Dear Fellow teleworker, et. al

You probably asked yourself these type of questions over the course of the pandemic.

How do I manage my time in the face of conflicting priorities?

How do I build relationships when I’m working remotely?

How do I ask for help without looking incompetent or lazy?

Well, here are 5 ways to be a better work-from-home coworker

Here are five ways to earn the coveted title of “user-friendly co-worker.”

1. Offer your full availability

Rather than push the burden onto others, consider taking the lead and offering your own availability in bullet point form in the other person’s time zone:

“Are you free for a 30-minute call at any of the following times (EST)?

  • Mon: 1:30–3 p.m., after 4 p.m.
  • Tue: 3–4 p.m.
  • Wed: before 11 a.m., 2–5 p.m.
  • Fri: 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m., 1–4 p.m.”

This way, all the other person has to do is pick a time.If they’d like to pay back the user friendliness, they could (and ideally should) send the calendar invitation so you don’t have to.

2. Bundle your nudges

With instant messenger — and therefore our co-workers — at our fingertips, it can be tempting to nudge others the instant we have a question. Though such an approach might be easiest for you, it isn’t always the most user-friendly for those getting interrupted every twelve minutes. Rather than ask five questions five separate times, consider bundling those five questions and asking them all in a single sitting. Minimizing interruptions also applies when sending emails or calendar invitations to the same person. Consider sending all of your calendar invitations at the same time so that you aren’t triggering notifications every few minutes. Or, better yet, clarify how the other person would prefer to communicate.

3. Use easy-to-follow subject lines and file names

Using file names like “Draft” and subject lines like “Update” may be easy to write, but make for files that are impossible to find again. Instead, consider file names such as “ABC customer survey analysis — 2021–03–08.xlsx.” Such a format makes not only the file contents immediately obvious, but also the file easily sortable, even in a new year (unlike with dates such as “030821,” which become a nightmare a year later in 2022). Consider applying the same mindset to email subject lines by turning “Agenda” into “Review by 4 p.m.: Draft conference agenda.” Make it easy for others to know what they need to do and what the message is about without opening the email.

4. Write clear call-to-action phrases

Before hitting “send,” ask yourself, “What action or actions do I want the other person to take?” Whether it’s to answer a question, provide feedback, or share information, make the “call to action” clear. Put it upfront, bold it if needed, and, when you have multiple calls-to-action, list them out in bullet point form. The difference between sending a wall of text and writing “is there anything you’d change about the draft email below? Let me know before I send it out at 12 p.m. ET” could mean the difference between others ignoring your message and taking action. Need others to simply read your message? Insert an “FYI — see below,” followed by a quick explanation.

5. Schedule or draft your emails

Answering emails at night? Keep in mind that one fewer unread email in your inbox means one more unread email in your recipient’s inbox. And if you are a manager, your 11 p.m. emails could also send the unspoken expectation that your team should be awake and working when you are. To save others from the stress (at worst) and guesswork (at best), try clicking “send later” (in Outlook) or “schedule send” (in Gmail). That way, your email arrives when others are in a position to read and reply — and not when you care to clear your inbox.

While each of these five tactics does lead to more upfront work for you, the investment pays off. Your colleagues will view you as a solutions-oriented teammate rather than an inbox clogged. In a world of digital maximalism, be the proactive minimalist.

(c)Gorick Ng

Dad. Dreamer. Civil Servant.