As technology connects us in new ways, more and more people and companies are discovering that they can work from just about anywhere with an internet connection. Remote work is becoming popularized for many reasons, one of which is the time it can save. Working outside of an office means skipping the commute, choosing any space you want, and making your own hours. It often comes with less distraction, and allows employees to tailor their days around when they’re most productive. It’s a time saver already, but there are many ways you can improve your remote team’s efficiency and learn how to work faster.
The onboarding process is important for all companies, but it is key for remote teams. Remote employees should have extensive onboarding to ensure that they know how they’re expected to communicate, when they should be available, and perhaps most critically, that they know how to use the tools the rest of the team is used to. Remote meetings will never run smoothly if one colleague can’t figure out how to enter the Google Hangout and another has himself on mute.
By foregoing a traditional office space companies save astronomical amounts on overhead. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should rely on remote employees to foot the entire cost of their home offices. An employee’s unreliable WiFi can end up wasting time and costing more money than it would for the company to just pay to upgrade it. Find out what your remote employees need to do their best work, and do what you can from there.
Showing up to work each day offers consistency, accountability and a clear distinction between work and home. But a body in an office doesn’t necessarily translate to work getting done. From chatty co-workers to overscheduled meetings, office buildings can offer more distraction than respite. While home offices may not offer the same social opportunities, they give you the uninterrupted space that allows you to get your work done quicker, leaving more time to socialize how you want. It’s up to you to design a space that will let you work at optimized speed. If you can’t stand background noise, a coffee shop probably isn’t for you. A living room might work perfectly for some, while others will find the familiar surroundings and close proximity to the TV a little too comfortable. We’ve seen everything from treadmill desks to coworking space memberships. The bottom line is finding what works for you.
Besides the mental clarity that comes with being able to physically shut a door and leave your work for the night, separating work and living spaces can do wonders to cut out distractions. If family members can be heard all around you, the dog is insisting you play fetch or that TV remote is just a little too tempting, you’d probably benefit from making your workspace a little more removed.
A big reason remote work is often more efficient than traditional office work is that when employees aren’t stuck in a building for a set number of hours, their time is theirs to use wisely or to waste, so they’re incentivized to get things done in a timely manner. When you know you can’t leave until five and will have to show up tomorrow at nine no matter what, it could be tempting to waste time perusing Facebook. But when all you’re faced with is a set of tasks, things tend to get done a lot faster.
That being said, scheduling your day around times when you tend to be the most motivated can speed up your work. If you’re not a morning person, a 10-6 schedule may work better, while others may prefer waking up at six a.m. in order to sign off by three. One trap that can be easy to fall into is pushing work off with the promise that you’ll make up for it later with a super long work day. This not only causes stress, it can lead to burnout. No matter when you do your work, putting aside the normal 8 or so hours a day is probably still your best bet.
Time is money. Do you really have to send that second email? Would another platform be more efficient? According to one study, most people spend over three hours each work day just checking their email. It’s easy to fall into habits without thinking, but assessing your modes and frequency of communication then weeding out some of the less than necessary ones can save you hours per day which, over the course of a year, can mean accomplishing a whole lot more.
For managers, a good place to start is to define the purpose of each platform your team uses. You don’t want to be searching through email, Slack and GChat just to find a single document. Designate one platform for inquiries that need urgent responses, and another for things that can wait a business day. That way employees won’t spend all day responding to emails that are less of a priority than their current projects.
Another tactic to avoid turning your job description into ‘email opener’ is to take time to completely ignore distractions, even if those distractions are your co-workers. When you’re working on a deadline or trying to get things done before the weekend hits, sometimes you need to prioritize the task at hand and tell your co-workers that they won’t be able to reach you for a few hours.
This one’s more of a perk than a tip, but one great thing about remote teams working across different time zones is that work gets done while you’re asleep. Imagine sending an email before you go to bed at night and returning to the office in the morning to find the task completed. Take advantage of employees in opposite time zones and assign work during their morning, so that it will get done before yours.
Learning how to manage remote teams has a lot to do with being strategic about remote meetings. That starts with thinking critically about whether you need a meeting, what its goals will be, and when it will pose the least interruptions to everyone’s work flow. Make sure you schedule it in advance, so everyone can plan, and delineate a clear start and end point. Lay out an agenda beforehand so you can remember to address each issue, and avoid spending too much time on one topic. A great way to save time during meetings is to trade verbal updates for written memos. People tend to be more efficient and articulate in their writing than their speaking, and by instructing everyone to read the memos before the meeting, you’re ensuring everyone shows up informed and prepared.