The presence of COVID-19 has led to some unprecedented times. With a large portion of the workforce now working from home, there are numerous security implications that arise. Our previous post is an extensive FAQ that covers everything you need to know about the cybersecurity concerns and how to address them. Today, we’ll dive into tips for productivity while working remotely.
Welcome to the world of remote work. Beware, it’s not for the uninitiated, and this is why I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve picked up from over a decade of both working remotely as well as managing remote teams. I’m hoping these tips help people who may find themselves in this position for the first time. I wanted to share a few highlights without getting too deep.
I’m a huge fan of remote work. To me, it solves the staffing challenges of a company in allowing them to source the best talent for their positions and not locking them to a geographic region. It’s certainly not perfect, and not all candidates are well suited to the self-discipline required, but then again, working in an office is far from perfect as well.
The perception of remote work can be negative to companies that don’t focus on innovation. What these companies don’t realize is that you can see an increase in both productivity and creativity with a remote workforce. The downside is, if it’s poorly managed, it can be a negative that reinforces this perception.
The first step in remote work is knowing yourself. This knowledge isn’t through some deep philosophical meaning, but know your habits and who you are. This insight will be different for everyone. For example, if you are easily distracted, you won’t have the environment of a workplace to reign you back in. If you naturally spend too much time on social media, then you need to block those notifications during periods of work time. This situation seems simple enough to conceptualize, but some may find it hard to implement.
Inventory your distractions and come up with a plan. For each of the items you identify as potential blockers to productivity, it’s good to have some tool, control, or mindset in place to keep you in check. This is step number one, and if you don’t have it down, you may be in for a bad time. The good news is that after a while, a new habit will form, and some of this blocking will be second nature.
Separate Your Work Environment
Maintain a separate work environment. This way, you can keep your head in the right spot when you are working from home. A separate work area also gives you the feeling of “going to work.” I can’t imagine a lot of productivity would come out of lying in bed with your laptop and the TV on.
I’m lucky enough to have a home office, with a large monitor, an open desk and a comfortable chair. These are items that help me flex my creativity and separate me from the normal mindset of doing other home-based activities. If you don’t have enough room to have a dedicated office, then choose a room that you “go to” for work. I also suggest something, such as an external monitor or mouse and keyboard that makes it feel like a workplace.
If you have a family or children, they must understand you are “at work.” I don’t have this problem, but I know others that do. When possible, close the door on your workspace or set some other signal that you are working. If you are in an incredibly cramped space, close to family members, I suggest headphones. Let your family members know and understand this signal to minimize interruptions. If it’s not possible to go long periods without interruption, consider working in sprints for as many hour-long blocks as you can.
Keep a Schedule, Keep a Mindset
If you don’t feel like you are at work, you won’t produce like you are at work. This is where the previous point knowing yourself can play a significant role. It’s best to keep a routine because after all, you are going to work, you are just cutting out the pesky commute.
Wake up, shower, get dressed, do all of the same things that you would do if you were going to a workplace. You don’t need to put on formal clothing, but pajamas probably won’t make you feel productive either.
I live in Florida, and in case you haven’t heard, it gets hot down here. So it’s true when I wake up, part of my getting dressed may involve wearing a pair of shorts, but they aren’t the same ones I wore to bed, and that’s the point about getting into the work mindset.
Another thing that goes along with keeping a schedule is your health. Use a fitness tracker to remind you to stand up every hour and help maintain a routine of movement. Another thing I do is jog daily.
Just as important as keeping a separate workspace, is making sure you get away from that workspace. Other than the health benefits of getting exercise, I find that without the distraction of digital devices, my mind works out problems differently. I’ve solved many problems and came up with countless ideas, all while lost in my thoughts during my daily jog. My daily jog is critical to not only my creative process but to my problem solving as well.
Increase focus and minimize distractions
It’s imperative to understand your sources of distractions and minimize their impact as much as possible. Avoiding activities that are time sinks is great not only for general life but critical during the workday. Whatever your poison is, don’t partake during working hours.
Also, refer back to the previous comment about family members.
If you are easily distracted, try using a Pomodoro timer and slicing your activities up into small chunks where you can focus on them.
Prioritize your activities using the methodology of your choice and break those off into chunks that make the most sense. Always have an idea of what you need to accomplish that day or that week and make progress.
Utilize The Tools You Have
What remote collaboration tools do you have at your disposal? Inventory those and make the best use of them. Chose the best tool for the task, whether it be document collaboration, chat, video conferencing, or even remote brainstorming.
Stay organized for both yourself and your team. One issue with remote teams is never knowing where anything is. Try to organize documents in a single location to cut down on the amount of confusion and additional questions. If you can preemptively cut down on the amount of unnecessary communication through preparation, then you have won a battle.
Have a great task manager that runs on all your devices. You’ll find that information comes at you fast and from multiple sources. Having a great task manager syncs across all your devices will help ensure that things don’t get missed.
Know Your Team
Along with knowing your tools, know your team members and how they like to work and communicate. Match the preferred method of communication. People may prefer email, text, or maybe a phone call. Matching the preferred communication method will cut down on frustration as well as the amount of additional communication necessary to share a point.
Use The Phone
Yes, that thing you hold in your hand used to be a thing people utilized to send their voice to the ears of other people. It’s easy to get carried away communicating with text, chat, and email, but sometimes it’s easier to pick up the phone. Text communications can be hard to convey tone, and your tone can be misinterpreted. Often, a quick phone call can solve a lot of problems and save a lot of back and forth. Don’t be afraid to use that device for its original intent.
Find ways to improve your communication. Nobody wants to read a tome in their inbox. Get to what’s important quickly and at the beginning of the email. Strive for the right balance of brevity and completeness. Keep in mind that the email may be on the screen of a mobile device.
If you must write a long email and you are sending it to a decision-maker, try to put a few summary bullets up top or some important takeaways. Also, let the recipient know the message requires some action from them. This summary will increase the possibility of your email being read and show that you understand the value of the time of the person reading it.
Welcome to the remote workforce. With the right balance of skills, tools, and discipline, you can increase your creativity and productivity. Hopefully, you found these tips useful.
If you’re interested in learning more about the cybersecurity concerns that arise while working remotely, click here to read our FAQ on the subject.
Nathan has presented his research at global security events including Black Hat, DEF CON, HOPE, ShmooCon, SecTor, ToorCon and many others. He is also a member of the Black Hat review board where he evaluates research for inclusion into the various conferences around the world.