Working Remotely: 7 Tips to Maximize Productivity

With the COVID-19 Coronavirus in the news and at the top of peoples’ minds, thousands if not millions of workers may find themselves working remotely, some as a precaution, some as a self-quarantine. As a fully-remote company and also producers of software that enables remote work, x.ai is in a unique position to offer perspective on how to embrace your new set-up. Here are seven things all remote workers should do to maximize their productivity (and maintain their sanity).

1. Partition your time

When working remotely, you have the benefit of never having to leave home. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, if you flip that coin over, you will find that you also never leave work since home and work are now one and the same. Many remote workers find themselves working longer hours, working odd hours of the night, or working too few hours and becoming unproductive. Without the natural delineation of a commute, it becomes important to define your starting and stopping times, as well as the things you need to accomplish each day. This will help you keep your work and your personal life separated, as they have a tendency to blend together when working from home.

2. Partition your space

Not everyone has a home office where they can lock the door, put on the coffee, and dive into a spreadsheet. I am based in Manhattan, where space is at a huge premium. However, I have managed to set aside one corner of a room to set up a desk and a comfortable office chair where I can work. By keeping your “work space,” no matter how modest, separate from your living space, you can keep it in a silo. Besides, working with a laptop on a couch is just asking for back problems.

3. Take care of yourself

This may seem like a silly thing to remember, but take it from a veteran telecommuter: You will want to keep that morning routine. There is a strong temptation to just roll out of bed, fire up the laptop, and get to it. Not only does this disrupt your usual routine, it also results in bad habits, sluggishness, and overall malaise. Wake up at the normal time. Shower, shave, have sherbet, whatever your normal routine is, keep it! You’ll find you are in a much more productive mood when you are fresh. Don’t forget to eat right and exercise as well, even if it is just pacing the room every 10 minutes. It helps ameliorate the ennui of being homebound.

4. Keep up your face-to-face meetings with video

In a coronavirus quarantine, face-to-face meetings, handshakes, and a shared coffee pot are simply no longer options for maintaining connections with your team. However, there are dozens of tools, many free, designed to keep the camaraderie going. Here at x.ai, we use collaboration tools like Google Meet, Zoom, Google Drive, Slack (with Slack calling), Github, and every now and then good old fashioned email to stay in close contact. Whatever tool you use for video conferencing, make sure to turn your camera ON. When you are on camera you cannot wander away, you cannot look like hammered bubble gum (see number 3 above), and you are able to convey and receive the non-verbal communication that is such a valuable part of in-person interactions. No excuses. Use video.

5. Bias yourself toward ad hoc meetings

One thing you will miss while in self-imposed covid quarantine is the small sidebar conversations that happen in the hallways, at the water cooler, and in the cafe. Not just about last night’s game, but about next week’s project, too. If you are having a Slack conversation with your colleague, the moment it becomes more detailed and needs to be less asynchronous, jump on a call. That is one of our favorite phrases here at x.ai: “Let’s jump on a call.” With Google Meet and Slack, a quick video chat is just a  few keystrokes away. When in doubt, talk it out — with your camera on!

6. Embrace transparency across your team

No one likes being left out of the loop. Here at x.ai we have a Slack channel called “Meeting Announcements.” Any team that is having a meeting posts the Google Meet link in that channel and all are welcome to attend. It may sound invasive, but it is an excellent exercise in transparency. In addition, we initiate meetings using our own x.ai Slack plugin in public channels. Direct messages have their place and their usefulness, but more often than not we prefer to conduct all conversations publicly. It helps ensure everyone feels included and connected as a team.

7. Add standups to your daily and weekly routines

Many companies do this already, but typically only within engineering teams or other technically-focused disciplines. When working remotely it is crucial to maintain the connection with your team through a daily (usually) standup meeting. Standups are named as such because they should be very short, short enough that no one can get too comfortable. Stay standing. At x.ai, each team has a daily standup (with video on, of course), usually in the morning. Not only does this keep everyone on the same page with a quick update, but when working remotely it also serves to partition your day, helping you transition from home to work. In addition, we have a Standup channel in Slack where everyone posts a few bullet points about what they did yesterday and what they plan to do today. It helps keep us connected and can bring up any issues that would otherwise be discovered only through water cooler chats.

Keeping yourself busy and productive while quarantined due to coronavirus or any other situation is very achievable. Plenty of companies, x.ai included, work remotely full-time. Here’s a great overview of remote work trends worldwide. Remember: Maintain your routine as best you can, delineate your personal-professional time and space, and make the effort to stay connected using the bevy of tools available. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the shameless plug… use x.ai to schedule your remote meetings for free!

Stay safe in there!