10 min read
May 2, 2022
9 work-remote tips from AWS builders around the world
Written by Life at AWS team
Global teams share their best practices for working together, finding balance, and staying productive
Livian Soo, Global Director and Head of Marketing Response Center, meets with her teammates based around the world.
When AWS teams that had traditionally worked from offices went to remote-work during the pandemic, fresh insights and ways of doing things led to best practices for productivity and work-life harmony.
In the fall of 2021, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said, “there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for how every team works best,” and left the decision about remote vs. office—or a hybrid model—up to Amazon’s individual team directors and senior leaders. This work flexibility has been welcomed as other tech companies have mandated returns to the office.
AWS leader Livian Soo’s global team has been working almost entirely from home since the pandemic began in 2020. Soo, who’s based in Singapore as the Global Director and Head of Marketing Response Center, noticed that her team’s processes needed to adapt to the new workstyle. Here’s a round-up of Soo and other colleagues’ favorite habits.
1. Discipline around meetings
One immediate impact that needed correcting after the switch to remote-work: too many meetings.
“Because we weren’t meeting in person or over the water cooler in the office, conversations that used to be five minutes and casual turned into 30-minute meeting requests,” Soo said. “With more meetings, we implemented some best practices for work-life balance.”
Soo is a big believer in holding meetings only when absolutely necessary, but she recognizes that meetings can sometimes get stacked on certain days. So, she schedules all meetings for 15, 25, or 55 minutes to provide a small break on the back end. That gives builders enough time to grab a beverage, follow-up on emails or other action items, or take a bathroom break before their next call.
2. Connect with colleagues
As a people manager, Bryan Richards, Sr. Manager for Marketing Response Center – Americas, has found small ways to connect with his team on a personal level. A virtual environment can lead to “out of sight, out of mind” habits, so it’s important to stay “in sight,” he said.
While it’s impossible to replicate the in-person work experience virtually, using technology to collaborate and connect are more important than ever. From using Amazon’s internal employee directory to connect with colleagues to joining common-interest affinity groups or Slack channels, working remotely doesn’t have to equal working alone.
At the beginning of the work week, Einav Furyan, a Marketing Response Center Manager based in Tel Aviv, Israel, said her team has an informal call to hear about each other’s weekends and check in on everyone’s well-being.
“We also like to send fun and clever messages in our Slack channels to keep us engaged and connected,” Furyan said.
3. Activity and work-life balance
Soo said it’s important that she leads by example to encourage her team to stay active and healthy. She started scheduling her in-home workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. Her team also participates in an app called Gym Rats where they track 20 minutes of activity per day.
“We recently had a fun competition where everyone has to spend 20 minutes a day with an activity—it could be anything like walking your dog, working out, gardening—and then you take a picture and share it with the team,” Soo said. “It’s really nice to make sure everyone is out doing something physically, but it’s also an amazing way to stay connected globally.”
4. Time and productivity management
Lalitha Sanders, a Senior Technical Program Manager in Seattle, said eliminating the 45-minute commute to the office saves her up to two hours per day. But getting those two hours back doesn’t eliminate other distractions or productivity killers that try to creep in, so Sanders turns off her Amazon Chime and Slack messages or sets a do-not-disturb status when she needs to focus.
“I also set 15-minute timers to timebox my activities,” she said.
Richards said one of the most important tricks is blocking time on his calendar for independent work time, which helps him manage overscheduling.
“If you don’t block your calendar to reserve time for your own work or your own wellness—like exercise or personal/professional development—someone else will surely reserve your time for their interests,” he said. “You have to be diligent about this.”
Furyan likes to take notes during all of her meetings—“it helps me stay focused and involved.”
5. Thoughtful, comprehensive onboarding
Amazon and AWS use an internal onboarding portal that presents new employees with a carefully curated three-month onboarding plan. Every hiring manager customizes the plan to include relevant trainings, one-on-one meetings to schedule with important internal stakeholders, and progress milestones.
Sanders onboarded remotely and enjoyed AWS’s onboarding buddy concept—where each new hire is paired with a “buddy” colleague who serves as a mentor and resource during the first three months—which helped her get answers to work-related questions quickly.
Hiring managers also find ways to help new team members feel welcomed, such as scheduling virtual team lunches and frequent one-on-one meeting check-ins. And there’s always access to information about internal tools and resources via company wiki pages or IT support.
“AWS has become more and more efficient in remote IT set-up and we use tools that lay out well-planned and well-organized digital enablement,” Furyan said.
6. Make the most of schedule flexibility
From driving the kids to school or taking 20 minutes to take the dog for a walk, one of the universal benefits of working from home is flexibility. Furyan said it’s nice to be able to throw in a load of laundry or clean the dishes during the day—chores that used to have to wait until evenings or weekends.
Richards has been able to play a more meaningful role in the day-to-day upbringing of his son without a daily office commute, and he’s grateful for seeing more sunshine while working from home.
“I’ve been able to improve my cooking skills, read, and exercise more,” he said. “My house is cleaner than it’s ever been and I’ve been able to participate in a near-daily battle for the integrity of my yard against an invasion of moles.”
7. Support for at-home technology
Different locations equal disparate levels of connectivity. Some countries have better infrastructure than others—something Soo immediately noticed and wanted to solve for when her teams went fully remote.
“The networks in some places are up and down, so my role as a leader is to ensure the basic infrastructure is there. I make sure my teams have the basic things they need, from good monitors, headsets, and other equipment, and they can expense a data card if their Wi-Fi speeds aren’t sufficient,” Soo said.
Finding in-person opportunities to safely get together can be energizing.
8. Comfortable working space
Every AWS builder’s home is different, but there are simple things people can do to make sure their working environment is as comfortable as possible. For smaller spaces, Soo recommends plants, the right equipment, a comfortable chair, and photos that make you smile. Soo even has a lounge chair in her home office where she’ll occasionally have a power nap during the work day.
“You need to create a space that you are happy and comfortable with,” Soo said. “Sometimes, while meetings are in progress, I’ll get up and water my plants or stretch myself out and walk around.”
Richards recommends creating a separate and distinct workspace at home, if possible. This means keeping work out of shared living spaces and bedrooms.
“It sounds silly, but having a distinct physical border between your work life and personal life is extremely important to your well-being and to the relationships you have at home,” he said. “We all say that we’re comfortable with blurred lines, but at the end of the day, make sure that your brain and your loved ones can make that distinction at a moment’s notice.”
9. Embrace in-person opportunities
Richards’ team always looks for reasons to meet in person as often as health and safety protocols allow. While working-from-home has many benefits, technology and tools can never fully replicate the in-person work experience. His team notices the positive impacts on their working relationships after in-person moments.
“These moments have only strengthened our bond. It’s made it clear that even though we may not need to be together day-in and day-out, being together does add an element of familiarity and a bond that helps us earn each other’s trust,” he said. “Finding the right balance is key.”
Being remote has changed the way we work, and while there are positives and negatives to these changes, there are many ways to accentuate the positives.”
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