How to Work Remotely (If You Have Never Done It Before)

How work from home

“Aha! was far ahead of this remote work thing.” A friend said this to me the other day. We were (as everyone is right now) talking about the latest COVID-19 news. In part, my friend is right — we were ahead of many as an entirely distributed company.

We have learned a lot since we founded Aha! in 2013 and are now about 100 people strong. But the choice to build the company with an entirely distributed team was not because of some prescient flash about future pandemic events. We wanted the freedom to hire the best talent and we knew that only hiring people in Silicon Valley was not going to work.

Remote work allowed us to do both — hire exceptional people and allow them to work from where they are happiest

More people than ever are working from home right now to aid in social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the world’s largest technology companies (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter) were among the first to institute work-from-home policies for their employees. Other companies quickly followed suit, leaving little time for leaders and teammates to prepare for a work-from-home experience.

Of course, not every job is conducive to distributed work. Restaurant servers cannot, for example, do their jobs remotely. Likewise, most employees in the healthcare and manufacturing industries must be physically present. But we are seeing people find new ways to stay connected while consciously remaining apart — from universities holding virtual lectures to schools adopting e-learning tools.

I know that some of you are thrust into remote work for the very first time, figuring it out as you go along.

You might be struggling with slow Wi-Fi, especially if your partners or children are home and doing their own work virtually as well. Or your organization’s VPN might not support using rich web-based applications. If your company did not have a remote work policy to begin with, there is the added challenge of how to quickly move from in-office to online workflows. There is no more “dropping by” someone’s desk to chat about a project. Not to mention the added stress and uncertainty of world events.

Back to my friend’s comments — they were partially correct. Aha! is fortunate to have been entirely remote since day one. This makes the remote work transformation we are seeing take place a little bit easier for us. We are adept at serving thousands of customers and collaborating with one another from our home offices around the world each day. 

I have been getting more comments and messages asking for advice. Here is what I think is essential for first-time remote workers: 

Office space 
Without a clear separation between home and office, it is important to maintain professionalism. I have seen a few articles advising that people do not work from bed. This seems obvious to me, but you do need a dedicated space where you can focus. Find a comfortable chair and table in a quiet room (preferably with a door). If you want to avoid sitting all day, you can try setting up a makeshift standing desk.

Equipment and tools 
Connecting with teammates who are not in the same room with you requires a few extra tools. A headset is helpful for virtual meetings, and access to collaborative software allows everyone to collaborate in real time. Our entire team uses Aha! (as well as instant messaging and video conferencing tools) to complete work and collaborate with one another — no conference room whiteboards required. 

Face time 
Are you nervous about sharing your webcam on video meetings? This is a big deal for many people, especially those who feel awkward about seeing their own face plastered on the computer screen. But as you attend more video meetings, you will get accustomed to looking at yourself. If it feels strange, try to keep your eyes on your colleagues. Seeing your co-worker’s expressions gives context that is hard to capture on a phone call. 

Whether you are working from home or co-located, you need to be thoughtful about how you communicate. Choose the right channel to convey your message, write as clearly and succinctly as possible, and consider your audience. When you are new to being remote, you want to be extra aware of who should be looped into meetings and conversations. Err on the side of over-communicating. 

You may be worried about productivity. The key is setting boundaries. Communicate your expectations to others in the home and mitigate interruptions if you can. For example, having your door closed could mean that you are in a meeting, so no one should interrupt unless there is an emergency. Ask kids not to stream content during certain times (like when you need the internet bandwidth for your work meetings).

Working from home may be a difficult transition at first. But I bet you will soon find that it is not only possible, but even rewarding.

In these times of change and uncertainty, so many factors are beyond your control. Be kind to yourself. Have empathy for the people around you. If you need help, ask for it. If you have guidance to share, give it. We are all working from home together.  

How are you adjusting to working from home for the first time? 

Aha! is a fully distributed team and we are hiring. See our current openings.

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Kathleen Peters

    I’m in the odd reverse position. I’ve worked from home for almost 20 years… and I’m out of work now. My company was fully-distributed, but we were reliant on reports coming in from a field that is now entirely shut down.

    It’s so extremely odd to be sitting here while thousands of people are trying to figure out how to work from home… managers are trying to learn how to lead teams from home and how to train people from home. And here I am, with 8 years of experience managing remote teams and training people online and developing training materials for them to use, etc. And I have nothing at all to do! It feels like such a waste! My skills and knowledge could be such a massive advantage to so many companies, and none of them know I’m sitting here with this knowledge and experience available. Of course, my resume is now out there to a few companies (including yours), but I think that most of the companies who really need my experience most desperately aren’t even sure how or where to look for help, other to ask companies like yours. ::shrugs::


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