I'm a big fan of working remotely. I started working remotely as a side hustle in 2013. And I have been working remotely full-time for the last four years - first for another company and then full-time for my own company, Brainchild Studios.
I love it.
I think it's super productive, it provides the most flexible work/life balance you could ask for, you don't waste time commuting, you save money on lunches, you name it, I think it's great. I not only wrote a manifesto to the side hustle where I talk about all kinds of benefits of pursuing additional income (most of which is virtual), but I also created an entire online course about how to start your own virtual business.
However, I will say it's not for everyone.
But when a pandemic virus sweeps the world, you kind of have no choice to adapt, am I right?
Or am I right?
I know you've probably read 27 articles on how to work from home. That's all well and good. But I'm going to share all the tips I've gathered over the last seven years of not only working from home but managing people and managing a business from home as well.
9 Tips to Stay Sane & Productive While Working From Home
- Create a routine. It's easy for people to get comfortable and lose motivation when they're used to the mentality of "I'm at home, so it's time to relax." But that's not the case. Brew your own K-Cups and create a route. This is what my daily routine somewhat looks like:
- I wake up at 8am (because I usually go to bed at midnight and I learned the hard way that I need 8 hours of sleep to function).
- Sometimes I'll shower in the morning, but sometimes it might be in the afternoon, depending on the day's schedule.
- I always get up, put on clean clothes, wash my face, brush my teeth, take my vitamins, grab a fresh cup of water, a banana/quick breakfast, take it to my desk and begin my day.
- I usually break around 2-3pm to eat a super late lunch.
- Then I wrap things up between 6-8pm depending on the day.
- Then dinner. Then hanging out with my main squeeze.
- Bed by 1030/11pm. Duolingo lesson. Daily New York Times Mini-Crossword puzzle. Check Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
- Then read until I can't keep my eyes open anymore. Almost like clockwork - it's midnight.
- Set my alarm, turn on my white noise, pop in the earplugs. Sleep and repeat.
- Create workspaces. I oftentimes hear people say they can't find the space to focus when working from home. Totally get it. What I've found is you have to create little pockets for yourself. I have a home office, so I do 90% of my work at my standing desk with my large monitor and webcam set-up. However, whenever I'm doing big idea thinking or number-crunching that I can fit on my laptop monitor, I find myself often standing at our kitchen island for hours at a time. Or I might do thoughtful work while sitting cross-legged on our living room couch. On nice days, I love to write blog posts outside on our balcony. If I know I have to get a certain project done, I'll go to a coffee shop and not bring a charger, so I focus. Create pockets of space with certain rules attached to them. I promise it'll help with productivity.
- Embrace video conferencing. You might not think it makes much of a difference versus a phone call, but I strongly disagree. When I first started my virtual business, we just had weekly phone calls, but it didn't feel as communal. When we shifted to Zoom video conferencing, it changed EVERYTHING. It's a huge psychological shift when you can look someone in the eyes when you talk to them.
- Don't worry about what you look like. Seriously. For all internal calls, we just want to get stuff done. If you have a client call, maybe comb your hair and adjust your lighting, but seriously, no one cares. Plus you save so much time picking out your clothes, doing your hair/make-up, etc. Just wake up, take a shower, get to work.
- Shower. This is my daily rule. Even before self-quarantining was trending, there would be days that I didn't leave my one-bedroom apartment for three days at a time, but my one rule was that I would always shower every day. It's just a good regulator. So please, bathe.
- Take a lunch break. Even if it's at 2:30pm. It's easy to get wrapped up in working from home (because of the limited distractions) that you get rolling and bam, it's almost 3pm and you realize you're starving. Schedule in 20 minutes to walk into your kitchen, eat and not check email. It's a nice reset to get through the rest of your day.
- Move your body. I'm guilty of not doing this as often as I should, but don't do as I do, do as I say. It's really easy to get less than 2,000 steps in a day when your commute is 30 steps across your home. Don't sacrifice your health, make sure you keep your body moving. Even with the quarantine, stretch, do a few yoga poses or go for a walk outside. Bring your hand sanitizer and don't touch anyone. Get those steps in.
- Take a nap. Yup, I said it. If you're feeling that 3:30pm lull and you hit a brick wall. Take a 15-minute catnap. Now if you're a 2-hour napper, avoid naps. But if you're the cat-napper, do it. You'll wake up and be ready to take on the next few hours. It's so much better for your body than just chugging another cup of coffee.
- Utilize technology for quick answers. We use Slack for real-time communication. It's a game-changer. Instead of disrupting someone with a phone call or sending an email and waiting for hours for someone to see it, real-time communication apps like Google Hangouts or Slack are awesome for efficiency.
7 Tips on Managing Team Members While Working From Home
There are a number of businesses right that that are struggling to figure out how to transfer their brick and mortar traditional business model to the digital space. The biggest concern I've heard here is how to manage people and the business at large. Below are tips on how to manage your team while working remotely, below that are tips on how to manage your business while working remotely, and I'll be sharing a webinar on how to pivot your offline revenue sources online shortly.
- Create regular check-ins. Just like you would if you were in-person, create your weekly or daily check-ins and use Zoom to conduct them. Again, it's super important to continue building trust and relationships with your team by seeing their faces.
- Build your relationships. Kick-off meetings with a non-work question. How was their weekend? How are the kids doing with school? How are you - really? You're a human and they're a human. As a manager, it's your job to take care of the humans on your team, not just the employees.
- Set clear expectations. Don't assume anyone can read your mind or their expectations are the same as yours. Verbalize what you expect in terms of deliverables, communication standards, when they will be online and available, best forms of communication, etc. Be clear in your expectations of them as an individual and as a team member. When you set expectations up front, it creates freedom for each person to make it work for them and plan accordingly since everyone is on the same page.
- Don't micromanage. Everyone works differently and operates in different rhythms. This is even more amplified at home. So again, set clear expectations, deadlines, communication needs, etc. Then let them be.
- Manage your project management tool. Keep deliverables and approvals out of email. Make sure you're diligent about communicating in your project management tool, checking off boxes, tagging team members with notifications, etc. Keep all communication organized.
- Recognize success. Often times people will say that your team isn't looking for recognition with a raise necessarily (but it's always nice - right?), but more than anything, they just want to feel appreciated. So do that. Before we send out our monthly newsletter, we ask the team to share their "Team Kudos" for the month. Not only does our leadership actively participate in this, but it's amazing to see the kindness exuded from our team members to one another. It's really a game-changer. Make sure you're acknowledging your team for doing such a great job.
- Set your team up for success. Make sure your technology is in place, your expectations are clearly set, but also don't forget about the human aspect of all team members. Make sure to ask them what else they might need in order to be successful in this new environment. Any truly compassionate company shouldn't be trying to look at this as a one size fits all situation. Each person is different and may have different needs. I realize not all needs may be able to be met, but it's the right thing to at least ask and see what you, as a manager, can do to support your team.
5 Tips to Manage Your Business While Working From Home
If you're a small business owner and you're either starting a new virtual business or you're trying to adjust your traditional business model and bring it online, here are a few tips I've gathered over the last four years.
- Hire the right people. At Brainchild Studios, our number one core value is to prioritize people, and we believe that everything starts with people. If you don't hire people that have a hard work ethic and are trustworthy, you will have a hard time managing your business remotely. So start by hiring people who enjoy working from home, don't rely on their job/career for their social life, are self-motivators, are reliable, and will get work done without you having to micromanage.
- Utilize Google for Business. We run our entire business off of Google's GSuite. We use Gmail for Business, all of our files are stored in Google Drive and created with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms. This allows multiple team members to edit at the same time, increasing the speed at which projects get done and decreasing inefficiencies with numerous versions of the same document bouncing back and forth.
- Invest in communication technology. Aside from Google's GSuite, we use Asana as our project management tool, Zoom for all calls and video conferencing, Slack for real-time communication, and Mailchimp for email creation and distribution. That's it. Set up a project management tool and make sure everyone not only uses it but uses it the same way. Set up a cloud-based file management system. We keep project and file management systems separate so we have flexibility if we outgrow or want to pivot our project management, but so far we've been with Asana for almost three years and it continues to grow with us. Invest in real-time communication sources, so people can quickly pull up a desktop application and share file links, quick questions, morale lifting memes, and joke around together.
- Invest in financial and operational technology. We use Gusto to manage all of our human resource needs for employees and contractors, including distribution of monthly payments, management of benefits, 401k contributions, charitable donations, and more. Additionally, team members can self-manage their own preferences, profile updates, tax documentation, etc. We also use Xero to manage all finances, because it conveniently has an API integration with Gusto, which makes it much easier to manage our books.
- Focus on processes. As with any business, but especially with an online business, take the time to focus on process and documentation. Communication is key with all things, but when you run a business that doesn't require your team to sit next to one another, documenting the processes of your company is super important. This should include processes for your daily operations, sales and marketing, service/product creation/distribution, team interaction and engagement, and client service and engagement. Setting and effectively communicating these standards really helps to clearly paint the picture of your expectations of your team and also assists in making any potential team or client transitions much smoother.