New to working remotely? Here are some tips from our global, fully-distributed team

Recent events have caused companies to enforce remote work policies, surprising many people around the world who might be used to going into the office. While it might seem easy to accomplish on paper, remote work comes with its own set of challenges.

We embrace the remote work lifestyle at balena

As a fully-distributed company, balena proudly nurtures a strong remote work culture that creates a welcoming, productive environment across countries and timezones. We’d love to share a few of these tips from the voices of our own teammates.

Do these remote work guides actually.... work?

To be honest, your mileage may vary. Instead of adding another guide to the internet, we wanted to create something a bit more from-the-heart. We hope you enjoy this curated list of remote work tips and tricks from our fully-distributed squad.

You'll be reading remote work tips and tricks from some of our balenistas!

Here are a few of our balena teammates with some remote work tips throughout the article (top: Andrew, Jasmine, Lucian, bottom: Jordan, Robbie, Phil).

Maybe you relate to a few-- that’s a win. We’re hoping this post gives you whatever it takes to prepare you for remote work.

Embrace asynchronicity

Outside of video calls, most messages will be received and responded to at various times of the day. This asynchronous work can be a bit jarring, but it’s something all remote and distributed teams are familiar with.

“Embrace asynchronous chat. It's OK not to be at your desk. It's OK not to reply immediately.”

-Phil, Hardware Hacker

“I start my day as many teammates are ending theirs. I need to make sure the messages that I leave them are informative and give them enough context. Especially because I don’t want to get up in the middle of the night to ‘clear things up’.”

-Andrew, Content Strategist

“Be overly communicative about what you are doing and why.”

-Lucian, Web Developer

Set boundaries: take your breaks seriously

Yes, you can totally burn out working remotely-- especially if you aren’t taking your breaks seriously. Here are a few tips from the team to ensure you take rest periods throughout the workday.

“Have a clearly separated working environment. Physically moving yourself into a specific location helps to train your mind that it's in ‘work mode.’”

-Lucian

“Calendar hygiene is important. People don't know when you're heads-down or have scheduled your break, unless you block off that time on your calendar. ...set your work hours in your calendar so that people know when they can expect you to be responsive.”

-Jordan, Technical Sales

“Simple but essential-- setting a time at some point in the day to take a break and follow it religiously. It can be very easy to go on and on and burn out.”

-Robbie, PeopleOps

“Replicate the natural breaks/interruptions of an office environment. You need cues to stand up, walk around, focus your eyes somewhere else, because it's too easy to get entranced on the screen and lose hours.”

-Phil

Communicate these boundaries to your household

Whether it’s other roommates, family members, or even pets, don’t forget to communicate and share these boundaries with others in your space.

“My partner and I are both remote workers and we swear by the ‘headphone rule’-- if the headphones are on, do not bother us unless it’s something incredibly urgent!”

-Andrew

“If you have young children, do not use your work computer when you are not working. You need to give them clear and easy to understand signals as to when they can play with you and when you cannot be disturbed.”

-Lucian

Identify remote work must-haves

Remote work requires some hardware and software that you might want to request from your IT department or office management team. Here are a few examples:

  • A reliable internet connection (tethering to your cell phone works, but those plans typically have data limits or could incur additional charges!)
  • A reliable headset/headphones, like the balenistas’ standard-issue Jabra headset (make sure it has a microphone, unless you’re using a separate one)
  • A high-quality microphone if you don’t have one on your headset/headphones
  • A decent webcam (try to get as high of a resolution as possible, like 1080p)
  • A space for yourself (home office, patio chair, kitchen table, you name it!)
  • Reading through IT department policies (e.g. VPN rules, password sharing, conferencing rules, etc.)
  • Downloading all the shared tools that your team uses (e.g. video conferencing software, productivity tools, project management, word processing, version control, etc.)

Over-communicate and be understanding (because text only says so much)!

Text messages, chats, and emails are quick and convenient, but they often lack emotional context since you can’t see the body language and expressions of the communicator. This means forcing yourself to be a bit more aware of this context when you’re reading messages from remote teammates.

“Always assume positive intent when communicating with others. In a remote environment you lose a lot of normal social cues we get when interacting with others and it can be easy to misunderstand a message.”

-Lucian

“Most of the time we're writing rather than speaking and not using eye contact/body language, messages can get confused. Over-confirmation is essential and you should never lose patience when someone asks just to confirm 2 or 3 times :).”

-Robbie

“Proactively seek help from others if you are having difficulty. In an office environment, it's easy to spot the person who is frustrated and struggling and offer help. This doesn't happen in a remote working setup, so you need to take it upon yourself to reach out to others.”

-Lucian

Make the most of meetings

When you finally get some face-to-face time with coworkers, make the most of it by ensuring you have a reliable set up and people can communicate with you clearly.

Expect the occasional guest speaker If you have teammates who have small children at home, expect the occasional "guest speaker." :)

“Get a good quality camera and make sure you're in good light. The better quality the video, the more "real" the interaction feels.”

-Phil

“Turn your cameras on, seeing people’s faces can really help you to connect with your colleagues and communicate more effectively.”

-Jasmine, Growth Lead

“Meetings need to have a social, non-work part. You must recreate the cooler/coffee chat as well as the business discussion.”

-Andrew

Take rest and recuperation seriously

It can be easy to lose track of time and work from sunrise to sunset. While that might be productive for some people, it can lead to burn out for many. Here are a few tips on how to look after your mind and body as a remote worker.

“Take care of your body. Your body isn't a meat vehicle that your mind drives around, your mind and body are one unit and if your body is unhealthy your mental state will be (this works the other way as well).”

-Lucian

“Don't take your phone to bed, or if you do make sure you don't look at work related apps. It's too easy to check work apps day and night. You need the mental break!”

-Phil

“Join a club/group that has a strong social element. Employees at remote companies can't take lunch breaks together or hang out at the bar after work. Replacing this social environment is really helpful for maintaining a healthy mental balance.”

-Lucian

Don’t ignore nature-- we need it!

Rest is more than walking away from the computer or laptop. Here are a few tips on how to work in some much-needed time with mother nature.

“Access nature every day. We haven't evolved to be indoors with central heating. You don't have to walk barefoot through a pine forest hugging the trees. But taking a walk through a wood watching the trees in the wind, and listening to birds singing - it grounds us back in the real world.”

-Phil

“If possible, try going for a walk whilst taking calls. Fresh air and exercise have obvious benefits, but not being in front of your monitor can also really improve focus and help you concentrate on the subject in hand.”

-Jasmine

“Your brain needs sunlight to drive your circadian rhythms. Without it your body clock loses it's natural timing and you get sleep problems and depression. You also need sunlight to get vitamin D, which is important for physical and mental health.”

-Phil

We hope these tips and tricks help you

Remote working isn’t a switch that people can just turn on or off. It’s a set of habits and processes that need to be built into your day-to-day routine over time. We hope these tips from our team can help you build your own productive rhythm.

Stay healthy, stay active, and don’t forget to take a break every once in a while. Our distributed team is cheering for you from around the world. Take care!

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