Suddenly Remote?

March 16, 2020

I shared some thoughts with my team last week as we were thinking through what all-remote would look like for us. Now that we are in an all-remote stance (as are an increasing number of companies), those thoughts are more broadly applicable. The tips below are things that have helped me work effectively in the past.

For context, I spent a period of time working from home 80-100% of the time at a previous employer. The big theme I learned in that was the need to be deliberate about how to work from home to make it effective.

Physical Space

One thing that can be hard about working from home is reinforcing a “this is work time” mindset (and also letting go of that later). If you have the ability to do so, you can use some aspects of your physical space to help with those time transitions.

Ideas here include:

  • Allocating a space where you will be sitting while working and only using that spot while working
  • If using the same space for work and home use, consider doing something as simple as using a different chair for work vs. non-work time (I know this feels trivial, but I had colleagues that swore by it)

You will also be potentially sitting at a desk / table / whatever at home for longer periods of time than you may be accustomed to. The setup you use generally may need some adjustments to accommodate prolonged use.

Take Breaks

This one may feel obvious, but you really will need to watch this one. I’ve found that when working from home it’s pretty easy to go through the day not taking many breaks. In the past, I have sometimes realized it’s 4pm and all I’d consumed was a couple of cups of coffee in the morning.

Within the physical office, it’s easier to be reminded to go grab some water, take a lunch break, etc. as you’ll notice colleagues taking breaks.

Move Around

Like the previous one, you may have to be more intentional about moving around. You may not think you move around much during the day in the office, but it’s easy to find yourself moving a lot less while working from home.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it will be a big change, the difference will add up:

  • For most of us, our kitchens will be quite a bit closer than the walk to the break room
  • Instead of walking over to a colleague’s desk, we will just jump on a Zoom call

Be Intentional With Hours

This one goes a couple of ways.

Without the in-person setup, it can be easy to drift away from whatever core hours your team typically used. Work from home hours will almost certainly not align perfectly to office based hours. Yet, it will be important to remember to be available for your team. The concept of team-based core hours we use was to provide that availability. Finding a way to provide that same support will be a key part of the transition to working remotely.

Also, be careful about not letting work eat up all your personal time. In my experience, it can be easy to let your total hours work grow as you transition to working from home. Since you’ll have your work computer right there, it becomes easy to “just login and fix this one thing”. Added up, though, you can end up letting work slowly eat away at your personal time (which will turn out to be a recipe for burn out if left that way too long).

Setting Boundaries with Kids and Family

For those of you with kids (especially younger ones), shifting to working from home will necessitate setting up some new boundaries. As much as you can explain to them that you are working, there will be interruptions. I’ve actually had to decline to read a book to my daughter and explain, again, that I’m working today while writing this post.

One thing I’ve found to help with my kids, is having deliberate, timed breaks built into my day (which also helps with the previous points!). That way rather than saying “No, I can’t read you that book”, I can say “I can’t read that right now, but I’m taking a break at 10am and I’ll read to you then”.

Being deliberate about your time can help here too. If your family (especially kids) can know that you will be done working at 6pm, it will help frame expectations. I’ve found my kids more likely to avoid interruptions if they have a concrete time when to expect me. It’s more difficult for them when they think I’ll be done working at some unspecified time between 5pm and 8pm.

Getting Ready in the Morning

Something I heard a lot from remote colleagues was how following their “normal” morning route helped with getting mentally framed for the day. Just do whatever you would normally do as though you were going into the office.

While it might be tempting to work in pajamas, loungewear, etc., doing so can break down the mental state of work vs. home time that you’re trying to foster.


Moving to an all-remote work stance will be new for most of us. So some of the things you’re used to (turning to ask a quick question, reading facial cues, etc.) will be absent. It will be necessary to overcommunicate, especially at the start of this transition.

Things like Slack are great, but they are not drop-in replacements for the communication you may be used to. You will have to figure out what communication styles and tools work well for you and your team as you transition to all remote.

You may find that a shift towards more deliberate written, long-form communication is appropriate. Or perhaps moving any significant discussion about a topic into a Zoom conference of phone call should be your default stance.

Have Grace with your Colleagues

There will be countless missteps as our teams get used to how to work from home. Something that would be understood to be a joke in person will not come across as such over Slack. What might have been resolved by a 2 minute trip to a whiteboard, may drag out longer. A/V problems will cause disruptions in meetings.

Throughout all that, have some grace for your colleagues.

Have Grace for Yourself

This transition will be new to you too. Even if you’ve had experience on a remote team before, it may be different with an entire team that is suddenly all remote. You will have missteps too.

We will all be learning how to work best together. Give yourself grace when things go awry.