The past few years have fundamentally changed the way we work. Across any industry that can bear it, workers are transitioning from in-person offices to permanent or part-time remote work. In 2019, Americans in remote-capable jobs working exclusively from home made up a mere 8% of the workforce—those numbers are now up to 24% and growing. Those with hybrid schedules (part-time remote and part-time in-office) accounted for 23% of remote-capable jobs in 2019 and are up to 53% this year. Here at Appointed, the past few years tasked us with both the challenge of safe in-person work (as we manufacture a physical product) and navigating a new normal—balancing hybrid schedules for a team that had formerly been all under one roof.
Before we get into it, I’ll walk through my schedule at Appointed—two days per week in the studio, and three days per week at home. My role with the E-commerce team requires focused writing, tech troubleshooting, and project planning. Maintaining two in-person days per week means I don’t miss out on the in-person meetings, brainstorming, and team-building that you only get with IRL work. After a few years of working a hybrid schedule and many conversations with my teammates, I’ve developed a clear perspective on the main pros and cons of remote work:
Reclaimed commute time and associated costs
Less efficient communication
Flexibility for childcare or caregiving
Environment—personal and work space are one and the same
Freedom to schedule work around chores or appointments
Less opportunity for mentorship, accountability, and growth
Increased focus and decreased distractions (this is not always the case—especially for caregivers)
Feelings of isolation
The pros here are inarguably great—who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to avoid D.C. traffic? However, the cons may be more of a roadblock than meets the eye. Luckily, working with a team so focused on doing our best work (it is our motto after all!) has helped us consider these challenges and tackle them head-on. Read on for my favorite solutions for common work-from-home problems, plus a few remote work management tips from our Senior Direct to Consumer Manager.
Problem: Inefficient or unclear communication
Over-communicate: If you’re using messaging apps, emails, or project management software, chances are you’ve experienced misunderstandings or worse at work. I have found that over-communicating is the best way to make sure my team is on the same page for problem-solving, feedback, and collaboration. Over-communication doesn’t have to mean writing a novel every time you send a message, though. Here’s how I think about it: if I was reading this information for the first time, what kind of questions would I have? Is there any context I may need to see the full picture? What do I need specific answers or feedback on? Answering these questions before hitting send prevents back-and-forth messaging, and can even help my workflow—stepping outside my context can help me see holes that need to be filled before I loop in my manager or team.
Create an information-sharing process: If you use a messaging app like Slack, you are probably familiar with how they can be a surprising distraction, as constant notifications take a toll on focus despite the seeming buzz of productivity. Here at Appointed, we use a few different platforms for communication. Over the past few years we’ve honed how each is used to maximize productivity (and keep notifications to a minimum):
- Slack: used for team-wide announcements and company updates, as well as urgent messages and one-off questions that don’t fit into a particular project. It’s also used for socializing or in-person updates (my favorites being team shout-outs and the inevitable “free bagels in the kitchen” messages 😉).
- Email: used for communication with customers, collaborators, and partners.
- Notion: used for creative and product-related project planning. Apps like this provide more of a collaborative vibe with boards, tasks, approvals, and deadlines.
Pick up the phone to resolve issues: Some roadblocks just need that personal element for quick and easy problem-solving. Scheduling regular check-ins or huddles with your team or knowing when to send a quick “can I call you?” message can save you time and energy and get you back to your workflow faster.
Schedule recurring one-on-one meetings weekly: If you wait until a crisis hits to meet with colleagues or managers, you’ll never build a trusting and collaborative relationship. Regular face time is essential to understanding what your closest people are up to and what they are prioritizing.
Problem: Your environment isn’t maximized for work
Create an intentional space: If you’ve picked up anything from our Desktop Collection, chances are you’ve read all about our workspace philosophy. I’ll give you the short version: remote work requires a dedicated space to call your own. Whether you’re getting it done at the kitchen table or in a home office, setting up a command center to come to each day will create the routine you need to stay focused.
Get dressed: Getting dressed for work in an outfit I’d feel comfortable wearing to the studio is an easy way to feel pulled together. Not only does this help me feel prepared for the day, but also means I don’t need to worry about being suddenly presentable if a last-minute video call arises.
Clean up: Creative work can get messy sometimes. No matter the size of your desktop, ensuring over half of it is completely clear of clutter means you’ll have the space to spread out in times of deep focus. I keep personal items like plants and framed photos up on a shelf where they’re in sight but not taking up valuable real estate on my desktop.
Choose your playlist wisely: I’ve found that certain sounds increase my focus, and others have a negative impact. For example, I find it very difficult to write and troubleshoot when listening to music that contains lyrics. However, ambient nature sounds or instrumental music boost my mood and focus all in one.
Mix up your location: This is especially true if you exclusively work from home. Try an afternoon at your local coffee shop, or better yet swing by your local park (if you can work offline for a few hours). A change of scenery never fails to help when I’ve hit a roadblock.
Find ways to self-care: Whether it’s making a pot of tea or taking a few minutes to snuggle your pet, a break that you can only experience in your environment can be a huge pick-me-up. (More on breaks and their importance later.)
Schedule & Productivity
Problem: Challenges in prioritizing and staying on task
Many business executives resisting the trend towards remote work have expressed concerns about productivity without the accountability of an office setting. Though research has shown this to be largely the opposite (remote workers are clocking in more hours than ever), my experience is that working alone does require self-motivation and top-notch prioritization skills. Here are a few of the productivity practices that help me stay on task:
The Pomodoro Technique: Consider a time-management method you can start using right now—all you need is a timer. This technique breaks down your workday into shorter sessions with frequent breaks to prevent burnout and keep you focused. Start by setting a timer for 25 minutes and getting to work on a specific project or task. Do your best to keep focused without distractions for the entire duration. When the timer goes off, it’s time to take a five-minute break—a real break from your computer (stand up and stretch, grab a quick snack, etc.). Repeat. This technique has a real impact on my productivity and helps me check off more to-dos without fail.
Set a focus status: During periods of deep focus, set a status on slack that you may be slow to respond to messages. Have kids or a partner at home? Put a sign up on the door during meetings to limit interruptions.
Utilize a planner to the fullest: On Monday mornings I fill in the priorities section with the week’s most pressing concerns. I also write down meetings, web launches, and marketing initiatives in the weekly spread. Tasks get filled into the tick box section throughout the week, and meeting notes are taken in the Notes section. Take a peek inside a recent week spread in my Year Task Planner below.
My well-used Year Task Planner is my most essential tool for staying on-track at work.
Problem: Lack of connection and increased stress
Schedule breaks: Taking short breaks away from your computer (this doesn’t mean opening up a new tab and online shopping) is essential for mental and physical health. I find that I especially need breaks on the busiest days (hello, planner launch!) as it allows me to gain perspective, release stress, and effectively problem-solve. Think about how breaks are automatically built into in-person work, whether it’s passing by someone’s desk for a quick chat on the way to the bathroom or little moments of connection throughout the day. You deserve to carve out space for yourself even when working from home.
Get outside: Those of us who work from home know there are days we never leave the house (this may or have not been too true for me last winter). We weren’t made to live life indoors, so try getting out as much as possible on remote days, whether it’s a morning walk, on a break, or taking a few meditative breaths next to an open window.
Create a commute: Even though I’ve gained back commute time on remote work days, I’ve found that going for a walk in the morning, taking some time for a hobby, or making a nice breakfast helps clear my mind for the day ahead and slowly transition into work-mode. The same goes for end-of-day—it would be tempting to zone out immediately at 5pm, but to give my mind a signal that it is time to relax, I make a point to get a change of scenery and do something other than stare at a screen. Most often this involves moving my body, whether it’s running a quick errand or jumping on the bike for a workout. This is especially important if your living and working area are the same (like a small apartment).
Ask for support: Reach out to your manager or team if you’re struggling with isolation or stress. More likely than not, they’ll understand what you’re going through and may have suggestions to make things easier or offer to meet more frequently one-on-one.
Make the most of in-person days: My hybrid work schedule brings me into the office twice a week, and I make a point of overlapping meetings with IRL work. This is not just for efficiency and communication, but also for building relationships and a sense of camaraderie.
Tips for Managers
Managing people is challenging when you’re not always in person. I asked my manager, Jackie, what she’s learned about managing a team through many stages of remote and hybrid work. Take it away Jackie!
“Managing a team, in general, can be tough—not to mention during the ups and downs of a pandemic. The uncertainty of everyday life can easily creep into your 9-5, and as a manager, it’s your responsibility to keep your team focused, motivated, and happy. Here are the top three tips I’ve learned while navigating my role these past two+ years:
Consistent check-ins: Even before the pandemic, I made a habit of meeting individually with members of my team every week. Choose a day and time that makes sense for you and your team member. For example, I meet with Courtney, who handles all customer experience here at Appointed, every Monday afternoon. We discuss the weekend’s customer service emails and social media comments/DM’s (workload is usually higher for Courtney on Monday mornings!) and her plan for that week. We discuss high-level priorities and projects first, then dive into day-to-day to-dos. I schedule 30 minutes for 1:1 meetings and even if we finish before then, I try to use the remaining time to discuss non-work matters, like what we did that weekend, our favorite new dining spot in D.C., or the latest D2C brand we discovered. It’s important to me as a manager to know my team’s hobbies, likes and dislikes, and how they spend their time outside of work. It comes in handy during birthdays and other celebratory times! 😉
IRL meetings: Like Kaitlin, I work in the studio twice a week and remotely three times a week. I prefer to be in-studio for team meetings, even if others are remote. I think we’re all a bit fatigued by zoom at this point—and let’s face it: face-to-face does make a difference! I use team meetings as my time to update the entire team on what’s happening on the e-commerce side of things, so I keep it high-level and concise. The team meetings also help me organize my week—I know when I’ll get approval for certain things, and when I can easily chat directly with other team members.
Team outings: Get out of the office! Since I started four years ago at Appointed, Suann has made a point to take the team out of the office quarterly for an activity of our choice. Whether it’s a ceramics class, watching the latest Spiderman film, or going bowling with the team, these outings are essential to team building. The Appointed team is quite competitive, so these outings are always a blast!”
I hope these tips help you think about how to optimize remote work for increased productivity while making it a little more enjoyable (and a lot less stressful). After all, we spend roughly 80,000 hours of our lives working, so we owe it to ourselves to think deeply about making it the best it can be. Remote and hybrid work schedules are still new to many of us, but taking time to think through how they might be impacting you or your team is the first step towards positive outcomes for employees and companies alike. Here’s to doing your best work yet.