7 Productivity Tips for Virtual Staff


I got this question a few times, about how to work effectively virtually or as part of a virtual worker or team. It’s like a dream. We get more flexibility. In the words of Spiderman - “With great power comes great responsibility”. This is a growing trend and the freedom and flexibility, do create a different layer of challenges. I’ve always worked in a virtual capacity in one way or another, with global organizations, with boards, community groups and so on. I tend to work longer hours and really try to provide a lot of value, so that the meetings are very productive and shows that I’m dedicated to moving the needle forward.  

Let’s be very clear, it means that your work is outcome based versus time based.  This means that you need to produce quality outputs. Our employers are saving us time from commuting to the office, getting dressed up etc…I want to emphasize that it’s very important NOT to bite the hand that feeds us!  We need to produce quality deliverables and outputs, because our employers are trusting us and empowering us to be more successful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of watching TV, playing on our phone more and other distractions.

I think one of the most public one.. was when Professor Robert Kelly, was doing a live television broadcast on the BBC and was interrupted by TWO of his kids! It was hilarious and more impressive of how he kept his composure

Of course, Jimmy Fallon had to do a spoof on it as well.

Kids will be kids.. Interruptions will be interruptions. Working remotely has its many PROs and CONs, but the intent is to have a mutually beneficial relationship that enables both of us (us and our employers) to be successful!  Working remotely has lots of challenges.  

I thought I’d put together some tips to make it more feasible to navigate across this noisy and busy world.  Here are some of my favorite best practices that I’ve utilized. 

Calendar Control
Get a clear picture and understand of your calendar, both personally and professionally.  Those that are going to be in your work environment, let them know up front of some key meetings that you cannot be interrupted.  You need to have one complete view of what is happening around you, so that you can adequately plan to mitigate disruptions. If you need to travel somewhere, include travel time in your calendar.  If you need time to prep for a meeting, include that into your calendar. Have a clear picture of all the moving elements.

Morning Auto-Pilot Routine
Morning routines are so incredibly important. You wake up, work-out, meditate, shower, get dressed (like you’re going to the office), make a smoothie,  grab a coffee, read the headlines, check your emails. Whatever it is...Have a morning routine. Once your morning routine is established, over time it will go on auto-pilot, which means, you won’t use unnecessary brain power to get your day moving. You’ll save your brain, for the harder tasks and accomplishments.

Eat your Frogs First
One thing that I do is take on my key activities in the morning and save the meetings for the afternoon. I pick the hardest thing first, to get it over and done with. That way, I don't delay or procrastinate from getting it done. I don't want it to sit on my mind and fester. I find that once I get the hardest thing done or the one that I dread the most, then the rest of the day runs smoothly. 

I often find that having a couple hours dedicated to outcome related tasks and activities are key, especially when it needs your brain and concentration. Then, the afternoon calls are less stressful, rushed, more productive as I'm able to focus better.

Schedule Breaks
This one can be challenging. We don't have people to randomly chat with in the kitchen, or by the water cooler, or my favourite, the coffee machine. It's easy to sit and work for hours and hours, without a break. We get on a roll and don't have anyone to make small talk with. This was one thing that I was really missing. So, I used to schedule breaks. I might make a coffee at 10am or go for a walk and schedule a catch up with a colleague. Or I'd book a lunch with someone, to get out of my house or apartment. Make sure you schedule little breaks. Once a month, I have a brainfood virtual book club on Monday's during lunch, so we can eat, connect and chat about our business book. It's a great way to network. 

**PRO TIP: If you’re working in a coffee shop or talking to someone, make sure that you’re NOT talking about confidential information.  There is ALWAYS someone listening. Remember, to respect your employers privacy guidelines.**

Another popular tactic is the The Pomodoro Technique, which is that you work 25 minutes and take a 5 minute break. You can check your phone/emails And once you’ve worked 100 minutes, you take 15-20 minute break.  It’s popular technique that was created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. You can set a timer beside you. I think it’s important to get up out of your chair and move around.

Face to Face Meetings
With all this amazing technology, it's easier to have more face to face meetings. Skype for business, Zoom and the list goes on. It was one of our favourite things to do. WE get on video and laugh at our hair, or that one person still wearing pyjamas still and so on... we all know this happens. But, we had fun with that! Face to face virtual meetings are great because it allows us to connect and really hear and listen to what is going on. We tend to do less multi-tasking and more focused and engaged in the meeting. 

Ergonomically Friendly Desk Environment
This sounds odd especially since I just said it’s important to get out of your chair, it’s important to have a great chair.  It’s easy to get poor posture, being hunched over a laptop. Get your station set up, so that you have what you need in order to be successful. Put a picture or two of your family or a vacation spot or get an office playlist ready. Have a plant. Create a work environment that makes it your environment to be relaxed and successful. Your body and mind is important.

Marie Kondo your Desk
This one is a hard one for me. Even in this digital or virtual world, I have clutter on my desk all the time. I have a lot of books and reference documents that I utilize. It's been a constant struggle and a discipline that I've tried to enforce in myself. I ensure that I clean my desk at the end of each work day, as I prepare my to-do and priority list for the next day. If you're already great at decluttering, you may only want to do this once a week. For myself, I have to do it every day and I'll tell you. It sets me up for success for the next day. 

By the way, don't forget to actually log-off your computer. Turn it off! It creates a barrier, to log-on again in the middle of the evening. When I get to my desk and log on the next morning, I know what my desired outcomes are going to be for the next day. Last point - always, purge, purge, and purge! Marie Kondo your desk!

These are my favourite tips that have really enabled me to be more productive and have more control in both my personal and professional life. 

Do you have some other best practices? Feel free to share and comment.  


About the Author

Sapna Malhotra brings more than two decades of domestic and international management consulting experience in sales and business operations in the technology, financial services, and telecommunications industries. She has significant experience in leading large-scale business and IT transformation programs to deliver consistent end-user experience in demanding and fast paced environments. Sapna is known for her constant industry curiosity and new and emerging technologies that will enable different industries to be on the forefront of this digital revolution. In June 2016, she started the Women Digital Network (WDN) in Canada with over 400 members and growing. Its focus is to enable digital literacy and mindset. 

She has also started CanInnovate podcast focusing on Canadian innovators that are changing the game. She truly believes that education and awareness is instrumental in overcoming any obstacles and perception challenges both globally and locally. She is a globally recognized Certified Management Consultant (CMC), and Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA). She also holds certificate in Change Management Leadership, Lean Six Sigma accreditation and DevOps & UX Design foundation certifications. You can find Sapna walking / hiking & exploring new areas, trying to win the world’s greatest aunt award, discovering new brunch places, and inventing new recipes. Contact her at: Sapna@Digiruptor.io

A version of this article was first posted here.