Dext is a remote organization, spread across four continents and numerous time zones. This is a collection of guidelines and good practices for working remotely.
- Use long-form asynchronous communication by default. Don’t schedule a meeting when a Slack message will do.
- Over-communicate. Back-and-forth is expensive, so try to anticipate it, by including more details.
- Switch to synchronous communication when it’s more efficient. A quick zoom call will sometimes save you “hours” worth of Slack messages.
- Leave a written trace of discussions. If you had a meeting with someone, post or email a summary of the key decisions you made.
- Spend time to learn how the tools work and check your default settings.
Good communication is key. We divide it in two categories:
Synchronous communication, like video calls and real-time chats, when all parties need to be present at the same time.
Asynchronous communication, like on Slack, Trello, Confluence, email, when everyone can participate at their own convenience. This allows collaboration across different time zones, but requires greater discipline.
Long-form asynchronous communication is a better default as it brings the following benefits:
- It allows for wider participation, especially across time zones and different locations.
- It leaves a searchable written trace of what was discussed and what decisions were made.
- It allows people to take the time to properly consider the different viewpoints, to make their research and better craft their contribution to the discussion.
- It allows for better time and focus management, avoiding the need to be interrupted by shoulder tapping or scheduled meetings.
For a lot of cases, a well crafted Slack or email announcement or a proposal with a request for comments will be way more efficient than dragging a bunch of people onto a call.
Things to watch out for
Stick to long-form asynchronous communication. Think email. Even if you’re messaging someone on Slack, take the time to properly craft your request or response. The wider the audience, the more time you should spend writing and editing your message.
Disable pop up notifications for non-critical communication channels. If something doesn’t require your immediate attention, consider turning off the notifications for it. Everything that buzzes or pops up in your field of view, can be a real productivity drag as it will burst your focus bubble. Slack supports “Do not disturb” mode. Use it.
Know when to jump in a quick call to save time. If you find yourself having a lot of written back-and-forth, a meeting could be a more effective way to resolve matters quickly.
Over-communicate by trying to anticipate questions in advance. As asynchronous back-and-forth is expensive, avoid it by anticipating what questions the other side may ask and answer them in advance.
People process and digest information differently. Respect that difference. Give people information in a way that will help them, not hinder them. That may be different to your way. Read more about the different channels of communication we use.
Working from home
Remote usually means working from home which presents its own challenges. We have some advice that should help you.
Until you get used to it, it will be pretty easy to get distracted when working from home. Start by setting some boundaries between what’s work and what’s not.
Dress for work normally - working in your pajamas is a bad idea.
Set up a separate place for work if possible. It could be in another room, or simply a desktop on which you’re only doing work, so your brain does not get distracted by non-work when you’re there.
If you have a work computer that’s different from your personal computer, be very strict how you use it. If you have just one computer, keep separate work and personal browsers - close the personal one during work hours and vice versa.
Don’t underestimate ergonomics. Working on the couch with a laptop all day will get you cramped and may lead to serious injuries. It’s OK for meetings, but if you have to type a lot, consider a chair that lets you sit upright, or a standing desk.
There is often a temptation to avoid taking breaks because you are afraid others will think you are slacking off. Take a proper lunch break. Do some exercise. Shut your computer and allow your brain to take a rest as well.
Don’t forget to leave the house occasionally. Go to the gym, or go to the closest cafe. Even if it’s just a walk around the block.
Maintain a morning routine. If you have kids you probably already do that. If not, try the fake commute - get ready as normal in the morning (shower, make-up, clothes) and go for a walk to mimic a commute, then sit to work. Having a dog also helps.
You’ll need a reliable internet connection or you’ll lose a lot of time in troubleshooting connectivity issues. Test that you can fall back to your mobile internet in case your main connection isn’t working.
Make sure you have a good microphone and camera. Use headphones when in meetings, even if you’re alone. Otherwise, echo and other sound issues may creep up and hamper communication.
It’s better to have your laptop plugged in most of the time, so you don’t have to worry about the battery in case you need to move around the house or go out. If a power outage happens, you’ll still be able to work on battery and mobile internet.
Keep your home office clean. Keyboards and headphones are magnets for germs. Make sure to clean them regularly.
Finally, and this is very important: have working hours. It’s all too easy to blend home with work times. You don’t want to be distracted by work when you should be with your family. The Home Office also closes at 6pm. When it’s time to stop, put your laptop away, put your phone on charge, and leave the room if you can. Take a few minutes to switch off from work mode. Those around you will appreciate it.