A Crash Course in Remote Work: Tips from Our Team
Remote work is a hot topic as more companies adopt work from home in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. We have been successfully working remote for the last 8 years. As a US-based and distributed team, we wanted to chime in to help anyone who might be doing this for the first time.
Working from home can be an ideal situation or a challenging one, depending on who you are, what you do and how you work. However, with the recent Coronavirus outbreak, remote work is not just a nice to have but is quickly becoming required – at least temporarily.
The team at InfernoRed Technology has been at this remote thing for quite a while. Our team is 100% remote and has been for almost a decade. As software developers, we find the benefits of working from home far outweigh the challenges. That said, it hasn’t always been easy. For those of you who may have been thrown into this with little prep time, it makes sense if you feel a bit overwhelmed
Fortunately, there’s a lot of great info out there to help, including this piece from veteran developer Scott Hanselman, and teams like Trello and Slack who build the tools to make remote work possible and productive.
We asked our team how they manage working from home every day and they were quick to respond. Here are a few of the best tips - a crash course of sorts – from our team on successfully working from home.
TIP 1: DESIGNATE A SPACE FOR WORK
Whether you can take over an entire home office, a corner of a room, or a spot at a shared table, create a space that is just for work and nothing else.
“Have a designated space in your house for work that you enjoy, since you'll be spending a lot of time there. Include all the things you'd have at your regular workplace e.g. a whiteboard.” – Lee Richardson, IRT Solutions Samurai
Not everyone can renovate an entire space and make it their fantasy office, especially if this was not a planned change. Give yourself a break and do the best you can. “Chances are good given the sudden change that you don't have an ideal home setup for this. That's ok.” – Brian Meeker, IRT Engineering Wizard
TIP 2: PLAN AHEAD AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
It’s hard to appreciate all that you have in a well-run office until it is gone (Shout out to all the amazing office planners and managers out there!). There will be snags and you may stumble as you try to get set up. Start with your gear – and keep it simple if this is going to be a temporary situation. “Get a headset or headphones, or some setup that doesn't produce feedback.” – Lee
Think about your WiFi bandwidth – is everything working ok? Who else is using it?
“Understand that many of your neighbors will also be working from home and bandwidth may be an issue. Set expectations with others (kids, roommates) that you will need all bandwidth for a meeting at this specific time.” – Colleen Tibbs, IRT Agile & SharePoint Maven
Consider how your working time will work. How much prep time is needed before a call to test that your tech is working. “There are many rookie mistakes, like setting your kids down to stream their favorite show on Netflix just as you are about to join a video call with screen sharing or not testing that your microphone and camera work and what they pick up.” – Colleen
TIP 3: ESTABLISH RULES AND ROUTINES TO ANCHOR YOU
Speaking of work – managing your day is one of the hardest parts about working from home. Outside of the flow of a typical office day - commute, work, lunch, work, commute - things can get blurry. And before you know it, you can forget to eat, rest, or stand up.
Create a “commute” if you need one. We recently Tweeted Scott Hanselman’s great advice on the concept of creating your own commute to mark the start and the end of the day. “Set boundaries. I go for a pseudo commute and make sure to at least go through a threshold for a context switch at the end of the day instead of jumping right into the next activity.” – John Morgan, IRT Developer
Make sure you are taking breaks. Natural breaks like coffee or someone coming over to chat don’t happen as much when you are remote. “Take breaks. Spending too much time focused can lead to brain drain and can be just as disruptive as too many distractions.” – Matt Wilhelm, IRT Weapon of Mass Construction
Get dressed. Sweatpants are the best part of a work from home gig, but if you are new to this or doing it temporarily because you have to, getting dressed every day can help you stay mentally engaged. “Do the "Mr. Rogers”. Put on work clothes in the morning to help switching context.... don't just roll out of bed and work in your PJs.” – Ed Snider, IRT Xamarin MVP and Developer
Exercise. It’s not just a good idea when you work from home, it’s a necessity for both your mental and physical health. “Use your saved commute time to exercise. You'll get less exercise than you're used to and that may become an issue if you don't actively manage it.” – Lee
Walk the dog. Admittedly, we are pet people, but the routines they require help many of us manage the flow of the day.
“When walking my dog I like to listen to NPR One, it helps me stay up to date on current events that I would usually get listen to if I had a "commute.” – Pam Vong, IRT Tech Wizard
TIP 4: SET EXPECTATIONS FOR YOUR TEAMS
Managing remote teams is both an art and a science. Remote-first cultures build this into their processes, but managers who are working this way for the first time may have challenges.
Colleen is also a Certified Agile Coach and has years of experience managing remote teams. She has four tips that can get you headed in the right direction:
1. Identify what the primary communication tool will be for meetings and distributing emerging information so that people always know where to look for information. Standardizing on a meeting platform and distributing accounts ensures that people can be pulled in ad hoc with minimal disruptions.
2. If you don't already have a daily (15min or less) sync up meeting with your team schedule one. Find a convenient time for all and schedule a video call - even if the intent is just to do a health and sanity check.
3. Set the expectation with your team that you will be at your computer and responsive during this 2-3 hour block of time but responses will be best effort otherwise. Ideally the whole team could standardize on the same block of time.
4. When at all possible, turn video on to foster a sense of community and personalization.
TIP 5: EXPERIMENT AND FIND THE JOY WHERE YOU CAN
It’s a very challenging time right now, so it can be easy to forget there are a lot of great advantages to working from home. Try not to let a sudden change overshadow that part if you can.
“Take advantage of all the things you couldn't do at your old workplace: playing music on speakers, opening the window on nice days.” - Lee
Staying connected to co-workers can help fill the void of consistent social interaction in the office. At IRT, we do “virtual happy hours” once per month so everyone can unwind and video chat over their favorite beverage of choice. We are also experimenting with tools like Donut that focus on connecting remote teams.
Look on the bright side – you can work in your robe if you want to (just make sure you don’t have any video calls that day.)
And as Matt often says, “The coffee in your remote office is likely far, far better than the coffee at your regular office…”
Hang in there and stay well! And feel free to reach out to our team at @infernoredtech for anything. Even if you just need someone to take a virtual coffee break with.