Work from Home: Nuggets on Making Remote Work Better

Remote Oct 20, 2020

As a remote team from day one, our team at Hyperinbox has a unique but effective approach to making remote working more productive while balancing with life outside of work. We believe that remote work requires a fundamentally different approach, yet we've seen many companies try to emulate the traditional office-based environment online. That'll only create an environment subpar to what office experience is.

A fundamentally different approach to working from home and remote working means that we're doing everything completely different. We aren't going to meet in real-time from 9 to 5. We aren't going to expect people to respond in real-time. We work together, at different times. We block notifications on purpose. We clear our inbox everyday to be responsive and stay accountable. We work in chunks of deeply focused times. We take time to communicate and write long on purpose. We communicate more information than what people typically need. Weird enough? But these are proven approaches we learned at first hand working 100% remotely in multiple time zones.

Below are "nuggets" on remote working. We apply all of them every day, and they've proven to be a great way to manage remote work.

We're going to update this page from time to time. We'll be adding more nuggets as we come up with new approaches in the future. We'll also add more details and stories to help you improve remote collaboration. So stay tuned, and come back every now and then to find more nugget tips.

Asynchronous collaboration over real-time collaboration

Real-time collaboration in remote is when you collaborate in real-time, over a phone call, instant message, or video conferencing.

Real-time collaboration gives you a sense of alignment, and it is useful when you brainstorm together or strategize on something. But it requires lots of energy, and for teams with multiple time zones, real-time communication takes a toll on the life outside of work. The time you could spend with your friends and family. The dinner (or breakfast) time when you could eat and play with your kids.

Instead of doing real-time work for every single occasion, try moving some of that (and gradually most of that) to asynchronous collaboration. Asynchronous collaboration is when you exchange thoughts and communicate at different times. I share my thoughts. A few hours later, you share yours—vice versa.

The benefit of asynchronous collaboration is we could all be in control of our time. We can respond to messages when we are fully ready. We don't have to feel the pressure to reply in real-time. This frees up our mind and gives us more time to think about the issue and give our thoughtful answers.

Managing notifications

If you have your notifications turned on, you'll be distracted constantly throughout your day. It's good practice to stay on top of things, but not at the expense of your focus, which is the most valuable resource you have as a professional.

Turn off all your notifications as your default. Quit all your messaging apps while you're focused on something. Or set up "Do Not Disturb" mode for the times you plan to stay focused. The first step to perform focused work is to be distraction-free.

For urgent issues, set up a "hotline" with your co-workers so that you would be notified when people need to reach you ASAP. We use our own tool Hyperinbox for this but feel free to set it up with any tool: Telegram, Whatsapp, Messenger, etc.

Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero means that you go through all of your inbound messages, notifications, and updates from the tools you use - not only email - at work. But that's not all, getting to Inbox Zero also means you prioritize, respond, delegate, snooze, or unsubscribe accordingly.

I suggest getting to Inbox Zero at least once per day and twice or three times a day if your team is distributed across multiple time zones.

Simply reading your messages and notifications isn't achieving Inbox Zero. It's much more than that:

Prioritize

Since your co-workers aren't sitting right next to you, they can't grab you away for ASAP needs. So the team depends on you to prioritize urgent issues and be responsible for coordinating work. If you don't prioritize, your teammates have nothing else to do but wait until you give them an answer.

Go through every update in your inbox and prioritize what needs your immediate attention and follow up on them first. Others can wait, for now. Those can be snoozed to be reviewed at a later time.

It's important that you check every single message and look for priorities. Sometimes urgent issues are hidden in your stack of message backlogs.

Respond explicitly

We all want to stay accountable when we're working together. And staying accountable means, we don't have to chase each other and follow up on pending issues and tasks. We can trust each other to do our jobs and be communicative. We trust that we'll always be responsive to each other whenever possible.

Simply reading the update/notification doesn't let the other person (requestor) know that you've read them. Send an emoji (often a like button) to let the other person know that you've received the message, and you'll respond soon. If you don't do this, the other person will not be able to move on, worrying whether the message has been lost.

If the requestor had asked for specific responses - time estimates, opinions, approvals/rejections, then sending an emoji is not enough. Give them what they requested. If you need more time to think about the issue before giving them a response, let them know that you aren't ready to respond but will give an update later.

It's like scheduling an appointment with a cable technician to come to your house and set up your TV. It's not the fact that you have to be available the whole day to get the door when the technician rings the bell that bothers you. What makes it frustrating is that you have no idea when the technician will come, so you can't take a bath or start cooking, worried that if you do, seconds later, the technician will show up.

If the technician gives you a 30-minute heads up, you'll be relieved to know that you're free to do whatever until that time.

Inbox Zero is all about keeping accountabilities at a higher level and managing proactive communications.

Delegate/forward

You might not be the best person to handle the message you just received. In this case, delegate/forward as soon as possible, let the others know the context, and why you're delegating to them. It's important to clarify the latter because you do not want the other person to think you're just making other people do your job.

It's also important to loop people in from the beginning. Either CC them or tag them to keep information afloat and give everyone a chance to contribute. It's always better to over-communicate than keeping information siloed—more on this below.

Archive

When you're done with the message, always archive to clear your inbox. This allows you to compartmentalize between the information you're done with and the information you need to pay attention to.

Some people think they'll lose the message later on if they archive because they no longer see the message in the inbox. This is simply not true. You can always search for it or browse the Archive page in any inbox-first app (e.g., Email, Asana, Hyperinbox, etc.) and find the message.

Snooze/Postpone

Sometimes, you're on the go, or you're doing something else. You get a message, and you want to give a little more time before archiving it. What you can do is to snooze the message, clear it out of your inbox for now, and receive it at a later date/time. This allows you to prioritize things effectively.

Unsubscribe

If you're using tools like Asana, Hyperinbox, or any inbox-first app, you'll have a feature where you can remove yourself from threads/message chains. This allows you to stay focused on what matters. Remember, the given assumption is that people will include you as part of their conversation if they think you'll need to see it. But sometimes, that might not be the case. So it's up to you to either keep getting updates or unsubscribe to declutter your inbox.

Do deep work

Do deep, focused work over shallow work. It sounds obvious, but most people spend most of their time on shallow things: checking emails, going to meetings, video/conference calls, messaging in Slack, organizing, etc.

While checking emails and going to meetings is necessary, if you do them all day, you won't have enough time left to do your real work: writing code, designing, strategizing, and planning. These kinds of real work are only achievable by focusing on the tasks. It's just too hard to produce real work multitasking with others. Do one at a time, but give it your 100% focus.

Reserve enough time throughout the day to practice deep work. And stick with the schedule. Clockwise is a great tool that lets you automatically schedule focus times throughout your week.

On this, you can take a page out of Jack Dorsey and Brian Chesky's playbook. What the two CEOs of Twitter and Squared, and Airbnb have in common is they work in "blocks" that group similar tasks. For example, they would use Mondays to only focus on the product. Then Tuesdays are for marketing and sales. Wednesdays would be strategy and leadership. The benefit of this block system is that you can fully focus on one theme at a time, minimizing the distractions.

Long-form writing

Let's all admit - pinging someone on Slack or Teams is way too easy. While we all do it, we also hate when other people ping us with "hey" and start sending bits of short messages that we'd have to stare at our screens real hard to understand what this is all about.

This is distracting. You, the sender, might have a need to ask a quick question, but the receiver has stopped whatever she was doing and just waits for you to finish your thought (this is why we need to manage notifications and practice deep work often!).

Instead, use long-form writing over short bursts of instant messages.

Include why you're sending this message, what are you looking for, and the details such as dates, names, files, etc. whenever possible. The goal is to make sure the receiver fully understands what you mean without asking a follow-up question.

In other words, always give the full narrative. Long-form writing isn't just writing long per se. Long-form writing means you are giving the narrative with the facts. Why you're writing this, who should be reading this, what are you looking to get out of this communication.

When talking to someone, try to give them the full context of how you think and how you feel about the topic. When you're remote, things are 10 times harder to communicate because you cannot pick up visual cues - gestures and emotions of each other. Long-form writing makes this so much better.

You can hide your emotions in bullet points. You can B.S. things in abstract communication. But in a long, narrative format, it forces you to write with logic and with thoughtfulness. With long-form writing, you can understand each other's feelings and thoughts without having to converse in real-time.

A small advice: apply emojis as much as possible. Emojis supplement your emotions, and when you see others add emojis to your message, it is a relief to know how others think/feel about your idea.

Another small thing about writing: DO NOT WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS! Unless you meant to shout, of course. It makes you look like you're yelling. These may appear trivial, but they do add up to help your team communicate.

Over-communicate

Over-communication is multi-directional information sharing. You share information with your teammates more than what you think they'd need to hear. Access to information is open to everyone so that people have the chance to contribute. And it's up to the audience to decide whether the information is worth following.

This may sound inefficient at first, but it is so much more efficient than partial or unidirectional information sharing.

Below is a diagram I got from Brian Armstrong, Co-founder & CEO at Coinbase.

Which one do you think will have better communication? It's a no-brainer when you put it this way.


If you are remote, and want a universal inbox that integrates with all of your daily apps (Figma, Slack, Github, Jira, Asana, etc.), join the Hyperinbox waitlist. And follow us on Twitter, @hyperinboxapp!

Tags

Christopher Chae

Co-founder at Hyperinbox. Loves 🍕 and ☕️.

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