Remote Control: How to Work from Home Without Getting Lost

Mary Marnell - Hey Reliable by Mary Marnell
April 22, 2020
Remote Control: How to Work from Home Without Getting Lost

Working remotely: it can feel like being stranded on a deserted island if you’re not used to it. Luckily, Hollywood has prepared us for this isolating scenario, and if in your new role you find yourself adrift or lost or cast off, think of these popular movies or TV shows for tips on how to deal with your unforeseen circumstances.


When the survivors of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 struggled to adjust to life on an unpopulated tropical island, what they needed was a leader to help navigate the hidden dangers of The Others. The leadership dynamics of the show has spawned actual scholarship, but when a team is working from home, managers need to ensure that work begins on time and that everyone has specific goals to meet that day. One great tool for giving feedback is Karma’s chat bot. At the end of the day, meet for ten minutes to see how everyone did—and make sure no one was eaten by the Smoke Monster.

Swiss Family Robinson

After being shipwrecked, either by a storm or a virus, it will take time to adjust. Your team will need one or two days to build an elaborate tree house, for example, like the Robinson family did in the 1960 film. You should help your employees procure the proper equipment, which may or may not involve a tiger. You should be upfront about the situation and how long the remote relocation will last. Like the Robinsons, working from home means dealing with children, and every few days plan something exciting for them to do, such as scaring away pirates…or going for a bike ride.

Lost in Space

The most famous line from this 1960s TV show was exclaimed by the Robot: “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” (Why is every stranded family named Robinson?) The tip here: use the best available technology to assist in the transition to working from home. A debate rages between the merits of Slack vs Microsoft Teams, since both have similar functionality and magical chatbots that eliminate annoying and confusing email chains. Trello promises “a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards,” one of many project management platforms that can integrate across many channels. Trello has grown from 14 to 25 million users in a year and seems like one worth checking out.

The Martian

When Matt Damon was left behind on Mars in this 2015 film, he quickly realized that he wasn’t going to be rescued until the next mission–in four years. And so he had to get organized. When working remotely, even on Mars, you should compile a codex that spells out in detail company processes and individual responsibilities that can become useful data for optimization. Team leaders and project managers need to produce short weekly reports on what they did and learned that then could serve as fodder for status meetings.

Cast Away

When Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away (2000) needed companionship, he fashioned a friend, named Wilson, from a volleyball. Working remotely demands HR solutions that are novel and inspired. HR management tools like Hi Bob and Zolo can help with back-office issues, but HR reps need to remember and virtually celebrate birthdays (of people, pets, and children) in their daily check on morale. Imaginary friends can’t beat your co-workers IRL.

Lord of the Flies

This 1954 novel (made into several different films) tells a grim tale of a group of British boys left abandoned on an island. Lifeboat ethics quickly ensued, pitting members of the group against each other.

You’ll want to avoid this (duh!). But how?

Everyone needs to feel connected on a human level. If the budget allows, consider hiring a People Ops specialist who will be in charge of aggregating company news and awarding a Team Member of the Month (along with a small gift). These tokens of appreciation can rapidly improve attitudes—more so than a volleyball. Also, think about how the Swedish practice of fika can be transformed into a new video-conferenced coffee break. Nothing beats a cup of java for discussions about stuff outside of work but those are the issues that often get brought into work. It’s good to have an outlet.

Into the Wild

Chris McCandless ventured alone into the Alaska wilderness, and he never made it back out. Sean Penn’s 2007 film captured the beauty and agony of this tragedy, with Chris victimized by eating the wrong food. Companies need to make sure that their own brand has a remote culture embedded within it. If not, they need to begin building one right now. The ground is constantly shifting beneath our feet, and if Chris had just possessed more accurate information, and a better map, he might be alive today. The coronavirus will disappear one day, but working remotely won’t. Companies need to adapt while they still can.

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