In our search for building an effective business, positive culture, and healthy work life balance, we have explored many different methods in doing so over the years where few have stayed the course. In our latest readings, discussions, etc. we came across the concept of remote work. Luckily, this was not a foreign concept to us, as in our current small team, we’ve had the fortune of having success with Meghan working remotely (or the Boston team working remotely from Meghan?). This made switching to a partially remote team to a fully remote team in 2019 all that much easier, since we had a trial run.
Why we think this works for our company:
- Most of our work is done online and we communicate as if we’re remote, anyway.
- Lots of our internal conversations are carried out over Slack despite being right next to each other
- While a lot of our work is collaborative, we already have systems in place that allow us to work together from anywhere in the world
- Getting rid of the need to come into the office and judging how hard people are working by how often they are visible, could lead to a more healthy, balanced, and productive work culture
The great thing about working from home is that the hours can be fairly flexible! The tough part of working from home is how hours can be so flexible! In general, as a full-time employee, you are expected to complete a full workday around 8-hours; however, we’re all adults and competent individuals who trust one another and this doesn’t have to be your typical 9-to-5 work day. Need to do some laundry in the middle of the day? Great! Want to grab coffee with a friend? Feel free!
Most of the work you do at Eat Your Coffee shouldn’t require you to be in constant communication throughout the entire day with someone. It’s far better for everyone’s productivity and sanity if you communicate as though most things will get an answer eventually, but not necessarily right this second. We’ll discuss this further down below in the section on “How to Communicate”.
We want remote work to be liberating, exciting, flexible, and productive while avoiding miscommunication, underwork, overwork, frustration, burnout, etc. so we have a few guidelines we think would be helpful in better defining “Working Hours”.
At some point in the day, we feel it’s important that the whole team is online. Whether we interact with one another isn’t important, but just so there is that opportunity. Around 2 hours of overlap time leaves enough of a buffer on either end to be able to collaborate as a team while leaving each other to get our respective jobs done. As our HQ is in Boston, we will be using Eastern Time as the base of this, and see below for the 2-hour overlap where we should all be online:
- Pacific Time: 8:00am - 10:00am
- Central Time: 10:00am - 12:00pm
- Eastern Time: 11:00am - 1:00pm
- British Time: 4:00pm - 6:00pm
As a note on this, the general idea of the overlap is a time when you’re expected to be a more responsive. So while you don’t have to be seated at your computer firing away, you’re expected to be able to collaborate as needed with your team. If you’re in a part of the world that isn’t conducive for this or you’re just busy, please let your team know in advance through #outofoffice or #scheduling in Slack (email and Google Calendar for longer stretches of time).
A GOOD DAY'S WORK
Did you put in a good day’s work? Did you get all that done in six hours? Great! Log off and go get a life! A tough aspect of working from home is that you never really leave work. While we expect we’re all getting about eight hours in, we understand that each day is different, and some days are not as productive or much more productive than normal. It all evens out eventually, so at the end of each day, ask yourself the question, “Did I put in a good day’s work?”
If you did, perfect! If not, reflect on why and try to change things up for a better tomorrow. We’re not watching over your shoulder every day, so do your best to do good by the team, but make sure you also do good by yourself and know when it’s time to hang up the keyboard.
If there comes an extended period of time where you feel like you haven’t put in a good day’s work, there’s likely some underlying issues taking place, and we recommend you bringing it up with your manager to help with the slump you might be facing.
WHERE DO WE WORK?
Wherever you want! At home, a coffee shop, Guam, etc. is all cool with us! As long as you’re sticking true to the Working Hours, you’re good to work remotely in whatever environment suits you best. Here are some of the options of where we work:
The Eat Your Coffee HQ is in Cambridge, MA, in the heart of Harvard Square. We have a couple of desks in an office we share with our good friends at Sundaily, and anyone is welcome to come and visit/work out of the HQ whenever they’d like.
The most likely place you’ll be working is from home. Meghan is a pro at this by now and you can ask her for some tips.
From Coffee Shops
Working from home all the time isn't everyone's cup of edible coffee. Thus, a coffee shop is a great go-to and Johnny’s favorite option. Great for a buzz of some social interaction and much-needed caffeine, of course.
Around the World
Are you exploring new grounds? Want to get out in the world? You can work from there too! This one can get a bit tricky, but is a great option if you keep a few things in mind. Namely, the difference between vacation and working in remote parts of the world. If you’re on vacation, you shouldn’t be working!
If you’re traveling and online, you should make sure you’re sticking to what’s outlined in Working Hours, as if you were in your home office. Time zones can be tricky with this so an easy way to figure out if you’re hitting those overlap hours, is to check out Every Time Zone. If it’s a tough time zone, this can be flexible, but just make sure you’re communicating with the team on availability.
EXPECTATIONS OF REMOTE WORK
Remote work is a beautiful thing if done right. We all have time to be with family, friends, and get that much needed alone time. We can work when we want and are most productive without the judgment of not ever putting on a pair of pants. With that said, working remotely comes with its own struggles:
- How are we going to get anything done if I can’t tap Ali on the shoulder for the latest numbers?
- How are we going to launch big, cross-functional projects if we can’t be in the same room to collaborate on ideas?
- How do we know everyone is working and not just playing Candy Crush and looking at memes all day?
- What are we going to do if we can’t quickly break down/resolve an issue that comes up?
To get through these potential concerns of communication, collaboration, and getting our work done, we feel it’s important to outline some expectations we should all uphold:
GOALS & DEADLINES
In working remotely, holding ourselves and each other accountable in our jobs, tasks, etc. are of the utmost importance. Without being in-person and being able to quickly check-in on projects, setting clear and attainable goals/deadlines are vital in keeping us all productive and accountable. A couple of notes on goals & deadlines:
- When setting goals, be realistic with some sense of urgency. It’s better to explain why something might take a bit longer upfront than trying to make everyone happy when kicking off the project, only to be disappointed by having to push back a project.
- Once a goal and/or deadline is set, this is how we build a sense of accountability and trust. We should all do our best to ensure we stick to them.
- In the case that things are taking longer than expected with a given project, proactive communication is vital. It should not be the responsibility of the rest of the team to check in on a status update.
- Be proactive and inform the team ahead of time so we can adjust the project accordingly.
In summary, we need to keep our goals and deadlines sacred since they are what will hold us accountable. Do unexpected delays pop-up every now and then? Definitely. But the difference is when delays become consistent, we need to ensure we do a better job of setting each project up for success right out of the gates.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE
We are fortunate to live in a time where there are so many different tools at our disposal to make sure we’re all communicating effectively. With this in mind, we live in an age of everything being needed right this second, which isn’t always the case. While there are times of urgency, typically the world won’t fall to pieces if something isn’t answered within the hour. To make sure we all communicate effectively, see below for a breakdown of how we should keep in touch/collaborate with one another:
- This should be our first stop when checking in on how something is doing internally.
- Keeping track of all projects, communication on projects, and staying on top of deadlines, Asana should be checked daily.
Some general etiquette when it comes to Asana:
- Consider sending an email outlining the project you’re assigning someone. Especially, if it has a lot of parts and is of high strategic value.
- Ask what a reasonable timeline is and always fill out all aspects of an Asana task (i.e. description, subtasks, descriptions of subtasks, followers, etc.)
- If it seems like someone hasn’t noticed a project on their plate, shoot them a note in one of the forms of communication below, but hopefully this was avoided by outlining via email.
- Check your Asana Inbox daily!
- This should be our second line of communication for the little things that pop up throughout the day.
- If you just have a quick question, need an opinion, have something funny to share, etc., Slack is the place for that!
- If you’re within the overlap period, you’re expected to be somewhat available to Slack, but if not, be patient on response times.
Other general protocols with Slack:
- Set your status! Let your team know if you’re away, what you’re working on, if you don’t want to be bothered, etc.
- It’s okay to reply saying you won’t be able to get to something at that moment and ask your teammate to put the question in Asana or remind you later to get back to it.
- With great access to each other’s attention, comes great responsibility. With a platform like Slack, it can get distracting at times if we’re not being mindful of certain things:
- “Is this a “now” question, or can it be put in the comments of an Asana task to be answered when convenient?”
- “Is this an easily Google-able question?”
- “Have I checked Google Drive to see if the answer lies within there?”
- Non-work hour Slack (late at night/on weekends) should be reserved for emergencies whenever possible. In keeping in line with “A good day’s work”, allowing ourselves to unplug from notifications is important.
APPROPRIATE WAYS TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK
As time goes on and the company grows, there are likely going to be points where we need to provide feedback to one another. Whether it’s positive, constructive, or anything in between, providing feedback when you’re not face-to-face with that person can sometimes be a challenge. To help with this, here are some appropriate ways to bring up difficult conversations and/or provide feedback to your teammates:
- Set up a video call! If you can’t meet face-to-face, at least seeing each other is the next best thing. This allows for us to still get a sense for the meaning behind the words and better than just reading them on a screen.
- If time is of the essence and getting in front of your computer isn’t feasible, a phone call is the next best thing. Hearing someone’s voice is a helpful way to walk through sensitive topics and digest information.
- If all else fails, it’s a quick thing, or it’s within the context of a project, clearly outlining via email or Asana is an acceptable form of communication, as well.
- Do your best to put yourself in the shoes of the reader and think about how you would receive this feedback if the roles were reversed.
- Always be sure to include examples so any feedback is constructive and can be acted upon.
- If you notice something you’d like to bring up, please do so within our 48-hour rule.
- Letting things fester is never fun for anyone and as time goes on, the feedback becomes less relevant. Act on it quickly and we’ll all be better off for it!
Keep in mind…
- We’re all here for the same reasons.
- We want to do our best to push the company forward and share in the success.
- As both a giver and receiver of feedback, we are doing that and transparency/honesty should always be welcome!
ISSUES WITH COMMUNICATION
As with all work, there are bound to be miscommunication and we need to be ready for that. A frame of mind to keep is that everyone at Eat Your Coffee is here with the same goal: to push the company forward. By being on this team, we should all share a level of trust in one another to know that we each have one another’s best interests in mind, while also having the respect to bring things up that may be bothering them. Some simple rules to keep in mind here when dealing with potential issues in communication:
- Take a breath. There’s a chance what you’re reading would come across differently if spoken, and is not meant to cause offense.
- Remember, we all have the same goals here.
- Provide clear thoughts and examples of what it is you have issues with and why.
- Do bring anything up after 48 hours – letting issues fester leads to unrest, tension, and a bad work culture.
- Not to mention being particularly disruptive when you’re not able to patch things up in person.
- If it’s not worth bringing up, then it’s not worth thinking about and should not be brought up down the line.
Another point in communication is sharing thoughts/ideas/feedback across functions. At Eat Your Coffee, this is welcome, but as long as it is approached thoughtfully. We pride ourselves in autonomy in our roles and the ability to lead our respective functions.
With that said, we’re a small team and we don’t want any one function to be siloed off, so as each of us collaborate and share ideas, do so respectfully, but at the end of the day, it is the decision of the leader of that function whether or not to act on any thoughts/ideas/feedback.
Meetings are great until they’re not. We have a mixed track record of meeting etiquette at Eat Your Coffee, have been known to over-schedule and under-plan, and as we work towards being more effective in our remote work setting, tightening up our meeting etiquette is vital. A few things on this:
- Scheduling Meetings
- Hopefully, with point 2, there will be less meetings overall and feeling less over-scheduled
- There should be no more throwing time on someone’s calendar without checking with everyone involved with the meeting and aligning on the goal of the meeting.
Ask yourself, does this topic, project, etc. warrant a meeting? Can it be settled by outlining a few questions in Asana?
Settle on a time and stick to it. In case there are multiple time zones, agendas, etc., pushing meetings leads to frustration. Barring any significant emergencies, please do your best to hold meeting times as sacred.
- Set an agenda that should be present in the calendar invite and make sure everyone has whatever resources are needed to ensure an effective meeting.
- Will there need to be a follow-up meeting? If so, plan ahead while you’re there! What needs to take place in between and what is going to be revisited?
Whoever called the meeting should be responsible for taking notes and ensuring everything is running as intended.
This person should also follow up with everyone involved with their respective takeaways/follow-up items.
GET A LIFE
This last bit in how we work doesn’t quite have to do with your job, but, more so, in ensuring you feel fulfilled in your life. Working from home allows for additional flexibility that we all might not have had the time to do within the confines of an office. The other aspect of working from home is that you never actually leave “the office.” We get it – there’s always more to do, you want to get as much done as possible, etc. but at some point, you need to set some boundaries. Referencing the “good day’s work” section, it is an important question we must ask ourselves to help avoid burnout.
Do what helps you stay true to our values and take up a hobby, learn something new, or go travel somewhere. Of course, we want you to be a contributing member of the team, which we have no doubt you will/are, but having a well-rounded life is important and adds to the diversity in thought/experience that we strive for at Eat Your Coffee.
In order to make Remote Work successful, we must:
- Work during the “overlap hours”
- Work towards “a good day’s work”
- Understand that goals and deadlines are the new form of accountability
- Work towards a better work/life balance and respect online/offline times
WORK FROM HOME TIPS FROM OUR TEAM
- Continue to shower regularly and get ready* like you normally would for a workday. Feeling fresh and ready to go is a good way to start the day with more energy. Also, don't let the mailman think you're a slob. He's for sure judging you.
- You're only allowed to hit snooze once on your alarm clock, but enjoy the fact that you don't have a commute so you can sleep 30 min later than usual.
- Go outside and get fresh air. I check on my plants in the middle of the day and play with my dogs for ~10 mins or walk around my yard making sure it still exists.
- Close your computer at the end of the day (still struggling with this).
- Don't jump right into work when you wake up. Eat breakfast and ease into the morning because you have some extra time to do that.
- Almost every morning while coffee is brewing (or chewing…), I spend ~10 minutes tidying up the house. Working in a clean environment is crucial.
- You don't have to answer the door just because you're home. It's probably somebody trying to sell you something and ain't nobody got time for that.
- Give yourself a designated lunch break each day (mine is usually just around noon depending on schedule), so you don't look in your fridge 20 times or eat all the snacks.
- Put yourself somewhere other than your bedroom to work (do not work in your bed!!!)
- While my "studio-office" is under construction I am sitting at my kitchen table partly bc I can see my dogs when they're outside but also I like the natural light. It feels removed enough from the rest of the house where I don't feel as stir-crazy
- Listen to music sometimes when things feel too quiet. When typing out emails, listen to instrumental music so you're less distracted.
- Do not have the TV on. Even if you like the background noise. Just don't do it.
- Communicate! Slack is our friend. Don't abuse it (I'm guilty), but we have it for a reason.
- Go to a coffee shop if you want. I find it productive sometimes and I like the change of environment, but sometimes it's distracting. So, it depends on if that works for you.
- Leave the personal tasks til later in the day or when you have a natural break in your workflow (if they are more urgent).
- Remind friends and family that even though you work from home, it doesn't mean you're always available during the day.
- Get used to people thinking you don't actually do anything. People assume working from home means lounging around and watching TV. I honestly find that I work way harder and get more done when I'm at home vs in the office (mostly cause we set up a lot of meetings when in the office so that's part of it), but don't feel like you owe anyone that explanation (it gets exhausting). They can think what they want. Instead of saying you work "from home", say you work "remotely". It's less stigmatized.
A Note for our COVID-19 WFH Readers
As COVID-19 keeps us in a state of uncertainty, we’re glad we could provide an inside look at how we work at Eat Your Coffee. Whether WFH policies are temporary for you during this crisis or become a longer term strategy for your team, we hope that you picked up a thing or two that you might be able to adopt in your organization to make the transition a smooth one.
During this time, we all need to do everything we can to support one another, and will find there are things we’re each able to provide to the larger community. We know the pain we’ve felt in our own business in such a short period of time, and can’t begin to imagine the long term effects it will have for the environment we’ll all need to work in.
With all of that said, we wish you the very best in health, safety, and success for you and your team. If there’s anything we can ever do to be of help or you have any questions, let us know!
Help us #GiveEYC to healthcare workers!
Our healthcare workers are working around the clock to keep us safe. Until the "safer at home" order is lifted, we'll be donating an Eat Your Coffee Snack for every two that are purchased from our site. https://www.eatyour.coffee/pages/donate
Also, for when this all blows over and you return to your office, let your office manager know about our wholesale program! Would love to stock you up your office, as well, so you don’t skip a beat as you transition back to normalcy :)