Remote work is on the rise. Advancements in technology and cloud-based tools have made this incredible feat possible—you can work, communicate, and collaborate virtually from virtually anywhere.
You no longer have to be confined within the four walls of a traditional office.
As a global company, Zoho is a big supporter of remote work. We have over 8,000 employees across 11 countries and 10 offices, with a solid minority working remotely from their homes.
We are even able to stay connected using our own digital tools that we’ve created for our customers.
Right now, the number of first-time remote workers is on the rise.
Zoho has currently adopted work from home as our default state—but we’re not alone. There are now millions of people joining us, as businesses transition to remote work setups following the coronavirus outbreak.
If you are a remote work beginner, we have a few tips, best practices, and stories to share that will help you get started on the right foot.
Here’s what some of our experts have to say:
Long blog post alert! Bring a cup of coffee, this might take a while.
#1 – Have the right tools in place
“Even if times are tough to the extent that humanity is challenged, with the right tools, things that may seem remotely possible, can be made possible remotely” – Hariharan Muralimanohar, Head of Marketing – Zoho One
Did you know that our new Zoho Remotely suite was built in less than a week? Even the website went live in just 3 days. We had to manage this whole project with everyone working from different locations following the new mandate to work from home. We were already accustomed to text chatting with peers, but this time, we made frequent use of our video and audio call features to interact with teammates, designers, copywriters, and developers. These cloud-based tools made it possible for everyone to stay working as a unit as the project was progressing. It is best to be prepared with the right set of cloud-based software tools when going remote. I can’t imagine how much more difficult the project would have been without these tools in place.
Speaking personally, as a family man with a wife and two kids who were also required to stay at home, I had to keep focus on work amidst all kinds of domestic noise. I’m grateful that I invested in good noise-cancelling headphones! Of course, it should go without saying that it is crucial to have a high speed broadband setup with a powerful WiFi router. So, it’s best to be prepared with the right hardware tools to complement your software tools.
Even if times are tough to the extent that humanity is challenged, with the right tools, things that may seem remotely possible, can be made possible remotely.
#2 – Self-direct: be your own boss (especially when no one is around)
“Put your work in context of the larger vision, do what you believe in, and make it all a game. Soon you will get to a stage where the only boss you will need is yourself” – Hari Narayanan, Head of Marketing – Zoho Projects and Sprints
Those of us who are used to the buzz and interactions of a busy office may find it hard to stay motivated when they are suddenly by themselves at home. This adjustment can feel impossible to some. If you are one of these people who struggle with the transition, there is no need to fret. There are steps you can take to ease the adjustment period. Over time, you may even learn how to use the focus gained from solitude to get a lot more done.
The key step is to keep your purpose, or “big picture” in mind. The story of the three stonecutters is a great example. When asked by a passerby what each stonecutter is doing, the first says he is chipping stones, and the second says he is earning a living. But, the third says he is building a grand cathedral that will be the pride of the town. There was even a similar historical incident in which President Kennedy asked a janitor mopping the floor at NASA what he was doing. The janitor simply replied that he was “helping send a man to the moon.”
What is the cathedral your team or organization is trying to build? What is your moon mission? Look at your work not as a series of chores, but as indispensable contributions towards realizing a larger vision.
Do the work you believe in. Do you feel the impact your work creates is in proportion with your abilities? Do you find this impact personally satisfying? If not, it could be that you are overly focused on trying to please someone else, acting out of fear, or “just in it for the money.” None of these options is the best position to be in if you’re looking to find self-motivation.
Often, what the brain craves above all is instant gratification. You can play to this by gamifying your work. Set short term goals, and give yourself rewards that are independent of the outcome of your work. Ex: “If I work for the next three hours on this tough problem, I will watch my favourite show or nap for the next half hour.” “If I can clear my to do list by Friday, I will go to the spa during the weekend.”
To summarize, put your work in the context of a larger vision, do what you believe in, and make it like a game. Soon, you will get to a stage where the only boss you will need is yourself.
#3 – Managing a team remotely: reducing friction, reusing tools, and recycling knowledge
“More on how teams can achieve the same magic without physically spending time together.” – Prashanth Krishnaswami, Head of Marketing – Zoho Desk
Work isn’t always homogenous. It can come in various levels of complexity and difficulty. A good chunk of my work is spent on my own deliverables. There’s also the work where I collaborate with the people I manage, review their work, get them to review some of my work, ideate on projects, and so on. On top of that, there’s the work of collaborating with people outside my team, from different parts of the company, and even people outside the organization. At least two-thirds of all of that used to happen in person. Ever since we moved to working remotely, we have had to achieve the same magic without physically spending time together.
Over the last 3 years or so, we’ve arrived at some communication best practices from these experiences. Now, we are using those same practices to communicate with each other remotely!
Here’s what we try to do:
Brainstorm with the group: Every time we begin a new project, we typically spend time writing down ideas on different pages of a single document. If nothing else, this helps revisit one’s own ideas of clarity, purpose, and viability.
Create rapport: In the absence of in-person interaction, video works best for creating rapport. This is crucial when we work with people from other teams. For every project we work on, we connect, and at the end of a brainstorming session, we spend time over video to evaluate ideas and arrive at basic conclusions for building further.
Receive clarifications: Any number of questions can arise as we start working out the details of a project. Did they mean this when they wrote that? Did they assume this detail for the sake of discussion? Most of the time, these questions don’t have a simple yes or no answer. They require a short explanation, which is often more efficiently accomplished through voice.
Reminders and quick decisions: In an office setting, people remember projects when they see a teammate who runs that project. While working remotely, these little reminders are often out of sight and out of mind. Group chats help address this challenge. They’re also useful for getting feedback from teammates on early stages of work, and voting quickly on smaller decisions. It is better to avoid having long-winded discussions on group chats, as they can tend to go on and on without a firm conclusion. Getting on a video call will help address these issues.
FYIs & MOMs: Our task distribution often happens on Zoho Projects, and we track progress of projects there as well. In almost every project, much of the work happens in the background, and it’s not always necessary to notify everyone every step of the way. Sending such notifications automatically on a chat group can also inundate people. We use emails to update key stakeholders about important milestones. We also send a minutes-of-meeting write-up after any meeting that involves more than 3 people.
Creating knowledge: We make it a point to compile internal knowledge on the details of big projects to share with all our stakeholders. This includes things like the challenges we faced on the project, how we overcame them, what to avoid in the future, and how to do some things better are all details that will be useful references in the future.
We try to keep as much of these processes as asynchronous as possible, which helps each person structure their day based on their own productivity choices. That way, everyone is happy, and we’re all able to get our work done regardless of all other factors.
#4 – Humanize Technology and be more mindful
I have been working remote ever since I got married 4 years ago. As life would have it, my life partner is settled in another city about 350 kms away! But of course, that’s no reason for me to put an end to my career. Technology makes it extremely easy to work remotely and also stay connected with the rest of the team, in addition to my own personal relationships.
“While technology keeps us connected, it is up to us to remember that there are humans on the other end too,” – Sharanya Ramachandran, Head of Marketing – Zoho Campaigns
Here are a few tips on how you can humanize technology:
Remain available on your messaging and remote call apps while the rest of the team is working. This reassures colleagues that you are approachable and can be reached immediately. When you are less available, set your communication status accordingly. [Eg. “At lunch,” or “in a demo.”]
There are a few tasks that can only be accomplished with calls. Make yourself available to take work calls.
When working with colleagues across time zones, schedule calls and meetings at a mutually convenient time. If a time is not very convenient for you, you should feel comfortable informing others.
Do not say “Hi [Colleague’s name]” in your messaging apps and wait for others to respond. It keeps the other person guessing. Instead, add 2 lines explaining why you are trying to contact them.
When leading remote teams, take initiative and start the conversation about work. Do not wait for your teammates to give you updates for the day.
Be transparent. Keep showing work output to relevant stake-holders on the team. This improves your credibility and the trust that your colleagues have in you.
#5 – Master documentation
“In order to facilitate asynchronous collaboration, it is good to write things down in a document more often. Especially when you work remotely.” – Praval Singh, Head of Marketing, Zoho.com
One of the crucial aspects of working remotely is creating a culture of asynchronous collaboration. Switching between messaging apps and channels all day is not the best way to be productive. It is important to set apart a few hours each day to do independent work. It helps when you can differentiate between what is important and what is urgent. This is one thing I have learned over about 8 years of working remotely.
In order to facilitate asynchronous collaboration, it is good to document important things often, especially when you work remotely.
For example, sharing your ideas in a document with your colleagues before or after a call helps them prepare better, and saves you from possible miscommunication. This also ensures everyone is on the same page (or has better context) before you start a call.
For teams, it is best to create a common content repository. This speeds up the sharing and collaboration process.
This is my home-office set-up for remote work. It’s good to have a separate space designated specifically for just…work.
#6 – Find your happy place to practice solitude and get work done
“I believe deep work is best done in solitude! Ideally, I like to work outside, because an open space enables contemplation with little to no human or digital intervention” – Ambi Moorthy, Head of Partner Development – Zoho
In addition to switching between different environments to work in, I try to maintain a fine balance between avoiding distractions, and staying connected with my team and our business partners all over the world through audio and video calls.
When I am working in the office, my train of thought is constantly interrupted by getting pulled into discussions or problems that demand my immediate attention. However, this enforced isolation is inadvertently teaching all of us is to slow our thoughts down, which in turn fosters better decision-making.
It is a restorative experience when I can enjoy the fresh air and the chirping of the birds, or just observe the squirrel eating a piece of nut while I am on call with a partner closing the next big deal for Zoho. It is extraordinary that I get to experience the best of both worlds.
#7 – Evolve and maintain a healthy work-life balance
“If we are content and peaceful at the end of the day, and see a purpose for tomorrow, we know we have found our balance.” – Kuppulakshmi Krishnamoorthy, Chief Evangelist, Zoho for Startups
I am a mom, a mentor, a volunteer, AND my spouse works at Zoho, too. So, it’s been a while since I learned that there is no such thing as a “work-life balance”.
My work life and personal life only integrate with each other.
Here are some things that I do as part of my attempts to juggle the two important halves of my life:
Identifying which part of my day that I am most creative, and setting my status to DND around that time.
- Using the time that I feel the most dull to do tasks that involve moving around: cooking, gardening, walking, and some Zumba dancing.
Creating my own “list of gratitude,” including the people, things, opportunities, and memories that I am grateful for. This serves as a great anchor for staying positive.
Picking one hour of every day, and compartmentalizing it into three 20-minute learning paths. This time could be set aside for reading a few pages of a book, watching a TED talk, listening to a podcast, or even revisiting skills that have not been sharpened or put to use in a while.
Volunteering. As much as we think that volunteering is all about giving your time and expertise and being impactful, it amazingly fills the soul with a purpose and the feeling of fulfilment and reassurance. There are so many online volunteering opportunities that are out there. Just go for it!
- Grouping up with colleagues or friends who motivate each other to eat healthy and build each other up. This helps in staying motivated and positive.
If we are content and peaceful at the end of the day, and see a purpose for tomorrow, we know we have found our balance.
To conclude: set your mind right, do your part, and the rest will come to you naturally
Remote work really requires a strong commitment. It might take you a few days or a few months to master remote work. Just be professional, and pace yourself. Take the time to learn the ropes.
What do you think?
Join the conversation! Please feel free to share your remote work tips, best practices, setups, and more in the comments section below.