With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, a lot of us are lucky enough to be able to work from home. While it’s great we don’t have to worry about losing our income in the short term, being forced into working from home is still stressful and likely to impact our team/org/company productivity. There are plenty of examples of high performance companies and teams that have embraced distributed work. Some of them have been working this way for more than 20 years and have documented their tools, practices, and techniques. Let’s learn from them.
I’m hearing a lot of negative talk about reduced productivity, mostly from management inexperienced with distributed work. Of course anything new or stressful will reduce productivity for a short while. But, it might be more helpful to embrace good practices and tools towards establishing a culture of distributed ‘remote-first’ working that will serve you, your teams, and your company long after the pandemic has slowed down. If being forced to work remotely is going to be disruptive, take the chance to fundamentally improve the way you work.
I’m preferring the term distributed vice remote, work-from-home, or telecommute intentionally. Distributed connotes an all-in, remote-first philosophy and an every-employee inclusiveness, as opposed to a we’re here in the real office and you’re over there pretending to work in your pajamas.
Don’t fall for the trap of asking people for twice daily statuses by phone or email; if you weren’t doing that in an office it doesn’t make sense to do it now.
Motivated people do not need to be monitored. In fact, a culture of monitoring will turn motivated people into unmotivated people. If you don’t have motivated people, look at your management culture. – Allen Holub
Do continue whatever it was you were doing before: Daily stand-ups, Scrums, etc. Watch the progress of what needs to get done, not exactly when it’s being worked on.
The best tools are remarkably inexpensive. Collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, Basecamp, and a good headset can make a huge difference when everyone is distributed. All of this is cheaper than the overhead of poor communication. Is your network and vpn robust enough to support this surge in use? Do employees need anything at home such as monitors, ergonmic workstations, etc.?
No matter where you are sitting, everyone is remote. That means that everyone connects to the meeting from their pc. From the Alyssa Mazzina article below:
If you’re at a desk in the office, that’s where you take your meetings, and if your desk is at home, you do it there. We get so used to this practice that sometimes people within the same office will jump in a Hangout. On a recent visit to the New York office, I was amused to see two of my coworkers sitting at cubicles across from each other… having a conversation via video chat.
It seems ridiculous at first, but there’s a reason for it. If we’re all taking meetings via Hangouts, we’re all on equal footing. If I’d needed to join that two-person conversation from across the country, I could have, with no issue. In larger meetings, it means no side conversations are happening at the table that the remotes don’t get to be part of. When I’m in a meeting at home, I don’t always know who’s in an office and who’s not. Everybody’s at a desk with a headset “remoting” in to Google Hangouts.
Remote-first means when somebody wants to present something, they’re not going to stand up at a whiteboard and write while the remotes squint at their screens trying to see it. We present electronically. It means when somebody refers to a document, they’re not pulling it out of a file folder and passing it around the table, leaving the remotes out of the loop
In my experience, video is important. But, audio quality is even more important. Get a headset. I have a Sennheiser headset, but there are lots of affordable options. I’ve heard of people having good luck using podcast microphones, but I’ve never tried it.
Use video if at all possible - so much of our communication is non-verbal.
Getting sent home to work remotely without any prior planning would be stressful. Being forced into it overnight due to global health crisis is a really big deal that is going to make a lot of us understandably anxious. Alice Goldfuss wrote an insightful article full of both great tips on distributed working and supportive advice on coping with this drastic, overnight change.
I hope you can find something helpful in these references.
Fried, Json and Heinemeier Hansson, David. “Going Remote: Basecamp Walthrough Livestream.” March 2020. https://www.pscp.tv/w/1OyKAYOreqgKb.
A must watch video on how the creators of Basecamp work remotely.
Goldfuss, Alice. “Remote Work in the Time of Corona.” Blog post. 11 March 2020. https://blog.alicegoldfuss.com/work-in-the-time-of-corona/
Harrer, Simon. Chirst, Jochen. “Effectively Working from Home.” InnoQ Blog Post. 20 March 2020. https://www.innoq.com/en/articles/2020/03/effectively-working-from-home/.
A productive team that has been working distributed, from home, for 2 years shares tips on how to be the most effective.
Mazzina, Alyssa. “What it Means to be a Remote-First Company.” The Overflow. 8 February 2017. https://stackoverflow.blog/2017/02/08/means-remote-first-company/.
Stack Overflow is a pioneer of remote working. Includes how/why to conduct effective video/chat meetings.
Holman, Zach. “Remote First vs. Remote Friendly.” Zach Holman blog. 1 October 2015. https://zachholman.com/posts/remote-first/.
Humorous and good advice from an experienced remote worker.
Deanna deBara. “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Meetings in 2020.” Slack blog. 2 January 2020. https://slackhq.com/ultimate-guide-remote-meetings.
Fried, Jason. “The Presence Prison.” Signal v. Noise. 21 December 2017. https://m.signalvnoise.com/the-presence-prison/.
Let people do their best work by respecting their time and attention.
Heinemeier Hansson, David, et. al. “The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication.” Basecamp guides. date unknown. https://basecamp.com/guides/how-we-communicate.
Harrer, Simon, et. al. “Remote Mob Programming.” Github Page. 2019. https://github.com/remotemobprogramming/remotemobprogramming.github.io.
Interesting guide on remote mob programming; how to code at home without feeling alone. Much of the advice in this is useful for any type of remote development team.
Q&A with a bunch of leading remote and virtual companies. Topics on everything from managing and working remotely, hiring, to productivity insights.
Fried, Jason. Remote. 2013. https://basecamp.com/books/remote
Lew, Claire. “A Guide to Managing Remote Workers for Managers.” 2019. https://knowyourteam.com/blog/2020/03/13/our-guide-to-managing-remote-teams-is-now-free/
A fantastic, easy read from the CEO of Know Your Team - makers of great software for managing effective teams.
Mullenweg, Matt. “Distributed.” Audio blog post. https://distributed.blog/podcast/.
Podcast exploring distributed work from the CEO of Automatic - the 950 person 100% distributed company behind Wordpress.