How to work and manage from home
November 2020 Update: It’s looking like a lot of us are going to be leaving the office once again, or perhaps haven’t even been back at all, so we’ve updated this blog with some new things we think are important.
Working from home has become the new norm for many of us, and it’s not without its challenges, especially when it comes to teamwork! Thankfully, the adjustment hasn’t been as difficult for us at Silver Lining. We’ve always offered WFH (acronym of the year) days to our team and often work remotely with freelancers too. Here are some of our top tips and recommendations to keep your team productive and motivated!
Death by video conference
Maintaining contact between the team is perhaps one of the most important factors when it comes to working from home. Team briefings over video chat can be extremely useful, but be careful not to overdo them lest they become tedious and stop people from actually getting on with their work. As well as providing necessary project updates and announcements, we like to encourage daily chat and dare I say… work banter.
Slack: One of the most popular professional messengers, Slack allows you to create separate channels for different things, allowing you to easily sort and find messages related to a specific project. It’s great to encourage some daily chatter amongst the team, and Slack allows that to be separated from the more important messages.
Skype: That’s right, we’re a bit old school in this regard. Whether it’s quick voice calls between our team or an update to a client, Skype is great as it’s quick and easy to share a screen and show off work, troubleshoot problems, and provide feedback on work. The added benefit is that most people have an account already.
Zoom: This has become one of the most widely used platforms for video conferencing, and it would be hard to avoid using it! It’s good for team meetings as it allows a dedicated speaker to control the chat room and allows easy screen sharing. We’d advise setting up a password for your meetings, though, to avoid being zoom-bombed!
One of the biggest difficulties in managing a project remotely is just that, project management. When done effectively, it allows most team members to get on with their work independently and record how their time is spent. It may be tempting to take a big brother approach here, but we find trust and responsibility work much better.
Asana: This is our choice for project management. There are plenty of options for assigning tasks and subtasks, each with a space for comments and attachments, which is great for getting feedback on work or getting clarification. Each team member can view their own task list pulled from all their active projects, so it’s easy to know what to get started with. Bonus points for animated unicorns when you complete a task.
The free version provides most of the functionality, with some premium features like task priorities behind a reasonable pay wall.
Toggl: For simple time tracking, this is what we recommend. Being web-based, it’s easy to use and allows individuals to be assigned to the projects they are working on. Reporting is great and gives a good overview of how time is spent.
Timecamp: is what we use, as it provides a more detailed breakdown of how time is spent, and the desktop timer automatically records which applications are being used. Time and productivity reports are detailed and easy to read. We don’t expect 100% productivity or look at the breakdown too closely here, but it’s useful to set broad targets and flag problems.
Rou-tine or not Rou-tine
Maintaining a regular workday routine can help you stay motivated and normalise the change.Keeping to regular work hours is great if possible, but many people have children to care for and may not be able to. It can be helpful to agree on a few overlapping core hours where everyone is working and then allow people to allocate the remaining time themselves.
If possible, it’s best to have a separate desk space just for work; if not, the dining table can work too, and avoid working in bed or on the sofa.
The morning routine can be taken further to replicate a usual day at the office and get you in the right mindset. Making a cup of coffee in a flask and taking a short walk around the block or nearby park before starting work can help create a distinction between work and home life.
One of the biggest barriers to working effectively can be not having access to shared files. Thankfully, we live in the age of the cloud, and there really aren’t many excuses.
Google Drive, DropBox, and OneDrive are all excellent options for storing files remotely and giving the right people access to them.
Google Docs is our choice for sharing and collaborating on documents, spreadsheets, and slideshows.
We also have our own Network Attached Storage (NAS) system that stores all of our large project files and provides direct remote access for users, so there are no unwanted duplications or updated files being missed. These can be more work to setup and have a larger upfront cost, but prove invaluable for our workflow.
Working on the sofa while hunched over a laptop is an easy trap to fall into, as well as a dangerous one.Having poor ergonomics might not just give you a bad back; it can make your productivity take a real hit too. Thankfully, there are a few really simple and affordable ways to ensure your posture doesn’t suffer.
Screen height – This is one of the big ones and will stop you craning your neck or hunching over. As a rule of thumb, the centre of the screen should be level with your eyes. If you’re using an external monitor, make sure it’s a comfortable distance away and maybe prop it up on some books to raise the height. If you want something more long-term, adjustable monitor arms are a fantastic and affordable solution. If you are on a laptop, it could be worth investing in a laptop stand, which will not only raise the screen height but also angle your keyboard better.
Chair. If possible, nothing beats an office chair designed with ergonomics in mind, but when working from home, we can be a bit restricted. Your chair height should be adjusted so that your arms rest at a 90-degree angle when on the table in front of you. If you need any additional lumbar support, there are strap-on chair supports, which can often be much cheaper than a whole new chair.
Mouse and Keyboard: If you have the space, it is usually more comfortable to use an external mouse and keyboard with a laptop, which opens up more options for comfort. I’m a big fan of vertical mice, which feel a bit strange to hold at first but have helped reduce my RSI. Sometimes a palm rest in front of the keyboard can help too.
Get Stretchin’: For me personally, one of the biggest improvements is when I simply get up and move around more. Try setting an hourly reminder to stand up and stretch arms, legs, and hips.
There may be some overlap between good ergonomics and making your work environment comfortable, but to me, they are two distinct concepts.Wherever you’ve set up your home workspace, it’s worth making sure you like being there. Try to keep the room well lit, especially in the dark hours of winter. Placing a light behind your screen can help reduce eyestrain, and a warmer light is much nicer on a grey day.
There’s a reason most offices have a few plants, and it can help to add some to your workspace! Not only does it add a splash of colour and nature to the room but some varieties can help improve air quality too.
Whether it’s noisy neighbours or a noisy family, one of the hardest parts of working from home can come from unwanted sounds. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones can work wonders at reducing distraction!
Hopefully these small tips on our workflow have been helpful. If you have any suggestions or think we’re doing things all wrong, drop us a message on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!