Remote-Working: Sharing What We Have Learned

At Blurt, our entire team works remotely and flexibly. We always have – in fact, we’ve never actually met one another in person. With so many companies having to transition their workforce to a remote-working one, we thought we’d create a guide of the things we’ve learned over the years.

Setting Up A Home Workspace

The space around us when we’re working can have a big impact on our mood.

Where possible, try to work somewhere with natural light, and a bit of peace and quiet.

We’re all different when it comes to background noise. Some of us find the radio helpful. Others concentrate best in complete silence. Some like music or a podcast. Working out the sort of background noise that suits us can help us to manage our mood, anxiety, and workload. If there’s a lot of noise around us, then we might find noise-cancelling headphones helpful.

If we have a room that we can dedicate to ‘work’, then we might find it helpful to pop documents that we refer to a lot, or some positive messages, on the walls around us. For those of us who are renting or don’t want to mark the walls, a corkboard or strings can be held up with command hooks, and documents or reminders can be pinned or pegged onto those.

Many of us will have our heating set around our work times but might not have it come on during the day. It’s helpful to check the settings on our thermostat or make sure that we have some blankets in or extra layers on because it’s hard to do our best work if we’re chilly.

It can also be handy to upgrade your wi-fi if you’re in a position to do so, wi-fi that keeps dropping out is a frustration and a distraction.

Remote Working Deskspace

If we have a desk and chair, think about the height and position of the chair, the angle of our keyboard, and how we’re sitting. This can help to prevent uncomfortable cramps, aches, and pains.

Keeping our desk, or workspace, as clean and tidy as possible can help it to feel calm and in control. If we’re forever hunting around for a pen, we’re likely to get frustrated regularly. Readily available pens, pencils, paper, and anything else we need are important when setting up our workspace.

Some of us might find that increased screen use starts to give us sore eyes or headaches. Adjusting our screen brightness and the warmth of our screen can help with this. It might be possible to put a blue light filter on our screen, wear glasses that filter out blue light, or set our laptop to respond to the amount of light in the room.

If we’re a pet owner, then working with a cat on our knee or dog snoozing at our feet can be a lovely bonus of remote-working. Unfortunately, our cat might keep trying to type messages to our boss, or our parrot might keep joining in with our video conferences. If this happens then we might choose to shut them out of the room we’re working in at certain times.

Insurance

If we need to buy or borrow expensive items, it’s always good to check whether they need to be covered by our contents insurance. If they do, then we’ll need to speak to our provider. When buying home insurance, many providers will ask about whether we ‘conduct business’ from our home. For many of us, the answer will be ‘no’ despite working from home, as it usually only applies where people are coming in and out of our house. But if in doubt, always double-check.

The Apps We Use For Remote Working And Why

There are so many different apps available, each promising to solve different work-specific problems.

It can be tricky to cut through the noise. We want to ensure that the apps we use allow us to do what we need to do. But we don’t want so many apps that messages get lost and we spend more time checking different pages than we do on our job.

Here are the main ones we use at Blurt, and why we use them:

  • Slack: This is our main way of communicating as a team. Slack offers instant messaging between everyone who works for Blurt. As well as private messaging (which can be 1:1 or in a group), Slack offers the ability to have different channels. Each channel is created for a specific purpose, and only includes the members of the team that it’s relevant to. Channels we have at Blurt include #ineedanear (for those times we need some emotional support), #teamblurt (for team-wide updates), #watercoolerchat (to replace the chat that happens naturally in a physical workplace), #nicestuff (if you’ve sent us a kind letter, been lovely to us on social media and/or championed us in an email, we post your redacted nice-ness in this channel – it really motivates us), and #weeklydebrief (we all post a weekly debrief at the end of our working week and make sure we all reply to one another).
  • Trello: We tend to use Trello for project planning. We have one board for each project, including one for editorial, one for each month’s BuddyBox, and one for managing the schools we work with through The Blurt Peer Project. Each board has columns, and in each column is a list of cards. Columns offer a way of organising cards, for example in editorial we have a ‘planned’, ‘written’, ‘edited, and ‘published’ columns. Cards tend to hold a specific task, for example, each blog post has its own card. Cards can contain ‘to do’ lists, which can be copied across to other cards if relevant. There’s also the ability to upload documents and images, set deadlines, and to comment on cards.
  • Gmail: We use Gmail for email, our team and individual calendars, and Google Docs when we’re working on projects and need the input of more than one person.
  • Harvest: This is a time-tracking app. As well as tracking our time, it allows us to record our time as being part of specific projects and working on specific tasks. This allows us to manage how much time we spend on different projects. We can reflect on how long we spend on each activity we do and adjust our work accordingly. For example, if we notice that we’re spending an unproportionate amount of time on answering emails then we could look at ways to reduce this, such as by creating some canned responses.
  • Timetastic: This is an app that we use for requesting annual leave, and recording absences such as compassionate leave.
  • Asana: The ultimate ‘to do’ list app. This allows us to create tasks, to assign them to certain people, and to set specific tasks as ‘recurring’ so that we don’t have to remember them each week or month because it does so for us. It also has the capability to group tasks under specific projects.
  • Dropbox: All the work we do is stored in Dropbox. It allows us to access files quickly and easily wherever we are. It also backs everything up so that if one of our laptops breaks then we avoid losing loads of work.
  • Zoom: At times when we need to meet face-to-face, rather than having meetings over Slack, we use Zoom. Zoom allows us to have face-to-face meetings between two or more people. This is especially good for things like quarterly reviews and meetings with our partners.

Communication

Communication is different when we work remotely. In some ways, it’s easier. For example, things are often written down, so we can refer back to them if we’ve forgotten something someone said.

In some ways, it’s harder. Unless we’re video-calling, we miss facial expressions and body language. It can be easier to hide our true feelings. We don’t ‘see’ what our colleagues are doing, so our team can begin to feel fragmented. We might start to feel out of touch.

Being aware of any difficulties we’re facing when it comes to communication is the first step towards overcoming them. Once aware of difficulties or problems we’re having, we can adjust the way we do things in response.

Staying On Track

Checking-in at the beginning of each week can help us to stay on track with our goals. We might share our plans for that week, company performance from the previous week, and any upcoming changes related to that.

Asking each team member to do a weekly debrief helps us to stay in the loop as a team. It gives us space to ask for help with anything we’re struggling with. We include things that went well, didn’t go so well, things we’ve learned, and our plans for the upcoming week.

Being honest when we haven’t understood something, learning to ask for help when we need it, and respecting one another’s boundaries are important parts of communication. It can take a while to get used to explicitly writing some of the things that go unsaid when talking face to face. For example, when in an office, it’s usually clear when someone is stressed. When working remotely, we can’t see that, so we have to tell our colleagues if that’s the case. It’s important to check in with our colleagues to see how they’re doing, too.

Remote Working And Self-Care

Self-care is mega important.

Hygiene is something that can slip. When we’re not leaving the house much, it’s easy to think ‘it’s cold and a lot of effort… a shower can wait until tomorrow’. A loose shower and hair wash routine can help us to keep washing regularly.

When remote-working, it’s tempting to stay in our PJs. This can blur our work-home boundaries. It’s important to get dressed every day even if we’re a little less formal than we would be in the office. Additionally, if we’re video-calling, our clothes need to be work-appropriate (and not just our top-half; we don’t want to be in a situation where we need to stand up but can’t without showing everyone our pyjama bottoms – we’ve learned this one from experience!).

Some of us might enjoy things like shaving, doing our hair or make-up, and painting our nails. It might seem pointless to do these things when we’re staying at home. But if we enjoy them, they help us to feel good, and they get our head into ‘work mode’, then there’s nothing wrong with continuing to do them.

Sometimes when we go from office-work to remote-working, our coffee or tea intake shoots up. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on our caffeine intake because it can have a big impact on our anxiety.

It can be easy to go hours without drinking anything at all. Having a (filled up!) water bottle or bottle of squash by our desk can make it easier to keep our fluid levels up. We might also find it helpful to set drink-some-water prompts on our phone or our laptop.

The food we eat can impact our mood. Continuous snacking is often a temptation. There’s nothing wrong with snacking when we’re hungry. But a balanced diet will help our mood and concentration.

All of the apps in our apps list work with a tool called Zapier – Zapier is super useful for automating tasks and we use it in lots of our processes, but also, you can use it to create alerts to remind you to have a break, make a drink, or stretch your legs.

Remote Working Routine

Routine can be beneficial for our mental health. Work often forms a key part of this. It encourages us to go to bed and wake up at reasonable times, stay on top of our washing, having a morning and evening routines, and meal-plan. Working from home doesn’t mean that we have to stop these routines. Our commute might have changed, but the majority of our routines don’t have to. We can always create new routines to fit with our new working style, too.

We tend to use Asana to add ‘self-care anchors’ to our daily tasks list; meditate, gratitude lists, medical appointments, take medication/supplements, etc.

Fresh Air And Exercise

When remote-working, we miss the fresh air of our commute, and any we get throughout our usual working day. Opening a window, spending time in our garden and, if we’re able to, going for walks around the block can give us a good dose of oxygen as the day goes on.

For some of us, exercise can be a key part of maintaining our mental health. If we’re someone who walks, runs or cycles to work, then we might be concerned about fitting our exercise in. We could explore some local routes and walk, cycle or run before or after work each day. If we can’t leave the house, then we could look at exercises we can do either in our garden or indoors. We could follow an exercise DVD or some online videos, invest in an exercise machine or wobble board, use a games console, or consider trying out new exercises like yoga or pilates.

Boundaries

When remote-working, we need strong boundaries, or we end up doing home-related things during work time and work-related things in our ‘home’ time. Making a timetable at the start of each week, factoring in any existing commitments, can help us to feel clear about the times we’ll be working, and to communicate those times to our work team and those we live with.

Unfortunately, sometimes when we work from home, those we live with might interrupt us. If we don’t have a timetable or certain work times that we can share, it could be helpful to have a signal that we’re ‘in work’, such as a door hanger on the door of the room we work in (if we have one).

Taking our breaks, and sticking to our work hours is important. We need time off – we all need a break from work. Setting alarms or pop-ups to remind us to stop working can prompt us to take a break. We could ask someone we live with to pop their head around the door, or a friend to drop us a message at times when we need to stop working, too.

A bed-office might sound like an ideal situation. Unfortunately, we might find that it starts to be difficult to concentrate when we’re at work, and hard to sleep at night. Working from our bed can interfere with our sleep hygiene. We have no distance between ‘work’ and ‘home. If possible, it’s helpful to have a separate ‘workspace’. Having our workspace in a separate room is ideal because it keeps our bedroom as space to wind-down in. But if that’s not possible, then bringing a small table and chair into our room to work on can give us some space between ‘work’ and ‘sleep’.

If we do end up installing work-y apps on our devices, it’s handy to install an app blocker or use the one that’s inbuilt, to set limits and boundaries around when we can and can’t access those.

Tackling Loneliness

A common worry when transitioning to remote working, is that we’ll start to feel increasingly lonely.

Remote working doesn’t mean that we have to isolate ourselves from everyone. If we’re able to leave the house, then staying involved in volunteering, exercise, clubs, sports teams, and seeing friends and family, can help us to avoid loneliness.

Even if we can’t leave the house, there are ways we can communicate without being in the same room. Messaging, video-messaging and phone calls can all help us to stay in touch with people.

During the day, we can continue to have meetings, planning sessions and a strong sense of teamwork within our workplace. Meetings and sessions will just move to video-conferences, messages, or idea-sharing apps instead of taking place physically. Sometimes it takes a bit of flexing and tweaking to find the things that work for us, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Avoiding Spiralling

When we’re alone in our house, working, it’s all too easy to start spiralling particularly when something goes wrong or we make a mistake. We can very, very quickly work ourselves up into an anxious-frenzy.

It can be helpful to have an idea of things we can implement if we notice that we’re spiralling. For example, we might find meditation or deep breathing helpful. Some of us might need to step away from our desk and take 5 minutes to cuddle a pet or wash our face. We might have a friend or family member who we can drop a message to when we begin to spiral.

It might be that there are certain things that we know cause us to spiral. We might know that particular apps, radio programmes or news programmes, can cause us to spiral. Blocking or muting accounts, deleting apps from our phone, turning off programmes that upset us and limiting the news we read can stop a spiral before it starts.

This is where Blurt’s #ineedanear Slack channel comes into its own – a place for us to share that we’re not in a good place and for our team to offer words of comfort and calm.

Remote Working And Childcare

Having kids at home when we’re working can add a layer of complication. Kids don’t always understand our need for a quiet, calm, working space.

Children often love routine. They’re used to one at school. Creating a routine for the day, explaining it to them, and putting it somewhere that they can easily see and read, can help us to have some undisturbed time.

If there are two or more adults in our house, then we could take in it turns to do things with our children and to work. There might be older siblings in the house who could also give us a hand.

There is no shame in using screens, books, or anything else that our youngsters can do alone for a bit while we get some work done.

Avoiding Distractions

Quickly replying to a text here, or falling into a scroll-hole there can be harder to resist when remote-working. Distractions are everywhere.

One of the first things to do is to check our notification settings and adjust them to suit our working day. Do we need to put our phone on silent? Maybe we need to hide it altogether! Are there things constantly popping up on our screen? Could we turn them off for a while, so we have to consciously check things instead?  There are apps that we can use to block certain websites or apps for distinct periods if we’re worried about our self-control.

We also need to assess our physical space. Is there a huge pile of washing that we can see from our desk, that we know is going to bug us until we’ve done it? Are we working in front of a window that takes our eyes off our work every five minutes? Moving any home-related jobs we can see, and sitting with our back to any major distractions can help us to hold our focus.

Tweaking

Things don’t have to be set in stone. When we start working remotely, we will probably face some hurdles. Some things will work, and others won’t. As we learn and grow, we’ll need to flex and tweak things both individually, as teams, and as organisations.

There’s no shame in making mistakes – they allow us to learn and grow. To get the best out of working remotely, we need to find what works for our teams and workplaces. That’s always going to involve some learning and tweaking.

Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.