very difficult for them to also understand that they can’t just barge in and start talking or asking questions every 10 minutes. You may have to use a stern tone of voice and a poker face to remind them you’re working and they’ve interrupted your focus. If they’re repeat offenders, you may ask them to text you their questions or inquiries instead of telling you IRL.”
Make remote work work for you. We can help.
So many industries are in the unfortunate position of closing their physical doors right now, but we can help open some virtual ones for you. Our team can help pivot your strategy, spin up new tech, or create new tools to help get you back on track quickly. We can also offer our expertise on how to find your rhythm as a distributed team and create a future-facing, intentionally flexible company.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up Q&A time with our leadership team. We can also coordinate a custom webinar for our crew to get together with yours and brainstorm potential solutions to your new challenges—all via video call, of course.