Remote Work: How to Focus and Collaborate Effectively from Home

—Ruth Christensen |
Remote Work: How to Focus and Collaborate Effectively from Home
Ruth Christensen,

As the world focuses on COVID-19, more organizations–including BrainStorm–are focusing on remote work as a way to minimize risk and keep employees healthy.

While working remote may not be possible in some instances, it can help flatten the curve of the pandemic.

But the benefits of a remote work strategy don’t just stop there.

For instance, Forbes reports that telecommuters are nearly 40% more engaged and productive than those who work only in the office. And most organizations are 21% more profitable if their workforce is at least part remote.

That said, just how do remote workers feel about their new reality in the COVID-19 era? We asked QuickHelp™ users about working from home under current circumstances. Here are their responses.

According to a BrainStorm poll, over 22% of respondents said they have never worked remote before.

Over 30% don’t believe they can be as productive at home as they can at the office.

Woman working on computer at home; image by Thought Catalog for Unsplash

Change isn’t always easy–and not everyone feels optimistic about working from home. Let’s explore why.

Common Challenges of Remote Work

In no particular order, our poll respondents listed the following perceived challenges about remote work:

  • Equipment (poor quality headset, lack of secondary monitor, etc.)
  • Physical access (lack of access to on-premise files, no print materials, no people nearby)
  • Distractions (kids at home, animals, television)
  • Collaboration (no face-to-face interactions or whiteboarding sessions)
  • Organic conversation (no hallway or water-cooler conversations)
  • VPN access (poor–or no–network connection)
  • Relationships (missing friendships and company culture)
  • Internet (poor bandwidth and speed)

Clearly, some of these potential obstacles should be addressed before workers head for home.

For example, if equipment is an issue, make sure leadership knows what accessories are mission-critical to you outside the office. More than likely, you’ll get what you need even before you leave the building. But don’t assume! Communicate clearly about your needs early on.

The same goes for VPN access and access to resources/files. Your IT team is probably already working on these issues. Ask about the expected timeline and your current options.

Once you have the necessary equipment, resources, and connectivity to work remotely, are you all set?

Not quite. But with a few common-sense strategies for productivity and collaboration, you will be.

Andreas Klassen for Unpslash: image of man on mobile phone next to a large whiteboard listing the word "Productivity"

Productivity Tips for Remote Workers

As referenced above, a number of people told us they believed they’d be less productive working from home.

In reality, motivation and productivity tend to ebb and flow no matter where work happens. That said, the following strategies are especially critical in a remote situation.

Use the Right Tools

How is everyone going to communicate and collaborate from home? The answer to this question may be less obvious than you think, especially if your organization owns multiple collaboration tools.

It might be Zoom. Or maybe WebEx, Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or something else.

At BrainStorm, we use Microsoft Teams for our virtual meetings, chat, calls, and day-to-day collaboration. Frankly, it’s a relief to know that everyone–no matter their role–will have a reliable connection whenever we need to collaborate across the organization.

Regardless of your preferred collaboration tools, just make sure everyone is on the same page. Which leads to the next point: clear communication.

(By the way, our change experts can also help you scale your software adoption efforts. Just ask!)

Photo of man talking on a mobile phone while overlooking a nature scene. Image source: Hassan Ouajbir via Unsplash.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Ever notice how easy it is to clarify a point of confusion when working onsite? Most of us walk over to a colleague and ask for that clarification. Bonus: we also benefit from body language and eye contact.

But all bets are off in a remote environment, especially if everyone is using multiple communication channels, as mentioned above.

Let’s face it–most of us think we are clear communicators. But all it takes is one long, rambling email message or unsubstantiated rumor on your intranet to prove otherwise.

Bottom line? Don’t assume everyone understands what you mean. Overcommunicate.

Establish Your Boundaries

Unless you live alone, you should expect some distractions while working from home. (Not that this is news; there are plenty of distractions at the office, too).

But a remote situation can be challenging if all the kids and pets are also at home–which is why you need to set a few boundaries.

Physical boundaries

First, consider your physical boundaries. Where’s the best place to get work done at home?

If your wireless connection is strong enough, you can set things up nearly anywhere. Even a large closet may be okay if that’s what it takes to get away from distractions. If not–or if you need to work in the same room with kids–your options may be limited.

To improve the situation, bring along something that improves your sense of calm and focus. It might be noise-canceling headphones, a ‘happy light,’ nearby plants, or a soft rug under your feet. The point is–if it helps you, use it.

TIP: Let managers know what challenges you face at home. They may be able to give you some flexibility or offer helpful suggestions.

Psychological boundaries

Next, consider your psychological boundaries. Have you communicated your needs to your significant other and kids? It’s up to you to set the limits on your time. For instance:

  • Whenever possible, schedule meetings and calls at a time when you know other household members will be busy.
  • Share your calendar with everyone in the household. If needed, highlight your focused time periods in red.
  • If your workspace has a door, close it and attach a sign (“Closed” means leave me alone; “Open” means come in if needed).
  • Schedule regular breaks when you can stop what you’re doing and interact with others.
  • Discuss the reasons why a household member should/shouldn’t interrupt you.

Of course, you might expect children to push back against your boundaries. But without a clear expectation in place, you’ll be tempting fate. So, be clear about your expectations.

Image source: Christina @Wocintechchat.com via Unsplash, photo of smiling woman wearing yellow headphones while working at a laptop computer near a large window.

Enjoy Some Face Time with Colleagues

While working remotely is good for most people, the isolated environment can challenge extroverts, who thrive on being social. Heck, even introverts can benefit from seeing a friendly face periodically during the workday.

We’ve already discussed scheduling some time with family during your day–and the same holds true for quality time with your team. Don’t go crazy here; you should still plan plenty of alone time. But you’ll benefit from a balance.

So, how can you boost your team and company culture from home?

At BrainStorm, most of us hold meetings in Microsoft Teams, which lets us quickly touch base with fellow team members. Also, we always turn on our laptop cameras so we see everyone face to face. That little detail helps us really feel connected from afar.

If you’re using Teams, you can also blur your background during a Teams meeting–which helps others focus on you, not on the dog in the background (of course, you can also mute your microphone if the dog wants to participate).

Need to step outside for a breath of fresh air? Take the Teams mobile app along. You can join a meeting or have a face-to-face call while you’re out and about.

For a blog post on Remote Work: Photo of woman's hands next to a blank notebook, eyeglasses, and an open laptop. Image source: STIL via Unsplash

Vary Your Remote Work Routine

The good news is, greater focus and productivity can be had by working remotely–at least, that’s the opinion of 86 percent of remote workers. And the general consensus is that video collaboration actually improves people’s sense of purpose and teamwork.

Good news. Just don’t forget to vary your routine. After all, no one wins if you get in a rut or forget to take breaks.

Follow these five tips for changing your daily routine to stay focused and on task:

Switch your location

Work for a while from your patio if it’s pleasant weather. Sit in a comfortable chair or at the kitchen table. Take a call while walking around. Whatever you do, change it up!

Rotate your routine

To stay engaged and reduce burnout, look into scheduling meetings and calls on alternating days. Or rotate your to-do list during the week.

Block out time

Even if you can’t go to your regular gym appointment during lunch, block out free time on your calendar so co-workers know when you’re unavailable. The same goes for a short meditation break or afternoon walk. Feel more productive from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.? Talk to your manager about changing the schedule.

Turn off notifications

If you haven’t already noticed, dealing with distractions is harder in a COVID-19 climate.

If you keep checking social media for the latest updates, take a deep breath and put your phone in ‘do not disturb’ mode. Need more quiet time to focus on an important project? Go into the Do Not Disturb mode in Microsoft Teams, as well.

Set smaller goals

That big project you’ve been working on for weeks? Break it down into manageable subtasks that you can knock out in a day or two. This strategy not only helps you check one more thing off your list, but it also gives others visibility into the project.

To keep things interesting, try timing some of your shortest tasks. Not only will you work more productively, but you’ll also keep energized during the day.

These are just a few things you can do to stay focused and productive at home. Visit the BrainStorm homepage for more tips on remote work.

Trying to scale software adoption while working remotely? Here’s how to get started.

When Ruth first arrived on the scene at BrainStorm, she made an impression with her homemade cheesecake bars. Besides baking, Ruth loves to serve up delicious marketing content, read classic novels, and shop for wild-looking shoes.
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