Virtual Team Tips: Best Practices from Remote Workers

Virtual Team Tips: Best Practices from Remote Workers

At my current company, Unity Technologies, over 20% of our employees work remotely full time or some days of the week. Needless to say, we have some experts on how to be effective while working from home. Unfortunately not every company has so many people working from home, so that is why I wanted to share the wealth. Here is a running list of recommendations and activities that are being shared by my Unity colleagues. I will continue to add to the list as new things get shared in Unity.

Take Care of Yourself

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Working from home can be stressful, even in normal situations, but when you add the COVID-19 pandemic, I am certain that most of us are feeling more stressed than normal. But similar to an airplane’s safety recommendation (put on your oxygen mask before putting on the masks of others), you need to make sure you are taking care of yourself. Here are some easy things my Unity colleagues recommend to make sure you are maintain your sanity while working from home:

  • Go through the morning motions normally. Shower, breakfast, get dressed etc. And only then start working. You’re going to be working from your living space, the ritual is important to switch from life to work mode. Likewise, have a ritual to switch off when your workday’s over. Your commute back home normally does that for you; find a (potentially less tedious) alternative.
  • At lunch, get out of your house! That doesn’t mean go eat out, but it does mean get away from your work area. Go outside. Go for a walk. Just get a change of scenery! Having a doggo helps as she needs daily walks. If you can’t leave your house, then just get up and move around.
  • Set an end time for the day and switch everything off. You don’t need to be working 24/7.
  • Take care of your social life. This might be the most difficult item in the list right now. But let’s all believe that the situation will improve and not everyone needs to become a hermit in the long term
  • One suggestion for focusing on ergonomics… those of us who are using our work laptop on a desk with an existing PC – try using Synergy (https://symless.com/synergy) to share your keyboard/mouse to your laptop.  It’s not free, but cross-platform & well worth the cost.

Virtual Team Tips: Best Practices from Remote Workers

As Much as Possible Avoid Distractions

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When I work from home, the couch always seems to be calling my name. And now with the COVID-19 pandemic, my distractions have only increased. I find myself checking the news more and talking about the situation with my wife. At the same time, my kid’s kindergarten is closed. So I have two hurricanes of distraction and destruction trapped inside my house. Here are some of the ways my Unity colleagues avoid distractions:

  • At home, find a spot to work from and stick to it. Ideally you have a study area, a spare bedroom. Otherwise commit a spot in your home to it. Work only from there. Segregating your “work space” and “life space” will help you keep your sanity. If you blur the line, your home may lose its “sanctuary” feel
  • Personal Interruptions. Working from home, it’s VERY easy to get distracted by ‘Honey, could we go do X for a few minutes’. At work we still run errands, but working from home, it’s super-easy to have those pile up into 3 hour blocks.  So schedule an hour daily for ‘running errands’. I usually do mine over lunch.
  • Try to set rules of engagement if you have other people at home, especially kids, and especially if you work better in blocks of undistracted time – ie: it’s not because i’m WFH that i am available to <insert everything your loved ones would typically ask from you during a weekend>
  • A favorite app of mine to stay focused: You set a timer and while it runs, it “plants and grow” a virtual tree. If you pick up the phone earlier, the tree will die. If you’re successful, you’ll end up with a little forest of your own. Furthermore, the Forest team is teamed up with a real-tree-planting organization, Trees for the future, so whenever a user has earned enough virtual coins, real money will be donated to this organization. Might sound too good to be true, but the app works for me (and sorry if it’s been shared already). https://apps.apple.com/dk/app/forest-stay-focused/id866450515?l=da

Virtual Team Tips: Best Practices from Remote Workers

Stay Connected with Colleagues

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Working from home can be lonely. My direct team is not located in the same country as me, so I have already gotten used to working remotely with them. But I do have a lot of friends and colleagues in my office that I connect with throughout a normal day. So even though I have some great online connections, I need to make sure I stay connected with all of my colleagues. Here are tips from my colleagues at Unity about online relationships:

  • Connection is very, very important; one reason WFH drives us bonkers is being stuck in a very predictable controlled environment. I know it sounds counterintuitive but if you WFH alone, anything you can do to introduce random and/or human elements to your environment are helpful – jump on voice chat with some friends or colleagues while you work, put the radio on instead of choosing your own music, or take mindfulness breaks to observe something you have no control over, like a pet or a bird or a tree outside your window. These things really help!
  • Something I’ve done before is to share ‘what’s outside your window?’ So colleagues get a feel for the environment in which you work.
  • Slack is an asynchronous communication channel. Don’t expect answers right away and don’t try to always answer right away. Less stress and distraction for everyone. Supplement slack with voice/video calls. If slack chat feels clunky just have a quick call.
  • Don’t be late for video meetings! Expectations are higher when you’re WFH that you’re available, do the extra when it comes to communication and even commenting in Slack throughout the day gives a slight perception of engagement that can be beneficial

Virtual Team Tips: Best Practices from Remote Workers

Be as Productive as Possible When Time is Limited

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I try to recognize that colleagues have different situations to me. I have 2 young kids, who are not home with me. This is very different from my colleague who has two older kids and home, and my manager who has adult children out of the house. While they can work a more normal day at home, I have to balance work with kids. So I try and be as productive as possible in short slots of time. Here are some things my colleagues at Unity recommended about being more productive at home:

  • Do not get into the trap of setting up too many meetings, channels, and syncs just to be “social”. Too many meetings is well known to decrease work output and decrease work happiness. Social != Meetings. Meetings are for work. It’s a fine balance, but please don’t burn out too quickly with over compensating from the norm.
  • Allow yourself distractions! It’s incredibly easy to fall into the “oh, I’ve been working for the last 5 hours straight”. I’ve got a smartwatch that makes me get up every hour – setting a periodic reminder to stretch/wander around the house/get some fresh air will help your overall wellbeing.
  • The Pomodoro method is a well-established time management system. You essentially work in timed blocks of 25 minutes, with a 5-minute break between each block. Each block is called a Pomodoro. After four Pomodoros, take a longer timed break of 30 minutes. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique
  • A distractions list is something I created as a place to dump thoughts and diversions that might otherwise cause me to procrastinate during a time when I am being productive. On a piece of paper, I make two lists; once called ACTIONS, and one called ABSTRACT. If I think of something I need to do that isn’t relevant to the item I’m currently working on, it goes in the ACTIONS list (e.g. “I should see if X sent me an email” or “I need to buy milk later”). If I think of something I need to think about more or investigate, it goes in the ABSTRACT list (e.g. “I wonder how I can optimize my desk set-up” or “I wonder how Doritos are made”). I then come back to that list during my Pomodoro breaks.

Virtual Team Tips: Best Practices from Remote Workers

The situation is evolving, and so will this list…

One of my colleagues said it best. “This scenario is quickly becoming very different for many people. This is a situation that many of us and our team members will now have to adapt to, which will put even more constraints on schedules (and require more flexibility) than many of us were expecting even days ago…”

So I am making my promise to you, as the reality of living through this COVID-19 pandemic changes, we will look to change the recommendations as well.

I am also creating a Virtual Team Toolkit for people and managers full of team effectiveness exercises that can run virtually. Here are some of the exercises that will be a part of the Toolkit:

Virtual Team Tips: Best Practices from Remote Workers

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