Illustaration of a person frantically trying to be productive at work.

If you think of it in terms of Tuckman’s stages of team development, suddenly shifting to remote work en masse throws your team into “storming” mode. Confusion and frustration abound, and everything feels twice as hard as it should. (We know because we’ve been there.)

Your goal right now is to get back to the “performing” stage and resume your regularly-scheduled level of productivity. Here are five ways to do that.

1. Brush up on basic remote work best practices

Everyone assumes working from home means kicking your feet up and spending the day in your jammies. As a 3-year veteran of remote work, I’m a big fan of working with one’s feet up. But that jammies thing? Just don’t. Maintaining to your usual morning routine puts you in the right frame of mind for work. So keep exercising, keep showering (for the love of air fresheners, please keep showering), get dressed in “real” clothes, do your hair, make-up, shave, and trim those nose hairs – just as if you were heading into the office.

A dedicated space for working is ideal. But if you’re not set up for that, choose a spot in your home with minimal distractions and comfortable seating. Now, real talk, that might be your bed. However, working in the same place you sleep is generally considered poor sleep hygiene. Your brain starts to associate your bed with being alert and productive and possibly a bit stressed. Not what you need when you’re lying awake at 3 am trying to relax your mind. If your bed is absolutely the only place you can work comfortably and in peace, consider investing in a lap desk to help differentiate work time from sleepy time.

Last, structure your day the same way you would in the office. If you’re in the habit of devoting your mornings to deep work and using the afternoons for meetings and emails, do that at home. Don’t forget to build in breaks, too. Plowing away non-stop for eight hours will burn you out faster than Sriracha on a paper cut. But it’s really easy to do when you don’t have the “benefit” of all the little interruptions you get in the office. So pace yourself. Stand up and stretch. Fix yourself a cup of coffee. Strum your ukulele. Unload the dishwasher. Five minutes is all it takes to refresh your brain and get ready for another round.

2. Reset your team’s cultural norms around communication

What’s your virtual meeting IQ?

In the office, your team probably has an unspoken social contract around behaviors and expectations. Things like “headphones on = do not disturb me unless the building is on fire” and “save the Nerf dart battles until after 4:30, please”.

When you go remote, it’s worth taking the time to get together as a team and actually articulate what your social norms are, and how they might change now that you’re all working from home. Start with a 30-minute remote kick-off to agree on expectations around communication, response times, and working hours. (Need help structuring the discussion? Try our Rules of Engagement exercise.) For example, instead of donning headphones, you might agree to simply turn off chat notifications when you need an hour of undisturbed time. Or to set your status in chat as “in a meeting” when you’re on a call so teammates know not to expect an immediate response.

Make this an ongoing team conversation and adjust your agreements as needed.

3. Introduce daily or weekly stand-ups

further reading

When you’re not chit-chatting with your teammates face-to-face, it’s harder to keep track of what everyone is working on and what’s coming up next. That’s where stand-up meetings come in. This 10-minute ritual from the agile world helps you stay on the pulse and can easily be done over a video call. Each person briefly shares:

  • The progress they’ve made since last time.
  • Their plan for today.
  • Any blockers they’re facing or things they need help with.

Typically, teams hold stand-ups first thing in the morning each day. This works great for teams that tend to churn through lots of granular tasks each week. If your work is oriented around longer-term projects, you might find that weekly or twice-weekly stand-ups are sufficient. You can even do stand-ups asynchronously in your team’s chat room. Check out this guide from the good folks over at Slack to see example screenshots and get /command pro-tips.

4. Don’t forget the brain food!

If you were lucky enough to have an on-site cafeteria at the office or were in the habit of eating out, it’s easy to overlook two of the most important factors in your productivity when transitioning to remote work: breakfast and lunch. Sure, you could hit your neighborhood cafe every day (I’m sure they’d love the business), but $8 burgers take a toll quickly – both on your wallet and your waistline. Better to plan on eating at home as your default.

Stock up on hearty breakfast and lunch foods over the weekend so you’re less tempted to duck out for an emergency donut come Monday morning. Without a commute eating up your day, you’ll even have time to whip up a simple egg scramble or cook a bowl of steel-cut oats if that’s your thing.

At noontime, lean on foods that promote brain function and don’t make you want to take a nap. Researchers at Harvard Medical School point out that many brain-boosting foods also help protect your heart’s health: berries, fatty fish like salmon or pollock, and dark green leafy veggies like broccoli or spinach. Toss the leftover chicken and rice from last night into the mix, and you’ve got a remote work power lunch.

5. Stay connected on a personal level

Working remotely can feel lonely after a while unless you make a point to maintain the social connections you’ve built with your teammates. I find that using video calls for impromptu discussions whenever possible goes a long way. Hearing a human voice and seeing a human face instantly makes me feel less isolated. Plus, a real-time conversation is more contextually robust than email or chat. For scheduled meetings, try mixing in a quick ice breaker or one of these remote-friendly team-building activities.

Carve out time for fun, too. The team that makes Trello has a tradition of holding virtual coffee breaks or lunches where everyone hops on a video call together. A virtual happy hour on Friday afternoon wouldn’t hurt, either. Another favorite among remote Atlassians is our #social-remote channel on Slack where we share photos of our messy desks, share animated .gifs, and generally remind each other that we’re not alone.

5 tips for ramping up on remote work in a hurry