remote work tools and tips to use while quarantined
Here in NYC, we are about to go on lockdown. As people freak out about what they are going to do with all their newfound time at home, I realized that not much in my life is going to change. For the past four years I have been out of office, and loving it. So, if you are worried about what your new life at home is going to be like, here are some practical tips and remote work tools I have amassed over the years to help you get through these unprecedented times.
This article covers:
The Social Aspect Of Working From Home
- Why I love working from home
- You don't need an office to be social
- Turn your commute time into self-care
- Setting a schedule and avoiding the Netflix and chill trap
- Outdoors and at-home exercise
- Staying social an avoiding the Insta spiral
Getting Down to Business How to Stay Productive Out Of Office, and the Remote Work Tools you Should be Using
- Tools to stay organized
- Alternative communication methods
- Productivity tools
- Project and team management tools
Why I love working from home
shake that office stock home syndrome
Working from home doesn't mean you are a hermit. When I first started virtue + vice I joined a co-working space. I was worried about getting distracted at home, staying productive, and missing out on the social element that comes along with interacting in an office. In the year that I paid monthly rent to belong to an exclusive co-working space, I think I went to the office less than 10 times. What I quickly realized is that I enjoyed working from my home and not in a group office setting.
say buh-bye to those annoying co-workers
Here is something I have never shared before. I actually left my job in fast fashion twice. About 4 months after the first time I left my position as Director of Product Development I got an email from my boss basically begging me to come back. In the few months, I had been gone, they had hired 3 girls to replace me and do the job I did alone for years, but still needed some Melanie magic. Part of my agreement to return was that I would only be working remotely. For me, the non-negotiable of working remotely was a necessity for my sanity. As many of you in the fashion world know, our industry is full of some full fledge psychopaths, and distance from the office is often considered a blessing.
At first, the owner of my company was hesitant to allow me to work from home. Being super old school, and to be frank, controlling, he was not keen on the idea. But, I stood strong and didn't budge. By developing strategies and using remote work tools he quickly learned me being OOO was totally fine.
While most of you reading this probably do not work in the same level of insanity that is fast fashion, I am sure you have a few co-workers that drive you absolutely mad. Well, consider this your chance to not have to deal with them now that you are remote workers for the time being. And, we all finally get to really find out how many of those seemingly endless meetings could actually have been emails.
You don't need an office to be social
I don't really understand my friends who opt to go to their companies' happy hours and hang out with their co-workers beyond the mandated hours of nine to five. Because, what I have noticed is that these same people who go from the office to happy hour with the same work crew are the ones that constantly complain about feeling overwhelmed, not having a good work-life balance, and are generally run down and tired.
I think a little, or a lot, of work and play separation, is necessary for our sanity.
is your social life work?
Before I worked in fashion I worked in nightlife. During that time in my life, I had a lot of fun. I was at events and parties 5 nights a week. It was a blast. But, when I quit that job to move onto my fashion career my social calendar opened up a lot. I was still invited to the same parties, but now I had the choice of if I actually wanted to and was not obligated to through work. What I realized was that most of the time I wasn't interested. And, slowly those nightlife friends, faded to Facebook acquaintances. Don't get me wrong there are some people from that time in my life I still hang out with, one of my best friends I met in nightlife. But, it did teach me a lesson early on between work social events and social events you choose.
What is the take away from my lessons in nightlife? Take this opportunity of social distancing to become picky about who you spend your time with and what you do with your free time. For me, because I travel so much, hanging out with co-working acquaintances was always low on my priority list. If I had a few free hours I want to spend that time with my real ride or die friends.
During this time of isolation, make time to check in with and chat with the people who are important to you. If you pay attention you will learn how much of your "social life" is work, and how much of it you actually enjoy.
convert time commuting into self-care
One of the reasons I never made it to my co-working space is because most mornings I wake up to at least 50 WhatsApp and WeChat messages. Both from clients and suppliers. Before I even brush my teeth I try to read through all of the messages and quickly prioritize what needs to be handled most urgently. What I quickly realized is that by working from home I could save about 2 hours commuting and aggravation on the subway, and use that time to just get sh*t done.
I would not recommend doing what I do and waking up to a screen full of messages to answer. Unfortunately, it is a necessity of my job with all the time differences I work between.
Currently, one of my goals is balancing the scales between work and me time, and, I am working on using that saved time from commuting for hobbies.
what would you do with some extra time?
I am sure at one point or another while at your office you sat anxiously thinking about all the things you need to get done, errands you need to run, etc. And then fantasized about what you would do with an extra hour or two of personal time.
Well, this is your chance. Remote work tools are not only about getting work done, but they are also meant to help create balance in your life.
take up a hobby
Here is where I struggle. Personally, every time I save some time I always seem to find some new type of work I need to do. For the past year, it has been blogging. My goal in 2019 was to blog once a week. I ended up finding the time to blog about once every three weeks. Again, this year in 2020 I set the goal to blog once a week. It's now March and this is only my second post. But, that's ok. Because instead of dedicating 100% of my free time to more work (and trust me, the work never ends as a small business owner, there is always something to do) I have started taking up hobbies.
read a book
Part of the reason I have not met my new blogging goal I that I have started to take some of that extra time for self-care instead of work. I am teaching myself how to knit, trying to read a book, and have been exercising regularly. I realized this year that the last book I read, in full, was Harry Potter when I was 11 years old (could that be the reason I am still obsessed with the movies today?). Thanks to the internet and SparkNotes I never finished a book past that age.
That's kind of scary. So my goal for the year is to read one book. I am working on Malcolm Gladwell's Talking To Strangers. If anyone wants to start a book club with me, I have been reading it for 3 months and am on page 30.
learn to cook
Another hobby iI have taken up is learning how to pickle. I am not so secretly hoping that pickling is the gateway drug to cooking. I came to another realization this year. Not only do I not read, but I don't know how to cook. Thanks to the convenience of NYC for the past 10 years I have mostly lived off of Seamless.
Pickling is super easy and doesn't make much of a mess. Here is the cool thing, it takes about 2 weeks to make pickles, so start them now, and hopefully by the time quarantine is over you will have tasty pickles to share with your friends. Next, I am going to try making my own hot sauce now, thanks to this handy hot sauce kit.
And, lastly, I am learning to knit. In college at FIT, we had to learn how to knit on three different types of industrial knitting machines. But, we never learned to hand knit. Knitting was one of my favorite courses in school, and I loved learning how to use and program the machines. Unfortunately, my tiny NYC apartment is not big enough for a knitting machine, so hand knitting is the next best thing. TBH, I am super jealous of my friend who moved to the suburbs and now has a full wooden handloom in her garage.
If you are interested in learning how to knit I highly recommend Wool and the Gang. They make kits that include yarn, needs, and instructions and they even have videos online on their website if you feel yourself getting stuck or frustrated. I have my eye on this tank to try and make next, consider it wishful thinking that things will begin to return to normal in the spring.
A few other hobby ideas...
- Take a free online course
- Learn calligraphy
- Try sculpting
- Needlepoint is a skill anyone can learn with some impressive results
- If you have outdoor space, get outside and try gardening. Or, if you are in a city, there is always indoor gardening
- Learn to draw in 30 days
- Or, try watercolors
set a schedule
Newbies working from home, don't fall into the Netflix binge trap. Not having someone in an office constantly looking over your shoulder to see if you are working means you need to exercise some self-control. It's really easy to spend your day binge-watching reality tv or spirling deep into someone's 2013 Instagram posts. My black hole is 90 Day Fiance. It is so terrible. But, once I start an episode I emerge from my trance 6 hours later like WTF just happened. What kind of voodoo is this? To stay on track, set a schedule. There is no one size fits all schedule, it takes a little bit of trial and error. Here is what a typical day looks like for me in NYC. My day in India is very, very different.
One of my favorite tools for schedule making and time management is Calendly. I use it on my website for new clients to sign up for a free consultation, and for current clients to sign up for meetings. The great thing about the software is that it allows you to block off time where people are not able to make appointments, helping to create work-life balance. And, it integrates perfectly with g-mail so all of your calendars are synced up
This is how I generally structure my day.
Wake up and read messages from China and India suppliers, have some tea. I have really been liking dandelion root tea recently. I have noticed that when I travel I tend to retain a lot of water, and this tea helps with that. But, typically I stick to a fresh ginger and lemon brew that I make myself with a little bit of local NYC honey. Honey is another thing I have gotten into. Bee's, in general, are so interesting, and cute. I have been liking Andrew's Honey a lot. You can choose where your honey comes from down to the neighborhood. Currently, I have an ultra-local jar made by bees in the East Village.
That is one of the things I love about Goa, you can actually know the cow your milk comes from. Getting dairy from a local cow is more or less impossible in NYC, so I will settle for honey.
Respond to supplier questions, take phone calls on urgent matters. It is important I get this done first thing in the morning. With all of the different time zones I work in there are only a few hours of every day where everyone is awake.
Cook and eat breakfast, catch up on news (some friendly advice, try to limit your news intake, most of what's happening in the world will cause anxiety and panic, but it's important to be a little informed). And, when I say cook I mean more like peel a banana and eat peanut butter right out of the jar.
Update clients on the status of their programs (basically tell them all the info I found out at 6 am).
Work out, shower, and a quick lunch. I like to do cardio, if the weather is nice I will run outside. I have always hated running on treadmills indoors, but this winter before going to India I really got into Mile High Run Club. Basically, it is a treadmill running class that blasts music. I liked the classes so much I was even considering continuing them into the warmer months where I would be running outside.
My new workouts will be home-based. More on what I am doing to stay fit at home below in the exercise section of this post.
2 - 5
Client phone calls or meetings, this time might also be used visiting and working with the factories I partner with here in NYC.
Writing. Blog writing, social media writing, researching the industry. I am a very slow reader and writer so this work probably takes me longer than the average person.
Dinner. Hello, Seamless. At the moment health experts have ok'd ordering takeaway and from food delivery services like Seamless. It's a great way to support your local restaurants in these times while staying safe.
Tv and bed. I like to watch a little tv before I go to sleep. It helps me to decompress and forget about my day. Typically I only watch comedy. IMO the world is terrible enough, I want to forget about all that and just laugh. Some of my current and forever favs are Golden Girls, Schitt's Creek, Derry Girls, The Office (I think I have watched the full series like 10 times now), anything Chris Lilley. Who has comedy recs for me?
Tips for setting your own schedule
To set your own schedule, first, make a list of the things you need to do every day.
For me, my list includes
eating 3 meals
Anyone that has worked with me knows that I am a workhorse, when I am in the zone, I am in the zone, and sometimes forget to eat, that is why I literally need to schedule meals into my schedule.
Communication with suppliers and communication with clients.
I plan a large part of my day dedicated to this. One of the things I hated the most about fast fashion was that I was constantly rushing. Now I make sure to plan adequate time to make sure my suppliers and clients never feel rushed.
Again, during my fast fashion days, I had little to no time for physical activity. When I left my job the first time I promised myself that I would never let my job compromise my health.
Communication and education are important to me. As I build this company and see growth every year I think one of the main reasons for my success is my ability to share my experiences and educate.
It's hard to just turn off from the day. I like to watch tv before bed, it relaxes me and takes my mind off of my to-do list of 100 things.
What are the main things you need to accomplish every day? Make a list, and use that to build out your schedule. Remember to make time for self-care and fun.
If you stay holed up inside all day, day after day, you will go mad. Make sure to get outside and get some fresh air. Thankfully my dog Lil' Mama is a constant reminder to get out because she needs to be walked at least three times a day. And, if I forget to take her on one of her walks she will smack me with her tiny paws until I take her out.
foster a friend
Did you know that during the COVID-19 shutdown animal shelters are really struggling? It is hard for workers to get to the kennels and take care of the animals. Now, while you are home, it might be the perfect time to foster a furry friend. The great thing about fostering is that there is no commitment, you take the animal for as long as you can, hopefully until it can find a forever home. The benefit is two-fold. You are helping out the overly stressed animal shelter system and preventing an animal from being euthanized, and you get some companionship and an excuse to go outside.
My favorite animal shelter in NYC is Social Tees. Both my dog and my parent's dog come from there. They were both foster failures. This means that you sign up to temporarily foster an animal but end up keeping it instead.
Remember, even though we may need to practice social distancing it's still ok to get outside and go for a walk or a run, as long as you avoid people and try to maintain about 6 feet of distance.
break a sweat
If you are missing the gym there are some great home work out options. Modo Yoga in NYC is doing free yoga classes live on their Instagram feed. I did one yesterday and it was amazing. While I am traveling in India I love using Aaptiv for pre-recorded workouts.
I also started trying out pilates reform classes thanks to a friend from my old gymnastics days Hilary Curwen. FYI, Hilary is currently making free pilates workout videos for those of you stuck at home. Use this zoom link to tune in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 50 minute classes. Suggest donation is $10, but if you are out of work there is no nee to pay.
The below image is from one of her comedy videos, her actual workout are not jazzercise. But, if you want an instructor that will keep you fit and laughing in these stressful times, she's your gal.
I have heard great things about Peloton which has live rides and classes. Unfortunately, again, my NYC apartment is too small for a bike, so I have never been able to try. They also started treadmill classes which looks cool, but part of the reason I love running is that it gets me out of the house. I feel like a treadmill class home from would-be counterintuitive for me. But, these options might be a good option for people looking for gym style classes, with the comradery of a live feed, but still from the safety of their own homes.
Also, there is the mirror. Which from what I understand is basically a mirror that projects workouts but also allows you to see yourself. Has anyone tried this?
have healthy snacks on hand
Speaking of exercising and heath, when I work from home I tend to snack a lot more than I would in a normal office setting. When you are stocking up your pantry put down the potato chips and opt for healthy snacks. Me and my boyfriend have a rule that we don't buy chips and crackers. Neither of us has any self-control when it comes to salty crunchy snacks, they will be gone in a day. Seriously a family size bag of potato chips lasts less than a few hours in our home. So, we skip them. And, instead opt for healthy choices that keep and don't go bad like frozen fruit, hummus, and vegetables like carrots and celery that have long shelf lives.
Snack and meal inspo
Here are a few of the accounts. I follow that look amazing. Full disclosure I have tried non-of these recipes because, again, I don't cook, yet. But, I hope to one day try them all out. Most of these are vegan or have vegan options.
- Smitten Kitchen
- Rainbow Plant Life
- Oatmeal Stories
- Chocolate for Basil
- Tisha Cherry (food art)
- Baked Ideas (creative cookies)
Just because you are social distancing that does not mean that you need to become a recluse. There are lots of ways to interact, just not in person.
For almost 8 years now, me and my boyfriend have been in a somewhat constant state of a long-distance relationship. Since we met, we were both traveling. I would be in China, him in India, me in the Philippines, and him back in NYC. And now, for the past 4 years, I have gone to India without him while he hangs back in NYC to work. The longest we have ever gone apart is about four and a half months. But, lucky for you, all of our time away has basically made us pros at communicating while not in person.
Here are a few tips to stay close to friends and family, without being physically close.
Don't be afraid to share the small stuff
While in normal circumstances a photo of your food, or a silly random thought you had, wouldn't warrant a text message, while separated sharing this small nonsense adds an element of normalcy and intimacy.
Facetime is the next best thing to talking to someone in person. It isn't just a remote work tool for company work, it's necessary to stay connected to friends and family too.
embrace the awkward silence
Sometimes when we get on the phone we have this pressure to chat, chat, chat, and then hang up. Filling every second of our time on the phone with words. While, in real life, in person, we don't have conversations like that. Sometimes you can be sitting in a room with someone and not say anything at all.
I can't tell you how many times facetime has just been running on my phone while my boyfriend is eating dinner and I am doing work. In between bites and emails, we say a few words to each other and then get back to doing what we are doing. At first, it feels kind of awkward having the phone on and not using it to constantly talk to one another, but once you embrace the silence it feels like a much more natural interaction.
online webinars and communities
A lot of panels and events that have been canceled are making online webinar events. For example, the NYCFTC is having community call in's instead of meetings. Try to get involved and tune in to one of these stay at home social events.
limit social media
How do you use social media? If it's for stalking your ex who is holed up with their new significant other or to create the perfect photo of your quarantini, or any of the other unhealthy ways social media creeps into our lives an app to limit your usage might be not only a productivity helper but also a welcomed mental break.
Need help limiting time on social media? Try out apps like Offtime or Moment that will restrict your scrolling and increase your productivity. Most of the time I spend on social media is posting for @whatsbehindtheseams, I rarely find myself in an Insta spiral because tbh I just don't care very much to see people's mugs of coffee with inspirational quotes. To me, a lot of social media has become boring, stylized, and too contrived.
keep it light
There are two ways I use social media. The first is to relax. On my personal account, I only follow cute animals, vegan cooking accounts, tattoo artists, and like 10 friends. That is my feel-good feed when I need to see some cute or cool stuff to lift up my spirits and take a break from the daily grind that's my go-to. Then I have my business account (which admittedly I spend less time on because it kind of depresses me) I use it to catch up on the latest fashion and sustainable news.
let's get down to business
Here are the remote work tools I use to get work done from anywhere in the world. I already mentioned a few like Calendly, but here is everything else I use.
remote work tools to stay organized
One of the biggest adjustments to working from home from an office setting is staying organized, setting tasks, and making sure things get done without being able to pop your head over to the next cubicle.
Is a tool for organizing creative projects into beautiful visual boards.
By design, it feels a lot like working on the wall in a creative studio - visual, tactile and sometimes a bit messy - Milanote is a great fit for designers who work in teams remotely.
My favorite tool for this is Trello. Trello is basically an online to-do list, that you can invite others to share. You can set tasks with deadlines, assign them to people, and as the work gets done record notes and move them from pending to in-process, to complete. The set up is super clean and simple, and I love it for not only my personal list of things to do but also to share with suppliers.
I am 32 years old, and maybe I am showing my age, but I remember things so much better when I write them down. Typing something does not commit it to memory the same way writing it does. I use Moleskin notebooks because I haven't found anything else that holds up quite as well. So, for the important stuff, the information that I need at the top of my head, I write it down in a journal. Don't let bullet journaling intimidate you. I know there are some seriously fancy and artistic journals out there on Pinterest. Mine is basically just a daily list of things to do, and a section on important information like key dates and supply chain prices. It doesn't have to be an art project, but it can be if you want it to ;)
remote work tools to aid communication
Learning to communicate remotely is one of the hardest challenges about working from home for most people. Here are some remote work tools to ease your transition.
Slack is basically an online messaging service. Tech companies love it. Slack is a safe place to store files, create workgroups, and keep communication streamlined. Many startup companies opt to use slack over traditional email because of its transparent communication and integrations that make sharing information easy.
On a side note, what is cool is that, slack has also morphed into a community of private groups. I am part of Warde, which was founded and run by beauty influencer Rachel Nguyen. Everyone is super positive and non-judgmental, and I really lik the group. I have tried a few sustainable and zero-waste groups, unfortunately for whatever reason, these sustainable communities end up feeling toxic. With Warde, I have gotten some great tips on there for my curly hair and super dry skin. The group has also been branching out into fashion topics, which obviously I love.
TeamViewer allows you to share your screen with someone else. I rarely use this except when I need tech support help and troubleshooting. I just turn my computer screen over to the pros with their screen sharing program, and they are able to figure out what is going on and help me with my problem.
Video conferencing is going to be crucial at this time. Remember, on emails, it is hard to convey tone, even if Grammarly's newest updates attempt to help you gauge if your email it friendly, official, etc. Seeing and speaking to someone eye to eye is one of the best ways to diffuse a situation, or to communicate effectively. If your company runs on g-suite having "in-person" meetings on google hangouts is a great option for real time conversations that need to be had between remote teams more than 2 people.
WeChat and WhatsApp
What I also love about both apps is that you can install them on your computer and use them across devices.
My go-to for conference calls. This one is probably on a lot of other remote work tool lists. The zoom platform makes it easy for people to call in from all over the world.
getting work done on the go
remote work tools to help you get work done no matter where you are
I use g-suite to stay organized and get work done both with my clients and my suppliers. Generally most of the information I share I do in excel. By uploading and sharing the files on google drive and sharing with specific people we are able to create remote working documents with live updates to keep product development and production flowing. And, keep everyone on the same page.
Spoiler, as I work on my free fashion courses I will be sharing templates of the excels and other tools I use in g-suite to get the job done.
I also take advantage of google docs for my writing work. Recently I have hired a writing coach. She helps me organize my thoughts, stick to a schedule, and in general just write better. I would recommend any small business owner that does not have a degree in English or Literature to hire someone to help them with this. I have worked with Marrisa LaRocca for almost a year and it's been great.
What I also love about g-suite is their cloud storage, which makes my files accessible from anywhere in the world on any computer.
Speaking of cloud storage my dad loves Office 360. From what I understand it is similar to g-suite but integrates better with Office products. Have any of you tried this? What do you think?
Dropbox is great for file sharing. I use dropbox for large files that I know I will need to come back to again and again. Examples of files in my dropbox are artwork and tech packs for clients. Sharing the files is as easy as entering an email and allowing access.
WeTransfer is another great way to share large files. You upload a file, get a link, and then can share the link with anyone you want, who can use it to download the files. And, the service is free! The only downside is the link is only good for 2 weeks. That's why for important files that I know I will be using for a while I back them up to dropbox.
TransferWise is a money transfer tool. I love it because my bank (Chase) charges me $50 for an international wire transfer no matter the amount, but TransferWise takes a small percent of the total transfer amount instead. For example, transferring about $6,000 to India only costs me around $5. And, the money is typically in the receivers account in only a few hours. Bank transfers can sometimes take a few days depending on the countries and banks involved. If you need to move small amounts of money safely and securely TransferWise is perfect.
project management tools
To be transparent I have never used Basecamp of Evernote. But I have heard good things from small businesses with scattered team members across the country or world. Both platforms specialize in being one-stop shops for task management. They are a place to create and delegate tasks, set timelines, store files, and make sure that business gets done.