How to Work Remotely Without Losing Your Mind (Tips From Our Team)

by Katy French

Letting people work remotely has always been a part of our culture ever since our founders Jason, Josh, and Ross were working out of Buon Giorno Coffee in Costa Mesa (RIP)—way back before they had a “real” office.

Since those early days, we’ve expanded to two offices (in California and New York), and as our team grows, moves, or explores new chapters of their lives, we’ve always remained fairly flexible about remote work. Hence, we have C5ers working all over the country, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Portland to Boise, Reno to NYC. We’ve even had C5ers clock in from Mexico, Thailand, and Sweden.

Thus, we know all about the pros and cons of getting to work remotely—and we’ve learned a thing or two about how to navigate the lifestyle, whether managing a team around the country or trying to get a project wrapped between two timezones.

Now that we’re hitting our 10-year anniversary, we’ve been reflecting on the things we’ve learned along the way and how we might share that knowledge to help improve other people’s work lives. That’s why we thought we’d ask our team for their best tips on how to work remotely. From collaboration tactics to personal practices, here’s what they had to say.

Tips to Manage a Team Remotely

It isn’t always easy to keep tabs on everyone when they aren’t in the office with you. Still, there are a few things you can do to make it easier when you work remotely. 

Keep one open channel. When you’re a manager, it’s important to be open and accessible to your team—especially when they can’t easily knock on your door. For that reason, it’s helpful to identify the best way for people to reach you, whether it’s via Slack, email, cell, etc.

Our Director of Interactive Chad Giacopelli (who manages the California team from Boise, Idaho) keeps an open Google Hangout window, so that anyone can “drop in” with a question. (The hangout link is also pinned in the developers’ Slack channel.)

“Everything can be solved through a Google Hangout,” Chad says.

Some managers don’t want constant interruption, which is understandable, so let people know what kind of communication is expected through which channels (e.g., text for emergencies, Slack for major project questions, email for low-priority communication).

Use the right tools. Take advantage of tools that offer you transparency so you can see the status of projects or tasks without having to micromanage or check in constantly. For example, Chad is a big fan of Team Week, a project planning/timeline tool that lets you see deadlines, status tracking, team progress, etc. This isn’t just for managers; any tool that keeps everyone on the same page is invaluable to avoid miscommunication, redundancies, or delays.

Take advantage of your timezone. Yes, it can be a pain in the ass to work in different timezones, but it can also work to your advantage. Chad is usually up and at ’em an hour before the CA office, which gives him uninterrupted quiet time to knock out projects that require focus and concentration. 

Tips to Collaborate Remotely

Communication is the key to collaboration, but it can be challenging when you aren’t in close proximity to each other. Here are a few ways we work through it.

Focus on effective communication vs. constant communication. You’d think a major challenge of doing work remotely would be a lack of communication, but as Chad points out, you often get drowned in over-communication to make up for the lack of face time. This can be disruptive for everyone.

To avoid this, schedule weekly meetings or other designated talk times to discuss status reports, issues, questions, or other general things that don’t need to be immediately resolved. If one meeting can save 20 emails a week, everyone will be happier.

Use video chat. Like Chad, Director of Strategy Asher Rumack says he’s a big fan of video conferences, “especially if you can screen share to replicate being next to each other.” Yes, you might have to change out of your pajamas, but seeing each other’s faces and reading body language are crucial to communicate well.

Set expectations from the get-go. Specifying how and when you’re available to your team is crucial for several reasons. It keeps you accountable, helps you and your team plan around your schedule, and reduces miscommunication. It also mitigates a more subtle issue, as our Portland-based VP of Client Services Jake Burkett points out. “There’s a feeling of anxiety that remote workers may deal with: the perception that because they’re not appearing ‘online,’ they must not be working,” Jake says. “But setting availability expectations can help diminish it.”

Tips to Make You Feel Connected

When you aren’t at the office everyday, it’s sometimes hard to feel like you’re really a part of the team, contributing to the culture, or enjoying the “fun” of the office. But you don’t have to live in isolation.

Keep the jokes alive. One of the biggest setbacks of getting to work remotely is not having regular interaction with coworkers, whether it’s break room chatter, walks to grab a quick coffee, or a Monday morning catch-up in the parking lot. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still connect. Whether you have shared interests or inside jokes, you can still incorporate that into your working relationship.

Slack is where our team communicates the most. We have a ton of channels where C5ers chat about all kinds of things like music, inspiration, bloopers, the Dodgers, movies, office quotes, puppy talk, travel, volunteering, wellness, and conspiracies (don’t ask). Some of it is ridiculous, but it’s a simple way to connect outside of the projects we’re working on.

Think of remote group activities you can do. Technology helps us work together when we’re apart, so it can help us hang together, too. For example, when the whole dev team worked in one office, they’d do a gaming night every now and again. Even though they’re remote, they’ve been talking about organizing a remote game night (and, damn it, they will finally do it in 2019).

Try to get together sometimes. It might not be feasible to get into the office every few months, but it’s important to have some interaction IRL. Once a year, we have a Team Week. This is a time when all employees fly in from all over the country. It’s a week of hanging, socializing, eating, games, town halls, and other activities that help us strengthen our culture and community.  

Tips to Stay Sane When You Work Remotely

Being able to work remotely is a luxury, but it can also take some getting used to. From isolation to work habits, you have to prepare yourself for the transition.

Set up a comfortable work space. Invest in the equipment and space you need to make remote working successful (e.g., an extra monitor, quiet work space, standing desk, etc.). “Don’t get stuck in a habit of working on the couch or being in a place that distracts you from doing your best work,” says LA-based Strategist Megan Lieberman.

Take a damn break. Without coworkers to distract you or invite you to a quick lunch, it’s easy to get sucked into a black hole of work. “Take advantage of points during the day where you can break things up (e.g., go for a walk, yoga class, grab a coffee),” says Portland-based Director of Client Services Kelsey Cox. “You’d be surprised how refreshed your brain and work will be if you make this a habit.”

Create an atmosphere for specific work-types. This is another thing Kelsey has found to be a huge help. “If you know you need to buckle down and either do a lot of reading or writing, light a candle, burn some incense, or change locations. It helps your brain transition between different tasks, especially if they are different than your typical/everyday tasks or require a different type of focus,” she says.  

Above all, don’t over-isolate. Head to a library, coffee shop, or other public space if you feel yourself getting a little too stir crazy.

Look for Ways to Put Your Remote Workers Front and Center

We’re lucky enough to live in an age where we can work from all corners of the globe—or homes—and that’s something that should be celebrated. Actively engage and acknowledge your remote workers, and look for ways to bring them to the forefront. No matter your industry, peeling back the curtain and giving people a glimpse of who you are and how you work is a great way to connect with people and personalize your brand. (For more on how to generate interesting culture-based content, check out our culture marketing 101 guide.)

We hope you’ve found these tips helpful—and we’d love to hear any of your own if you’ve been a remote warrior for a while. If you want a little more insight into how we work (plus more helpful tips): 

And if you want to get to know us, check out more of our work or holler at us.

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