Remote work norms

How to work effectively as a remote team

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we've all been sked to figure out how to make remote work effective – oftentimes without prior experience or practice.

For Civilla, this isn’t a natural shift. Our work is built on a deep foundation of in-person collaboration and communication. We’ve intentionally built a culture that is rooted in place – committed to working side-by-side with our team, our partners, and our community.

Going remote means shifting our underlying operating model. Maintaining our culture in the midst of it requires us to prototype our way forward, together. Here are some of the remote norms and practices we've adopted to keep our team feeling strong.

norms for remote meetings

Remote work requires us to be more intentional about how we prepare and show up for meetings. Here are some of the remote meeting norms we’ve adopted as a team:

  • Start and end on-time: Bring additional intention to starting and ending your remote meetings on time. When you’re in the office and running late, it’s easy to flag a teammate to let them know you’ll be a few minutes behind. In a remote setting, this leaves teammates unsure about where you are and when you’ll arrive.
  • Set clear agendas: Establish clear agendas for meetings and send them ahead of time. Hanging out on a computer all day can be draining. Setting agendas in advance ensures that you make the most of your teammates’ time. It also ensures that facilitators can identify the materials or tools they need to enable group participation ahead of time.
  • Cameras on: Use video conference tools like Zoom that make screen sharing easy. And turn on the camera! This will help your team ask for feedback, share ideas, and collaborate with each other despite the distance.
  • Be visual: Visual thinking and collaboration can easily be lost in a video conference call. Create work stations at home with visual materials like Post-Its, Sharpies, and butcher paper to encourage your team to draw and map things out. We also use digital tools like Mural to help us facilitate activities we’d normally do through white boards and Post-Its.
  • Be present: Don’t multi-task or browse in other tabs or on your phone. When you’re collaborating digitally, it’s easy to get distracted by notifications, browsers, messages, and emails. Bring intention to showing up for your teammates, and stay fully present as you would in person.
  • Shorten meeting times: Decrease meeting times to give people a break between working sessions. Shift 60 minutes meeting to 45 minutes to give people time to get up, stretch, and recharge before their next meeting. Avoid scheduling meetings back-to-back where possible.
  • Refrain from eating in meetings: While we typically love snacking throughout the day, chewing over conference calls can be surprisingly loud and distracting for other teammates. Establish a set lunch time for the team and create breaks between meetings to ensure people can eat, drink, and refuel on their own time.

work practices

Going remote requires us all to do a lot of thinking about how to build practices that support a high-functioning and productive team. Here are the norms we’ve established to help align our team’s work habits and expectations:

  • Clarify working hours: Clarify working hours for your team so that people know when they’re expected to be online and available. Remote work makes it harder to distinguish between work hours and personal time. Setting a schedule for your team will help everyone stay healthy, establish boundaries, and prevent burnout.
  • Dress for work: Get dressed for work and ensure you’re bringing the same level of professionalism that would be expected with in-person collaboration. While it may be tempting to roll out of bed and stay in your sweatpants all day, getting dressed helps everyone fully transition into work and contributes to a high-functioning dynamic on your team.
  • Prioritize your daily health practice: Get outside, go for a walk, do exercises in your living room. At Civilla, we set aside an hour each morning from 9-10 am to ensure everyone has time to work out and tend to their health before starting their day.
  • Design your work space: People need a place to work, but not all home environments are conducive to a productive work environment. Check in with each member of your team individually to make sure they have what they need to set up a comfortable office. Troubleshoot issues and offer support in navigating challenges that come up. If you can, encourage your team to borrow furniture from the office or purchase tools that will contribute to their productivity.

rhythms and rituals

Working remotely requires us to shift our rhythms and rituals as a team. How can we continue to connect as friends and teammates even when we only see each other through video chat? At Civilla, we evaluated which rhythms made sense to transition to a remote setting and which new rituals we needed to introduce to help support the team. Here are the primary rhythms we’re using to stay connected as we work from home:

  • Check-in and check-out: Every morning and every evening at Civilla, we check-in and check out as a team in our dream cocoon. This time provides an opportunity for us all to connect, share a personal story, and align as a team before we start our day – even if at a distance.
  • Lunch: It may sound small, but sharing lunch together is one of our favorite traditions at Civilla. In the shift to remote work, we’ve kept the noon-1 p.m. lunch hour on the calendar. Our hope is that we continue to find ways to connect informally and share meals as a team during this time.
  • 1:1s: Prioritize your 1:1 meetings. Working as a remote team makes it harder to gauge where everyone is at emotionally. In the office, we can read each other’s body language and pick up on subtle queues. Through the computer, a lot of this intelligence is lost. Prioritizing a regular rhythm of 1:1 check-ins with your team helps ensure that people are able to share where they’re at, how they’re doing, and what they need.
  • Weekly reflection: Schedule a rhythm of weekly reflection for your team. At Civilla, we host a 15-minute reflection every Friday for the full team. Individually, we take 10 minutes to write about a lesson we’ve taken away from the week. Then, we share our reflections with each other. As we started working from home, we’ve transitioned these reflections to Zoom to ensure we’re able to continue to evolve and grow together.


Remote work requires teams to have the right tools. Here are some of the tools we’ve found most helpful in supporting work from home:

  • Office supply kits: Create office supply kits to send home with everyone on your team. Before transitioning to remote work, we put together office supply kits for everyone on the team — including Sharpies, Post Its, butcher paper, masking tape, etc.
  • Video conferencing: Set up reliable video conferencing across the team. At Civilla, we use Zoom to collaborate with our team and our partners. We love Zoom because it’s stable, accommodates large groups, is easily integrated into Google Calendar, and makes screen sharing simple. In transitioning to remote work, we’ve doubled down on using Zoom as a primary tool for collaborating.
  • Messaging: Set up a tool that helps the team send messages and communicate easily. Whether it’s an SMS thread or Slack, having a way to “talk” outside of conference calls and email will keep the team connected from afar.
  • Devices: If you can, enable employees to take their devices home with them. While many of us can get by with laptops, there are certain jobs that are best done with desktop computers or tablets. If you have teammates who typically work on a desktop or tablet, connect with them to ensure they have the devices and tools they need to facilitate their work from home.
  • Headphones: Remote work can be difficult if there are many people living at home together. Check in with your team and offer to invest in a good set of headphones for those who need them.
  • Photos of working boards: In collaborative studios, a lot of work lives in physical space. Make sure each team takes photos of their project work and uploads them to a shared Drive so everyone has access to them.

As remote work evolves, we’re continuing to prototype the best way for our team to deepen our work and connection to each other.