Working from home presents both an opportunity and a challenge, whether it’s prompted by an unforeseen situation like a global health crisis or it’s central to the nature of your job.
The opportunity lies in finding new ways to stay connected with your team and to keep your work moving forwards. The challenge is knowing where to start and what to prioritise. The good news is that many people are working from home and staying productive, so you can too.
In this guide we’ll run through basic principles for productive telecommuting for all levels and types of jobs. First, though, how common is remote work these days?
1. Remote work by the numbers
The latest global data
Most companies today allow at least some level of flexibility for working from home. In collaboration with research firm GlobalWebIndex, Slack surveyed 17,000 knowledge workers across ten countries in 2019, and found that 75% of these workers were permitted to work from home to some extent. Of those, 51% said that remote work was OK in some circumstances, and 24% said that it was broadly permitted by their workplaces.
Remote work is no longer the exception.
What’s driving the shift? Technological advances, changes in workplace demographics as more and more digital natives fill up company ranks, and an expanding roster of companies, such as Slack customer and partner Zapier, where everyone is WFA: work from anywhere.
2. Setting yourself up for success
Learning what works
Whether you are new to remote work or fairly familiar with the concept, the questions are pretty universal: Will I be able to keep up with my work? Will colleagues and managers still notice my contributions, even if I’m not in the office? Will I feel isolated now that my team is at a distance?
We’ve learned a lot from people who use Slack for remote work, including internal teams.
By focusing on these areas, you’ll tackle the most common concerns head-on. Let’s look deeper into each one.
3. Keeping productive
Modern work needs modern tools
Slack’s founding team included two fully remote members working with colleagues who were split between two offices in two different countries, so remote work is in our DNA.
We rely on channels, the space in Slack where work is organised and where you can message the whole team, just a small group or individuals, provide updates, share files, receive organisation-wide announcements and plenty more.
Many companies, including Slack, have channels for almost everything, from individual projects to entire teams. For example, just because you can’t walk down the hall to the finance department, that doesn’t mean that you’re out of luck or left digging for the right person. Simply go to the #help-finance channel to drop your question in or ask for a private direct message back. The team has transparency around requests and urgency, and can address things efficiently.
Here’s another common concern among many remote teams: How am I going to know what everyone is working on? Does this mean more meetings, leaving me with less time to do work? Many remote teams take the opportunity to increase transparency and decrease unnecessary meetings. For example, you can hold a daily stand-up meeting right within Slack. It’s interactive, easy to set up and will get your team aligned quickly.
Channels are also where you take action regarding your work – hitting deadlines, giving approvals, reviewing documents and more. Public channels, for example, are a great way to keep people informed of progress without the need for regular meetings.
Effective remote work extends beyond software, of course, and into optimising your physical space and well-being.
Overall, don’t feel like you don’t have control over your schedule or your work – it just may take some adjustments.
4. Staying visible
Focus on thoughtful engagement
Team spaces and main offices don’t have to be physical to be meaningful and engaging. The average user of Slack is engaged with Slack for nine hours per day, because it quickly becomes the default ‘main office’, where you come to do your work and get the information that you need to have the biggest effect.
You’ll also want to think about how to make goals and works-in-progress broadly visible to the team. Shifting back to channels, here’s what we’re discussing in the #remote-best-practices channel at Slack. Highly successful remote workers invest in using video to see and hear their team, and vice versa. A few things to consider:
- Video chats don’t have to be formal meetings. You can start a voice call or a video call right in Slack, so when messages aren’t enough, you can take a minute to talk it through.
- Think about accessibility. For lip-readers, if they can’t see your face, they will not be able to understand what you are saying.
- Be mindful of what’s in your background. Adorable pets and nice views are usually fine, but a glaring sun behind you, or a lot of clutter? Not so much. When life happens, Zoom, a Slack partner, offers handy virtual backgrounds.
- Dress for the occasion. Sure, one benefit of telecommuting is a more relaxed dress code, but professionalism will surely suffer if you’re always on video meetings dressed for the gym rather than the office.
- Use your status updates in Slack to communicate your availability. Working from home doesn’t mean that you need to be on call 24/7.
- Managers may want to check that they aren’t drifting into micromanaging and instead focus on transparent output.
5. Creating connections
Filling the human-interaction gap
Okta, an identity security company and Slack customer, understands the importance of taking time to forge connections among remote workers. The company’s efforts can be as comprehensive as adjusting onboarding practices for all remote workers to include video introductions, or as simple as taking a few minutes at the beginning of virtual meetings to catch up, recap the weekend or share news on projects. Okta’s Remy Champion, who works from her home in Haiku, Hawaii, over 2,000 miles away from the main Okta office, says that personal relationships and trust lead to better team collaboration and results.
Take the time to celebrate team wins, team members’ birthdays and other milestones. All of those emojis and reaction emojis within Slack are there for a reason – for teams to express more than what simply typing words can convey.
Video can help here, too. Some of our managers at Slack host regular video-based ‘toasts’ or happy hours with their remote teams. Everyone brings a favourite beverage to a video meeting and takes turns to share recognition.
Another great tip from our remote-experienced managers: Pay extra attention to your local announcement and discussion channels in Slack, because you’ll be missing out on those café and hallway talks.
Related content: Ready for more tactical advice? Bookmark this guide for more Slack-specific tips for when you and your team are up and running.
6. Assessing your apps and integrations
Find all your tools in one place
The average worker today will interact with a wide range of apps at work, logging on to one to request paid leave, then another to file an expense report, and so on. It’s crucial that your time spent working remotely includes seamless access to the apps that you use the most. Even small companies will use about 40 applications in total, according to one survey, while medium to large enterprises may have anywhere from 200 to over 1,000.
We use many of these apps without leaving the Slack platform, which cuts down on context switching, a well-known productivity killer. Our App Directory now features more than 2,000 different apps, including the perennially popular Google and Office 365 integrations.
Other remote-friendly integrations to consider include Zoom video conferencing and using Slackbot or Workflow Builder integrations to engage with your teams. Slackbot comes with Slack and can be programmed with automatic prompts such as ‘What are you working on today?’ or, as we have on the marketing team here, a ‘Fri-yay’ celebration prompt to show peer and partner appreciation that pops up in our team channel every Friday. Buffer, a social media company, created a handy round-up of Slack apps that they use for remote work for their fully distributed staff.
7. Thinking about trust and security
You’ll want to ensure that your data is safe while you work from anywhere
Another common question about shifting from in-office work to telecommuting is how to do it safely and securely; after all, your company might not be big enough to have its own VPN, or virtual private network. If you don’t, it’s OK. We encrypt all of the data for you.
Another issue is scale. If world events force everyone to suddenly work from home, can your software support the load? At Slack, we scale up to meet demand as more people use the product. IBM currently has 350,000 users on Slack – its entire global workforce. IBM teams use Slack to minimise distractions by relying less on meetings and email on the communications front, but also as a means to align its development and operations.
Twitter recently combined Slack and Google Meet to stage its first virtual global all-hands meeting for all 4,600 employees, which one staffer described on his public Twitter feed afterwards as feeling ‘like a small meeting with the reach of an all-hands’.
8. Exploring what’s next
Learning and thriving is the name of the game
Working from home, even for a short time, can prompt new insights into how you work and offer a different frame of connection with your colleagues. Be open to new ways of working. Know that it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.