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.
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.
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:
So without further ado, User Interviews top tips for working remotely, organized in ascending order of Maslow’s hierarchy.
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One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
Brendan Beninghof, Head of Sales
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.
“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 :)
Basel Fakhoury, COO and Co-founder
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.
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.
Melanie Albert, Operations Manager
Melanie crushes the whole getting things done thing. Plus, look at this killer sandwich made possible by getting out of her house.
“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.
JH Forster, VP Product
JH is something of a productivity guru + when PMs talk about asynchronous communication, you know they’re serious.
“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.
Dennis Meng, CEO
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.
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.
Kailyn Loofbourrow, Operations Associate
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.
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.”
Bob Saris, CTO + Co-founder
Because the Eagles won and Bob is on fire! Also, mad “heavy_plus_sign” validation on this
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).
Erin May, VP Content and Relationship Marketing
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.
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:
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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