Tips For Working From Home Without The Added Stress, From A Remote Worker.

Good morning world! 

Firstly let me say, I hope you and your family are safe and sound and AT HOME. Secondly let me say, I hope we are all thinking about the vulnerable, not our own little luxuries. Thirdly let me say, how heartwarming it is to see the vast majority of humanity doing exactly that! Wow. There you are mankind, I thought we’d lost you for a moment. 

It has been a strange week of both disruption and fear, warmth and kindness. The polarity of our species is on high-beam. Despite the toilet paper tantrums and moments of panic, at the end of the day we have been singing, sharing and staying out of the way. I want to hug you all. But I won’t for obvious reasons. 

I hope when we come through this, we remember what it is to slow down and sing together. 

However for now, regardless of the long term societal shift this period of sickness will bring, we must keep our wheels turning. We must keep winning bread, selling bread and making bread when and where we can. We have to keep things moving. Even in strange environments and new settings. 

For many of us (the lucky ones) that simply means working on our computers from home. Our biggest upheaval is mitigating new distractions and figuring out how to ‘plug-in’ using technology, without the added stress. 

While it can be tough at first, as someone who worked remotely for almost four years, I’m here to tell you it can also be great! 

Up until late last year, I worked from different countries while managing a small team in Sydney, all from the light-weight convenience of my rose-gold MacBook Air. 

When I started, I set up big obnoxious desks, with pin-boards and calendars and millions of post-it notes, trying to replicate a ‘real’ office. But after a while, I learnt what was necessary and what was surplus. I learnt how to streamline the tools I was using and maximise my time. 

There are some really easy ways to feel in control and connected to your job and team while working from home, you just need to know what they are.

So here are my top-tips (Ps. I have chosen to focus on mostly FREE tech for my fellow hustlers)

Pick ONE communication platform. 

There are many great communication tools you can choose from. Slack is wonderful for big teams as it allows you to have different channels or threads (aka, different topics of discussion or project teams). I used Skype for my team because we were only three to five people at any given time and we needed to all be in one conversation. Skype will also work in low internet bandwidth. Which was great for me because I was working mainly from the Pacific Islands. It is also free. 

My tips for choosing a communication platform are:

1 – Choose one that works on a computer (not WhatsApp or Viber). People get tired of typing on phones.

2 – Choose one that is easy to scroll up, see chat history or search (not Email). Things get missed and it causes mass disorganisation. 

3 – Choose one that lets you tag certain people in comments (both Slack and Skype do this). 

More important than which one you choose, is the need to CHOOSE. Do not have some people talking here and others talking there. Decide on one and go forth as one!

Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

Have a meeting call PROTOCOL. 

Is anyone else familiar with this scenario? 

“Hi guys, can you hear me”
“Hi everyone.” 

“Hey, who’s that?”
“It’s Tom. Is someone there? Sorry my speaker, one sec.”
“Is that you Karen?”
“Not it’s Tom. I don’t think she’s in here.”
“Oh, I saw she just accepted the invite.”
“Maybe she is in the Google Hangouts link?”

“Was there a Google Hangouts link?”
“Yes, in the Google Invite. But I saw the Zoom email.” 

“Okay. Let me hang up and go into the Google Hangout. Be right back.”
*5 minutes later*
“Hey you still there?”

“Yup! How’d you go? Everyone here?”
“No, Bob suggested we jump into Google Hangouts instead. He said it works better. Let’s hang up and join that call.”
“Okay.” 

“Chat in a sec.”
*1 minute later*
“Okay! I think we are all here!” 

“Hi everyone, Bob here.” 
“Hi Bob.”
“Tom you there?”
*Silence*
“Tom you ….? Tom was … the Zoom. Maybe he …. trouble with his mic.”
“You’re dropping out.”
“Should we just begin and he can join later?”
“Let’s start … and .. Okay?”

“Are we starting?”

Sigh. 10 minutes of my day I will never get back. Make that 50 minutes. Because this will happen nearly every time you have a call if you don’t have a meeting call protocol. (Everyone has a cousin who knows the best online meeting tech, or a mic that doesn’t work, or has to call from a car once in a while.)

This is Tom. Poor Tom. Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

I highly suggest, you get all of the rules of online meeting calls out of the way right away, so you don’t waste anyone’s time. Write it out. It is one page. Send it around. Make sure everyone has fed in. (more on that below). And stick to it.

Every company’s procedure will be different, but may I suggest: 

1 – Choose one calling platform and/or set up a permanent link to an online meeting room. Only ONE. 

2 – Make everyone arrive 5 minutes early to test your mics and camera. Leave enough time for people to be able fix any bugs or issues. 

3 – Encourage everyone who isn’t speaking to put themselves on mute

4 – Make. Sure. Each. Call. Has. A. Nominated. Facilitator! I can’t stress this enough. This person doesn’t always have to be the project lead, but it should be the person who understands the agenda, knows what the team needs to get out of the call and can note take. When you don’t have a facilitator, agenda or mechanism to note take, the call ends up being one person speaking and no one really listening and definitely no one actioning anything afterwards. I learned this one the hard way and it was completely my completely fault for not being set up for organised interaction. Note to self: A meeting call is not a webinar. 

Use your Google Apps as an online office. 

When used properly, Google docs and sheets are completely amazing. They are live, interactive and responsive. And free with your Google Account. You can tag people, make changes together and track progress really easily and inexpensively. 

Here are some of the ways I use all the free Google docs and sheets to make life easier: 

1 – I turn a Google Sheet into a Task Tracker with lots of automated cells to make the project blueprint really clear and concise. I have cells indicating who is responsible for each task under each project, with automated due dates and sections for updates on progress. (If you want my templates, just email me at hi@theprojectscreative.com)

2 – I have a Meeting Call Log (usually another tab on the same Google Sheet) so all my conversations are stored as action points that can be easily transferred to the Task Tracker. 

3 – When I would send out Google Docs for feedback I would tag each person in the areas I needed them to feed into. And give them a tentative deadline.

4 – Now here is my best little secret that I have saved until last for you good people who read until the very end. Shhh… Get DocBuilder. It allows you to nominate documents that you will need to copy and paste time and time again. Think your ‘About Us’ section. Think ‘Pitch Template’. Think ‘Thanks for getting in contact, we are currently …” . Whatever it is that you find yourself writing, day in and day out – DON’T. Get DocBuilder. When you or your team are creating a new document, make sure you are creating it from the SAME templates or copywriting. It is a life changer

Now. In case you don’t know this, I am inherently a lover of the good life. I drink wine, laugh with friends, play guitar, watch lots of conspiracy documentaries. So you can trust me.

I DO NOT like spending my time typing up brand new documents, finding documents, writing new blurbs for websites that are similar to the one I just wrote, or making calls to people to ask the same questions over and over and over again. No. Who does right?

That’s why, as an unplugged remote worker, After much trial and error, I learnt to organise myself and my team and keep it as simple and cost effective as possible.

Design a system, Edit the system, Use the system.

This is me. Photo Credit, also me.

And drink lots of tea, play the music you like and let your skin be make-up free forever more.

Good Luck!

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