Build a Successful Remote Workspace: Tips, Tricks & Tech

Earlier this month (July 2019), Trent Kocurek spoke to the Innovate Bham class about what it’s like to work at a remote-first company and expectations of remote employees. He also shared the Airship crew’s tips and tricks on how to be productive and successful while working remotely.

Intro & Remote Work at Airship

Remote work is becoming more and more prevalent for companies. Remote work is defined as a situation in which an employee works mainly from home and communicates with the company by email, telephone, video, and chat.

It’s allowed our team to expand and for us to get talent no matter where they are in the world. It’s also allowed us to spread the word of Birmingham to those that may have never considered moving here.

The big key to remote work is going all in or nothing and being very intentional on how you structure communication, culture, and experiences.

We’re able to have a remote-first environment by sticking to a few rules for both local and remote employees.

  • Everyone has the option to work remotely, even those who live in Birmingham, Alabama
  • Home office is a requirement for everyone
  • All meetings use Zoom for each individual’s laptop
  • One remote person in a meeting means all attendees are remote
  • Friday lunch: everyone locally meets up, but remote-first means you don’t forget about your remote people. We give extra money to remote workers as a way of including them in our team lunch festivities.
  • Communication is key and needs to be intentional!

The Benefits of a Remote-First Policy

There are many benefits to having a remote-first company policy, but the biggest ones we’ve found include the following:

  • Freedom to work from anywhere
  • Ability to hire the best people know matter where they are in the world
  • Less stress having to be on the road.
  • More environmentally sound
  • Less costs on office space

We also asked our crew members to share what they felt were the biggest benefits to having remote work options and flexibility. Here’s what they had to say!

  • Flexibility, and the ability to specifically craft your own workspace.
  • Already being home when you get off work.
  • Being able to be productive where you feel the most productive.
  • Eat lunch at home, healthier.
  • Being able to travel when needed.
  • I can selfishly control and fine tune my work space. Sounds, lighting, temperature. It’s all up to me.
  • Yesterday was a great example for me. I was able to take my dad to his procedure and back with little to no interruption to my work. I took my meetings from the waiting room and was able to be there with/for him which was great!
  • Being able to small tasks around the house in the 5 minutes of dead time waiting for a meeting to begin. Like checking the mail, tidy kitchen. Designing a home office is loads of fun!! Getting to be as picky about your coffee as you want! Listening to your own music without worrying about bothering others in the office. Having a window!! (I didn’t have a window for 3.5 years and only saw the outside when I entered or left the office). Commute (no traffic between kitchen and office). My wife working weird times for Hospital means I am actually able to see her for lunch break when she works nights.
  • Flexibility for work/family life. Able to squeeze in getting cars fixed, appointments, etc. These past few weeks are a good example for me being able to stay home with my son while my wife works.
  • Easy to go heads down
  • Less distractions
  • No commute which is a time waster
  • Company needs to spend less money on office space and can plug that money back into the company and team.
  • Provides the opportunity for people to live their “one life”. I don’t subscribe to the concept of “work/life balance”. I say you only have one life and in that life you have family, friends, children, pets, work, neighbors, leisure, travel, hobbies, all types of things. Forced time and location constraints on all these things (including work) makes going to an office every day just because a procedural inefficiency to ALL the aspects of this “one life” I describe.

Things to Keep in Mind About Working Remotely

Working remotely isn’t always sunshine. In fact, we would say that working remotely is actually harder than working from an office at many times. Here are a few things we think employees should keep in mind when it comes to working remotely.

  • Early on in your career, it’s good to be around others.
  • As you become more efficient, you can be alone more.
  • You have to be more intentional with your routine.
  • You have to have a place to get away.

We asked the Crew to share the hardest things about remote work:

  • Building relationships with team members.
  • Celebrating together.
  • Cultivating client relationships across the team.
  • Internet problems.
  • Feeling distant from the rest of the team.
  • Getting into a routine.
  • Forcing yourself to get actually ready for the day.
  • Always having work with you.
  • Harder to have real office chatter. Harder to work “shoulder to shoulder” with teammates.
  • You have to be self-motivated to get work done. Otherwise remote-work is not for you.
  • Most communication is done through messaging so understanding how to best utilize that. Also you really need to be a self-starter/motivated person to stay on track. Without that you can find yourself drowning quickly in your tasks.

Tips for creating a productive remote workspace

  • Make sure you have a dedicated room of the house to work in.
    • A space where you feel creative and happy.
      • “I set up my office in a cheerful room we call the library, where all of our books and musical instruments live. It’s in the middle of my house, but I am happier there than in an underutilized guest room.” – Elizabeth
    • Making your space pretty and efficient! It will help with productivity.
    • Keep your workspace clean.
      • “It will always feel as if something else is more important, but make time to clean your desk. A clean workspace does wonders for your mentality and productivity.” – Eric
    • Personalize your workspace. Make it yours and make it fun. If you go overboard it can feel cluttered, but go ahead and express yourself.
  • Get dressed as if you were leaving for work.
  • Use your Slack status as best you can and setup automatic Do Not Disturb times in Slack.
  • Establish well-defined break times.
    • “When work is always close by, breaks are more important than ever. I even put them on my calendar sometimes.” – Elizabeth
    • “Sunshine. Don’t forget to leave the house sometimes!” – Elizabeth
  • Schedule out even the little things on your calendar.
    • “This helps you to not only plan and make sure things are done, but it helps to not schedule other things on top of your dedicated time for doing something. This is super helpful as well to use for things like breaks and the gym.” – Danielle
  • Talk with your family members that are at home during the day about your schedule.
    • Have a conversation with your spouse or family members that are there during the day about the importance of not being interrupted. When my wife had our children and was on maternity leave for 3 months it was hard for her to not see me as being available. Set boundaries that include breaks with them during the day.

The Best Remote Workspace Investments

  • Good Internet
    • Probably worth investing in mesh routers to make sure you’re not all laggy and such on video calls.
  • A Good Desk
    • Most of our crew members recommend a sit/stand desk, like Autonomous or Fully
  • A Super Comfortable Chair
  • A Comfortable Keyboard/Wrist Rest
    • “Carpal tunnel freaks me out. It’s like tennis elbow for developers.” – Mark K.
  • Noise-Cancelling Headphones
    • “Comfy headphones, I look for nice stuff on Massdrop but that’s just me.” – Seth
    • Headset for video calls.
    • A way to listen to music without headphones.
  • A Really Good Mouse
  • An External Monitor
    • An external monitor on a monitor arm saves desktop space and raises your monitor up to an optimal viewing level for posture and health stuff.
    • Monitor mounts if you use external monitors, this one is solid and cheap.
  • Laptop Stand
    • Riser for your laptop if that’s your only screen.
  • HyperDrive hub
    • “They’re not cheap but you’ll be happy you have it.” – Seth
  • Notepad
    • “I really like my Rocketbook for temporary notes.” – Seth

The Best Apps for Working Remotely

  • Spectacle or MooM – window management
  • Fantastical – best calendar IMO
  • Bear – note taking/project notes archive
  • Rocket – you know the way you can use a colon to get an emoji in Slack? This makes it available everywhere
  • Color Snapper 2 – a great way to grab a color’s hex/rgba/etc value with a keystroke
  • Icon Set Creator – makes it dead simple to create a set of iOS icons
  • Icon Jar – helps manage libraries of icons, and has great icon export options
  • Muzzle – mutes notifications during video calls, etc.
  • Pastebot – my favorite clipboard manager
  • OmniFocus or Things – Pro personal task management
  • Taskpaper – great app for managing quickly changing to-do lists
  • iTerm – fantastic terminal replacement
  • Hyper – another great terminal replacement
  • DaisyDisk – for when you have a full hard drive and want to know why
  • Alfred – helps to find things on your computer quickly, and works much better than the existing spotlight tool.
  • Homebrew – package management made easy for developers
  • CloudApp – for easily taking and sharing screen captures

Other Helpful Tools for Working Remotely

Suggested Reading to Perfect Your Remote Working SkillsB