The Beginner's Guide to Remote Work

4 Lessons I've learned in 5 years since going Remote.

In one short year, everything has gone remote.

Conferences are virtual, groceries are delivered, and the vast majority of the world is working from the comfort or misery of their own homes. Remote work is here to stay, and it offers an opportunity to change.

With that change comes a chance to increase your well-being and happiness.

Stop Living at Work 🔕

Always-on is great for databases, but not for you.

Without water cooler conversations, drive-by chats, and impromptu conference room shuffles, people stay up-to-date and available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Emitting a constant green status icon, promptly opening and refreshing your inbox, and treating direct messages like the closing of a million-dollar deal means you’re plugged in, but not productive. It’s also the quickest way to burn out. Your output isn’t in hours anymore and your promotions are not dependent on how quickly you reply to your manager’s emails.

People didn’t expect you to work while driving and they don’t expect you to while chasing your toddler either. It’s okay to put yourself in maintenance mode at the end of the day.

Be available, but not always available.

Write Letters instead of DMs ✉️

As I once heard the legendary Anchorman narrator once say, “The times..they are a changin.

Being remote makes communication different but not difficult. If it were difficult many of us wouldn’t be suffering from digital overload brought on by the onslaught of digital communication.

Communication is a full-time job, 😨 largely in part because of the overreliance on synchronous communication.

Herein lies your first major challenge as a remote worker, changing the way you communicate.

Within the walls of an office, digital communication was reserved for what was important. Now everything from business plans, late-night deployment chats, and pictures of everyone’s cats is in the same tool. It’s overwhelming. Not only is it overwhelming, but it’s also a huge time suck. Replies quickly devolve into a game of ping-pong that you get stuck in for hours.

Remote work requires a different type of communication, reply as if you’re writing a letter.

Write your messages as if you expected a twenty-four-hour delay. Include all the necessary and relevant information right in the email. Proactively attempt to answer follow-up questions they might have and make actions clear, maybe even bold them.

Also, please don’t just say hello in chat1.

Schedule Your Check-ins 🕰️

Constantly checking in has a much higher cost than you realize.

Research says that on average it takes about 23 minutes to regain focus after being distracted. At first, that seems absurd, but if you think about it, it’s not really. Imagine you’re debugging a complex function within a large and messy code base, then you get a DM.

You shift your focus from the code to write a quick reply. Even if that reply is “thanks”, you’ve lost touch with what you were doing. Going back to the code, you’ll find yourself rereading a bunch of lines to reload the logic into your working memory.

It might not take you a full 23 minutes to start working again, but it does take that long to fully immerse yourself in the code again. Take advantage of the unique opportunity remote work offers.

Shut off communication by closing just a few apps. No one will be offended. They probably won’t even notice.

Ignore the productivity gurus that say “don’t check-in until noon”. Begin with an interval that’s comfortable for you.

Start with every hour, that’s far better than a constant green status icon.

Structure is Key and Planning is Required 🗓️

Don’t become a Zoom Zombie, take control of your calendar2.

Planning shows you what needs to be done, but structure gets it done.

Remove the need to constantly make decisions by making a list. You don’t need to become an obsessive productivity nerd (like me) either. Use a stack of plain text files, a Kanban board, or go all out and get a bullet journal. At first, the method doesn’t matter, what’s important is establishing the habit of thinking about the day ahead.

Having a clear structure to work in is completely different from making plans about something (Sönke Ahrens, 2017)

Use your planning method to keep track of two types of tasks, important work, and urgent work. Important work has an outcome that leads to achieving a goal, professional or personal. Urgent work demands immediate attention and is normally associated with achieving someone else’s goal, your boss’s, probably.

Important work requires uninterrupted blocks for focus and immediate rarely means ”instantaneous”.

Structure your day around these two types of work, by putting into practice the concept of Maker’s time and Manager’s time. Block off your best high-energy hours for Maker’s time and leave what’s left for Manager’s time.

With great autonomy comes great responsibility, use it to create an ideal day.

Until next time,

Josh Duffney