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Working from home — how to remain productive with a remote team

Suru Partners started out as a firm working entirely remotely, our co-directors jointly have over 25 years of experience in working from home and in building successful teams doing the same. Although today we have full-time offices several of our team still work remotely.

Here are our top tips for firms experiencing lengthy remote working for the first time.

  1. Tips for business owners and managers
  2. Tips for individuals and employees

Tips for business owners and managers

Don’t rely on email

Email is a terrible way of communicating with team members and staff working remotely, for anything that isn’t one-way communication. Conversations can become extremely lengthy and it only takes one person to forget to hit ‘reply-all’ for the whole thing to come crashing down. It also encourages staff to spend vast amounts of time replying to unproductive email chains.

Instead, look to start using alternative communication platforms and instant messaging applications that can handle multiple people, preferably in different channels or threads. This enables conversations to be kept organised, stops unnecessary essay writing and enables staff to be focussed on the task at hand.

We chose Slack. We like the fact that our communication can be handled within relevant channels meaning our conversations are always given the appropriate context. It’s also great for quickly sharing materials and even for having a quick call - and screen sharing can be invaluable.

The hidden dangers: watch out for lengthy instant messaging conversations. It’s often much much quicker to pick up the phone or arrange a quick video call to talk through things.

The nuance of body language is easily lost in text communications, short replies and the shield of the digital interaction can all lead to rise in tension and frustration.

Knowing who’s working on what

When working in an office, we often rely on team whiteboards, sticky notes, speaking across the office for distributing and managing tasks. This doesn’t work for remote teams for obvious reasons, but we do need a way of tracking all the work that is to be done and communicating it. Knowing whether someone has a task in hand is an immediate problem that managers face when working with remote teams.

We chose Asana to help us with our task management. It means that we can communicate tasks to each other and be confident that someone is responsible. We think a task management system such as Asana or BaseCamp are invaluable regardless of remote working but an absolute must for productivity when working apart from each other.

The hidden dangers: digital task managers can quickly become ways of passing the buck as people can easily assign tasks to one another. Make sure you agree as a team on the boundaries and procedures for assigning tasks. Responsibility needs to stay with line managers and project managers to ensure that tasks lists don’t become unmanageable.

That’s a human you’re typing to

Working remotely and interacting digitally can quickly mean that we forget that the people we are conversing with are real-life humans with all the emotions, foibles and needs that are more apparent in the flesh. This can lead to frustration, a lack of compassion and empathy. This is true of our email centralised lives in general but is exacerbated when working remotely.

We recommend having regular video or at least voice calls as small teams. In our industry, we call these “stand-ups” and we use them for project management. Additionally they are a useful tool to ensure we remain kind and considerate, and remind our subconscious of the real people on the receiving end of your digital tirade. It can also help with the mental health of those with very little day-to-day human contact.

During this time of uncertainty in particular, it is important to be kind to each other.

The Future

It’s inevitable that through this experience your business will undergo massive changes - many of them will be for the ultimate good. It might give you space to rethink how your processes work. It might expose weaknesses in your systems that need bolstering with technology. It might show you how automation could help you and your team achieve more.

Suru Partners help organisations to make the most of technology. Speak to us if you are thinking about changing systems or processes in your business and we’ll help guide you through the myriad of digital technologies available to you.

Working from home - why you shouldn’t wear your pyjamas.

Here are our top tips for individuals and employees remotely working for the first time.

Dress for work

Humans are creatures that benefit from routine and part of that routine is separating out the day into distinct parts. It’s extremely tempting to get up at 8:50am and start the day with a bowl of cornflakes in front of the laptop. Especially for those without young families where you don’t have a natural alarm clock kicking you in the head at 6am.

Getting up and changed for work helps with mental health by separating your time from home life and work-life even though they are under the same roof. We’re not saying you need to do the ironing as usual (unless you are our director Harrison who doesn’t own anything other than a shirt), but do make sure you get changed. It also helps to not get caught short with an unexpected video call from the CEO too.

Space is important

Having somewhere that you work from that is different from where you rest is also important for your mental health. Don’t work from the sofa if you can avoid it. Preferably set up a home office, consider using the dining room or breakfast table.

Time is important

Just because you don’t have to commute doesn’t mean you should forget to go home. Make sure you arrive at and leave work at a similar time to usual. It can be all too easy to work into the evening, particularly if you don’t separate your work and rest space.

Make coffee (or tea if you have to), but don’t do the washing

Having a break from the desk is important. It gives you perspective and space to think. If you aren’t good at naturally taking a break, set an alarm. Office environments have more natural cues and interruptions. In those breaks or anytime during the day, don’t be distracted by the household chores. It’s a slippery path and, before you know it, you’ll find yourself decorating the spare room and being rudely interrupted by a work call! Remember, if you were at the office the washing would have waited.

Put down the remote

It’s very tempting to think that having Richard and Judy in the background is a welcome companion when working alone. Don’t do it. Your productivity will dive and you’ll find yourself daydreaming about Grand Designs.

The Future

It’s inevitable that through this experience your work and business will undergo massive changes - many of them will be for the ultimate good. It might give you space to rethink how your processes work. It might expose weaknesses in your systems that need bolstering with technology. It might show you how automation could help you and your team achieve more.

Suru Partners help organisations to make the most of technology. Speak to us if you’re thinking about changing systems or processes in your business. and we’ll help guide you through the myriad of digital technologies available to you.

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© 2020 Suru Partners Ltd.