HowTo: Remote Working

I guess we all have meanwhile learned more or less successful how to work from home (or the beach). The all-remote company GitLab Inc. has an helpful and extensive guide on how they are implementing this within their global organization – without a single office. It was inspiring to me especially during the first lockdown of the pandemic, although I thought I had already gained quite some experience during 1.5 yrs working remotely. The subsequent recommendations probably contain also advice originated from GitLab, but are enriched with my personal flavor and learnings. I hope it is useful and shall at least serve as a reminder to myself. I fear there are still some months left to professionalize this even further …

  • Intentionally start and end your work day. For example by a specific ritual, e.g. start with a morning walk, shower, … and end at least by closing your work related applications and their connections when you are done. Otherwise private and work life might mix too much and there won’t be any time for recreation and clearing your mind.
  • “Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.” [according to J.P. Barlow] Not only a helpful advice in remote work, but especially in an isolated environment like home, certain inquiries by your colleagues might appear out of context. If the other person then even catches you in the wrong moment or mood, to have an open, impartial, and collaborative conversation will be a challenge, at least for yourself. Assume that their personal motivation for approaching you is by default meant well and make sure to appreciate it.
  • Do not demonize doing private stuff for and within breaks. While working from home you will most probably be more focused and accordingly exhaust more quickly. Taking a break for doing something completely different like sports, laundry, or just going to the grocery store might at first glance appear improperly. In the end it will spur your creativity and with a refreshed mind you will be more efficient within the same timeframe than forcing you to continue working just for the sake of being on duty.
  • Optimize for asynchronous communication. The frequency of conference (“sync”) calls naturally increases in a remote setting, schedules will overlap, and participants might not always be that focused as they are during in-person meetings. Allow others to follow up offline, at a later point in time, and help to continue where you last left off so that everyones valuable time is invested well. In addition you might want to record important conversations and at least keep detailed minutes that assist to easily catch up. Moreover prefer group conversations over direct messages, as there are always others for whom this is or will become relevant as well.
  • Accept external disturbances during meetings. It is just inevitable to be interrupted in your home environment. Kids, the postman ringing, or unstable infrastructure. Appreciate such unintended breaks, do the best out of it, welcome the young generation or resort the discussion as you anyhow cannot change it. And hey, those interruptions are not that much different to a beamer suddenly breaking down or colleagues bursting into a double-booked conference room?
  • Plan your week and set your priorities pro-actively. Otherwise your work stream will be dictated by allegedly “urgent” concerns popping in and by natural distractions due to your home environment. Better define beforehand what is really important for you to work on. It will be much more easier to resume after uncontrolled interruptions and you always have an overview of where you currently are and what needs to be done next.
  • Electronic mail and communication platforms like Teams, Slack, etc. are asynchronous communication channels. This might come as surprise for some. Do neither feel obliged to immediately reply nor expect a prompt reply. If there is urgency, a direct call is still well suited for instant follow-up and without wasting time by interpreting probably ambiguous text-based chats. In case of conflict, clarify your “service-level agreement” and how to reach you best in case of emergency.
  • Prefer video calls over voice calls. If infrastructure allows, switch on your camera. It will still bring you much closer to your colleagues and add an additional sense for improved interpersonal communication.
  • Fight screen fatigue. Do everything you can to not make you or your counterparts stare on the screen all day long. E.g. when you need to do something creative, better choose pen and paper. While doing a break, do not read the mails or news again on your screen. Better take a walk, enjoy some fresh air, and wide angle view. When you give a training/workshop/lesson, frequently enable participants to turn away from the conference session to do some self-responsible tasks. In general reduce frequency and duration of meetings to a minimum.

In case you want to look from a statistical perspective on home office, Atlasssian Inc. has analyzed the first months after people started to work primarily from home. The company is offering popular workflow solutions that are mainly used within software development, e.g. ever heard of Jira? Their study is a useful sample of remote work from within the software industry. Surprisingly employees still kept working although they are not at the office any longer. The author is even slightly worried of our work-life balance: “Proof our work-life balance is in danger (but there’s still hope)” by Arik Friedman.

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