20 Essential Tips to Make Working from Home Work for You
It’s undoubtedly been a crazy year for many businesses, but out of the last year’s challenges, we also saw some interesting innovations and shifts in cultural perception. Of those, one of the biggest shifts in business has of course been remote work.
In September 2020, we announced our decision to permanently become a remote-first company, citing the desire to source exceptional talent from around the world and give our employees the freedom to work anywhere within +4 hours of the Pacific time zone.
But how has that played out, and what have we learned that we can share with customers and other entrepreneurs reading this?
In a recent survey from The Kung Group that looked at 500 founders of venture-backed companies, 76% of founders said their company’s productivity had either increased or stayed the same as a result of working remotely. Overall, we’ve seen something similar at Brex. Productivity has increased significantly since we first went remote.
Quality of life has also improved in many ways, with 86% of team members saying they enjoy working remotely. Employees are now able to move closer to family, buy their first home, and live in more affordable areas or closer to nature.
As a company, we’ve also greatly reduced overhead costs by closing the majority of our larger offices in favor of smaller hubs, and we’ve been able to allocate some of these saved expenses to offer flexible monthly WFH stipends for employees, as well as valuable investments into our remote technology.
The Challenges of Working Remotely
Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth-sailing, and we’ve had to learn as we go along. The need to physically connect as humans is undoubtedly very real, and aside from being soul-nourishing, is important for teambuilding and avoiding miscommunication.
It’s also true that, for many companies, having less of a clear distinction between ‘home life’ and ‘work life’ has meant that employees have found it more difficult to disconnect from work, and therefore end up working longer hours.
While working longer hours may at first seem like a good thing to some employers, working longer doesn’t necessarily mean getting more done (see Parkinson’s Law), and at Brex we’ve found that what’s best for work is a work-life balance.
Whether you're an employee or founder, you can't really be expected to connect without being able to disconnect and take care of yourself. And when it comes to productivity, the two aren't mutually exclusive.
Innovation often comes from downtime— from visits to new places, catching up with friends and family, reading, and seeing great art. While we’ve temporarily lost some of that during the pandemic, having enough of your own time is valuable and necessary, both for yourself and your company.
So how have we dealt with this? —Well, to begin with, we’ve found that having frequent culture surveys for employees has been helpful, as well as asking employees to share feedback with us and each other on how they make remote work work for them.
Here’s a look at the top tips we’ve gathered, with the hope of helping others continue to adjust to a trend that’s here to stay.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we work and the roles we have open, visit brex.com/careers.
How to Improve Remote Work
1) Assume positive intent
Reading someone's tone over email or messaging can be challenging, but it saves a lot of stress if you assume the sender is coming from a good place. If you need clarification, ask questions or consider hopping on a quick Zoom or video call to chat face-to-face.
2) Dedicate time in meetings to build genuine relationships
Remote working can at times become a bit transactional, so it's important to build personal connections with teammates. Use the first 5 minutes of each meeting to get to know your teammates, or check-in with them to see how they're doing. For more involved team building activities, check out this guide.
3) Be present on Zoom, Skype and other video calls
Remember that you’ve been invited to a meeting because you play a key role or there’s important information to hear. Focus on the person on the other side of the screen and show that you’re paying attention. Afterall, everyone wants to feel like their message is heard and appreciated, and being able to make others feel that way is always a valuable skill to cultivate in virtual meetings and in-person.
4) Use ‘gallery mode’ on Zoom
Changing the view to gallery mode in Zoom allows you to see everyone’s face and reactions in a meeting simultaneously. This is valuable for creating a sense of community and group participation in meetings, and it also helps you better gauge yourself when speaking. If you don't use Zoom, most video conferencing apps should still have this option.
5) Put time aside to read group Slack or Google Hangouts messages
On that note, it’s also good to set aside time to stay up-to-date with team happenings by reading any Slack or group messages you may have. If you’re pressed for time, you can quickly acknowledge you’ve read a message with an emoji, like thumbs up👍 or eyes 👀.
6) Send a meeting agenda
Successful meetings are thought through and planned appropriately. Create and send an agenda at least 24 hours in advance. A good meeting agenda includes the purpose of the meeting, desired outcome, and key topics to be discussed.
7) Ask yourself: does this really need a meeting?
Conference calls and video conferences should be used as an opportunity to bring teams together or for when moving forward requires a more in-depth conversation. Not everything needs a meeting. In fact, a lot of things don’t.
8) Set 15/25/50-minute meetings
Of the meetings that are truly important or essential, you may want to avoid back-to-back meetings by giving yourself some breathing room, or at least a minute break. You can do this by setting your default event duration in your Google Calendar settings to 15, 25 or 50-minutes.
9) Reduce interruptions whenever possible
Studies show it takes around 20 minutes to get back into a “flow state” once you've been interrupted. Assess your work environment for distractions. Ask family members not to interrupt you during regular work hours. Let others know how important it is to you to not be disturbed until the end of the day, especially if you have more of a shared co-working space. Likewise, turn off LinkedIn or other social media notifications on your phone, and place your phone on silent unless you expect incoming phone calls for work.
10) Set aside time every day for your inbox
On the whole, employees who work remotely often see an increase in their emails. Start every day with reviewing emails and prioritizing what is most important. It’s also a good habit to manage your inbox (deleting, starring, filing, etc.) throughout the day so you don’t create an overcrowded inbox.
11) Audit your recurring meetings
Many businesses are always evolving, and certain meetings can become obsolete. It’s good practice to review all meetings for purpose and quality at least once per quarter, and eliminate anything that’s no longer necessary or adding value. Another helpful tip is to set an initial cap on the number of times the meeting recurs, so that you’re forced to consider whether you still need the meeting once the set number of meetings ends.
12) Start and end meetings on time
Respect everyone's time, and be punctual. Ensure meetings also end early so you don't create a domino effect of late meetings.
13) Consider using a project management app like Trello
Trello can be a great way to manage projects, prioritize important tasks, and collaborate with team members. Trello uses Kanban boards for project management. It also helps you organize your day, track your time, and see all your tasks in one place— an efficiency booster and stress-reliever for most people.
14) Create a workspace where employees are encouraged to set boundaries
If you’re a founder, it’s important to encourage your employees to set personal boundaries for themselves, and to encourage managers to also send this message to their remote teams. The idea is to foster a workspace where remote workers feel valued and respected, where productivity is increased, and burn-out is rare.
15) Protect your personal time by setting a hard-stop and scheduling time in your calendar
Know that it’s always ok to set boundaries for yourself as an employee. Schedule your workday in a way that accounts for your personal commitments and breaks. Be intentional in scheduling focus work blocks to allow for uninterrupted work time. Set your ‘Working Hours’ in your Google Calendar settings.
16) Make your work area comfortable
If you notice your arms, shoulders, neck, back, or wrists bothering you after prolonged periods of working, it could be that something with your home office setup isn’t quite right. The height of your chair or desk may need adjusting, or the position of your keyboard. In any case, it’s often good to invest in ergonomic office equipment, which have adjustable features to help you work in comfort.
At Brex, we offer a work-from-home stipend to help employees cover these costs, though employees are for the most part able to spend their stipend in a way that works best for them.
17) Eat meals away from your laptop
Changing environments stimulates creativity. Consider your lunch break a time to step away from work and get some fresh air. Make sure you schedule time to eat and that time is spent away from your workspace.
18) Make time to exercise (without turning it into a big task)
For many people, exercising each day while managing your personal life and work schedule can feel daunting. The good news is that you don’t have to put in that much time to get results.
For example, when paired with a good diet, weight training for 20 or 30 minutes three times a week is enough to see noticeable improvement over time. And on the subject of time and persistence, there’s a quote by author Earl Nightingale which we find helpful: “Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway.”
19) Be respectful of others' calendars
When scheduling meetings, be mindful of the other person’s schedule. Pay attention to time zones, personal and family time, or focused work time. For urgent requests, it may be best to reach out and notify them before scheduling the meeting.
20) Ensure you have a reliable internet connection and follow security best practices
Many people may not think much about online security unless they work in IT, but experiencing a company data breach or getting your personal information hacked can be extremely stressful.
Hacking incidences have been on the rise in 2020 and 2021 due to the increase in remote work and the vulnerabilities of home networks, so it's good to follow security best practices. This includes changing the default password on your WI-FI router to a unique one, updating the firmware on your laptop, keeping your operating system and software up-to-date, and using an authenticator app to enable two-factor authentication. You can learn more about tips for online security here.