developer productivity

Tips, tricks, and tools for working remotely

In recent weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of people around the world to suddenly work from home. For many, remote work had been an occasional experience; for others, it was altogether unfamiliar. Now, working from home is the “new normal” for many of us, at least for the short-term. 

If you are new to remote working, it can feel challenging to adjust as you find a new rhythm for connecting with others and managing the workday. As a remote-first company, we’ve developed a lot of processes and best practices around working remotely. To help you make your transition a little bit easier, we’d like to share some best practices from Mattermost’s own team.

Manage availability across time zones

When working remotely, the lines between work life and home life can sometimes feel blurred. In this case, it’s even more important to maintain a healthy work-life balance—and to help others do the same. Several quick settings can help you better plan your time.

  • Set your work hours — Let others know the parameters of your regular work day, so they know when to schedule meetings or message you. If you’re using Google Calendar, you can mark the start and end of your workday under Settings > Working Hours.
  • Block off meeting-free time — Set aside designated time in your day or week to be unavailable for meetings. It helps to ensure that you take a lunch break or go for a walk, and also gives you space to answer email or simply think and recharge.
  • Let everyone know you’re OOTO — Whether you are actually away from your desk or just need some quiet time, you can set an “out of office” responder in Mattermost for direct messages.
  •  Visualize multiple time zones at once — When everyone is spread all over the world, it’s hard to quickly see who’s available at what time. Try Figure it Out, an elegant Chrome extension that displays your team members’ time zones whenever you open a new tab.

Create reminders and “To-Do” lists for yourself

It can be easy to lose track of time during the work day, especially when you’re trying to adjust to a new daily rhythm working from home. There’s always the tried-and-true method of tracking tasks on notepads and sticky notes. But why not reduce the clutter on your desk by configuring your tools to help you stay on track?

  • Message yourself — Whenever a new idea, reminder, or task pops up, there’s no need to switch to paper. Stay in your flow by using a keyboard shortcut on Mattermost to open the direct message dialog and send a quick DM to yourself. Combined with the power of Markdown and editing, it’s a nice way to keep organized.
  • Email yourself — If email is your favorite way to organize information, send reminder emails to yourself to get that idea or task out of your head (especially on the weekend).
  • Use messages to build a To-Do list — Use the Mattermost To-Do Plugin to add items to a to-do list from messages posted in Mattermost, and keep them in one place across all your teams and channels. Every day, the To-Do bot will send you a reminder of any issues that you still need to complete.

Get better control over information streams

In a remote setting, you may feel like you need to keep in constant contact with your teammates so you can stay connected or not miss any critical discussions. It’s important to fight this temptation; we all need quiet time in our day or week to focus on important things. These simple tools can help you replicate the role of your favorite quiet nook at the office.

  • Manually set your availability status — Many tools, including Mattermost and Google Calendar, allow you to limit your distractions, hide your availability, or let others know that you’re unavailable. In Mattermost, the “Do Not Disturb” setting disables desktop, email, and push notifications. You can also set your status using a slash command.
  • Prioritize which things get your attention — You can cut down on time spent tracking everything in your world and truly focus on what’s timely, urgent, or relevant to you. In Mattermost, you can modify your notification settings so that you only see notifications of direct messages, @mentions, specific channels, or keywords. You can also mute channels or ignore mentions for @channel, @here, and @all.
  • Stay hyper-organized with messages — At busy times, you may glance at a message but not have time to really address it. In Mattermost, you can mark posts as unread, and the next time you visit the channel, you’ll automatically land on that message. Other tips include using hashtags to organize content and quickly find topics, and using the “Reply” button to keep conversations organized in threads.
  • Manage your open browser tabs — Many of us keep an array of browser tabs open, even though we may only be actively working in one or two of them. A good habit is to close those you don’t plan to use in the next hour, or close them at the end of the day. Also, try The Great Suspender, a Chrome extension that allows you to temporarily suspend unused open browser tabs and reduce your browser’s memory footprint.

Enjoy social time with the team, and then unplug

Remote teams can have fun too! Your team may already be running any number of off-topic channels that they use to share and relax together. However, a few simple tools can help you enhance it and create more structured downtime. Remember, when the work day is done, it is done, and it’s time for your own personal downtime.

  • Team Happy Hour — When you designate a specific social time during the week, you’ll likely spin up more energy with more people engaged at once. Try scheduling video calls using Zoom or Google Hangouts for such open sessions. For more ad-hoc sessions, use the Zoom plugin to start audio and video calls from Mattermost.
  • Play games together —  Games are a great way to build team spirit. The Mattermost community has built a slew of social/fun plugins that allow you to play chess, create memes and gif animations, create polls, and more—all from within your team channel.
  • Build custom emojis — They may be cool, quirky, or a new language altogether, but people love using emojis in their messages. Mattermost enables your team to unleash their creativity and add their own custom emojis to your collection.
  • Unplug after hours — Preserve everyone’s personal time with a couple of messaging best practices. Avoid sending emails at night or on the weekend by using Gmail’s “Schedule Send” feature. For non-urgent messages, don’t trigger a notification by @mentioning your teammates or posting to @here / @all / @channel.

Whether working from home is a temporary situation for you, or you’re remote for the long-term, we hope this post helps you make the best of your remote work life. If you have any other remote work tips and tricks, we’d love to hear them. 

Get help adopting remote work

If your team is considering adopting Mattermost to collaborate remotely, our team can help. We’re offering free 30-min Zoom sessions on using Mattermost for remote work – contact us for more info.

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Lauren Nguyen is the former Director of Product Marketing at Mattermost, Inc. Prior to Mattermost, Lauren ran product marketing at companies like Hustle, Pantheon, and Sauce Labs and is passionate about understanding and advocating for users. Lauren is an alumnus of Stanford University.