The 7 habits of highly effective remote people

March 26, 2020 · 8 mins read

These are notes from a talk I gave internally in March 2020, when our company’s remote policy shifted from “you can work from home” to “you have to work from home”.

I have been wanting to give a similar talk for a while, so most of the material isn’t specific to a world in the midst of a pandemic. Some parts don’t even apply. I chose to leave them in, because I felt it was more important to paint a complete picture about remote work. I cover the COVID-19 situation in the conclusion.


Remember when “working from home” was literally a synonym for scam?? The reason those schemes were successful is that working from home was so enticing that people would even pay to be able to do it.

We have come a long way since then, and working from home is now a reality. I have been working at least partly remotely for 5 years, including from some unusual places:

  • On a 12-hour bus ride from Paris to Biarritz because of strikes in France.
  • From a doctor’s waiting room.
  • In a bar waiting for a world cup football game to start.

Leaving the office is however a significant change, so here are some habits I found useful:

1. Create a good working environment

  • The basics: get a good chair and a good desk. A good external monitor if your main machine is a laptop. Here’s my setup:

  • Get on a wired network connection if you can. Wifi has gotten better but is still much less reliable than LAN. You might not notice the difference, but your colleagues will.
  • Know your tools. You are going to be using them a whole lot more:
    • Slack: communicate often. More on that later.
    • Google Meet: attach links to all scheduled meetings, and show up on time. That might mean joining the link a few minutes early to make sure everything works.
    • Miro: an excellent tool for digital whiteboarding. Use it in parallel with Google meet for workshops (e.g. storymapping).
    • Lattice: Write your weekly updates and give feedback and praise.

2. Communicate!

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Err on the side of overcommunication.
  • “Jump on a call” when you feel you need more bandwidth than text allows for. This should be a quick process and should not need extra ceremony.
  • Write. The bulk of our communication is now written, so getting better at this will help a lot. Tip: emojis are a good way to convey tone, which often gets lost in text otherwise.
  • Keep your collaboration routines: pair programming, rubber ducking etc…
  • Write your weekly updates in Lattice, so other people in the company can know what you’re working on.

3. Embrace the remote mindset

  • Remote work is not office-work done at home. It’s fundamentally different.
  • Work happens more asynchronously. Get used to waiting for people to get back to you.
  • In exchange, you get more stretches of time to do your work and focus. This is one of the best consequences of not going to the office.
  • You now have more flexibility in how you organize your day. Be creative! Examples of things I have done before:
    • Going out for a walk in the middle of the work day.
    • Having a meditation session during my lunch break.

4. Be a remote manager

  • Employees can’t “show up” anymore to signal that they’re working.
  • Everyone is now judged by their output.
  • It is up to employees to make sure they communicate about the work they’re doing and show their output.
  • Example: “end of day standup”: I often write a message with the summary of the work I have done during the day just before logging off. It’s much easier for me to write a summary at the end of the day while everything is still fresh than during the standup in the beginning of the next day.
  • Show trust. We’ve hired smart people, so let’s trust them to do their work.
  • Be open to dialogue when things don’t work. Both from the manager and the employee.
  • Give clear feedback, and keep your 1-1 schedule.

5. Separate work from life

  • This can be hard in the beginning.
  • If they are not separated, 2 extremes can happen:
    • Lack of motivation
    • Burnout
  • If you can, use separate rooms for work and play. If not, you can use other tricks to make your brain separate the two:
    • “Fake commute” before or after work. You can take a walk, even just around the block, to give your workday clear boundaries.
    • Different setups: laptop on the desk is work, laptop on the couch is play.
    • If you have a family, have a clear signal to let them know when you’re “at work”.

6. Take care of yourself

  • Don’t forget to socialize. When you lose the office, it’s easy to have stretches of days where you don’t see or talk to anyone. You need to be proactive about this and rely on your social network to fill this need. I definitely have fallen into this trap before.
  • Go out. Same as above. Without the daily commute, you don’t have to go out anymore. But for your sanity, you definitely should. Whether it’s to meet some friends or just go for a walk, try to get out of your house or apartment at least once a day.
  • Exercise. The sedentary lifestyle is already killing all of us, so let’s not make it worse. Whether it’s a gym membership or exercises that you can do at home, don’t forget your physical body.
  • Find a balance between remote and office. Going remote doesn’t have to be 100% one way or the other. You can have setups in between such as:
    • 3 days of remote work per week
    • Morning at home and afternoon in the office (a favorite of mine).

7. Keep learning

  • Working remote is a skill like any other. You can get better at it.
  • Everyone is different, and you’ll only be able to know what works for you by trying things. Experiment until you find your favorite way to work.
  • It’s a process. Some things will work, and some won’t.
  • Get help:

Conclusion: About that corona thing

  • We’re going through hard times right now. All of us.
  • Assume everyone is doing their best.
  • Be accommodating.
  • Social distancing can be hard/isolating right now. Check in on your colleagues if you feel they need some support. The world can definitely use some kindness right now.