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Best Practices for Working Remotely: Organizing Edition

United for Respect (UFR) is a multiracial national nonprofit organization fighting for big and bold policy change that improve the lives of people who work in retail. We are advancing a movement for an economy where corporations respect working people and support a democracy that allows Americans to live and work in dignity. It is important to note that our entire staff works remotely. 

Whether your organization is experimenting with implementing remote work long term or just using remote work as a safety measure temporarily while the threat of COVID-19 is rampant, here are some best practices that we lean on in our remote work culture at United for Respect and O2O Strategies Group.

Here are some best practices we’ve gathered throughout our years of hosting an ever-growing and 100% remote organizing team.

1. Encourage staff to schedule and calendar “down” time, such as lunch and breaks.

Working remotely doesn’t mean you should be on calls or co-working virtually around the clock. One of the best ways to maintain normalcy at work is to schedule your downtime. Whether that looks like blocking off an hour-long lunch break or a couple 15-minute breaks throughout the day to step away from the computer, stretch and fill your coffee. Whatever flow worked for you in the field or office can apply while working remotely, you just need to schedule it on your calendar so you don’t get booked while trying to enjoy your salmon salad!

Trust me. It’s better if no one has to watch me scarf down a salad. I’m not a cute eater.

My breaks on my calendar are color coded – which gives me something to look forward to and is a visual indicator to my team that I am unavailable.

2. Schedule meetings to end 5-10 minutes before the top of the hour when possible.

When you have an hour long meeting, you tend to fill it. Similarly, when 

you have a 50 or 55 minute meeting, you’re more likely to end your meeting then. When possible, end meetings a little earlier, especially if you’re in back to back meetings all day, to allow for a stretch or coffee break and time for your eyes away from a screen.

This can be a HUGE shift for your team. Start with strengthening your meeting facilitation by setting times for different agenda items and assigning a timekeeper to help keep you on track. A little bit goes a long way here.

3. Lean into results and productivity as opposed to hours worked.

This is a perfect time to lean into the quality of your work as opposed to how many hours you’re clocking. Sometimes we have the tendency to associate success at work with the number of hours worked and it doesn’t always correlate. Set working hours for yourself and try to stick to them. This way, you know you have a finite amount of time to reach daily goals and you have some guardrails that allow you to separate work from free time.

Which leads me to my next point…

4. Set working hours and stick to them.

We can’t stress this enough! Set some working hours. Please. Working remotely does NOT have to mean that you are infinitely available. Decide what your working hours are each day and make the best of them. These hours don’t have to be the same every day. If you know you have a lot of late calls and virtual meetings on Wednesday, you might want to start your Thursday morning a little later to account for the extra hours in the evening or take a longer lunch break that day.

5. Create the schedule that works best for you and the folks you are organizing.

This is super important if you are an organizer! You don’t want to set your working hours from 8AM-4PM if your members are most available in the evening between 5PM and 8PM.

It’s also important to note that given the rise in precautions due to COVID-19, the folks we are organizing are all experiencing drastic shifts in their day-to-day routines. Take some time to talk to them and understand how they are being affected.

6. Establish a morning (and evening) routine.

This will help define your day. Once you stop working for the day, it’s hard to stop! Ever wake up in the morning and check your email before you even get out of bed? If you answered yes, this best practice is for you!

Creating a morning routine will allow you to get your day started as you typically would if heading into the office. If you typically get up, get dressed, and have some breakfast and coffee before your commute to work, try maintaining that routine. Working remotely can sometimes feel like you have to always be available and it’s simply not true. So take some time, enjoy that cup of coffee and walk your pup.

This practice also helps you have more control of your day. If you start your morning checking emails and messages, you’re likely to spend most of the first part of your day in response and crisis mode, as opposed to being strategic about how you are spending your time.

We try our best to maintain our morning routine by having breakfast on the patio. We get to enjoy outside before it gets too hot(whew! That New Orleans heat starts early) and the dog gets a good run in while we have some family time.

7. Design your ultimate work space.

No home office? No problem! This is your chance to create a little space just for you. And since we are in 2020 with the sizes of our technological devices, this could be just about anywhere!

Whether at the dining table or a reading nook, your new “office” just needs to have the things that support your productivity.

For me, my essentials are my laptop, my phone, chargers for my devices, a yummy smelling candle, a water bottle, Post It notes, pens and a small drawer full of my favorite snacks(roasted almonds and dried mango!).

8. Some rules still apply: sick days, vacation time, etc.

It’s your dedicated time, so feel free to use it! Its easy to feel like you should be working while sick or checking email while on vacation. Our advice: Don’t.

Sure, if you are just a little sick but still feel up to working or joining a few virtual meetings, go for it! But rest is the best medicine when you’re feeling crummy so use your sick days when you need ‘em. Similarly, if you’re going on vacation, use that time to truly disconnect and recharge. Work will be there when you return!

9. Set clear and concise rules, expectations and work culture.

If remote work is new to your organization, you want to jump start the transition by setting very clear expectations and begin to develop some remote work culture.

For example, everyone needs to be on video during team meetings or a daily report that folks use to summarize their activities for the day. Decide what days the entire staff will convene, if necessary. Create a consistent call schedule for team/department check-ins.

10. No need to apologize for your kids, pets, home, etc.

This one might be self-explanatory but we can’t reinforce enough that working remotely is a prime time to accept team members as their full selves (we hope this was already the case, but if not, let’s start!). Folks are parents (human, pet and plants), caregivers, apartment dwellers, etc. You might learn something new about a co-worker like they are a cat lover or you share love of a particular artists’ work.

Expect that kiddos, partners and pets alike might make cameos in your video conferences. Don’t be shy to take a second and say “Hi!”

Royce is our first UFR baby in a LONG time so he gets lots of love and everyone is always excited to see how much he is growing.

11. Have a communication and/or project management platform, like Slack or Asana, to coordinate across your team.

If cross-department coordination is a key component in the function of your organization’s work, deciding on a communication platform for real-time coordination can alleviate a lot of lag in coordination. Remember, you’re not across the hall from each other anymore, so you will need a mechanism for communicating quickly with one another and moving projects to completion.

We use Slack and it is great for this purpose and reduces the need for multiple emails and lengthy back and forths. You can create channels for certain teams, campaigns, projects, etc and even have social channels like an organization #bookclub or #plantlovers.

12. Find intentional ways to connect with others.

One impact of transitioning to a remote work environment is that general social time is significantly reduced. You have to work a little harder to make it happen! You might consider having a dedicated department lunch or an all staff morning coffee/tea hour once a week. Get creative. It’s worth the effort to take the time to foster these connections with your team. Keep in mind that your team is not just made up of extroverts. You’ll want to think about offering a variety of ways to make all of your work and social spaces accessible to different personality and learning types.

13. Create distance between work time and free time.

 This might be a bit difficult in a time of social distancing but try as much as possible to create space between your work and free time. If your working hours are set to wrap up for the day at 6PM, close your laptop, mute your work-related notifications, and go for a stroll.

As a best practice, try to spend two hours away from the work at the end of the day before you pick your tech devices back up. Enjoy a meal, watch some trash reality TV. Whatever it is, do something that brings you joy.

14. Make intentional time to think, plan and create.

It’s very easy to fill your calendar up with calls, meetings and other forms of coordination. Pause for a minute. Take some time at the beginning of each week to schedule some work blocks to actually get your work done!

For me, I always block off the first two hours of my day to catch up on current events, do some deep work on a project or create a new initiative and then I start my meetings. This allows me to own the first portion of my day before I get really busy. I also reserve the hour after lunch as a work block since my brain is usually fresh after a good meal and a second cup of coffee!


Naima Savage

Naima enjoys writing about remote work culture, digital organizing in an online-to-offline engagement model, and racial and gender equity and inclusion at United for Respect where she is the Director of Partnerships and Strategic Projects. On the side, her interests are in music, craft cocktails, food and all things Royce Saint(her awesome, perfect and super cute son)!