Tips & Tricks for Working Remotely

by Rachel Friesen March 11, 2020 | 18 min read

As COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) cases start to challenge norms around what makes a healthy and safe workplace, more and more companies are leaning in or fully jumping in to embracing remote work. At PagerDuty, over 20% of our workforce is remote—so we are well set up to distribute if the time comes.

Beyond the logistical aspects, we also have a strong culture of inclusivity when it comes to remote colleagues. We’ve had virtual offsites, our conference rooms set up to make it easy to dial into Zoom conferences, and just last week, we had a combination in-office and virtual Company Kick-Off. We also have a particularly active Slack group for remote Dutonians: #pd-remote.

For me personally, I’m a reluctant work-from-home’er. I miss the camaraderie of seeing people in the office, the sheer joy of a random office prank, and, of course, the free snacks are pretty great. However, the upside is my commute is 10 seconds and if someone microwaves fish—it’s me. So it surprises me that I’ve worked remotely for four years and I now actually enjoy it. I’ve also found that I need a fair bit of structure to make working from home something that works for me.

With the recent COVID-19 implications, our #pd-remote Slack group started brainstorming on what we do to make working from home an awesome experience. We started this list to share with our colleagues who may soon want to take precautions and start working remotely, but thought it would be great to share it with the broader PagerDuty community. Here’s what our remote crew had to say about what works well for them.

Creating an inclusive environment
“Working remotely has created a lot of empathy for 100% remote employees. When I’m in a company office, I try to be very intentional about creating an environment where remote employees feel included and have a sense of belonging.”
– Joe Militello, Chief People Officer; Seattle, WA

“Get ready” for work every day: wear work clothes, brush teeth, eat breakfast
“This is really important to me. My workday does not start until after I would traditionally have my commute to the office. For me, this means a shower, dressed for public, healthy breakfast, then ‘commute’ to my office. Another related healthy tip is to never eat lunch at your desk. I shut off the screen and go to a different room. I also set a slack status so my team knows I’m not at my desk and enjoy a break.”
– Jeremy Olexa, Software Engineer (SRE); Minneapolis, MN

Schedule lunch time on your calendar and a snack/walk at 3 p.m.
“Working from home generally means that every meeting you have happens at your desk, in your office, or wherever you’ve designated as your workplace. I know for me, I have many days where I’m sitting in that chair for literally 10 hours. You don’t get the time walking from conference room to conference room, or back to your desk—and while that can be a great thing, it also means you’re in that chair for that much longer. That’s why it’s important to schedule in times where you can get up and leave your office to eat lunch, get a snack, or just get some fresh air!”
– Vincent Pham, Senior Director, Enterprise Customer Success; Sammamish, WA

Set an alarm to stop working
“A great way to keep yourself on schedule (especially when it comes to breaks) is to adopt the Pomodoro technique. Basically, you schedule yourself to focus on a task for a certain amount of time, and then a timer will remind you to take a break. If you keep these breaks going, you will be less likely to suddenly look up and realize you’ve been coding for three hours straight and it’s now 7 p.m.!”
– Matt Stratton, DevOps Advocate; Lisle, IL

“As a working mom, I have to set alarms all the time—and also let my coworkers know that sometimes during stand-ups I have to run out to grab my daughter off the bus! When my last alarm goes off at the end of the day to pick up my youngest at daycare, I know that it’s time to shut down for the day and focus on my family.”
– Susie Jones, eLearning Developer; Brockville, Ontario (Canada)

Specify and invest in a work area at home—it helps reinforce separation of work and home
“Just like ‘getting ready for work,’ it’s also important to ‘go to the office.’ Dedicate a space in your home where you specifically reside during work hours. It can be helpful to have a space set up like your desk in an office: have an extra monitor, ergonomic keyboard, mouse, etc. Just like the ritual of preparing to work, a dedicated location helps reinforce the notion that it’s work time and that other household distractions can wait.

This isn’t just helpful for you. If you have family members, friends, roommates, or any other people in your household, it can help signal that you’re engaged in work and you may be unavailable for other household tasks. I recommend going as far as to unplug and go somewhere else when you’re taking a break. If work is over, but you want to catch up on personal email, unplug your laptop and migrate into personal time areas of your home. Dedicate a space that you only occupy when you’re focused on getting work done.”
– George Miranda, Community Advocate; Digital Nomad

“My work performance and job satisfaction has been greatly enhanced by investing in my office space within my home. Most importantly, the space is dedicated to my work only, so it does not double as a space specified for another person’s (or pet’s) use in the home. I have the ability to isolate myself in my office when I need to be free from distractions, such as any video devices, or people and pet traffic. I have utilized the suggested tips in the Ergonomics section of this blog, including installing a stand-up desk and supportive chairs. I also keep the space organized and clean since it helps me remain focused and excited about my space. Also, the company is not responsible for weekly maintenance or cleaning of my home office, so I prioritize doing that.
– David John Coleman II, Software Development Engineer; Chicago, IL

Maintain a professional environment
Or fake it. Sometimes you won’t have the background you need. Here’s a tip from Zoom on how to cover those piles of laundry with a nice, lovely, San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge picture—no green screen needed. (Test this BEFORE your meeting):
– Maig Worel, Solutions Consultant; Montclair, CA

Ergonomics! They are super important at home
“Do not skimp on a good chair and try to leave some budget for a sit/stand adjustable desk. The well-known brand names are expensive, but good deals for secondhand ones can often be found on eBay and the like.

I decided I wanted new but did not want to pay big money for Steelcase or Herman Miller. Therefore, I went to a local office furniture store and found an excellent (and Canadian-made) fully adjustable chair for under US$300; complement it with an Ikea or Jarvis Bamboo sit/stand desk and you’ll be well under US$1000 for a home office. Your back will thank you for that relatively small investment. Having a comfortable working spot will also motivate you to use it so you’ll be better at separating working from home and being home.”
– Cees de Groot, Principal Software Engineer; Berkeley, ON (Canada)

Basement office lighting, flora and fauna
“I work in a half-finished basement office where natural and overhead lighting was pretty minimal. In addition to painting the walls and ceiling white (which is probably out of scope for your temporary workspace), I added a desk lamp and torch-style floor lamps to brighten things up. Not only does this make things easier on your eyes, it really helps video conferencing performance.

Also, I hung some full-spectrum lighting to keep a few plants happy. The extra lights and plants make things feel a lot less basement-y. Speaking of living things in your basement, you may need to prepare yourself for your newest coworkers: spiders, ants, and these things. I like to remind myself that the basement is their natural habitat, and I’m only visiting. We get along great now. Oh yeah, soundproofing foam panels like these are easy to pin to the ceiling if you have exposed subflooring, and electric space heaters are easy to find.”
– Andrew Marshall, Director of Product Marketing; Portland, OR

Have the tools you need handy (headphones, glasses)
“I use (cheap) wireless headphones for Zoom calls so I can have two sets. I make sure that I always have one set charging and the other ready to pair with my laptop. I also use 30 seconds before I join a call to make sure that my speaker/mic settings are correct in Zoom before joining so that there’s no time wasted fiddling with settings on the call. Likewise, since we lack whiteboards, I’ll often have windows with shared documents/diagrams ready to go and grouped so that they are easy to pop onto a screen share.”
– Javier Evans, Senior Software Engineer; Seattle, WA

Eyeball breaks + movement breaks
“Along the lines of what Vincent said about scheduling walks, you should be deliberate about taking breaks from your screen. It’s amazing what some fresh air and a little bit of movement will do for your productivity! Since I’ve started working from home, I’ve learned that it takes just eight minutes to walk around my block. Often, I take my walks when I’m stuck on a particular problem, and the movement allows me to take a step back and either mull over possible solutions, or sometimes I stop thinking about the problem completely and return to my keyboard refreshed and ready to attack my issue.”
– Scott McAllister, Developer Advocate; North Bend, WA

Think through “busy days” ahead of time—e.g., do I have time / a way to get food?
“There will be days where you’ll have to start early or end late, and are completely packed full of back-to-back meetings. I try to make sure I set myself up for those days either the night before or waking up a little earlier that morning.

The night before, I prepare snack to have at my desk (nuts, granola bars, peanut butter pretzels, or cutting up an apple or some bell peppers and storing them in the fridge). That morning, I’ll wake up and give myself a little ‘me time’ before the day starts, ensuring I take time to enjoy my coffee, get my shower in, maybe spend a little more time to feel human, or even getting in a quick workout/meditation.

Try to think through your lunch, too; make sure you have something to reheat quickly. And DO NOT be afraid or ashamed to ask people for 5 minutes to go to the restroom, take a quick walk around the block, or to get more water to sustain yourself. Just because we work at home and aren’t as visible to others like we would be in an office doesn’t mean we have to be chained to the desk and not have breaks.”
– Alexa Alley, Community Engagement Program Manager; Seattle, WA

Work roughly the same hours each day and put your off hours on your calendar
“Consistency is super important, it’s easy to take your computer to your couch and just work all the hours you’re awake. That’s not healthy. The more ritualized you can make the process, including setting hours, the better off you’re going to be.”
– Chris Bonnell, Principal Data Scientist; Boulder, CO

“Most of my teammates are in the same time zone that I am so they know I am just on the other side of the screen when they get into the office. Others know when I am available to help them or when I will be able to read a message/return a message as long as I keep consistent working hours. It also just helps with my daily/weekly routines.”
– Susie Jones, eLearning Developer; Brockville, Ontario (Canada)

Visibility is key to career movement
“I’ve worked remotely for most of the last 10 years, and my career has constantly moved onwards and upwards. These are true if you’re in the office as well, but you need to be much more clear, proactive, and diligent when you are working from home. Some of the key checkboxes that have helped me are:

  1. Have checkboxes. Know what you are being measured on, and make sure your boss knows you are meeting them. Maybe your boss’s boss as well. Working remotely, you need to ensure constant literal communication about goals—don’t just assume you are doing well; specifically check in on this. Also talk about future goals and how are you progressing along those, which leads to…
  2. Meet. Have regular check-in meetings with your boss. I like 1:1s every week, for about 30 minutes. Some people need fewer meetings, but when you are remote, these should happen more frequently than once a month. I find that if I go longer than a month without having a meeting with a manager, something is wrong. It might be on their end, but you should check it out. If you aren’t meeting, you’re not important enough to be on their schedule. You might just be perfect in their eyes, but you should validate that assumption.
  3. Know what makes your boss, and your team, look good. Make sure that something in your schedule helps position them well. Talk about their goals, too—that means you need to meet with them. Or at least chat online. Regularly.
  4. Network virtually. Do the people who need to know who you are, know who you are? Who else might be able to mentor you or influence your projects? Get involved in networking meetings. Here at PagerDuty, we do ‘donut’ meetings to help connect with people for various roles and reasons. Actively look for mentors and mentees and meet with them about skills, career—even life.
  5. Create. Find cross-team projects that will put you in contact with other people and teams. Find something valuable that someone hasn’t done yet that will have an impact. It’s fun, it’s a good change of pace, and you get to have visible feedback. Hackdays are one way to do that, but there are always processes to improve or things to document. Interview someone and document what you’ve learned—then share it. Now you’re networking AND being visible AND adding to your career trajectory. Bonus!”
    – Maig Worel, Solutions Consultant; Montclair, CA

Over communicate in general, especially on schedule changes

“Don’t worry about bothering people. If you need to talk to someone, ping them in Slack/Teams/etc.; they can tell you if it’s a good time or not. Remember that if you were in an office you’d be stopping by someone’s desk to do just that. This goes along with over communicating—it matters so much to stay connected both for projects and for fighting isolation.”
– Rebecca Pilcher, Partner Marketing; Portland, Oregon.

“This can’t be overstated. There are so many moments in a proper office where you can just go and bug someone that aren’t as natural or available when you’re remote. Go heckle people. They probably don’t care.” – Chris Bonnell, Principal Data Scientist; Boulder, CO

If people aren’t recognizing your limitations due to being remote, don’t be shy about saying, “Hey, this process is difficult, can we try something a little different?”
“Norms around tools and processes often have evolved to suit the needs of office workers. This can be particularly challenging for creative roles, where sticky notes and whiteboarding rule the day. Fortunately, many modern digital communication tools like Zoom and Mural have arisen to make these processes easier—but often, as a remote worker, you’ll need to remind your in-office co-workers that the analog tools or processes are not remote-friendly. Don’t be shy about advocating for yourself and asking your team to try something different when it’s not working.”
– Julian Dunn, Principal Product Marketing Manager; Portland, Oregon

When in doubt, throw out an “awkward” clarifier
“Sometimes people give off an odd vibe. That happens whether you’re in the office or dialing in from home. When you’re in the same physical space as someone, it’s easier to read their non-verbal communication and get more context about what may be going on. There has been a few times where I’ve followed up with someone after a video call to check in. It can feel awkward—so I call it the awkward clarifier—but it does the trick! It has helped open up some good communication and foster stronger relationships with colleagues.”
– Rachel Friesen, Head of Community; Portland, Oregon

Get out of the house
“When I first started working for PagerDuty, I had also just moved to a new city with my family. I was already working from home previously but had left my “village” behind so, in order to combat those relocation blues, I immediately started looking for the nearest gym, soccer clubs, and other ways for me to get out of the house in the evenings for my physical and mental health. It’s important for me to be able to separate my home/office and work/play and get some fresh air!”
– Susie Jones, eLearning Developer; Brockville, ON (Canada)

Try to proactively schedule lunches with friends locally
“If I have a week where I’m light on meetings I can tend to feel lonely or isolated, so this is big for me because I’m a social person by nature. Working remotely, I still have frequent video calls with my teammates and that normally is enough to feel like I saw “other humans” that day. On weeks where I’m lighter on meetings, I try to schedule lunches with friends locally. It helps me to know I’m getting out of the house, talking to another person, and gives me a hit of social energy that translates into my afternoon when I get back to ‘the office.’”
– Rachel Friesen, Head of Community; Portland, OR

Add photos to your accounts—Slack, email, Asana, etc.—so people can “see” you even when you aren’t in a Zoom meeting or visiting the office
“Doing means people will recognize you when you do get the chance to see them in person if they aren’t part of your team and it gives a face to the ‘text.’ Don’t set a ‘profile picture’ in zoom; instead, set a screencap of the camera view of you in a zoom video chat where you’re having a neutral expression, wearing one of the things you typically wear, in typical lighting. Because if you turn off your camera, this will be what other meeting attendees see, and it will appear that you’re attentive (if just still) for those times when you need to be there but not talk, and you don’t really want to be seen.”
– Chris Bonnell, Principal Data Scientist; Boulder, CO

Join different slack channels so you have the opportunity to chat with others across the organization
“Since joining PagerDuty, I have been included in the ‘Women-in-sales’ Donut chats and get assigned a mentor every month. Those meetings have introduced me to so many people across the organization in different roles, with varying levels of experience at PagerDuty or in their careers. I have been able to educate people not on my team about what we do and meet wonderful people!”
– Susie Jones, eLearning Developer; Brockville, ON (Canada)

Utilize the company’s available resources for remote employees.
“PagerDuty has a supply kit for full-time remote employees, including resources to help you establish your professional office space. Certain teams also allocate budget to support travel for team collaboration events, trainings, or other job-related opportunities that require leaving your home office.
– David John Coleman II, Software Development Engineer; Chicago, IL


Essentially, working remotely is different for everyone—some people like the freedom of flexibility; others need structure to stay on task. What works well for you? Have any tips that we may have missed? Head on over to the PagerDuty Community page to contribute your ideas!