Best Practices

The Hierarchy of Working Remotely Needs

The User Interviews team shares their best tips for working well from home.

Erin May
/
March 28, 2018

Telecommuting, working from home, distributed teams, whatever you call it, it’s certainly a trend on the upswing. And there’s evidence to suggest it can work well for both employees and employers: “Allowing a worker to telecommute half the time can save an employer more than $11,000 a year,” according to CNN.  And several notable tech companies and startups are known for their remote cultures including Buffer, Zapier, Github, and us—User Interviews.

Did you know User Interviews is a largely distributed team? We are! Here’s how that breaks down, as seen in this arguably unnecessary, but easy to make, chart:

Every company is different and every employee of that company is different, too. So these kinds of “tips for working remotely” articles can fall a bit flat for me personally, as ultimately you need to figure out what works for you, in work and in life. For that reason, I think some context on our company, why we’re remote, and the people behind the tips will make this article more useful to anyone reading.

Why is User Interviews a mostly distributed team?

User Interviews started as a team of 3 co-founders working in Cambridge, MA. But early on our CEO and Co-founder, Dennis Meng, wanted to move to DC, and the team was already working from home 50% of the time. Additionally, thinking longer term, being remote allowed us to hire folks outside of traditional startup hubs. So we went partially remote. To keep things interesting, Bob Saris, our CTO, and Basel Fakhoury, our COO, maintained a product (and Basel) focused HQ presence in Cambridge. The Cambridge crew also works remotely at least once per week to help everyone experience the remote culture, and the benefits that go along with it.

What are our top tips for working remotely?

As I was collecting everyone’s top tips for working remotely, it occurred to me that folks were hitting very different aspects of the challenges and opportunities of working remotely and a way to organize them presented itself:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

So without further ado, User Interviews top tips for working remotely, organized in ascending order of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Physiological Needs

Brendan and his dogs, living their best lives.

Tip #1: Take care of your basic needs first + create bookends on your day

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. 

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Says who?

Brendan Beninghof, Head of Sales

Why you should listen to him

Brendan has been working remotely for over 2 years, previously at InVision, a fully distributed team. Also, I mean, look at these pics of his morning walks with his dogs in Stowe, VT.

Wow

Why and how to pull it off

“Create bookends on your day! It’s very easy to roll out of bed, open your computer, and you know, it’s time for our 1pm water-cooler [a daily 15-minute all-hands gab about whatever Zoom conference] and you haven’t brushed your teeth, eaten, or showered.” For Brendan, he starts his day with an early morning stretch/meditation followed by a hike with his dogs. Getting outside is key for him too, but he admits “I still haven’t figured out lunch.” I got you Brendan. We’ll talk :)

Safety/Health 

Tip #2: Take a shower in the morning

Says who?

Basel Fakhoury, COO and Co-founder

Why you should listen to him

Whether or not you want to take Basel’s advice on “getting a haircut will solve any illness” is totally up to you, but I will say having met him three times for coffee when he was visiting New York, where I live, he does seem to practice what he preaches.

Why and how to pull it off

Don’t go getting all gross and sick when you work from home. Take care of you, and you’ll be happier, healthier, and do better work. A morning shower sets the tone for a healthful day of productivity and valuing yourself, even if no one is around to smell you.

Love/Belonging 

Tip #3: Get out of the house

Says who?

Melanie Albert, Operations Manager

Why you should listen to her

Melanie crushes the whole getting things done thing. Plus, look at this killer sandwich made possible by getting out of her house. 

Mustard AND Jam AND 4 cheeses? Yes please.

Why and how to pull it off

I try to take a walk in the morning / evening, but even moreso, I try to work at least 1 day out of the house at a coffee shop or coworking space.” Whether it’s a regular cadence each day or week, many pro work-from-home-ers agree: take advantage of working from home, but DO get out of your home, too.

Tip #4: Get comfortable with asynchronous communication

Says who?

JH Forster, VP Product

Why you should listen to him

JH is something of a productivity guru + when PMs talk about asynchronous communication, you know they’re serious.

Why and how to pull it off

“Remote usually means different time zones and/or different schedules (since it is inherently more flexible) so the expectation that everyone is working when you are isn’t always true. Plus if you’re not worried about responding to every chat or email in real time, then it is easier to focus and do “deep work” in a way that an office doesn’t always provide.”

Finding a combination of platforms (email, Slack, Google Docs, etc) that people agree to use and managing expectations, whether at the individual, team, or organization level, around the response time of those communications can be very helpful for remote teams working asynchronously.

Tip #5: Trust each other

A daily Watercooler. Full of trust.

Says who? 

Dennis Meng, CEO

Why you should listen to him

Well, he’s the boss, but more so, a really nice and thoughtful guy whose own desire to move to DC means I get to work with this awesome crew from my home in Brooklyn.

Why and how to pull it off

Of course a lot of this comes down to hiring people you feel that you can trust, and doing the due diligence through interviews, projects, reference checks, etc to feel that you can trust them before bringing them on. It’s also about giving others the autonomy that may have attracted you to be working remotely yourself. Systems of accountability, like our weekly OKR meeting that  helps to ensure we’re hitting the numbers and milestone we’ve decided matter, make this trust possible too.

Trusting others is also a great way to earn and demand trust yourself. No one wants to be constantly worried that everyone thinks they’re not doing their work. Do your work, trust that others are too—and let the performance indicators confirm that—then worry about other things. Like eating lunch.

Tip #6: Happy pets = productive employees

Kailyn and Charlie

Says who?

Kailyn Loofbourrow, Operations Associate

Why you should listen to her

As a very loving pet parent and former puppy trainer, Kailyn knows a thing or two about keeping those pups happy, so you can get your work done.

Why and how to pull it off

Kailyn recommends a “long-term treat (e.g. stuffed Kong) before important meetings,” and walking your dog to break up the day, “during lunch is the best.”

Esteem 

Tip #7: Set boundaries

Says who?

Bob Saris, CTO + Co-founder

Why you should listen to him

Because the Eagles won and Bob is on fire! Also, mad “heavy_plus_sign” validation on this

Why and how to pull it off

This one can be tricky! But just as frequent communication, synchronous or asynchronous, is really important in remote work situations, if you work in a home with other people, you have a whole other group of co-worker like constituents to manage expectations with. Speaking honestly about your needs and expectations regarding working from home, and what that means you can or cannot contribute domestically, is really important to keep an open dialogue about.

Personally, I have a husband, two small girls, and full-time caretaker (for the girls) in and out of my small Brooklyn apartment. But it (mostly) totally works because everyone is flexible and communicative. Just remember, your work has value, and that doesn't change when you do your work at home (or a coffee shop, or in Tahiti).

Self-actualization 

Tip #8: Take the opportunity to be your best self

Says who?

Erin May, VP Content and Relationship Marketing

Why you should listen to her

Because I’m me and I’m writing this article and you’ve made it this far and… Because honestly I love working remotely and this tip more than any other is how I make the most of working remotely, but you do you.

Why and how to pull it off

I get that this is a totally nebulous tip, but we’re talking about self-actualization here OK? For me, mental space, autonomy, flexibility, responsibility, self-care, spending time with my family, and crushing it at work are all really important. It’s really challenging to have all of that in a traditional office environment, for me. So, for instance, taking 10 minutes, not every day, but a lot of days, to meditate in the afternoon, sometime between 2 and 4 that works on any given day, in the privacy of my own home, is huge. And really hard to do in an office. A once a month company sponsored yoga hour at a time that may or may not work for you is a far cry from a regular practice on your own terms.

And what’s more, it’s totally compatible with your work goals. Working from home can be a great way to build small habits that make an outsized impact on your overall quality of life. A few others that have mattered to me:

  • Walking my 5-year-old to school a few times a week in the morning, instead of 0 times a week while commuting to my office instead
  • Getting more in tune with my body language/facial expressions, and their reactions, by constantly seeing myself when I talk to my colleagues in video chats. Useful and unexpected!
  • Writing weekly reflections on my intentions, wins, and challenges. Yes, you can do this working from an office. I find it (and most work) much easier without someone hovering over my desk.

Whatever matters to you in your personal and work life, working remotely could give you the space to make some of those things happen, so take advantage of the opportunity.

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Erin May

Marketing, content, UX, CRM, and brand enthusiast. Customer and user advocate. Writer and editor. Lifelong learner. Strong opinions, weakly held. Lead marketing at User Interviews.

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