Ngrane’s Work From Home Hacks

Even Zoom CEO Eric Yuan has Zoom fatigue.
Here are zome (see what I did there) tricks and tips.

Zooming is the new calling. The app has become an inherent part of our work from home lives.

Although it is the greatest invention of | indispensable in COVID-times, we all get tired of staring at our own faces, seeing our colleagues only in 2D and constantly staring at our blue-light blasting screens. There’s even a word for this phenomenon: Zoom fatigue.

Two weeks ago Zoom CEO Eric Yuan announced that even he has Zoom fatigue every now and then. He posted a video with some essential tips on how to use Zoom. Here’s his list:

  • Take scheduled breaks away from the computer.
  • Book meetings for 25 minutes or 55 minutes (or even try going down to 20 or 45 minutes), or end meetings early to give everyone a buffer to recover mentally between meetings.
  • Use chat or email in lieu of a meeting.
  • Try turning off self-view so you can see your colleagues’ faces, and so they can see yours, without having to see yourself.
  • Implement a “no internal meetings day” to give yourself and your employees a break. We’ve been doing this since late last year at Zoom and our employees love it.
  • Encourage employees to set boundaries around their personal time. While exceptions must be made for a global workforce, leaders should discourage night and weekend meetings.

Great tips, thanks Eric! But we have a couple to add to the list.

Welcome to NGRANE WFH Tips&Tricks. I think we all know the Zoom basics by now: mute/unmute with alt/space, gallery view/speaker view/thumbnail view, screen sharing and the lot [ no? Check this list here. ]

Our tips apply to working from home rather than the technology. Working from home can be fantastic: you can work in your most comfortable pants, shower at any time, enjoy your own delicious coffee and tea, enjoy the company of your pets & partner and blast your own music loudly at any time. 

However, working from home has its dark side. We intend to work longer, feel more guilty about taking breaks and usually spend a lot more time behind our screens. There are days we even forget to leave the house. Let’s change that. 

Don’t schedule back to back meetings.

Make sure you have time to take a break from your computer screen and grab some fresh coffee. As Eric said, make meetings as short as possible, 20 to 55 minutes max. If you do that, in combination with some space in between meetings, you have time to take care of yourself, but you will also have time to process the meetings.

Set alarms for breaks.

11 coffee break, 13 lunch, 15 another coffee / walk break. You would do the same at the office, so why not at home? Remind yourself to take those breaks to rest your eyes.

Make sure you don’t eat behind your computer.

You. need. breaks. Make sure lunch is one of those breaks! Of course, there are those days where time is scarce, but don’t make a habit out of it.

  • Also, about eating: don’t eat during Zoom calls. It may offend colleagues, you might forget to mute yourself and chew in everyone’s ears. Just don’t do it.
  • We all know the story of the lawyer who accidentally turned himself into a cat on Zoom (if not, here ya go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGOofzZOyl8), but from time to time it’s refreshing to change your background or appearance on Zoom. It works when you turn your surroundings into a relaxing beach, an underwater world or the decor of The Lord of the Rings. You just believe you’re there for a split second and can at least enjoy your self-view. 

We noticed that some co-workers had notifications on during a Zoom call. This is of course fine, if you’re muted. However, if you’re an active participant, it might be audible for the rest of your colleagues and could get quite annoying. Make sure to turn off notifications. Here’s how:

Apple “Do not disturb”

  • On an Apple computer, click the settings icon and click “don’t disturb”.
  • You can select a period of time that the notifications are numbed.
  • Do you really want to hack this for a longer period of time? Select “preferences”.

Slack “Do not disturb”

Using Slack at work? It also has a neat don’t disturb function.

  • Select your profile at the top right corner.
  • Click ‘pause notifications’. You can choose a period of time.
  • Again, do you really want to hack? Go to settings > preferences > notifications to shut them up for good.

Windows Sleep mode

Is muting apps not enough for you? Mute your entire system!

  • Windows has a Sleep Mode, called Focus Assist.
  • Right-click on the notification icon the the taskbar.
  • Select Focus Assist and set it to ‘alarms only’.

Apple also allows you to turn the “Do not disturb” mode on indefinitely.

Last but not least, we advise you to take walks. The walk from your workstation to the coffee machine or water boiler is hardly enough for your daily workout. I know, I know, it’s not easy to drag your tired head out into the rain (we unfortunately still live in the Netherlands), but I promise: you will feel better.


How to follow your intuition as a freelancer

You probably hear it often: always trust your intuition. But what is intuition exactly, and how do you know to trust it?

Even though Stress Awareness Month is over, it doesn’t mean we should all forget about stress now. Let’s always be aware of stress. This blog might help you to stress less by following your intuition.

That’s right, intuition is something that we’re all supposed to feel naturally. Yet our head often takes over, making us doubt our intuition and making sure to make the ‘right decision’. But how can this decision be right, if you know deep down, in your gut, that something’s off?

Can we train ourselves to trust our intuition? How do we distinguish intuition from instinct?

Jos Pauwels, a Dutch writer, recently wrote a book about intuition. He states that you can train your intuition:

“Instinct is actually the basis. You can only speak of intuition when the intellect, instinct and heart start to work together. The first gut feeling is often a bit softer than the first instinct, you should see that more as a reflex. For example with fear.”

The connection between your gut feeling and the intellect is the key to strong intuition. Always listen to your gut feeling and then start to bring your brain in.

Always trust your gut. But how?

Jos makes a distinction between ‘dumb’ and ‘smart’ intuition. Dumb intuition is basically following your gut feeling without thinking. An example he uses is “love makes blind”; where we usually follow emotion and are incapable of thinking about it. To really follow intuition, you need to be conscious about it. You need a bit of inner peace: we need to train to let go of the unnecessary stimuli and focus on what’s truly important.

Easier said than done. How to put this into practice in your life as a freelancer? How would you decide when you need more time off, or how do you know if a client is a right fit for you?

Listen to that inner voice, rationalize it and take action.

Especially as a freelancer, you’ll find yourself in situations where you need to make lasting decisions. The only one you can build on, is you. Here are 5 tips on how to listen to your intuition.

  1. Trust your brain. If you feel something is inherently wrong, it might very well be the case. Try to listen to that feeling. Intuition is not random, but you might not see the pattern in the first place. Yet, your subconscious has taken in all the details, has been processing all your life and has sorted all the information you’ve ever had access to. Hence, your brain is able to distinguish a situation that’s off. Trust your brain.
  2. Try to strengthen your sense of intuition through journaling. I know, journaling takes time, it’s effort. But it can help you by writing down what you saw. When journaling you often see things you didn’t realize before.
  3. The next tip: take distance from your situation. Try to put distance between you and the problem. Journaling helps with this too, but if you’re really not into journaling, try to take a step back and view the situation with different eyes. What would you advise a friend in the same situation?
  4. Be open and honest with yourself. Easier said than done, but it will help tremendously. Don’t forget, we are our own biggest enemies. We can easily put our feelings aside, we can easily not listen to our gut. Try to ask yourself why you would not listen to your intuition, what are your main reasons to ignore your instincts. Try to meditate, to de-stress and to take a deep breath every now and then.
    Last but not least, have a little faith in yourself. You’re the only one who can make or break you, but have faith that you will find your way! If you do, it’s also easier to trust your intuition.

Of course, in most cases you will never know whether your intuition was right. Yet, if in the end you’re still happy, don’t feel stressed but very blessed: you did the right thing.


My onboarding in times of Corona

Even in times of Corona, aka during the quarantine/lockdown, people start with new jobs every day. But how exactly does that work, without an office to go to, without seeing colleagues face-to-face?

Here’s my experience of onboarding, and some essential tips to survive this period.

My first day at NGRANE in the COVID-19 lockdown

Exciting. I started my new job as content creative at NGRANE last month.
The entire interview process was through ZOOM, contract negotiations took place over the phone and the final “you’ve got the job”- conversation happened through ZOOM.

Before even having ‘met’ anyone from the company, I accepted the job.

For my first day, my new colleagues arranged a real life meeting at ZOKU with my two new bosses and their PA. After months of not going to an office, it was strange to get back into that rhythm of getting ready in the morning, having to bike to a place and meeting new people again.

I was welcomed wonderfully with a welcome basket and a hot cup of coffee. David and Stephen (the two NGRANE endbosses) explained a lot about the company, told me what I needed to know and gave a sneak peek into their passions and aspirations. We had cool talks about religion, sexuality, diversity and the future of the internet. It was really nice to see them in real life. However, we still live in COVID-19 times, so after lunch we all went home again to continue our day working remotely.

Although it was a bit silent after suddenly seeing so many people in one room (only three, but hey, it’s Corona, things are wildly out of perspective). Thankfully, I had an afternoon session with Daniëlle, the copywriter. She told me all about the projects, the clients and her ideas for future copy projects.

After this meeting, I found myself staring at an empty screen, not particularly sure what to do. How on earth would I become a master at my new job, without having a tactile experience?

How to excel in COVID times (6 tips how to master remote working)

The good thing about NGRANE, and this is also my first tip: they host daily standups. Everyone shares what they’re planning on doing that day. This is not only valuable for more efficient working, but it’s also a great way to welcome new people and to get involved with the team. So if your company isn’t doing this, propose it!

In this fast-paced world, we sometimes forget to be human. We forget the importance of human connection.

My second tip would be to plan carefully. Nothing is more annoying than sitting in front of your computer, not really knowing where to start. Perhaps a project manager can help you with that, or you can use planning tools such as Asana or Forecast. Make a clear to-do list, and make sure you feel the responsibility to finish your to-dos!

The third tip of the day is expectation management. Although I’m not a great player in this field, it’s wise to set some expectations with your manager. Make sure you’re on the same page to avoid any conflicts.

Tip four is again a trait that NGRANE has that I really appreciate: access to HubSpot. Because NGRANE walks the path of inbound marketing, HubSpot is a tool they use daily. HubSpot also has an academy, where you can learn everything about inbound marketing, but also about your own area of expertise.

My fifth tip: chatting. This might sound like a ‘duhhh’ tip, but in times of communication through screens, it’s not too natural to chat. If your company uses Slack, or any other chatting tool: USE IT. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues anything, that’s how it would happen in an office. It might feel strange and a step too far, but it actually really isn’t that strange and it will help you a long way in getting to know your teammates!

Last but not least: make sure you don’t put too much pressure on yourself. As the philosophy of NGRANE states that we work better when we’re feeling good and able:

In this fast-paced world, we sometimes forget to be human. We forget the importance of human connection. No matter what the pace, no matter how big or small the screen, no matter the actual physical distance, we keep things human.


What an internship at Ngrane is really like

I spent the whole summer doing an internship at Ngrane and… you guessed it! I had the time of my life! Some of you may think of an internship as routine work and making coffee. However, at Ngrane that was never the case. Even though sometimes Jeffrey (our Graphic Designer) made me make toast for him. That vegan toast turned out to be more addicting than caffeine, because of that everyone was getting more and more hooked on eating vegan food for lunch. This also resulted in me making more vegan toasts for Jeffrey. I didn’t mind it though; I would do it all over again!

I got creative enlightenment

Before I started my internship, I was supposed to finish up my UX certification course. It was so difficult that I couldn’t finish it in time. Little did I know that after only a few months everything I was struggling with would start to make so much sense! This was all because of the projects I got to work on at Ngrane and the way my colleagues contributed with their knowledge in brainstorm sessions and their feedback. They were basically my lab rats! All the help and insight I got helped me refine my skills and get more confident in myself and my abilities.

I worked in the most inspiring environment

First of all, I never thought I could love a city THIS much! Second of all, I have a new ‘all-time favorite’ workplace: The war room on the fifth floor! This was a very creative environment because I could create endless wireframes on every wall while me and David’s (our Creative Director) ideas were flowing. Besides Amsterdam and WeWork’s cool office spaces, Ngrane itself is an awesome place to work. I met so many amazing people; from the Ngrane community to the office neighbors, everybody has amazing energy and they stand out in whatever expertise they have. Because of this, I managed to set up an office helper on Alexa with Alexa Blueprint. It’s meant to answer all possible questions people that are new to the office may have such as what’s the Wi-Fi password, how they can print, etc. It was a nice way to get a first taste of VUI (voice user interface design). It was challenging as I had to figure out how to implement communicational design to make Alexa sound as human as possible. I added some jokes here and there to make it seem like Alexa was part of the team.

I also created wireframes for the knowledge base based on the interviews I did with my colleagues. It’s meant to be something that makes their daily jobs easier, wherever they may be working from. It’s a place where they can find everything they need about the company, such as activity planning, brand guidelines, factsheets, repository files and much more.

My bosses were cooler than yours

Yep, you read that correctly; my bosses were really cool! Ngrane’s management team really sets the right values for its mission: to create the best workplace in the world. The first time I realized this was that one time we started the Friday Expo with power shots! I’m joking, it takes a little bit more than fancy drinks to convince me. Things that really made Ngrane special were the personal attention the management team had for each individual, the fact that they see creative expression as high job performance, the marble jar that serves as a symbol of how trust is growing within the company, the fact that they encourage a lot of professional and (even higher on their list) personal development and the list goes on. I could honestly write a three-page essay on this subject, but all I’ll say is that it takes a lot of love and dedication to create an environment where your employees and or team members can feel comfortable enough to be themselves and can achieve personal growth.

I gained a whole new family

Besides all the amazing things I already mentioned above, one of the most valuable things I gained was a new family. A family of extremely creative, kind-hearted and outstandingly intelligent people. At Ngrane, they will always make you feel at home.

As you now know, I had a great time! My internship at Ngrane was a kick start to my career as a UX/UI designer, and I got to do this among amazing people while laughing every day. Naturally, my time there gained a very special place in my heart. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying! But there’s no reason to be sad as I’ll always be part of the Ngrane Community!