How do you work remotely effectively and avoid distractions?

March 11, 2020
Tyler Hagler

Advice on working remotely

We have noticed rising interest lately related to working remotely, as many individuals change their work practices to protect public health. The Trig team, as a company, has been working remotely/virtually since 2011.  While working remotely has some trade-offs, we have found many benefits over working in a centralized office environment. During a recent weekly virtual Trig Team meeting, we posed the question during the last five minutes in our lightning round close-out conversation. Here are a few of the bits of advice from our seasoned remote team members:

Ashley Whitley: Develop a routine where you set and stick to work hours. It is easy to get distracted by the flexibility. Even if you split up your work time with personal activities, it helps to schedule set hours so you don’t get derailed.

Brian Himelright: Don’t mix working in a space where you also hang out. Keep a boundary in your home between workspace and living space.

Connie Tran: I would say to have a set schedule but to not be afraid of taking little breaks if you need them. Also go out for lunch when you can.

Ethan Creasman: Know yourself. Take time to assess how you work, play, and rest. Everyone is different when it comes to balancing the everyday demands of life. You may find that one rhythm works better than another. For example I have found a break in the middle of the day for exercise energizes me for the afternoon. Maybe for you it looks like a 5 minute break after every task or every 30 minutes to stretch and move around. Or maybe it is starting the day answering emails for 30 minutes then not looking at your inbox for a few hours. In any case, take time to observe yourself and take notes on how you work best.

Kelly Harrigan: As a traveling remote worker, I like to take a day to check out places I might work for the next couple weeks, and make sure they will be a good environment before I'm there and trying to get work done.

Patrick Murphy: If you have young kids at home, make sure your workspace has a strong door lock!

Ty Hagler: Try to establish a “commute.” For me, it has been dropping off the kids at daycare - then returning to the home office. If that isn’t in the cards, I try to at least go out for a walk to organize my thoughts for the day.

Andrew DiMeo: Take the time to curate your work space to maximize creativity and productivity in a way you otherwise wouldn't be able to do in a corporate setting.

Stephen Lindamood: Stretch! It’s so easy to sit still for long periods of time. Take breaks, get up, walk around.


Like any business, the rituals of renewing the bonds of friendship and community matter. In a shared office space, that sense of community builds informally and naturally, perhaps without the boss being aware of it. In a virtual setting, those rituals are just as important, but require active effort. That means creating a dedicated time and a virtual place for the relationship-building conversations that traditionally happened at the water cooler.

The human connection through seeing one another matters. Turn your webcam on during video conference meetings. Just don’t forget you’ve turned it on and pick your nose. Face-to-face in person meetings have the highest quality interaction, but video conference where you can see the other person’s face is a close second. Sometimes, our team members are feeling sick or just having a bad hair day and will keep their video off - that’s OK and never questioned. We’ve definitely noticed a difference in the quality of our meetings since we’ve started keeping the webcams on, so we encourage it by example.

Slack messages are definitely lower quality of interaction, but are effective to coordinate fluidly throughout the day.

We keep a meeting pulse throughout the year that involves weekly company-wide meetings, 1-on-1 check ins, operations and marketing-specific meetings, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings. During the first 30 minutes of our 90-minute weekly company meeting, everyone shares a story from their weekend and posts photos in our Slack channel.

Not every meeting is virtual either. When times are good, we like to do it up and throw parties at breweries or organize strategy sessions at art galleries. Since our team members are so spread out geographically, it can be a lot to ask them to travel. When times are lean, then we might have PB&J sandwiches and find ways to play games together on the cheap.

Trust is essential to a vibrant and productive remote work environment. We have heard horror stories of virtual companies where there is low trust in the employees to do the right thing. Tech-savvy managers had set up keystroke and attention tracking software on their employees’ computers so that they had complete surveillance on their employees activities. This is similar to the low trust impulse of traditional “butts-in-seats” managers who require their employees to be physically sitting at their desk in order to know whether they are fulfilling their job responsibilities. Such a low trust atmosphere degrades employee morale, lowers productivity, and causes high performers to flee. Our philosophy is that each of our team members is a high performer who will be most productive if they have ownership over how they achieve a goal. Rather than obsess about employee work practices, we focus our energy on communicating well as a team and ensuring everyone has a shared goal and understanding of the timeline.

Brainstorming & Ideation

What if the virtual model could actually boost your team’s creativity? When facilitated correctly, virtual creative sessions can result in higher quantity, higher quality ideas than in-person ideation sessions. Virtual brainstorming can help the introverts contribute more to the conversation and reduce the group-think tendency. The research on brainstorming and ideation is evolving, with new strategies being proven out. For example, one technique has individuals coming up with ideas on their own time and in their own space, free of distractions like listening to the ideas of others (prodction blocking can interfere with generating ideas). Then, everyone comes together to socialize the ideas and record them, along with notes and feedback.

Virtual ideation also makes it much easier to bring more people into your creative process, permanently document ideas, and share with stakeholders. Physical ideation spaces are filled with charts, posters, and endless sticky notes that quickly degrade once the event is over. Digitized ideation, by contrast, has participants natively working in the cloud. The whiteboard and sticky notes are memorialized as they happen, able to be referenced to determine inventorship, or to pick back up where you left off years ago.

Many virtual organizations still opt for traditional brainstorming: flying everyone in for long, intensive days and marathon creative sessions, all while racking up significant travel expenses. After supporting both traditional and virtual brainstorming events, we’ve noticed that our virtual brainstorm sessions often deliver better results at a lower cost than our in-person facilitated sessions.

While being together in the same physical space has incredible value, we have found working remotely has some unique advantages. As digital technologies evolve, virtual work has become easier than ever and may be an option that helps your company thrive.

For more information on working remotely, check out the eBook by our friends at Small Giants: Virtual Teams

For additional resources, check out Venngage’s Templates for Remote Teams.

Trig is an award-winning full-service industrial design firm  serving the consumer, healthcare, and durable goods markets.  Full-service means we cover three domains in one agency: Customer  Insights and Ideation, Design and Development, and Brand Asset  Management. This broad scope allows us to help clients manage not just  their products, but the comprehensive experience of their products.  Trig's design thinking process, Explore, Prototype, Build, spans the  scope of their services as an iterative process for managing risk and  uncertainty.

Tyler Hagler

As a career industrial designer and innovation practitioner, Ty Hagler has managed hundreds of new product development programs through the process of opportunity identification guided to commercialization.


Related Content

No items found.