Fun fact: I’ve been a remote employee for my entire career.
I’ve never had an office to commute to each day and my manager and teams have always been in different cities and usually in different time-zones. With IBM I had an office I could work from in San Francisco, but spent most days at client sites, working from home and getting to the office 1-2 times a week. With Andela, I’ve always been remote from our main office in NYC.
Unfortunately, many companies are asking their employees to work from home due to current events. This is going to be a huge change of pace. The good news is remote work is not rocket science and if done right can increase your productivity as an individual and as a company.
If you’re working from home (WFH), these “Distributed Work 10 Commandments” are some words to live by and practices to put into place.
You can download the infographic here.
#1 Thou Shall Not Wear Pajamas
One of the most important parts of the workday is your morning routine before you go to the office! When you work from home, getting ready is just as important. It’s easy to open your laptop and all of a sudden, the day has passed and it’s 6pm and you’re still in PJs… Take the time to get ready and get in the zone for work!
Even when you are remote, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If you look good, you’ll feel good, and you need to bring that energy every day when you WFH!
Warning: Don’t be that guy who is on a video call and accidentally stands up and forgets he’s still in pajamas… it’s been done many times before. Don’t be that guy!
#2 Thou Shall be Self-Accountable
This probably should have been #1.
All the technology, tools, and tips in the world cannot replace trust and accountability. A manager’s biggest fear about remote work is that their teams will misuse their time and that work productivity will drop without in-office collaboration. The frank reality is that there will be people who take advantage of a work from home structure. DON’T be that guy that gets caught watching TV, not working, and slacking off — that will impact your whole team.
Working remote means that you need to be a respectful employee that hits targets, communicates effectively and is an active participant in meetings. In return, your company needs to trust and empower you to get your work done.
Simple ways to be self-accountable:
• Be responsive to your team in email, Slack, meetings, and phone calls. Prioritize your time with todo lists and time-block your calendar.
• Send your manager a stand-up/stand-down.
• Work where you can get work done (home office, coffee shops, co-working spaces).
• Ask for help when you are blocked on a task – public channels are the best because others are likely to have the same question.
• Take ownership, don’t make excuses, and get your work done.
• These daily updates can be sent via Slack, email, or preferred communication tool.
#3 Thou Shall Use Video
This will be a monumental change for companies used to phone calls, but video calls are a GAME CHANGER for remote teams.
Simply, video calls are much closer to real-life communication and in 2020 video-technology is available to us all. You can observe people’s true reactions, ensure others are engaged and not distracted, and build genuine relationships.
According to Gong.io, you are 41% more likely to close a deal if your webcam is on. The impact of video calls stretches beyond sales calls and can increase the quality of all your meetings because, “When you pair the sound of your voice with the sight of your face, your words come alive and create a totally different perception.”
• Always look at the green dot/camera at the top of your screen, it’s the virtual equivalent of looking someone in the eye.
Background and Lighting:
• Simple backgrounds are key. Ensure you have light in front of you, and not creating a silhouette.
• Your camera should be at eye-level. Sometimes you need to find a box/books for extra height.
• When you’re not speaking, mute yourself.
• Use headphones and a quality microphone.
We also LOVE Krisp.ai. It’s a tool for your laptop that minimizes background noise when you’re speaking and listening to a call.
• For important meetings, be at home or in a quiet space with strong internet. Avoid coffee shops.
#4 Thou Shall Have a Workspace that Works for You
We’ve spoken about not wearing pajamas, aka the equivalent of “getting ready to go into the office each day” for us remote folks, but now we need to talk about “going to work each day.”
This is where you should prioritize setting up a workspace that works for you. For today, let’s talk about your home office, but the rules would still apply if you went to a co-working space each day.
Rule 1: Set up your desk, ideally in a room where you can be alone, have quality lighting and can shut the door.
• I haven’t had the luxury of a dedicated office room. To hack the system, while in San Francisco, I set up a desk in my room and actually installed a curtain behind it so you couldn’t see the rest of my room. Here in Charlotte, I use the edge of my kitchen counter as a standing desk and have an office chair. I have it positioned so that I have a blank wall behind me with good lighting.
Rule 2: What do you need to be productive?
• Work with your company to ensure you have the tools at home to accomplish your job. I mostly use a laptop, but others may require 2-3 monitors, high-tech sketching tools, studio-quality microphones, etc.
Rule 3: Quality Internet.
• At Andela, I am on video calls all day every day. I wish I was exaggerating, BUT it has required me to invest in the top internet speed from my provider to ensure I have the best connectivity and don’t drop calls.
All in all, set up a workplace that works for you and figure out your rhythm. It might take a few days to get used to – that’s okay!
#5 Thou Shall Commit to Communication
Communication can have MANY meanings. I define communication as, “How your team shares information verbally, non-verbally, and written.”
The good news is that most companies already have the 4 basic tools that remote teams need to successfully communicate.
• Email (Gmail/Outlook)
• Calendar (Gmail/Outlook)
• Video (Zoom Video Communications/Google Meet)
The first step you should take with your team is to outline your communication process, policy, and guidelines. Share these guidelines with every employee. Streamlined communications will improve efficiency and productivity while having a documented path of decisions.
Here are some of the guidelines I’d suggest:
• Slack/IM is for real-time conversations with colleagues and teams. Leverage open channels whenever possible vs. direct messages.
• Email is for official decisions, announcements, and information that should be taken seriously and clearly documented.
• Leverage a call if your conversation will be more than 5 messages. Recap your discussion with key stakeholders who should be informed.
• Your calendar should be your source of truth for you and your team (we’ll talk about this more later).
• Acknowledge messages with a “Seen” emoji and set expectations when you’ll respond.
• If you feel like you’re overcommunicating, you’re doing it right!
#6 Thou Shall Foster Work Relationships
One of my remote work pet peeves is when someone says, “Let’s grab a coffee when you’re in town.” I appreciate the notion and believe the best-distributed teams collaborate in-person a few times a year. That said, let’s grab a coffee now.
You can 100% build relationships over video. When you have work friends, life is better, and work is enjoyable. Plus you need trusted friends you can vent to and get advice from.
Strong 1:1 relationships and team relationships are critical. Individuals and managers should prioritize time for culture-building and collaboration. A happy employee is a productive employee!
A few tactical tips:
• Building a relationship starts on Day 1. Welcome new employees by saying hello on Slack and find time to connect.
• Install Donut – a Slack app that randomly connects you with colleagues and empowers you to get to know each other.
• Set up recurring meetings with 3-4 colleagues every few weeks to chat about life – BYOB coffee, kombucha, or wine.
• Host a team happy hour! Some remote inspiration: Trivia, Cribs (MTV style), Teach Something (i.e., cooking, workouts, cocktails), Meet the Pet(s), Talent Show, or a Dance-Off.
#7 Thou Shall Create Inclusive Meetings
When speaking about tips for remote teams, I often say that “remote best practices are really business best practices.” At Andela we have a lot of conversations about how to ensure everyone has a fair and equitable voice. It’s a business best practice to ensure that you set up your meetings to be inclusive to promote diversity of thought and avoid groupthink.
There are many techniques your team can leverage to set up meetings for success, but it’s equally important as a remote employee that you commit to being an active listener, speaking up, and sharing the floor with your colleagues. Don’t fall in the trap of being a silent observer sitting on mute.
Here are some ways to have an inclusive conversation:
• Share an agenda beforehand with prep materials to ensure everyone is on the same page.
• Decided who should be in the conversation, the purpose of the meeting, and the desired outcome.
• Introduce everyone on the call and any context to why they’ve been included.
• As a rule of thumb, If one person is remote on video, everyone should be on video to have an equal conversation.
• Pay attention to conversation balance. Encourage or call on team members who may quiet or who could provide an informed opinion.
• If there is a talking order, post a list of names in the chat to prevent people from talking over each other
• Use the power of “YES, and…” Build upon people’s ideas, understand the meaning behind the meaning.
• Regularly ask, “Are there any questions?” or “Was that point clear, any clarification needed?
• Never interrupt and allow people to feel confident when they speak.
#8 Thou shall be a calendar superstar
As I’ve been writing my Distributed Work 10 Commandments and Andela has gone to a 100% remote company, I’ve noticed that our Google Calendar has become a super tool we all rely on.
Here’s why your calendar is powerful:
• Your calendar is a real-time snapshot of your day.
At any given time, we ask that our team’s calendars are as up-to-date as possible. We ask our teams to put on the calendar and update their Slack status anytime they’ll be away from their desk for more than 30 minutes. This allows the team to have an expectation of response time and give empathy in scheduling other meetings around appointments, child care, and commutes.
Our most productive employees time-block their day. They’ll mark when they’ll be dedicating focus to certain tasks so that we can be considerate or ask for permission if we need to schedule a call.
Accept or decline meeting invites. Follow-up with invitations asap if you cannot make the time and need to reschedule.
• Your calendar is a meeting accelerator!
As a best practice, every meeting should have an agenda, key documents attached, prep questions, and the purpose and outcome.
Every meeting should have clear dial-in instructions for video and phone connection – the best meetings kickoff on time instead of wasting valuable time for set up. PRO TIP: If you use Zoom, add the Chrome Extension to make adding meet details simple.
The meeting coordinator should remember to send a prep note before to all attendees and a recap note afterward to attendees and key stakeholders. If relevant, the recap note should include the meeting notes and recording.
• Your calendar is searchable. If you do a good job creating agendas and adding context to your calendar invites, you’ll have a documented record of past conversations and decisions that were made.
• Your calendar is a global team’s best friend for managing time zones.
○ Set work hours. Most calendars allow you to set your work hours to ensure your team knows when you’ll be signing on each day and when you’ll be signing off. Your teammates will get a notification if they schedule a meeting outside of your work hours.
○ In Google Calendar go to (Calendar > Settings > General > Working Hours)
○ Use Time Zone and World Clock. You can set a primary and secondary time zone to display on your calendar at all times. Additionally, Google Calendar allows you to add 4 more timezones on the world clock so that you can click on any time of the day and it will auto-adjust.
○ In Google Calendar go to (Calendar > Settings > General > Time Zone and World Clock)
#9: Thou Shall Leave the House
Make it a goal to get outside every day! (especially when you don’t have to social-distance!)
Once you get into the rhythm of remote work, you’re going to get more work done than ever, but all of a sudden you may find yourself forgetting to eat, working until 7 pm, and for me… I will forget to leave my apartment for days. It’s essential to establish work/life balance and to get your daily dose of oxygen.Some Simple Ideas:
• Take walking meetings via phone.
• Build-in your “commute” to catch up on news/podcasts -Most mornings, my dog and I take a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood while listening to The New York Times, The Daily and Robinhood Snacks.
• Attend local networking events online or in-person (when we’re back to “normal”).
• Set up bike rides/run clubs with friends (again, when it is allowed again).
• Commit to your work hours and sign-off for the day!
• Another technique is changing your environment throughout the day to be more productive. For example, I frequently split my time into thirds:
○ Mornings: Home office.
○ Mid-Day: Coffee shop (when it will be allowed).
○ Afternoon: Apartment lobby or my couch.
Find the rhythm that works for you. It may take some time to adjust, and that’s okay!
#10: Thou Shall Prioritize Team Culture
At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all have a life outside of work and other priorities. We all want to work for a company that is fun and has great people.
It’s up to the leadership and every employee to contribute to the workplace culture and to ensure that people are working towards a common goal and maintaining company values. As a remote company, there are so many ways to share laughs, bond outside of the office, and celebrate wins. The more employees can be themselves and let their personalities shine, the stronger your culture will be! A strong culture is one that’s built on trust and empowerment.
Here are some of my favorite remote-work culture examples.
At GitHub, they have over 2,000 remote employees and have subgroups for different peer groups. For example, they have employee resource groups (ERGs) set up for:
○ WomenOnboarding Classes
○ Employees of Color
○ Co-located Employees (to meet up for lunch or team meetings
The peer groups are endless, but incredibly valuable
BleacherReport hosted a Hot Sauce Challenge. They sent a box to all of their employees with 5 different hot sauces and everyone on the call had to join a zoom call and try each of the sauces. If you made it through all 5 hot sauces you win. Ultimate Hot Sauce Party
At Andela, we hosted a Halloween Costume Party with our team based in our African offices in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and Egypt. We encouraged everyone to dress up and had the team vote on a winner!
Other simple ideas:
Rotate teams hosting a company-wide remote happy hour to cheers-on wins for the week (celebrate), “day-in-the-life of that team” (learn something new about the teams) and have some fun activity (bond) such as a themed event (i.e. College Shirt Day), Bingo, Teammate Trivia, Family Feud, Cribs, Talent Show, Dance-Off, etc.
Have a public channel or weekly email thread centered around fun themes (#ThrowbackThursday Pictures, Weekend Plans in Emojis, Jokes, Trivia, etc).
Remote Best Practices are Business Best Practices
Time to come down from the mountain and put these commandments into practice! Let’s face it, it is easy to take teammates for granted when you know you will see them in the office every day. Remember–remote best practices are also business best practices, it’s not rocket science or something to fear. Don’t be surprised if you find that your team’s productivity increases, collaboration improves, and your culture is stronger. Follow these commandments and you’ll be well on your way to being an ELITE remote team. Best of luck and don’t wear pajamas!
Engineering teams around the world are now working without an office, many for the first time. For more information about how to make the shift to all-remote teams, check out our recorded webinar, “Best Practices for Remote Engineering Teams: How Teams Can Thrive Without the Office.” Andela CTO David Blair and GitHub VP of Engineering Sha Ma shared best practices around communication, collaboration, and culture.