The 10 Best Resources for Virtual Working: Reframing Productivity, Communicating Successfully, Supporting Mental Health
For everyone who has just started working from home, we know that you’re experiencing a huge shift in your work life and in your day-to-day.
Fractured Atlas took a long time to transition to being a fully distributed team, finally making the leap at the end of 2019. We’ve had a lot of time to think about the challenges of virtual work. Over time, and through plenty of trial and error, we have been able to build a virtual office culture in line with our values and our mission, that supports the team as individuals as well as workers.
For all of you who are just entering the world of working from home, we know that it’s challenging. And especially challenging if you work in a sector that’s not used to virtual working, like the arts or nonprofits. Plus, any issues you might be having working from home are almost certainly compounded by everything else that’s on your mind as a result of COVID-19, which is why you’re working from home in the first place.
We work with artists to help them manage the business aspects of their creative practice through fundraising and fiscal sponsorship. And as artists ourselves, it’s important that we have a work environment that lets us be ourselves - creative, flexible, justice-oriented, and focused on building the right tools to support other artists.
There’s a lot of information out there to help new virtual workers adjust to a home office. You’ve probably seen a lot of it already - how to organize your day, how to set up your workstation, and more. The ones we’re sharing here are a bit different.
These articles and essays are focused on what we hope helps you build a more open, compassionate, and equitable virtual workplace. We hope that they help you reframe what productivity means right now, communicate better with your colleagues, and find ways to support your mental health and the mental health of your team.
General Advice for Working from Home
It’s important to start with the basics. All of a sudden working from home can be a shock to the system, especially if you were not expecting it, and even more so if you didn’t want it.
Sometimes working from home can feel like living at work. With so much new happening, it can be hard to figure out where to start, or even which problems you’re having.
This is a terrific guide for a general audience. The Verge has tips on how to get your tech setup in order and how to safely get takeout for lunch.
It is easy to navigate so you can skip around to get advice on the pain points that you are experiencing quickly without having to dive into one giant article just to find one particular section. This guide goes beyond just giving advice about how to better do your job from home.
This is crucial because for everyone whose job just became a virtual one, the whole rest of their life has changed, too. The transition to working from home affects every part of our day, not just the working hours.
We work with Hubspot in a number of ways, including hosting this blog! So we were already familiar with them and their work. We find that some of the best resources come from companies and organizations that have already been doing it for some time (ourselves included!).
This list has a lot of suggestions you might have heard elsewhere, but what we like best about it is that it includes quotes from actual Hubspot employees about how they manage to work virtually.
No single piece of advice is going to work for every worker, every industry, every job so it’s important to hear a number of voices. And, if you’re interested in personal tips, check out some our How We Work Virtually series where the Fractured Atlas staff shares how we get it done.
When you start working from home, you’re not doing it in a bubble. Something that we don’t always see these kinds of lists tackle is something that’s on a lot of people’s minds.
How do you work from home when you have kids who are home from school?
This NPR list offers some useful suggestions about working while also parenting. We also appreciate their suggestions for addressing bandwidth and productivity with your manager. Openness is absolutely key to making virtual offices feel safe and functional.
Plus, if you’ve hit your limit of looking at a screen or reading articles, you can listen to this one!
Productivity While Working From Home
A lot of advice about virtual working and productivity is designed to help you stay as productive as possible; to match or even outmatch what you could produce in an office setting. This kind of productivity advice might be valuable to a lot of people and is readily available, but we want to highlight another aspect of the productivity conversation. It’s also absolutely crucial to take some time to think about what productivity in a pandemic means and how we can use this rupture in our everyday work lives to rethink work output. It’s hard to remember this sometimes, but you are always worth more than what you produce at your job.
An early trend that we saw when it became clear that our whole lives were going to be upended by social isolation was that there’s finally time to get things done.
The pressure is on, people are telling us to go out and write our great novels and compose our symphonies. Now is the time to get fit, learn a new language, clean your apartment. By now it’s an old chestnut to hear that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine.
If you feel inspired right now, that’s great and we think you should lean into it. But productivity shouldn’t be your biggest concern right now - either creatively or professionally.
This essay shares how the pressure to produce is symptomatic of larger late-capitalist pressures to constantly produce, work, and optimize.
Author Heather Havrilesky has worked from home for a long time and has plenty of good advice for the newly home-officed. We especially want to highlight her suggestions for being a kind boss to yourself.
Yes it’s important to keep a schedule, but it’s more important to allow yourself to have a break or a day off. If you have a really productive morning, it’s ok to have a slower afternoon.
The more in charge of your schedule that you are, the more likely you might be to replicate toxic management patterns you’ve experienced. A radical shift in how we work hopefully gives us a chance to find new and better ways to work, not ways to replicate the bad behaviors we’ve experienced in jobs before. She suggests ways to not be your own worst boss.
Communicating for Virtual Teams
Working from home changes the way you communicate with your coworkers. You can’t swing by someone’s desk or just pick up your phone and dial their extension. Your once in-person meetings are now done over video conferences and your team is communicating through email or Slack rather than in the office kitchen. It also offers you an opportunity to develop better communication practices because you have to find new tools and strategies for staying in touch. Here are the tools and apps that we use to communicate with one another.
Funny enough, Trello is a tool we use to communicate with one another! We use it to schedule dev work and move updates from idea into implementation and iteration. We also think they’re doing a great job sharing resources for new virtual workers.
Here, they’ve rounded up a number of articles that they’ve already written about virtual working. They helpfully point out that a successful communication strategy isn’t just about finding the right tools. Successful virtual communication requires more openness and more empathy.
This post from Flexjobs is a few years old but its suggestions for becoming a more effective communicator still stand. As everyone is learning how to use messaging, video meeting, and other communication tools, this article reminds us that we should pay attention to our coworkers’ preferences. When you reach out to people in a way that works for them, you’ll build better rapport and see better results, overall.
Mental Health for Virtual Workers
Under regular circumstances, it’s a big mental shift to leave an office work environment for a virtual one. And that’s when we could work from coworking spaces or coffee shops or libraries, in addition to our homes. Now that we’re all working exclusively from our homes in the midst of a crisis, there are some very serious strains on our mental health. In order to be as successful and as happy as you can be working from home, mental health needs to be a serious consideration. You as a worker need to pay attention to how you’re feeling, and if you are in a leadership position, you need to take a proactive approach to providing your team with resources if they’re struggling and an open line of communication to talk through any problems they’re facing.
WeWorkRemotely reminds readers that the first step towards improving your mental health is to honestly recognize where you are, and not to judge yourself for it. We heartily co-sign that sentiment. Pretty much nobody is okay right now, and it’s important that we acknowledge it.
This is another resource that comes to us from a service provider that we happen to use. Justworks is our PEO (Professional Employment Organization). Learn more about what a PEO is and how Fractured Atlas uses one.
This article focuses on ways that managers can help support their team’s mental wellbeing. They suggest that managers proactively check in with their team and explicitly encourage breaks during the day, plus providing access to other mental health resources.
Creating a supportive virtual work environment requires proactive work from people in leadership, and this article gives some strong suggestions for how to tackle the mental health part of it.
Building a Better Virtual Workplace
So many offices are experiencing a huge paradigm shift with the abrupt transition to virtual work. We hope that teams are using this opportunity to find new ways to work that don’t just replicate the way you worked in an office. We hope that companies and organizations use this opportunity to build better workplaces for everyone, no matter if it’s fully distributed or back in an office.
Members of the Fractured Atlas team created Work. Shouldn’t. Suck. to share resources and offer consulting on how companies and organizations can build diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces using people-centric organizational tools. They have been writing about the intersection of virtual working and thriving workplaces for a long time and have collected their thoughts on building successful, equitable virtual workplaces here. This information hub has articles, podcasts, and other resources about building a virtual workplace.
The Challenges of Virtual Work are Real but Not Insurmountable
We think that this list of resources has information to make your transition to virtual working easier. But we recognize that no list (not even a list of lists) is going to make it easy. It takes time to adjust, and most people are having to adjust to a new way of working in the midst of other, more serious concerns.
Ultimately, you'll have to find out what works best for you, what works best for your teammates, and the best way to make those things coexist. There are nearly as many ways to work remotely as there are remote workers.
The most important thing to do is to remember where your priorities should be (taking care of yourself and your loved ones) and being honest and open about how you’re doing. Even at Fractured Atlas, where we’re used to working virtually, we’re encountering new challenges and trying to work through them together with as much honesty and openness as possible. We can’t support artists who are trying to make work if we’re not okay ourselves.
Even after you've read every resource on this list and on every other list, you are going to face challenges. We know, because we’ve been there too. We want you to know that while those challenges are real, they are not insurmountable.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.