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Masooma Memon

Working Remotely: A Complete Guide

Whether you're new to working remotely or a seasoned pro, it's worth reflecting on whether you're setting yourself up for success with your WFH set-up. We've packed this post with advice that can apply to all!

82% of remote employees say working from home is better for their mental health. 84% also say remote work makes them happier with 48% admitting it’s great for work-life balance. 

But when you first start working remotely, all that can sound like a lie as your work hours bleed into your personal life and you struggle to build rapport with other remote employees. 

Let me assure you though: loneliness, poor time management, flimsy work-life boundaries, and all the other challenges that you’re facing right now are solvable. 

All you need to do is to learn what hours you focus the best, what your optimal working style is, and stick with the to-do list and routine you make. In this guide, I aim to show you “how” based on my 6+ years of remote work experience.  

And if you’ve been a remote worker for some time now, but you still don’t see many benefits to it? This guide will help you — feel free to jump between sections most relevant to you: 

Make yourself a dedicated work corner 

I started off my remote work journey by making a big mistake — working from a specific corner of my bed. 

Not only did the hunched-up position hurt my back regularly, it also made it hard for me to fall asleep. But that was something I didn’t realize at that time, even though the indentation forming in the mattress screamed otherwise. 

Understandably, like me, not everyone has the resources to design a dedicated office in their house with a fancy Monsterra plant. In that case: 

✅ Get a desk to create a small workstation in your bedroom 

✅ Or better yet, find a quiet, well-lit corner in your house to make a workspace there 

Either way, don’t put off creating a separate corner emulating an office environment. It comes with too many benefits to miss: 

  • Better focus. Having a dedicated workspace puts your brain in ‘focus mode’, letting you concentrate on the task at hand more effectively.
  • Separate work from personal life. The boundary, in turn, boosts productivity and makes it easier to set work start and stop times.
  • Improve your sleep schedule as separate rooms for work and rest better regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle, the circadian rhythm. 

Explore more ➡️ How to Work Remotely and Still Be the Best.

Identify your productive work hours 

Efficient routine building boils down to knowing your productive hours. 

After all, when you’re working remotely, you aren’t tied to the traditional 9-5 work hours setting.  So you might as well make a schedule that lets you get the most work done. 

Knowing the hours when you’re the most focused also helps you protect those deep work hours to get work done faster. 

For example, I know my energy and attention levels are best in the morning. It’s why I never schedule meetings or take on household chores during these hours. 

On days that I do, I find myself dragging my feet (or rather, fingers since I’m a writer) through work, often finishing in two hours what I could’ve done in one. 

Finding out when you’re the most productive takes some trial and error though. You could simply note down what times in the day you’re able to get your best work done. Or go into detailed tracking using this spreadsheet

Figure out your working style 

Your working style largely depends on:

For instance, some of us prefer working consecutive hours. In that case, make a to-do list and dive right in to protect your work hours. 

But if you’re a parent or caregiver, working through set hours would be next to impossible. In that case, try and reserve at least 1-3 hours of focus work (ideally, hours when your brain is in focus mode) and adjust the rest throughout the day as I do. 

Similarly, some prefer working with focus music. But if you’re like me, you likely prefer a quiet space with as few distractions as possible. 

The best way to find your working style? 

✅ Braindump all you need to do in a day on paper. 

✅ Then, move things around to adjust them based on your energy levels to make an optimal schedule.

Bonus: Understand your meeting style 

Let’s be honest: meetings can be exhausting. And if you take one during your deep work hours, it has the potential to derail your day’s schedule.  

The solution? Talk to your manager, explain you need to block your calendar to protect your focus hours

At Runn, we’re all remote employees and prefer asynchronous communication to do our best work. We only meet when we think a real-time retro or brainstorming session will be the best approach (but often we’ll opt for an async whiteboarding session instead, using a tool like Miro). The rest of the time, we work together using async channels like Loom videos, Slack, and emails. 

Explore more: Asynchronous Work: The Runn Way

If the nature of your work allows, or if you’re a consultant/contractor, you can also block one day in the week for meetings. Or have a specific meeting-free day every week so the team can dedicate it to deep work. 

Create a routine 

Before you disagree, you do need a routine. This risk of not having one often leads to one of these two situations: 

  • You end up working a lot and have no time for yourself and your loved ones. 
  • You have no hard times to begin work and end it, eventually leading to work-life imbalance that gets stressful over time.

Besides, an unstructured day can also make you feel less in control, negatively impacting your productivity and focus levels. 

On the flip side, having a routine — even if it’s not a strict one — lets you optimally budget your time and energy levels. Left unchecked, work will expand to fill up available time (technically called the Parkinson’s Law), which leaves you with little family and/or me-time.

In short, having a set schedule is a healthy solution to maintaining a better work-life balance (well, as best as we can crack the “work-life balance” myth 😁).

With that, here are three types of routines you need: 

  • Work routine 

Set defined start and stop hours for work so you can communicate them with your colleagues/clients. 

Take it from the team at VEED. They’re clear about times when they’ll be at their desks — my point of contact, for example, told me his office hours so I’d know when to expect email replies from him. 

Even adding ‘you work remotely from XYZ location’ helps people understand your work hours:

You can also add your work hours to your email signature for setting the right expectations with other remote workers and in-house colleagues who need reminders and with external folks you communicate with, say freelancers. 

To start, answer the following questions: 

✅ When will you start working? 

✅ When will your work end? 

✅ What hours will you be available for meetings? 

Two more questions that’ll help you flesh out your routine: 

✅ What times will you take breaks? Whenever you need to is a plausible answer. But it can also mean you never take five, which is why roughly scheduling breaks is far more effective. 

✅ What sort of work will you do during specific hours? For instance, deep work that requires the most attention (that’s writing drafts for me) in the morning and less intensive work during hours when your energy levels are moderate. 

Keep in mind: your routine can be as wild as you need it to be. For example, I try to do focused, uninterrupted work from 9:30 am to 2 pm with a break around 10:30-11 am. 

At 2 pm, I take a hard stop because I’ve some home responsibilities that I need to take care of. 

Then I’m back at my desk from 4-5:30 pm. 

This schedule that I’ve made for myself is mostly planned based on my energy levels. For example, in the morning when my energy levels are the best, I do focus work that requires my most brain power. 

By the afternoon, my energy levels drop, so I work on my business — doing admin work, planning and writing marketing content, and so on. I’m mostly done for the day by this point but if I need to, I head back to my desk post 8 pm to reply to emails and take any client calls (because of time zone differences). 

  • Morning routine 

Having a morning routine is an effective way to start your day. Think of it as the equivalent of commute time which the brain actually needs to ease into work mode

Your morning routine could involve anything from readying the kids for school to going to the gym. Mine involves following a light skincare routine after I freshen up, making myself a mug of green tea and journaling before heading to my desk. 

Similarly, Iryna Viter, the Head of Content Marketing at Runn prefers a morning walk:

“Prior to starting my workday, I make it a point to take a refreshing walk. Getting some sunlight in my system in the morning helps me set the wheels of productivity and curiosity in motion. A cup of coffee afterward transitions me into the right working mindset.”

Pro tip: If you’re trying to instill a new habit, say reading or writing for your personal brand, consider doing it first thing in the morning as part of your morning routine. 

  • Work wrap-up routine 

A wrap-up routine includes the same tasks or steps you do daily to tell your brain you’re done with work — it does much the same work as a heading-back-home commute in the evening does. 

My work-end routine includes writing a to-do list for the next day, followed by heading out for a walk. You can keep your work-end routine as simple as this or as elaborate as you need it to be. 

Expect and be prepared to deal with jolts in your routine

Not all things go as planned — a new launch campaign can keep you tapping away at your computer. Or a personal priority might rear its head, demanding your full attention. 

Either way, the beauty of working remotely is that you can easily manage these routine deviators. What you need to do though is to: 

  • Build a buffer of at least 30-45 minutes in your daily to-do list. This way, if a work or personal emergency pops up, you can easily manage it. 
  • Be okay with deviating from your routine as needed, but try to return to it as soon as possible. If you need to, take a Wednesday off and work on Sunday to finish work (provided you coordinate with your team so you’re all on the same page about your work time). Largely though, try to stick with your work hours/days so you don’t end up in the stressful no-work-boundaries zone as a remote worker. 

At the end of the day, remember: there’s a thin line between remote work flexibility and unclear boundaries. 

If you keep pushing yourself in only one direction (say, working while pushing your personal life to the side), you’ll end up unhappy with your remote job. 

Shake up your routine every now and then

Wait what? But you just said we need a routine! 

Yes, you do — though not to the point that it bores you and leads to burnout. Because again, that won’t limit you from enjoying remote work. 

So, take your kids to the zoo in the afternoon if you need to. Or, if your workload and responsibilities at home allow you to, work from a different city. If not, occasionally work from coffee shops and co-working spaces. 

I shake up my routine by taking a day off if my workload allows. Some months, I work four days a week. 

More recently, I’ve started coworking virtually. Because I’ve been working on my own for over six years now, I didn’t expect it to work. But it did! 🎉 My coworker and I get a lot of productive work done, especially on tasks we procrastinate on otherwise. 

Want to make remote working exciting by shaking up your routine? Here are tips that’ll help: 

When coworking virtually, allot some 15 minutes to meet and greet, then turn off your video or audio (whatever you prefer) and start working. In the end, regroup to reflect on what you got done 

You can co-work with colleagues as well as folks in your network. For instance, Runn’s team members based in Vancouver and Wellington often co-work in their cities. Remember though: finding the right partner for your virtual coworking sessions can take some time. 

When working from cafes or a coworking space, be sure to pick a place beforehand — even revisit it for a vibe check before you head out to work from there. This way, you wouldn't waste time just looking for the right place to work from. 

✅ Make sure you know what your ideal working environment is. This lets you easily find co-working spaces and/or cafes that’ll let you be your productive self. 

Focus on energy management, not time management

The best way to manage your time is to learn to manage your energy levels so you can create your schedule around it. Why? Because your energy levels determine how well you can focus on the tasks at hand (read: how fast you can get it done). 

Think of your energy levels as windows into your mental bandwidth

If you’re low on them, you likely don’t have the brain power to do focused work. For an optimal work schedule, this means you need to pencil in light work (work that doesn’t require significant mental resources) during hours when you’re low on energy. 

To find how your energy levels change throughout, track your energy levels on paper or a spreadsheet — creating two columns, one noting hour and another for tracking your energy levels: 

You can also create a similar table to identify which days you’re the most energetic — making it a great help for weekly planning. 

Take it from me. My energy levels are the best in the morning, which makes it the best time for deep work.

But by the time I return to my desk in the afternoon, my mental capacity and energy reserves are depleted, it’s why I work on low-energy-demanding things like LinkedIn networking during that time. 

Plan your daily to-do list based on your energy levels 

Before I realized I needed to focus on energy budgeting instead of time management, I used to put unnecessary pressure on myself for not being productive in the afternoons. I’d tell myself ‘I’m not doing enough’ (relatable, isn’t it?). 

But creating a work and life routine based on my energy levels has been a game-changer. Simply because it helps you set realistic expectations for yourself. 

So you know what to do, right? 

Plan your work schedule according to your energy levels. Dedicate the most energetic hours when you can easily do focus work to heavy lifting work.

Not sure what tasks to prioritize? Use these two prioritization frameworks to make realistic to-do lists: 

  • "Eat the frog" 

That is: start by working on the most difficult task at the start of your day. 

This lets you make progress on your top challenging tasks and also saves you from procrastinating on them. By the time the task is done, you’ll have built momentum as well, which is effective fuel for getting through the rest of your to-do list for the day. 

Have something urgent come up or you’ve been putting something off for far too long? Tackle it first thing at the start of your day. 

  • Eisenhower matrix 

On a sheet of paper, create four boxes (shown below) to divide all your tasks into the following categories: 

Tasks falling into the important and urgent categories are ones that you need to prioritize right away, followed by those that are urgent but not important. 

Remember: remote can sometimes make you feel like you’re a little in your head. Thankfully, using prioritization tools like these can clear brain fog and let you see what needs to be done first. 

Overcommunicate, never under-communicate

Now for the golden rule to communicate with your team or clients: always share more instead of assuming they understand or they’ll figure it out. 

The idea here is to make things easy for the people you work with

As you share progress updates and context, overcommunicating also makes you more visible in a remote setting. In turn, this keeps your contributions front and center in your manager’s mind.

Dive deeper: Managing Remote Teams: Challenges & Best Practices Leaders Should Know 

However, overcommunication doesn’t mean leaving long messages sharing small details of all the work you do daily. It also doesn’t mean jumping on meetings now and then to be more visible. 

Instead, it involves sending short and clear updates and context-sharing messages. Here’s more: 

How to communicate effectively in a remote setting 

Aim for clear and specific communication. You can do this in the following ways: 

✅ Use the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) technique to communicate with your team. Meaning: share the most important detail, main point, or your ask/request in the first line. Then, back that up with the necessary context or explanation. 

This saves your readers’ time while instantly telling them exactly what’s needed from them. 

✅ Respect your team’s time by keeping your messages short. Long Slack or email messages make it harder for your recipient to get back to you. 

After all, your colleague/manager has to set aside time to read through, understand, then respond to your message. The solution? Use tools like Grammarly to shorten your messages. 

✅ Add subtitles to all video update messages and help tutorials you make. Tools like the Vimeo screen recorder and Loom let you automatically add subtitles to your messages — improving their accessibility. 

For every video message you share, write a short text version too so that your colleague/client has the option to go through whatever their preferred form of communication. At the very least, add a line or two explaining what’s in the video. 

And to keep these video messages short, create a short bulleted list of points to cover before you start recording. This rough outline will save you from veering off course when you record the video. 

✅ Make clear asks. Whether it’s an email, a Slack message, or a recorded Loom, don’t leave recipients guessing what you need from them. 

Instead, clearly state what you need, followed by why you need it. 

And make sure you do it in simple language (read: don’t use acronyms — particularly if you’re communicating across departments).

✅ Create a single source of truth for all your team comms and documentation. Instead of mixing email and Slack for communication, pick one tool for all communication. This ensures no details fall through the cracks. 

Also, pick one file storage service, say Google Drive, for hosting all your project documents. This way, everyone will know where to look for documents instead of having to trace them between email threads. 

Also, make sure you add the right access settings to all the documents you add to your project management software. This saves your team’s time as nobody needs to wait for access to a document. 

✅ Don’t host meetings without clear agendas. For every meeting, have a clear agenda answering the following questions: 

  • Why are we meeting? 
  • What do we want to achieve from this meeting? 
  • What should participants leave with by the end of it? 

Share this agenda with your team as well so they can come prepared. And, as a rule, only invite folks whose participation is a must. 

Once the meeting is over, summarize everything discussed in bullet points so you can maintain a call record for any reminders that you or your team might need.

Staying connected with your team 

Besides participating in team-building activities, make it your priority to proactively meet and build relationships with your colleagues. 

Perhaps jump on a video call for having coffee together. For colleagues in your city, grab coffee in real life — you can also co-work with them. 

To build strong relationships though, catch up outside of work. So instead of meeting only when you’ve to work together on something, connect to get to know them as a person. 

In this case, it really helps to share about yourself — your work routine, interests, pets, anything to find common ground to connect. Sharing about yourself is a good way to earn your colleague’s trust. 

In fact, I’ve always proactively shared about myself on networking and client calls to get the conversation going. Times when I didn’t, calls would get awkward with both sides having no idea what to talk about. 

The team at Runn (we’re fully remote with employees working from different time zones), our team bonding activities are usually timezone-dependent. 

The Europe-based team, for instance, has a Slack channel for regular impromptu chats and coordinating the time to play games like Golf It! and Geoguessr

The New Zealand team, on the other hand, does monthly lunch chats which are Zoom chats where everyone hangs out together and chat while they have lunch. 

For the whole team bonding, we use Slack channels for sharing non-work stuff like vacation photos, pictures of pets, etc. We also share photos of anything that we’ve recently done and are proud of — whether that’s a freshly baked cake, or participating in a marathon. 

With all that said, staying in touch while working remote isn't always easy. But, as Tina Chan from Runn's Customer Success team acknowledges, you've just got to go for it - even if it means stepping outside your comfort zone:

“It can be tricky for those who are more introverted, but I do think everyone needs to take the plunge and do virtual 1:1s to keep the connection. If folks are willing to share what they are up to professionally and personally, it can definitely help.”

Explore more: How the Runn Team Gets the Most Out of Remote Work

Beyond-the-basics: productivity tips for working remotely 

Getting into your productive flow and staying there are equally challenging. These tips for increased productivity will help reduce distractions so you can use your time optimally: 

1. Protect your deep work hours

Talk to your family members about the value of focus hours for your work routine. Swap responsibilities with other family members, your partner, flatmates, or anybody you live with so you can free these focus hours for deep work. 

Living on your own? Stick with your to-do list for focus hours. Ignore all those dirty dishes calling you — you can always do them when you’re low on mental energy. 

If you need to, use a website blocker like Freedom to temporarily block shopping, social media sites, or any other websites that distract you. 

Most importantly, block the time on your calendar so no one can book calls when you’re at your best focus. 

2. Make realistic daily to-do lists 

Not all to-do lists are good. Some can be overwhelming, others, too unrealistic. But what separates a healthy to-do list from a stress-inducing one? The way you make your to-do list.

Ideally, understand that the length of your to-do list doesn’t determine how productive you are. 

In fact, if you’re working on time-consuming tasks, the shorter your to-do list, the better — even a 2-item to-do list works on some days. 

Start with writing down all tasks that are due. 

Then, break them down into sub-tasks. For example, writing a newsletter is a parent task that you can divide into ideation, outline, draft, edit, and schedule. 

See how breaking the task down shows us how time-demanding it actually is, which makes it a great way to figure out how much time would actually go into it. 

So for all your to-do lists, do this: 

✅ List all items due

✅ Break them down into individual tasks

✅ Review how long each task would take (this won’t be accurate early on but you’ll learn with time). 

✅ Remove tasks you can do later from your list to keep it as achievable as possible 

3. Create weekly to-do lists 

It’s easy to think you don’t need weekly plans — that’s not what I thought too: I’m already making daily to-do lists, why make yet another list?

But over the years, I’ve realized making weekly plans helps you write realistic to-do lists. 

You’ll want to write 4-5 big tasks due for the week — either on Monday morning or on Friday evening, before you wrap up work for the week. 

Then, refer to this weekly list when you make your day’s to-do list. Pick one major item from the weekly list and break it down into small tasks. That’s half your to-do list done. 

The rest of your day’s to-do list will likely include items like meet with X, reply to Y’s email, respond to Z’s Slack message, etc.  

4. Invest in your sleep hygiene 

When working remotely, it can be hard to switch your brain from work mode to life mode to rest mode. It’s where sleep hygiene comes into the picture. 

These are the steps you take and the environmental practices you adopt to sleep better. You’ll want to: 

✅ Dim the lights in your house at least 1-3 hours before bedtime. This lets you transition into sleep mode — saving your sleep cycle from getting disturbed by bright lights.

Avoid using your phone, tablet, computer or any blue-light emitting devices at least an hour before bed. At the very least, use blue-light-blocking glasses or switch to dark mode or night mode. 

✅ Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. 

Also a reminder: having a separate workspace also improves the quality of your sleep.

5. Track your stand-ups and step count

If you already haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of sitting when working remotely — especially if you prefer working from home. 

Runn’s Content Marketing Manager, Emily Weissang reminisces, “When I first started working remotely, it wasn’t a planned transition (thanks, Covid 19 pandemic!). I had to just get on with the major shift, so there wasn't much thought about what makes a good environment or routine. 

“But, eventually, I realized that I was getting almost no movement on my weekdays. Back when I worked in an office, I would at least get a daily walk in — even if it was just walking to a nearby cafe to grab a coffee.”

Making the following three changes helped Emily tremendously and how she shares, “I actually feel a lot healthier and stronger than I did when I was working in an office.” 

"I started tracking my daily steps, I got a standing desk so I don’t spend all day sitting down, and I booked some sessions with a personal trainer - which gave me the push I needed to create a weekly gym schedule.”

Remote work tools 

Before we wrap this up, here’s a list of some of the best tools to help you ease into working remotely: 

  • Todoist to make daily to-do lists 
  • Miro for virtual team brainstorming
  • Zoom or Google Meet to host virtual calls 
  • Freedom app to block distracting websites 
  • Loom or Vimeo screen recorder to make screen recorded videos 
  • to generate call transcripts and take better meeting notes
  • Google Drive to store and manage all your documents in one place  
  • Grammarly to correct grammar and refine your writing for clear communication 
  • Project management software such as Runn to keep all project information including timelines and resource inventory in one place 

Wrapping up: Your remote work action steps list

To recap, here’s everything you need to do to efficiently work remotely: 

Design a quiet, well-lit work corner for yourself (if not a home office) 

Figure out when you’re the most productive so you can plan your day around those focus hours 

Understand what makes you productive — is it lyrics-free music or working at a coworking space?

Build a flexible work routine and stick to it as much as possible for setting work-life boundaries 

Prioritize tasks for the day using the Eisenhower matrix. Then begin with the most important and/or challenging day at the start of your work day. 

Always overcommunicate with your team. Share the most important detail in your message first, followed by the necessary context. 

Proactively participate in team-building activities. Go out of the way to build relationships with colleagues — catch up for virtual coffee chats and coworking sessions. 

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