In the COVID-19 era, knowledge workers everywhere have moved from open-plan offices to their favorite chairs at home. Nested Knowledge employees, who have been remotely working from day one, share their favorite tips for working more effectively from home.
The top tip from Kevin Kallmes, our CEO, is the concept of “mise en place:” a place for everything and everything is in its place, a term borrowed from professional chefs. Kallmes states that what really separates a company from individuals is organization of information. “Most of the value that you can bring to the company other than your personal talent is building systems. And by systems in the modern age, it’s organized information online,” he says.
As a serial entrepreneur overseeing Superior Medical Experts, Nested Knowledge and Marblehead Medical for 5 years, Kallmes knows about managing teams remotely across multiple companies. In fact, he suggests startups to go remote from the start, citing numerous advantages. “If you organize your email communications, tasks and files, then it doesn’t matter how many projects are going on, you can follow the chains of information flowing around people,” he says. “The boundaries between companies then matter less. The boundaries in communication are actually lower than in an office environment where people try to avoid talking to each other because they work together all day and they don’t want to be too distracted.” According to Kallmes, having structure built into scheduling, archiving, and communicating takes off the pressure of mentally balancing many tasks scattered across projects.
Natalie Reierson, Director of Research at Nested Knowledge, also emphasizes that organized communication is critical to know her colleagues’ schedules and availabilities for projects and meetings. Her pro-tip: email summaries after a meeting highlighting the deliverables for the week and the next best time for a check-in. “Managing projects from a distance is about keeping those communication lines open and setting expectations. It also helps people be comfortable with what they have to get done in the given time period,” she says.
For many employees during the quarantine, remote working also means flexible scheduling, and Reierson says that it is important for managers to acknowledge this. “There’s an aspect to working remotely where people are not ready to work typical office hours, and therefore being open minded for an 8 pm meeting on a Wednesday or a 2 pm meeting on a Sunday because a lot of times people don’t mind doing that,” she says. “Especially if they can take a Tuesday afternoon off because they are doing something else.” Reierson also says that she makes connections that are not just work related. “I keep asking people what school or classes they are taking, what is going on outside in their lives, so we just don’t talk about work.”
Karl Holub, our Chief Technical Officer, states it is important to have a separate physical space for work. “Never open your computer on your bed, for your work. Make sure your sleeping space is different from your working space. You need to make sure they are not co-located and are physically apart.” This is important for Reierson as well. “I have a desk where I strictly work and then I know when I’m there, it’s work time. That’s number one,” she says. She also enjoys working with light music, preferably without lyrics, when she is writing code or doing any analytical tasks. “I feel like I’m in the zone when I have that on.” Rierson also cites the importance of taking regular breaks, to get up and do a 15-minute walk, and not just sit at my computer all day long. “My productivity lasts a lot longer when I take those breaks,” she states.
However, an important phenomenon that happens in a brick-and-mortar office is the pressure to work as hard as other people you see. For the virtual office worker, this means being proactive about communication. Kallmes insists on setting that pressure at home as well, whether it is working across from your roommate or sibling that prevents one from binging on Netflix. “Use incentives to force yourself to focus on what you want to do in the long term. Think about how to manipulate yourself into performing well,” he says. He also endorses video meetings because it keeps you on a schedule and helps connect with coworkers and clients.
Google Suite is Kallmes and Rierson’s favorite app. “I couldn’t be an entrepreneur without G-suite,” Kallmes says. Reierson says that it is helpful to have people update a document from anywhere anytime from Google suites and to manage tasks from ClickUp. “Slack is really nice for kind of getting that quick indication of stopping by someone’s cubicle, only that we don’t have a cubicle. So, it helps bridge that gap,” she says. Holub agrees that a close-to-synchronous communication software like Slack for team chats helps digitally manage a remote team when working on intense technical projects. “It’s often nice to be able to sit and type out responses. Especially for technical communication, when you need to express complex ideas and nuances, asynchronous communication gives you that bit more time to structure your thoughts.”