13 Mar Remote work ABC guide
Working remotely is something that most of us are going to experience over the next couple of weeks or even months. However, working remotely for more than one or two days is a new practice for most people and organisations.
How can you organise your work? How do you get an overview of what everybody else is doing? How can you track progress and offer feedback?
At Netcorp, we have been providing remote software development services to our clients for almost 10 years. Let us share some of the tips, tools, and practices we use in our everyday work and what we think are essential for making remote work efficient and manageable.
TOP 10 must-have procedures for working remotely
1. Get equipped with technology that can assist
Remote work requires some tools that replace the office equipment and communication methods that are commonly used in a physical office.
Must have tools:
- Video meeting solution to replace (group) meetings and efficient collaboration (Google Meets /Zoom/ Teams/ Skype/ Slack)
- Quick Messaging platform (Chat) to handle the everyday communication and avoid long feedback loops with email (Slack, WhatsApp, Skype, Microsoft Teams)
- Process and task planning tool for visualizing plans and tracking progress. Software companies use Jira a lot but you can also use Trello, Monday, Weekdone, Toggl or other task management tools
- Shared calendars to sync your plans with the team (Google Calendar, Asana, Calendly, Outlook)
- The shared cloud where you can store all the documents you need access to or need to share with others (Dropbox, Google Drive)
- High-speed internet – not all people have good landlines at home, but luckily mobile internet is relatively good in most countries. Just upgrade your employees’ mobile data plans to a decent level – 15 to 30gb – and you should be fine. 30 to 50gb if you use a lot of video meetings.
ps. Slack (and probably also Microsoft teams) are a kind of Super-tools, which can handle chat, video, file sharing, and you can integrate this with most of the other useful apps (calendar, Trello, Google Drive, and others).
2. Agree on how do you plan your day/week/month
Agree on when you do the planning and who will be included in planning discussions. Remote work requires a bit more planning (and that’s not a bad idea at all).
A hectic last-minute change of plans may cause a huge mess due to information asymmetry (not everyone may read the info at the same time).
A great tip from our client, Messente Communications CEO Lauri Kinkar who wrote an article about how they work remotely. The main take away for me from that article was a method called “long format work”. In summary, if you have a new idea or want to propose a solution while working remotely, it saves a lot of time if you write the idea down in detail.
You might eventually realize that it was not such a good idea after all. Or, if you find that it is a good idea, you will have already saved a lot of other people’s time with some basic planning.
3. Agree on procedures for using messaging platforms such as Slack
Decide on what groups are to be established on your chosen messaging platform, what can be discussed in a specific group and how you can ensure that someone gets the intended message.
If you don’t do this, you will soon face messaging chaos, where people start mixing topics and pissing other people off. It will make it more difficult to understand where to pick up on a specific conversation or lose valuable insights within a discussion. Here is a decent video about Slack procedures.
“No messaging rules – it’s a guaranteed mess!”
4. Agree on how do you follow up on deadlines and measure task progress
Define what the “definition of done” is and what needs to be delivered and when? You can’t see a smile or a nod from your colleague, so you need to set rules on how you are able to give feedback on progress and promises.
Monitoring the progress on what everyone is doing can seem like a challenge at first. “What are my colleagues working on? What is the current status of things?” These will be normal questions for remote work first-timers. IT is reasonable to use a digital task management solution, made especially for these situations.
Software companies use Jira, where you write your plans and goals, set task responsibilities, monitor task progress and give feedback and comments on the whole process. If Jira seems too complicated then you can also use Trello, Monday, Weekdone, Toggl or other task management tools. A tool is a tool, try to find the one that best suits your way of working.
5. Agree on common virtual office hours
One of the best things about working remotely is that you don’t have to wake up at a particular time every morning (unless it’s agreed with the team). If you prefer to wake up early and start your day at 7 am, then go for it. But maybe you’re a night owl and like to start your ‘workday’ after dinner. That’s okay, too!
The team must agree on some common virtual office hours when everybody can be reached for messaging, collaboration, and meetings. We practice a minimum 4-hour window when everyone must be available. Most developers’ work requires the ability to focus anyhow.
If you are working as customer support or if you have some meetings you need to attend at certain times, then, of course, you need to change your morning schedule a bit, but usually, you can set your schedule in a way that works for you and your most productive times.
6. Divide work into small(er) cycles
Software companies mostly use agile methodologies, which contain several good practices which most companies could (at least partially) adapt.
Transform your way of working into shorter cycles (1-2 weeks), so that everyone can get familiar with the new way of working and feedback look can be as short as possible.
In the software industry, these work cycles are called sprints, and they are usually 1-2 weeks long. This short cycle allows you to get quick feedback on the process and reduces the probability that in 2 months’ time you notice that some of your colleagues have been running in another direction.
The cycle or sprint is started with Analysis and planning phase. A process where you analyse what needs to be done, what has priority, how long it takes to do these tasks, and who is going to be responsible for them.
Implementation – here, your team does the tasks agreed in planning, for that working cycle. You should have regular meetings to understand how far the team is with their responsibilities.
Retrospective – The main aim of Retro is to discuss results and determine the ways to improve the process on the next cycle. Now is the time for reflection – the team should analyse what went well during the working process and what can be done better during future operations. The learnings from Retrospective analysis is used as Input for new cycle planning.
An alternative to a Scrum-like approach is to use OKRs (Objectives and key results), a system used by Google and many other companies. I even use this in non-software related management areas. With OKRs, you can get an overview of what the whole organisation is doing and receive quick feedback on their progress. Weekdone has made a good tool to manage OKRs.
Both these methods add transparency to what people are doing, include everyone from the organisation and allow them to actively participate while working remotely.
7. Agree on communication rules and routine check-ins.
We use weekly planning meetings. These are longer meetings (1-3h) where the whole team looks at the tasks, prioritises them, and evaluates what can be done in the week or two-week period.
Then, we have daily stand-ups, which are short meetings where people give an overview of what they are working on.
Startups have a methodology for daily stand-ups, where everybody states what they accomplished the day before, what they are working on that day, and what obstacles or challenges they face).
Planning meetings and short daily meetings give a good overview of what is going on in the team and enables to detect possible problems fast.
8. Don’t forget the importance of the individual (Facebook/coffee) breaks.
You must have breaks or else you are likely to overheat. But beware of procrastination. If you are not used to working remotely, then you might forget what you are doing and chat on messenger about the coronavirus or look at Instagram for hours.
If required, set a time doctor type of time-tracking device to your computer. You will be surprised at how much time you are spending on News, private chat, Facebook or other non-working related sites.
But, it’s crucial to schedule stretching and refocusing breaks. Don’t waste that time on Instagram, stand up and stretch, take a 5-minute walk in the fresh air, dance a bit, why not – you are at home, and no one’s watching.
9. You are responsible for creating your workspace at home
Working at your kitchen table can be an easy solution. But this means that when you need to use your table to eat, you must clean up and put away your work.
So, the first thing is to figure out where you can put a dedicated desk that isn’t used for anything else. If you have a private room that you use as your office, even better. But for a start, even a little corner of a room works perfectly.
10. Chose appropriate communication tool for any situation
Shortly: Video avoids misunderstandings; chat is quick and flexible; email sets clearance.
Chat is a great tool, but I like to use video as much as possible. Switch to video meetings immediately if you sense any miscommunication amongst your team.
It is so easy to misinterpret someone’s written statement and reply with a grumpy comment yourself. Maybe because you might be in a bad mood yourself, or you have just read a frightening article about the coronavirus. You are likely to interpret someone else’s message in the mood that you are in. And this is how the avoidable snowball starts.
Video helps you to understand the meaning behind the words. It gives quick feedback in situations that need to be very clear. Also, personally, typing is just slow, and sometimes (actually mostly) it’s just so much quicker to talk to the person.
The weakness in video communication is in planning multiparticipant meetings. Agreeing on a suitable time is always a hassle. Chat messages, however, can be read by everyone at their own convenience. But if you need to sync – send the agenda over chat and have a quick video call also – this should straighten things out.
Emails are useful to leave a mark about what was agreed or if you are afraid your message gets buried under other messages in the chat system. However, the quick chat is sometimes better to avoid long feedback loops. “Oh, your email was in the junk folder”, or “I just did not notice it due to many emails.” Is that situation familiar to you?
PRO tip for text writing: if your working language is English, then you can switch from typing text with a keyboard to speech-to-text solutions.
It takes a bit of time to get comfortable with the speech to text solutions, but it saves soooo much time. In My opinion, iPhone’s Siri works very well. Chrome and Safari’s extensions make quite a few mistakes and need some correction when typing. Be aware of these mistakes and the autocorrect function when using speech to text. It can lead to a very embarrassing situation, believe me, I know.
Making working remotely work can be a challenge, but if you use the proper tools and set-up procedures, then you are already halfway there. Of course, many people will have significant difficulty organising themselves, staying away from procrastination, or working in the home environment. They just may miss their colleagues and group mentality. Remote work is not for everyone, but hopefully, we can return to our normal working environment quite soon.
Companies, however, should already be prepared for the fact that many people will start to like this way of remote working, and there may be no turning back for them. Remote work is here to stay!
One thing that is difficult in Working 100% is the coffee corner chitchat culture-building time, which is very important, especially in onboarding new people. That’s why our remote developers usually meet with our clients once every two months. Hopefully, you can be back at work to meet your colleagues within two months.
Our company, Netcorp, will have 250 software developers from three Development Centres in Poland, working 100% remotely starting from Monday, 16th of March 2020. We believe we are fully prepared for that, and here is why.
Our main business is offering remote software developers to our clients in the Nordic region. Our developers usually sit in the same office, but remote work for our clients is practiced every day.
While this is the first time that everyone will work remotely at the same time, all our people are used to it when some team members work remotely for some time. We have practiced remote work for the last 10 years.
All the tools and software has been configured and used before, so we do not expect any technical or organizational issues that could reduce the efficiency or availability of our employees.
If you would like to save your organization from huge software development costs, but keep the good quality, then contact us to get an offer for experienced remote software developers.
Written by Paavo Pauklin
CEO of Netcorp