10 things we learned working from home

Not many of our clients know this, but the Pronk Media team has been working remotely since 2010!

Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about how to work effectively with a distributed team, and wanted to share some of what we learned. Read on for our top 10 tips!

Don’t try to replicate the office

Localized teams can accomplish a lot in large meetings featuring impromptu conversations and check-ins.

But expecting team members to be continuously available via live chat or live stream, or for group video conferences often leads to increased stress and lost productivity.

Remote work offers a chance to evaluate what works best to foster workplace happiness and productivity.

Try replacing as many meetings as possible with focused written status reports and limit your video meetings in number and duration.

Trust your team

It is common to think that we must know what our team is doing at all times.

But if you can’t trust your team to work effectively without continuous supervision, you may have deeper problems that will not be resolved through micromanagement.

In our experience, when you extend your trust to your team, they will value that trust and produce better work.

Know when to call meetings – and who to invite!

As a rule, meetings are not needed unless an issue cannot be adequately addressed in writing. In most cases, a write-up will work just as well.

Having said that, there is one real bonus to meetings: social connection. So try sending a written status report and using your 15 minutes of meeting time to find out what everyone did on the weekend, and how your team’s families are doing.

If you do have to meet, keep your meetings to fewer than 5. More than that, and the latency on the call can make it hard to have a coherent conversation. Our best meetings typically have only 2-3 people in them!

Give yourself (and your team) time to transition to remote work

If you have recently switched to remote work, don’t expect the team to be perfect right off the bat. It will take time for everyone to adjust, especially considering many families have their kids home from school.

You may find it useful to appoint a “remote work leader”, who will take the lead on educating themselves and the team about remote work best practices. Consider forming a mini book club to learn about remote work best practices.

Keep the team focused

To help your team focus, make sure you create the best possible work environment. Projects often run best when team members have a high level of autonomy and feel trusted. The size of project teams also matters – smaller teams make it easier to get work done. Overall, team members should feel well taken care of.

One easy way to ensure your team stays engaged is to initiate interesting and engaging projects for the team to work on.

Use the right tools

There are really only a few tools needed in order to work well together remotely.

First, establish a single location for all project files and documentation. Since we are dealing with thousands of fairly large files on a regular basis, we have set up our own remotely-hosted server to store all files. However, there are many great tools available, including Google Drive and Dropbox.

Next, establish a reliable task management strategy. Since we work with a wide range of clients, we’ve successfully used many task management tools, ranging from Smartsheets, to Asana, to plain old Google Spreadsheets.

Another useful tool that we’ve found helpful when communicating remotely is loom.com. It makes it easy to send screen-share videos.

Respect your team’s attention

Avoid continually checking in with your team. When you do message them, don’t have the expectation of an immediate response. Expecting an immediate response implies that the work you’re doing is more important than whatever they are working on. If your request is not urgent, make sure to communicate this in order to help the recipient manage their time.

Most of the time, chat is not the right tool for communication. It’s too distracting. Instead, try to put the majority of your requests as tasks in your task management software. This will also drastically cut down on the amount of email your team receives. Make sure to spend time trying to find the answer to your question yourself before messaging your team.

Don’t share calendars

Don’t share your calendar – even internally! It’s a bit radical, we know, but not sharing makes it easier for people to stay in control of their time.

We like that it takes a certain amount of work to schedule group meetings. This helps ensure that only really important calls make it onto our calendars.

Cancel Brainstorming Meetings

At Pronk, we don’t have live group brainstorming sessions. We have tried it before, but found we rarely came up with our best ideas this way.

Good creative ideas often take time to develop. Allowing individuals a few days to work on an idea will generally lead to more considered and creative solutions than those generated in a one-hour meeting. Also, team members may be uncomfortable speaking up in such open sessions, and their ideas will be lost.

We find it much more effective to encourage team members to brainstorm their own ideas individually and then share their ideas via email. We may then schedule a follow-up meeting for questions and further exploration.

Dealing with isolation and anxiety

One of the biggest challenges of working remotely is feeling isolated. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and even depression if not properly managed.

We recommend two strategies to address it: 

  • First, try to do some form of exercise every day! (Easier said than done, we know)
  • Second, remember that while we need to distance ourselves physically, we don’t need to distance ourselves socially! In fact, it is important to your mental health to connect with friends and family at least once a day via chat or Facetime