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Imanol Valiente
Imanol Valiente

Posted on • Originally published at Medium

Improve Your Remote Work

For the last two years, I‘ve been working from home; actually, I have the freedom to choose from where I work, but it’s funny that I always end up working from home.

It is probably one of the most grateful experiences I had in my career. I have proven I am trustworthy and reliable while independent, I have learned to be more organized, and I can focus on my career while keeping close to my known beings.

Life is short, spend it with people you love.

Remote working indeed gives you a lot of freedom and the chance to choose how and where you live your life, but it also involves responsibility and discipline. According to the type of schedule your company demands, fixed or not, you need to plan and comply with your schedule as if you went, every morning, to the office.

Having a routine that you can stick and follow helps in developing the discipline, but it’s easier to follow a group of people than going on your own. So you have to learn to be confident with the decisions you take and stick to a routine based on those productivity techniques that make you a better professional.

I will list a few tips from my experience to make the best of your remote work.

Adjust your habits to the new experience

A good thing about not working in an office is that you can choose where to work from and how your workspace looks.

The first thing you should take care of if you decide to always work from your home is the routine you are going to follow, make a generic plan of a working morning that is realistic, and compromise to achieve it every day. It’s quite important to be careful with loneliness and know how to deal with it.

A piece of advice, focus when you are working and once you finish, get off your computer, try to spend time with your friends or family, go to the gym and do some exercise, There’s nothing better than releasing endorphins after a hard day at work.

I always try to go out throughout the week and spend most of the weekends relaxing at home, focusing on my learning and feeding my entrepreneurship spirit.

Every two months or so, I try to plan a trip and visit a new country to heal a bit my mind from the repetitive cycle of work, eat and sleep.

It’s also an excellent habit to eventually meet with your teammates and spend a few days working with each other face to face doing some team building and sharing experiences. You will find the human side of that voice behind the screen that feeds you with tasks, questions, and GIFs.

Improve your communication skills

It looks like a contradiction, but working on a distributed team enhanced my communication skills in a way that I never thought when I started that I was so bad at communicating my ideas.

I don’t usually share video, just voice. But after a few calls with teammates and other people involved in the project, I realized that face to face communication is less productive than calling through phone or any VoIP software.

When you are standing in a room having a meeting, discussing ideas or sharing knowledge, it’s a common thing to have people asking questions, speaking with each other or just interrupting. If you have to explain or transmit a complex idea, you can help your words with gestures and physical interactions. Sometimes when we tell stuff, we expect a confirmation gesture from our listeners, like a nod.

When you are behind a microphone, with a call going on and you have to explain a complex topic, even if you are sending video, due to the latency of the network, it’s not easy to coordinate your explanation with gestures or physical interactions. It just doesn’t feel the same as doing it in place.

Also, if you add those that interrupt the meeting with questions that aren’t questions because they realize later that what was going to be asked, it’s already answered, the whole session can become chaos.

For example, when you are on a VoIP call explaining something and someone starts to speak at the same time, both voices mix up and people don’t understand you anymore. That kind of interruptions takes a few minutes to be recovered as both voices are heard at the same time and both parties have to decide who’s turn is.

So for anyone starting with voice calls I suggest:

  • Mute your microphone always unless you have something to say.
  • Don’t interrupt with a question that you are not sure you are going to end asking.
  • Pay attention; most doubts arise for not following the speaker.
  • Always be concrete and concise.
  • Buy quality equipment and always use headphones, software-based echo filters do not work and it’s quite annoying to be interrupted with your voice when you are explaining a complex topic. *You already know that latency is present on every internet communication. Be flexible with human errors that happen on-screen shared sessions and wait a bit before interrupting for a mistake that probably it’s already fixed.

Improving your communication skills will speed up your meetings, as it’s proven that long meetings are the bottleneck of most of the employee’s productivity; it will help you be more efficient.

Be productive and measure it

When I started with the remote experience, the first month or so, I used to think that I wasn’t working enough. Not having a teammate near me knowing that I was working made me feel, when I spent more than a day or so to finish a task, that I wasn’t working enough.

This is a matter of trust and if you are remote working, you have to trust your teammates, so if you work hard, don’t bother with that feeling like I did, probably you’re working more than enough.

The best thing you can do is measure it, if you work on a distributed team you have fewer eyes on you, which means that you can try different ways of working to improve your productivity. Don’t miss the opportunity, measure and compare it, there’s is a business behind productivity techniques, people get paid for coaching workers that want to boost their productiveness and I’ve seen tons of books on this topic already.

For sure, you make use of a task tracker, so take a batch of your tasks, organize them, plan them, follow a known productivity technique and measure the result. Try changing something on your method for the next batch of tasks and compare it with the previous results. This way, you will achieve a continuous improvement that adapts to your way of working better than sticking to the already existing techniques.

I’ve seen and been suggested a ton of techniques to improve my productivity, I am seriously into these techniques and actually, I spend time trying to understand them enough to see if they adapt to the tasks and kind of work I perform. For example, when I am into tasks that require investigation and document reading, I like the way the Pomodoro technique splits the work into intervals of 25 minutes, this way I don’t get overwhelmed with all the new stuff, but if I am into a more repetitive task where all I have to do is throw lines of code to describe the resources of a cloud environment in Terraform I tend to ignore this technique, take my headphones, put some music on and get the things done.

I’ve found a few techniques that work and make me stay more focused, increase my productivity and my desire to get things done.

At the end of every day, I try to plan what I need to do for the next day, this is not my primary source of tasks, I work with an issue tracker known as Jira where my team plans all the tasks that must be achieved in a period of time (usually 2 or 3 weeks). So I take the main tasks I am working on and split them into smaller tasks, the goal is to plan shortly, so I keep myself motivated through the days by finishing earlier smaller chunks of the main tasks.

I try to keep track of everything I do and plan what I have to do for the day to come. Still, sometimes there are a few tasks that appear throughout the day, those are tasks that I try to finish as soon as they arise, but they’re not always short enough to finish them without losing context on the main task I was working. I once heard about a simple rule, and that’s what I follow.

If it takes less than 5 minutes do it now.

My day to day involves a lot of tasks, to keep track of what I’ve to do I always write everything in a notebook or a To-Do list. That’s a habit I started when I realized my mind could not remember all the things I had to do.

There’re a few conclusions I got from working from home; an office has too many distractions for me, a job should not be the main reason for an employee to move to another city and if all the companies promoted remote working, the population between towns and villages would be more balanced. I think we can fight climate change as well by not taking the car every morning to move to the office.

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