This ultimate remote work productivity guide will inform you of everything you need to know in order to master the new system.
Updated onMay 28, 2022
Remote work is now the new normal and this is not going to change any time soon. Both business owners and employees need to make physical, mental, and emotional adaptations if they are going to reap the benefits from remote working environments.
This ultimate remote work productivity guide will inform you of everything you need to know in order to master the new system.
Managers and business owners that are adapting to remote work will need to be extra considerate to remote workers. The same principles of effective management apply, but in a completely different setting, using different techniques. The following are the things you should consider if you want to stay on track.
If you are doing any kind of task, then you need to do it well. Remote workers need the right tools to ensure that they can complete the same tasks as they would get done in the office. You need a good communication toolkit, a secure remote connection, and an efficient file-sharing system. You don’t have to overthink this - there are many third-party tools, paid and free, that can perform many functions that you could imagine.
And these are only the software tools. Remote workers need to have laptops, a good internet connection, proper desks, lighting, separate office space, etc. While many remote workers will do this for themselves, you might want to think about providing the proper incentives. If workers cut costs on things like desks, internet, computers, and lighting, overall productivity levels will suffer.
Multiple studies have alluded to the fact that certain classes of remote workers have felt stifled when it comes to micromanagement. This comes from managers who feel they need to compensate by constantly checking in with remote workers and asking them what they are working on. This is a huge no-no. If you can’t rely on your workers to get the job done, then you have a trust issue. Only enquire when you notice a dip in productivity or when you get a complaint. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it is actually much more efficient and humane.
Much like micromanagement in general, excessive meetings are not only counterproductive - remote workers actually are reporting that they feel demoralized. Group meetings should happen around twice a week, with a personalized meeting once a week or so, unless you need to touch base with an employee for a specific reason. This was an issue even before COVID-19 but has gotten even worse since.
Communication is still the number one priority when it comes to productivity. Encourage employees to communicate. And be clear to identify exactly what it is that you want to be done and by when. If there are any issues, you should have an open line of communication so remote workers can come to you with them. By making your meaning clear, you can ensure that you and your employees are on the same page while also showing them how to communicate.
Everybody is going to need time to adapt. It is not only productivity that is suffering. People are suffering, and the general population is in fear of becoming infected. Many still have their typical workload to contend with and are adapting to different time zones and a completely different work/life environment. Ask how they are doing and what it would take to make their jobs easier.
The fact is that many remote workers simply do not know what constitutes healthy and effective production practices. They should be proactively encouraged to approach work with a positive mindset of achievement, collaboration, and communication. Lighting should be appropriate, their postural alignment should be considered, the internet speed should be fast, and they should prioritize certain tasks.
Most people got to work every day like zombies without any kind of recognizable game plan, on autopilot. Disseminate an eBook or pamphlet providing the details on productivity across many dimensions - posture, light, computer, software, work hours, mindfulness, etc.
Employees will need to maintain a strong mindset and a focused approach if they want to excel in the current economic climate. Yes, you can obviously excel at your job right now, and it is actually something of a prime opportunity for those who capitalize on it. Keep the following items in mind if you are looking to get ahead.
There is an obvious sweet spot between work and play. You need both to have a satisfying lifestyle. Make sure that you have clearly defined work hours where you will not be interrupted. Equally, make sure you have clearly defined leisure hours where you will not be interrupted by work. The best way to do this is probably to schedule time away from both technology and the computer.
Because you are working from home, you need to be extra organized. It is just too easy to spend the day sleeping in, watching TV, or just suffering from a lack of focus in general. You need to identify work time for yourself, meaning no dog, child, friend, relative, or partner can interfere. You need a routine for getting out of bed, eating, sleeping, and taking breaks. You need to have a system of logging off from work and email so no work-related email can eat into your leisure. In all aspects, you need to be more organized than ever.
Without clearly defined goals, it is easy just to stay at the desk without getting anything done. In some instances, there is less incentive to get work done. This advice was relevant before COVID-19 but is especially relevant now. Write down, on paper, what you want to get done each day. It is a great way to get focused.
Now is the time to become more self-motivated than ever. First, it is easy to fall into depression or lethargy while working from home. But you could also use this as an opportunity to attain all goals that you were previously unable to accomplish. You now have more freedom - you can get a quick workout in the morning, lunch, or evening. You can work on a side business. You can complete physical work around the house. And you can do all of this while still maintaining maximum efficiency on your typical work. Dipping in and out of work after a period of rest and relaxation will make you more productive, and you will also be more clear and focused when you do.
There is no excuse for having a sloppy, small, untidy office space. You can make it a side project, but you should have a spacious, neat desk with appropriate lighting and a fast internet connection. It’s a bad idea, for various reasons, to let your kitchen table double as your office. Build a dedicated office that is used exclusively for work - optimized it to its full potential. You are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future. You won’t be able to work at your best unless you have a top office environment.
Many remote workers are a little disappointed at the current turn of events. But there is no need to take a negative mindset to all of the opportunities on offer at the present time. You can achieve your goals, increase your skillset, and take advantage of the freedom that comes with working from home. This includes saving on rent and transport costs or creating a side business. Treat the glass as half full, and take advantage of the new environment.
There are so many ‘applications’ out there that help you to increase your ‘productivity’. But having too many applications will kill your productivity. If you have too many notifications, you will simply freeze up. Get as minimalistic as you can when doing your work. Use the minimal amount of applications. Consider cleaning up your file system, removing accounts you do not use, deleting social media that is not productive, and only using the essential software to get your tasks completed.
Remote workers need the right tools to get the job done. At the same time, there is a learning curve when you are using a disparate number of platforms and tools, it can take a few months to get everything integrated and running smoothly. With this in mind, the remote work tools need to be easy to use, simple, and intuitive.
If a tool is complex, then it is not really helping. The following is a list of some free online tools that may help. The list is not definitive as there are thousands of tools, but it might help. You need to consider personal organization, time tracking, file creation/sharing, messaging & video, and project management as the basic categories.
If you are working remotely, then you might want to download a few applications to stay on top of things. One platform that immediately springs to mind is Todoist. Todoist keeps all your to-dos in one place, so you can plan your day better and make sure that you don’t forget anything. When something comes up, add a reminder and get back to what you were originally working on. This will keep your mind from wandering when you’re working and will ensure nothing gets missed. Other options include Evernote and Memento.
We have written extensively about time tracking and payroll here. Essentially, you want an easy way to record hours and to automatically payout remote workers. Because the freelance market is getting bigger, time tracking and payroll need to be even more streamlined. The best payroll software includes Gusto, OnPay, and Patriot Accounting. Some payroll providers, like Gusto, will also accommodate HR.
Without a doubt, the one to go for here is Google Suite of products. The Google Suite includes all of the online products for sharing and collaborating on presentations, spreadsheets, and Word documents. It is easy to use and completely free. Because the files are online, it really beats desktop applications, though there are potential security threats to take into consideration.
There are many messaging services available, most integrated with project management tools. Slack is probably one of the best, as it is both slick and functional. Slack provides a solution to communication difficulties that come with working remotely. It lets you have real-time conversations with anyone in your team, create channels for different purposes, and create threads within messages to keep your chats organized. File sharing is also supported by Slack. You can directly send files to your team, which is much easier and cleaner than email. It is a good mix of professional and casual. Other options would include Telegram or WhatsApp.
There are many options for project management. Asana is a good option, allowing for Kaban boards to be created for specific tasks. You assign people to cards and move them along as they are in the various stages of completion. Trello is another option, though it is more basic. Zoho Projects is also an excellent choice and can be integrated with the larger Zoho suite. For more complex projects, you may want to consider Wrike, LiquidPlanner, or Celoxis.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, 30% of the global workforce will be working from home by the end of 2021. PWC conducted its own survey, and there were a number of findings that are good to pay attention to. Remote work is here to stay, and so is the mindset and habits associated with it. The results of the PWC survey were as follows:
In other words, there is an astounding number of positive implications of the Work From Home (‘WFH’) culture. Employees are more productive. However, psychological experts have been alluding to the negative mental health implications in a subset of employees, and this also has to be taken into account.
If you are a manager or remote employee that is working from home, having the right office is an absolute necessity. Your work environment will have a pronounced effect on your productivity levels. Multiple studies have been conducted proving the effects of the surrounding environment on worker efficiency.
Put another way, it’s just easier to get work done when you are in the right frame of mind, without distractions. And it’s good to think long-term. You are going to be in your office for years and perhaps decades. It is an investment, not a cost. The following are essential to setting up a home office.
The ideal home office is one where you are completely isolated from other parts of the house. Meaning that it is not a part living room or part kitchen or part bedroom. It is a room designed specifically for use as an office. The designated office should also be spacious - you don’t want a broom closet. Be good to yourself - create a space designed for work alone.
A standing desk might be a good option if you are looking to preserve your health for the long-term. The deks should be relatively large and the chair should also be high quality. You don’t have to break the bank, but consider that you are going to be using the same desk and chair for years on end.
The desk should be a good height. The industry standard is around 29 inches, but you want to get an adjustable one to suit your height. You know your work surface is at the correct height if, when you sit up straight, your forearms are parallel to the ground and your wrist is not bent up or down when you type or mouse. The top surface of your wrist should be on the same plane as the top of your forearm.
If you do not get the right chair, your posture will suffer. Dinner chairs are often not at the correct height and are not orthopedic. While there are expensive office chairs out there, $200 should be enough for a decent-sized one that will do the job. Just make sure it is adjustable. You might also want to look into lumbar support and an adjustable seat pan tilt.
The desk and chair help with postural alignment. But you also want to adjust the monitor height so you are not staring into a small screen, hunched over. Even with a basic computer, you can buy an extra monitor and connect them via Bluetooth or a cable. This is cheap to do and it will make it easier to code, look at spreadsheets, or create a presentation.
Display resolutions come in a whole alphabet soup of terms but look for any of the following ones to get that desired higher sharpness: QWXGA, QHD, WQHD, or 4K UHD. Also, note that the display connector may limit the screen resolution; on many computers, the video subsystem limits HDMI 1.x resolution to 1920 x 1200 pixels regardless of the monitor size.
Lighting is an area that many would not think about when it comes to office spaces. But lighting plays a role in your circadian rhythm and different coloring will have different effects on your hormones. Overhead lighting is best, and it frees up space in comparison to a desk lamp. Another area to consider here is the brightness setting on your monitor.
Other factors you will definitely want to consider when creating your own office space are:
For managers, finding remote workers can be an added difficulty. So many people are now shifting jobs in a turbulent economic environment, it’s hard to know how to screen people and even to find people with the needed skills. But patterns are being established and there are time-tested ways to find people that are a fit for your business. Even as things change, certain principles will always remain the same.
Referrals are still the best way to find new talent. Not one of the best. The best. Data from Jobvite has indicated that employee referrals have the highest applicant-to-hire conversion rate. Only 7% apply but this accounts for 40% of all hires. This is huge. And the successful candidate already has a friend in the office, which makes it easier for him or her. In addition referral hires have greater job satisfaction and stay longer at companies - 46% stay over 1 year, 45% over 2 years, and 47% over 3 years.
If you’ve tried sourcing candidates from social media before and were not overly impressed about the results, try throwing in that the position is remote and watch the applications pour in. Work-from-home jobs can appeal to a range of applicants, including people who want to change their career but do not have to move in order to do it, digital nomads who want to work as they travel, and people sick of commuting.
If you’re looking to reach a high concentration of remote job seekers, try using job boards that specialize in remote hiring. While this isn't a free option, it might still be worth trying out, especially if you're hiring for a senior position. At least you know that everybody who applies is interested in working remotely, so you won’t waste any time. There are tonnes of remote job boards, including WeWorkRemotely, NoDesk, SkipTheDrive, WorkingNomad, and Jobspresso.
When screening remotely, you have to revise the standard system to take the new situation into account. You need to ensure that the candidate is self-motivated and disciplined because you have fewer tools at your disposal for enforcing rules. Once the candidate is hired, it is harder to assess what they are doing. The remote worker simply has more power and freedom, so you need to be extra careful in your screening beforehand.
In a physical interview, it’s great to be able to take someone's measure by how they conduct themselves. It is the best way. Sadly, it is no longer possible, meaning you have to look towards alternative avenues to gauge someone’s worth. The best way to do this is simply to see how quickly they respond to emails, how polite they are, their video communication skills, etc. Do they have difficulty connecting? Are they easily contactable? Odds are, the better they are in terms of basic communications, the better they will be as employees.
If you post a job on a remote job board, you could get hundreds of applications. If you post a job with a simple test, you might get 10 applications. This simple technique is incredibly powerful. Always post a simple challenge or test. It is a form of preliminary screening that staves away all of the ‘chancers’, leaving only those who are truly interested in the role. The test does not have to be extensive, it can even be a short 500-word essay on a given topic. Those who are serious will not be put off by such a basic screening procedure.
This has already been mentioned previously but needs to be reinforced. When you are screening potential candidates, you need to be really sure that they want the position, have a history in it, and want to have a long future in it. You certainly don’t want to waste 6 months with a person who is sitting at home collecting a paycheck! Ask what their routine is, how they stay motivated, what their internet speed is like, whether they have built a home office, etc. You can learn a lot about a person without directly asking them about their technical skills. When people are unguarded is when they reveal the most important points.
The following are the primary remote difficulties that need to be overcome. They are best looked at not merely as obstacles, but stepping stones to increased growth. New items require different solutions.
The biggest difficulty with remote work would have to be that of communication. You don’t know what employees are doing, and employees may not know what employers want from them. This is best resolved with enhanced communications. It’s not simply about keeping in closer contact and constantly going ‘connecting’ with people via Skype. Employers need to clearly identify what they are looking for, instead of changing their minds all the time. Employees need to communicate what they expect in their new role. The clearer and more focused both parties are, the better. Short, focused, clear communication is better than being bombarded with tonnes of information that nobody knows how to handle.
Managers need to find out how best to manage, and workers need to find out how best to work under new conditions. It’s not just because either party is ‘lazy’. It is an entirely new environment and everybody needs to give serious thought to how best to increase their productivity levels. Employees have more freedom and need to think about how they can stay motivated. Employers need to look at creative ways to market products and assign tasks. The whip is no longer as effective, and managers need to establish a rapport with remote workers.
The combination of COVID-19, remote work, and lost jobs has caused a lot of harm across the globe. Remote workers are at risk of mental health problems and we are already seeing evidence of this. On top of this, 20% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 developed a subsequent mental health issue. Sitting in a room working without being allowed to travel far is just not good for psychological well being.
It can be difficult to assign roles, deadlines, and tasks to remote workers. A balance has to be found between getting workers to their desks using time tracking software and taking a complete goals-based approach to what is getting done. Neither one works 100% by itself. If an employee does not have goals to achieve, then he or she is going to leave the desk and do something else. Remote workers need to be kept busy, but not overwhelmed. Have a stockpile of goals to achieve, but don’t come down too hard on employees that cannot meet the demands.
In the remote work environment, it is entirely possible for people to be working in different time zones. And this is fine. Remote workers should be asked what times suit them best in terms of work. It will be the times they are most productive. At the same time, they will be expected to keep to these work hours when they have committed to them. People need to be online for general queries and concerns, and responsibilities are attached to jobs.
Automation has a huge role to play in terms of remote work. In fact, remote work is only possible right now due to technological innovations, mainly in terms of voice and messaging applications, as well as project management tools.
We have already seen forms of ‘light’ automation with applications such as Grammarly, Google free keyword planners, Yoast SEO, the Google Suite, etc. Though these are not strictly ‘automation’, they have lessened the load for many workers who would have had to do it manually.
In a more technical sense, automation is there to automate routine tasks. This means that software/algorithms are doing what humans did previously, 100%. The end result is that both managers and workers can focus on creative tasks. There is no real limit on what kinds of tasks can be automated.
For example, automation can parse those distracting emails for you, freeing up your remote team’s time to focus on other things. It’s all too easy to get caught up with little tasks and mindless administration work! Even more so when there’s no one to spot you doing it. But with automation handling those tasks, there’s less fuel for procrastination.
Another productivity concern caused by the transition to remote work is one for teams. Some workflows are complicated. They require input from many people. When teams work from home, however, keeping track of a piece of work becomes more challenging. With automation, you can set up auto alerts to let you know when an urgent task needs your attention. Needless to say, automation and remote work are inseparable. The teams that use automation tools the most efficiently will reap the rewards.
Running a remote work meeting is different from in-house office meetings. You are not sitting next to a person, so it tends to be more casual. Some people might leave to go to the bathroom or just to pop out! But there are a number of items that can be considered which will engage the attention of all parties involved. A key point here is to make sure everybody has something to do and contribute, otherwise they are just attending another ‘pointless’ meeting. The following are the 5 best ways to run an effective remote work meeting.
Group meetings should take place at similar times each and every week. You might want to have one at 11 PM Mondays and Fridays. In this way, everybody will become accustomed to attending this meeting. It also makes it easier for remote workers to plan their work. A surprise meeting can be annoying and might take somebody away from an important task.
All people attending the meeting should have a clear agenda/numbers of what they intend to contribute. You might encourage people to have certain documents prepared beforehand. You should be clear on who is attending the meeting and why the meeting is taking place. All meetings are information exchange, but you need to clearly define this.
Good communications software is subjective, and you might simply want to use a tool that all parties are familiar with. Zoom is a great option, as practically all remote workers and managers are familiar with it. It’s also a useful technology, in general, that is easy to operate. Video platforms will all have good file-sharing capabilities at their disposal.
How many people are attending? How professional is the meeting? A meeting of 4 people is a lot different than a meeting of 10 people. You can be easygoing and casual with 4, but the meeting would quickly devolve into a mess if you try doing that with 10 people. Is the meeting a professional exchange of information or catchup between a couple of friends? These days, it can be a little tricky to tell the difference with the ever-receding lines between work and leisure.
A few small adjustments to your remote meeting etiquette can go a long way. Make sure everyone’s microphones are muted if they aren’t speaking, enforce an on-time start, and encourage everyone to dress appropriately and have appropriate backgrounds. So many meetings are just too casual, and it encourages sloppiness. You wouldn’t go to work in pajamas, why do you think it's ok to attend a meeting in casual wear?
Don’t let the meeting run overboard. For most meetings, there is no need to go above 30 minutes or so. And, according to a wealth of scientific literature, you are going to find it impossible to keep people engaged beyond 45 minutes. Set a clear meeting agenda, isolate the most important concerns, get the job done, and finish on time. If you have any other concerns, specific members can be contacted directly or you can set up another video call with them.
Perhaps the trickiest concern for project managers and business owners is integrating workers into the culture. While this was always a concern, a lot of it usually happened on autopilot. The remote worker would be in an office, looking at the design, and talking to all the other people who adopt the culture. Needless to say, nothing like this happens remotely, where you can’t even tell if a remote worker is at the desk! Here are the best ways you can integrate remote workers into the culture.
What, you don’t have a clearly defined document specifically stating the business culture? Well, go create one! And when you do, share this document with the remote worker. This is the most direct way for everybody to stay on the same page. You will also want to explain the culture during the interview stage of the hiring process.
A large part of business culture is that all of the remote workers (and, of course, managers) will get to know one another. This is best done with team-building exercises. Every 3 months or so, have a team-building exercise of some kind. The HR department should be helpful in visualizing and setting it up. It could be a competition or social event, the point is to get everyone involved and having fun, not just completing an assigned role.
You can create social media pages and specific channels on Slack and other platforms that are dedicated purely to entertainment. You want to have a clear delineation between social and professional communication channels. But people need an outlet to talk and converse with one another. It’s actually the best way to grow a company. If people feel they simply have to follow orders without being able to contribute, even to a small few people, they will simply lose interest.
Make it easy to connect by leaning on helpful tools. If you use Slack for team communication, try using plug-ins like Geekbot to send regular “get-to-know-you” polls and surveys. This works in part because Geekbot updates can also be used for work-related topics, so if a team is used to the survey format, they may be more likely to participate when lighter topics roll around. Questions include: “What playlists do you listen to while you work?”, and “What’s something you’re really looking forward to in the next week?”.
Without the entire office looking on to see how you are doing, it can be hard to get motivated for work. This goes for both employees and employers. So it’s doubly important to have a clearly defined morning routine that assists you to be as productive as you can be. It will also help your mental and emotional wellbeing, productivity, and overall well-being having a distinct correlation.
This is the single most important piece of advice anybody can give you in terms of working remotely. Be consistent across the board. Start and finish at the same time every day. Have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time every day. And go to sleep at the same time every day. While this sounds a little intense, it is the best method to get your mindset for maximum productivity and happiness. Consistency drives results - the more often you change your routine, the less effective the results will be.
Never approach your desk without a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish. This is one of the most common problems associated with remote workers and people in general. They are passive about what they do but expect active results. Before you switch on the computer, write down what you expect to accomplish and what time frame you hope to do it in.
If you know what you are going to eat for breakfast, when you are going to take lunch, and what time you are going to start, it eliminates a lot of mental stress from your morning. Isolate if you are going to exercise in the morning or the evening, but won't wonder about it while you are at your desk. This is idle time-wasting. A good trick is actually to close all tabs from the night before, and only leave open tabs relating to jobs that you need to get done. This will subconsciously encourage you to work on that task, instead of navigating to FaceBook!
Your office space and kitchen should be clean the night before you attend work. You don’t want to have to attend to extra tasks when you are getting set to do a good morning’s work. Tidy the place the night before.
After 7 PM (or thereabouts), it's time to power down all work-related email and technology. The degree with which you are able to relax is proportional to your focus when you do actually come back to work. This is not exactly related to the ‘morning’ routine, but it will most certainly help you in the morning time. If you do not relax in the evening, you will not get a good night’s rest, and your morning will be affected.
The remote work economy is not merely about increasing productivity. It encompasses complete mind-body health. There are opportunities like never before to optimize your schedule and pursue your desires. Remember, it is 100% possible to have more satisfaction while also excelling at your job. The trick is balance and focus. If you are not passionate about your work and the future it can provide, then your health will deteriorate and you will eventually end up leaving.
While this is not exactly ‘endorsed’ by the government and the media, you definitely need to get outdoors as regularly as possible. No matter how artistic your office may be, humans are meant for the great outdoors. Even a short walk a couple of times a day can be extremely beneficial, providing exercise and a change of scenery.
While working remotely, you can fit in the time to do a sport that you have always wanted. This could be Yoga, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Soccer, CrossFit, or a whole gamut of possible sports that are available in the area. This can have indirect benefits. If you simply sit at a desk all day every day without proper exercise, your energy levels will decrease with time.
The remote work economy is forcing people to prioritize what they really need. For many, this takes the form of minimalism. You have to choose what to give your attention to and eliminate any excess clutter you find around the house. It is not just physical items - mentally, you need to choose what to prioritize on. Or else you will be a victim of mindless distraction and the resulting mediocrity, like many others.
You might get lonely working remotely. You’d be far from the first person to feel that way. Invest in making connections with others that help you feel like part of a community. You can set up meetings over coffee with friends who work from home in your area. You can also take an online course with some of your colleagues, or set up gaming times or just-for-fun video chats in the afternoon. And check out online remote work communities for meetups in your area to expand your circle.
Perhaps the most useful tip for both health and productivity is to leave work in the office. When you are at work, you work. But when you are relaxing, you relax. The best way to do this is to shut down all of your technology (or at least work-related applications) when you finish work. It is imperative to have a clearly defined separation between work and leisure. Otherwise, you are simply going to burnout, and you will feel terrible on the way down.
If you want to succeed in the WFH economy, then it is actually quite simple, whether you are a remote worker or a business owner. Prioritize your goals, values, and expectations. Find staff, or roles, that you like to do and that you think you can contribute to.
Communicate effectively with those that you work with and eliminate everything that is not directly related to the growth of the company and to your growth as a human being. It’s not lack of information, lack of technology, or lack of support that hinders people striving to succeed in a WFH world.
It’s a lack of focus, lack of motivation, and lack of effort. Stick to your fundamentals, and the new remote work economy will be the best thing that happened to you and your finances
FlexJobs. It might be a little hard to answer this in isolation, but FlexJobs is arguably one of the best in the market right now. It is a great place to start a career with a company (or find a long-term employee), while other platforms tend to offer short-term roles only. On FlexJobs, you can find anything from entry-level to executive and management jobs with most of them being remote and flexible jobs.
Flexjobs is not a free platform. But for serious people looking for the right jobs, it is worth the money. Just like it is a good idea to invest in a good office space, it is also a good idea to start off on the correct platform. FlexJobs screens jobs from real companies and the competition is a lot lower than comparable sites. And you only pay a once-off fee, instead of being hammered with a 20% cut on every single project.