Work From Home 101
Last year I broke my meniscus and had surgery. As a result, I cried a lot and worked from home for 3 months. It’s safe to say that nothing about this lockdown has surprised me, not even the part of not being able to leave the house. When life gives you lemons, write a Medium article, right? This are a few things that a picked along the way, and had actually worked great for me.
Take advantage of futuristic tech. The magical part of a video call is not that’s free and belongs more to a Jetsons episode rather than real life. No guys, the magical part is in fact that its real-time video! This allows you to be aware of non-verbal cues and react in consequence when someone is, for example, losing interest or not following what you are saying.
- Tip 1: Turn on your video and ask people to do the same. Nobody cares if you are wearing a sweatshirt or if your cat is sleeping in the rack behind you (everybody loves cats).
- Tip 2: For bonus points, use headphones with a microphone and get rid of ambiance sounds. The one that comes with your phone will do just fine.
Did you notice It’s getting harder to schedule meetings? Everyone seems to be having a ton of them! So maybe, if you’re not essential to a discussion but still want to be up to date, don’t try to move the meeting, ask the organizer to record it for you instead.
- Tip: Use the Record feature to keep colleagues on the loop. It’s like having a Delorean that allows you to attend meetings happening at the same time, but you can skip ahead of the chit chat.
Don’t get caught on the virtual meeting fever. I’ve seen several prints of 30+ people in one call on Linkedin. Good for you, company that has never worked remotely before knowing that Coronavirus existed, but as a rule of thumb, if it’s not productive in person, it won’t be productive remote.
Kevin Kraus is a Product Manager at Almundo. He relocated from Argentina to the Medellin office a year ago, gaining a lot of experience in how to maintain a fluid relationship with people working in Buenos Aires HQ. For him, video calls are great to shorten distances and shed light on issues that are not clear enough, “but in the end, they’re just a tool to fight the inability to express ourselves efficiently in writing.”
- Tip 1: If this is something you can manage over an email, please, do so.
- Tip 2: Limit the number of people at every meeting. A great way to let someone know that they are invited just for informational purposes is to mark them as “optional” in the guest list.
And the most important basic rule to work from home: honor thy holidays, thy weekends and thy non-working hours. It’s easy to get caught on the temptation of “finishing that report” or “answering this last-minute mail I got”, especially when you can’t leave the house. But trust me, It’s best to leave your work at work, even when it’s right in the next room.
- Tip 1: Turn off Slack notifications on your phone after 6 pm. You can do this by going to Preferences > Notifications > Do not disturb
- Tip 2: If you’re going to work overtime (we’ve all been there) make it clear that there is no expectation of a response to messages sent out of working hours or even better, if you are using Gmail, schedule your email to be sent on working hours.
Be informative. We all hate to receive an invite to an “Email follow up”. It literally means nothing: you can’t understand what it’s about, how to prepare for the meeting or its priority.
- Tip: Use clear and descriptive title meetings and use the “Note” space to have everyone on the same page.
Be polite. It’s important to be aware of how much time is something going to take you to go through. If you think that something might be an hour-long conversation, don’t book a 30 minutes time slot “just to get it out of the way”.
- Tip: When looking for a time to meet, take into account lunchtimes and previously arranged commitments.
Be punctual. I know it’s hard to do, especially when you have one meeting after another: maybe the first one ran short on time, maybe you just lost track of time. But if you are having lunch with your inlaws, you are on time. Treat your colleagues with the same respect.
- Tip 1: Use the Google Calendar plugin for Slack or browser notifications to alert you 5 minutes before the start of any meeting.
- Tip 2: Quickly establish an agenda at the begging of a meeting and define how much time is going to be invested in each topic. Unless it’s a high priority issue, if you run short on time, ask to have a follow up later that day or week.
Working on flexible schedules
This one isn't nearly as simple to solve, but it’s important to have an open conversation about it, especially when there are team members across different time-zones.
If you can agree on the team working best when everyone is available at the same time, then it’s a no brainer: people will have to meet halfway.
Right now, I’m based in Bogotá, half of my team is in Medellin (UTC-5) and the other half is in Buenos Aires (UTC-3). In Colombia, work starts at 8 AM, but in Argentina, people arrive at the office between 9 and 10 AM. So, by sheer chance, the team shares most of their working hours and I cannot imagine otherwise.
- Tip 1: If possible, make arrangements around flexible hours and prioritize getting everybody working at (about) the same time.
- Tip 2: Configure your time management applications to helps people know when they can schedule a call with you. If you use Google Calendar like me, you can do this by going to Settings > Working hours
Do you do scrum?
Use your best judgment on this, you can either be ruthless or flexible. Know your team and what’s needed to fit your working dynamic in these special circumstances.
You might want to reinforce your communication by doing every single ceremony by the book. You might need to cut back on some calls just to make room for things that you used to solve by running into someone by the coffee machine.
My team is now having quick retros on Slack at the end of a sprint, and combining retro action items brainstorm and planning at the begging of the next one.
Lucas Barrientos is Head of Design at Scotiabank in Bogotá and leads a team of 10 Product Designers. Each one of them already had a face-to-face daily with their own squad to attend, that’s why he came up with the idea of doing a team one over Slack: “Everyone seems to be more concrete when they write. Having a remote daily helps me to be aware of what the team is up to, give them feedback and unblock issues without taking a lot of time off their routine.”
- Tip: Automate standup meetings, periodical reports, dailies, post mortems, etc. I’ve been using Standuply myself, but you can also take advantage of Slack’s new workflow feature.
The “home” part of home office
While offices are controlled environments, houses have tons of distractions: chores, TVs and video games, and even pets! Agustina Lomuto is a Product Owner at La Nación News and she’s well aware of this:
“Making lunch, washing the dishes of the family group and ordering your desk are things that are already taken care of at a traditional workspace.”
In addition to this, if you share your house with a roommate, a partner or your family, they are most likely trying to make this new normal work too. Sebastián Allende is a Staff Software Engineer based in Buenos Aires, he has faced this challenge in spite of having lots of experience working remotely.
“If you live with someone, you have to make it clear that you are working. Just because you're in the house doesn't mean you're available. Aim for balance, if your partner asks you to put up a shelf, that’s something that can wait until the end of his day. If your partner just needs help to reach a high cupboard, you probably have 10 seconds to spare”.
This might be a little too much sometimes but it’s important to know: this too shall pass. As Agustina says, “When I feel unproductive I tend to get very frustrated but I noticed that my colleagues at work are very patient with each other. Maybe, I just have to be a little less hard on myself.”
Also known as the short version of the article.
- Turn on your video when you’re in a call to engage your teammates and colleagues in the conversation. Ask other attendants to do the same so you know if they doze off.
- If you can’t attend a meeting but want to be up to date, ask the organizer to record it for you.
- If an issue can be managed over an email, skip the meeting. Try to do this even if you are not working from home.
- Limit the number of people in the meeting. When in doubt, think about how many pizzas you’d have to order if you’d decide to have lunch during the meeting. if the answer is more than two you probably have too many attendants in your hands.
- Honor thy holidays, thy weekends and thy non-working hours.
- Polish your meeting etiquette: be informative when arranging a meeting, be polite and take into account lunchtimes and previously arranged commitments. And finally, please be on time to enter and leave a call.
- If possible, make arrangements around flexible hours and prioritize getting everybody working at (about) the same time.
- Revise your scrum approach to fit your new working routine. Ruthless or flexible, it’s your call.
- Take it easy! Every single person in the world is powering through the situation.
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