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Adjusting to Remote Working Life: Learnings from a Purposely Remote Business

  • Ben Smith, Athletic Greens
  • Dec 7, 2020
  • 8 minute read

Ben Smith is the COO at Athletic Greens & Chair of SUBTA Operations Committee. He loves business, solving problems and helping people

The ability to work remotely is a dream for many folks –– the workers who would rather skip the daily commute or maybe escape that one person who heats up fish in the microwave for lunch every day.  Of course, dreaming about an at-home work scenario and having it forced on you by a worldwide pandemic are two different things, and being thrown into the remote workforce with no preparation can be jarring, to say the least.

Whether you’ve remained a company employee by going remote, you’re part of the leadership guiding employees through a new remote work situation, or you’ve taken this opportunity to strike out on your own by launching a remote business venture, you should know that there are ways to make the transition easier and ensure efficient and productive operations, even with all the distractions at home. 

How to Work from Home and Boost Your Productivity

Accounting for Remote Onboarding

The first thing you need to understand about working remotely is that things might not happen at the same rapid pace they do in an office environment, where teams have easy access to each other throughout the workday.  This is especially true when it comes to getting up to speed on new projects or onboarding new employees and teammates.

It’s amazing how much information can be picked up from in-person training and team interactions that is much more difficult to gather remotely.  As a result, you need to spend more time getting yourself up to speed on new projects and helping new employees or teammates learn the ropes, so to speak. The takeaway here is: allow more time in others and yourself to get up to speed in a remote environment.

Scheduling for Success

When it comes to professional pursuits, not everyone is a self-starter. Working from home can bring distractions you didn’t experience in the office. You may find yourself more inclined to watch daytime television, scroll through social media or sprinkle in other activities like cleaning the house or exercising.  After all, you can always get to your work later, right?

Working remotely requires a measure of persistence and self-control, and if you’re like so many people struggling to manage your time as a remote worker, you’ll find that adding structure through scheduling helps immensely.

Even though you don’t necessarily have to, continue to set your alarm, get showered and dressed and arrive at your “office” at the same time each day.  Schedule breaks and a lunch hour and set a time for your workday to end.  You may not always follow your schedule precisely, especially as you get more comfortable managing your time in a flexible way, but in the beginning, a set schedule can help you to focus and complete tasks.

For teams that are spread across multiple time zones, you’ll also need to be cognizant of differences in work hours. You may need to schedule meetings during overlapping work hours so team members aren’t required to show up outside their typical work day, or at least not excessively so. 

Many find the Pomodoro Technique very effective for managing productivity, you can also try combining this with specific music that helps you focus (this is generally music that does not contain any singing/vocals/lyrics). You’ll usually be able to find a playlist on your favorite music streaming app, or YouTube.

Robust Project Management Tools

Working remotely means you don’t necessarily have access to all the resources you enjoyed when you went into an office each day.  The good news is, there are all sorts of tools designed specifically to make remote work easier and more productive.  This starts with project management.

  • Asana offers a listing feature to organize and assign tasks in a straightforward manner, timelines to help team members visualize complex task completion scheduling, and boards that help your team to prioritize and focus on the task at hand.  
  • is a teamwork platform you can set up in minutes from customizable templates.  It integrates with dozens of existing tools (email, social media, Microsoft Office, storage apps, and more), helps you visualize data in different ways (calendar, timeline, etc.), and saves you time with automations.
  • Trello is another great app for collaboration (even the free version), with convenient workflow automation, syncing across devices, and handy cards that let you increase project details by adding comments, attachments, and more.  
  • Jira is designed for teams working in agile environments, with unique planning, tracking, and reporting features that offer flexibility and opportunities for every team member to participate.

There are so many exceptional project management tools available, you’re sure to find the option that best suits your needs, facilitates collaboration and timely completion of jobs, and works with your company culture and team dynamic.

Secure Purchasing – An easy way to efficiently manage remote team expenses

Teampay is a great add-on for Slack users that empowers team members to request, approve and track spending in real time.  Why is this important for a remote workforce?  First and foremost, it’s a much easier way to manage spending than having employees pay out of pocket and then file expense reports.

Teampay syncs with accounting systems for easy categorizing and closing, and you’ll have real-time visibility on what your team is spending.  You can track subscriptions and vendor costs, integrate purchases into your project workflow, and create one-off or recurring virtual credit card numbers so employees never have to spend their own money on work-related expenses.

Building Professional Relationships

When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to get stuck in a non-interactive mindset, where you communicate solely through email and text.  While digital communications may seem convenient, they aren’t actually the most effective and efficient way to interact with colleagues.

You need to be cognizant of the limitations of text communications and understand when a situation calls for verbal dialogue via live phone call or video chat.  In fact, you may want to schedule calls or conferences regularly, not only as a means of facilitating clear communication, but to encourage personal interactions that help to build trust. We lean much heavier on video conferencing as this just adds a little more of a personal layer to a conversation. Difficult conversations should always be conducted via a video call when face to face cannot be achieved.

When you schedule meetings, make sure to leave a few extra minutes at the open and close for general chitchat.  This type of interaction is normal for in-person meetings, and you should plan for it even when meeting virtually to create a relaxed environment conducive to productivity.  You might even consider scheduling short, informal meetings with teams weekly or daily to check in and let each person talk about something positive happening in their work or even their personal life.

If you’re already using the Slack platform for interoffice communication and sharing, you might want to try out the Donut tool, which essentially serves as a virtual watercooler.  When employees join, Donut will automatically pair up different team members at regular intervals to share a coffee or lunch break, paving the way for employees to meet and get to know each other, when they otherwise might not have any reason to.

Leading by Example

Remote work is, by its very nature, a relatively solitary affair.  While many professionals appreciate the opportunity to manage their own time and make decisions, some can feel rudderless without a supervisor guiding their actions throughout the day, especially if working remotely wasn’t their first choice.

The best way to address this issue and empower employees working from home is to make sure your company mission and core values are clear.  By providing this foundational guidance, you give every employee something to refer back to as a basis for decision making.

There are going to be times when remote workers require more direct input on projects or details, but offering a basis for sound decision-making that’s in line with the company and its leadership is a great way to prevent a lot of unnecessary confusion, frustration, and panicked calls or emails.

If you have a lot of remote workers that are new to the work-at-home lifestyle, you may also want to schedule daily conference calls with the team to check in and make sure everyone is on track and has what they need to succeed, at least until they get their footing.  

Don’t forget to have regular discussions among leadership, as well, to make sure everyone is on the same page and delivering consistent messaging to remote teams.

Creating Boundaries between Personal and Professional Sphere

One of the biggest difficulties when it comes to working from home is separating business and leisure time and space.  Unfortunately, failing in this respect can make you feel like you’re always at work, and lead to increased stress and low energy levels.  This is why it’s so important to create both physical and temporal boundaries.

If possible, you need to create a dedicated workspace that’s separate from living areas, such as a home office, ideally with a door you can close for privacy.  This allows you to “go to the office” during your scheduled work hours and “return home” after work.

Having known free time gives you something to look forward to and helps you decompress and alleviate stress, so shut down and unplug on time to preserve your mental health when working from home but you should allow your team to manage their energy over managing their time, in other words, if someone on your team works better early in the mornings; as long as they are present in meetings or calls you need them to be, and getting their work done, let them manage by their energy levels, not just 9am to 5pm, because that’s what you do.

Turn off your notifications to ensure your down time is uninterrupted – if it is critical, someone will call you.

While we may not have chosen remote employment, we can make the most of it by finding the routines and tools that allow us to enjoy the place we are in and facilitate a good work/life balance.

Ben Smith is the COO at Athletic Greens & Chair of SUBTA Operations Committee. He loves business, solving problems and helping people

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