Working from home isn’t a new concept. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more companies to embrace the idea, allowing employees to entirely or partially work remotely.
This shift in the working environment has made staying productive outside the office key to the overall success of the team. Christian Lüdemann and Marek Panti discuss their approaches to staying productive while working from home.
Pros and cons
Remote and in-office have their perks and downsides. They are often subjective. Some might view it as a perk while others might view it otherwise.
An advantage of remote work is its flexibility. You’d be able to run errands in between your day. If you’re into traveling, working remotely makes planning your travels easier and living the digital nomad lifestyle more feasible.
Being away from the office, on the other hand, could make you feel the added pressure of accomplishing more. Limited interaction with the team might make it harder to know if you are doing well and what other people are thinking about your work. This is especially difficult if only a small percentage of the team works remotely.
Establish a process
Careful planning and reviews play a crucial role when working with a remote team. As a team lead, Marek suggests establishing processes such as having robust planning sessions to communicate how features should be implemented to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Regular code reviews along with automated linting and tests can also help maintain a clean code base and ensure developers are adhering to the standards of the project.
Choosing a process such as scrum or kanban for a remote team is a challenge in itself. Some teams prefer scrum over kanban, and vice versa. This depends on the kind of work your team is doing, how your team is structured, and the team itself. Scrum might work great when you are actively working on feature development but might not be efficient for teams that are very communicative and motivated. Kanban, on the other hand, might work better when you are just working on bug fixes and general maintenance. Every team is different. Choose what is right for your team and refine it as per your requirements.
Keeping the team motivated
Working remotely can sometimes make people feel unmotivated. Less motivation can make your work less rewarding and lead to lower productivity. Everyone’s ability to work remotely differs and some might strive more in remote settings.
Christian highlights that establishing trust and a sense of camaraderie poses more of a challenge in a remote setting. Marek suggests encouraging informal talks and spontaneous discussions to create a more similar environment to working in the same physical space. Normalize asking for opinions and getting help from other team members and actively helping other team members that need it.
Including personal and professional development for each team member in your overall planning can also boost their morale and keep them motivated. This can be in the form of a dedicated number of learning days per month or a percentage of time factored into each sprint for learning.
One of the most challenging parts of working remotely is communication. Sharing the same physical space as your co-workers make communication easy. We could go up to our co-worker’s desk and start a conversation.
Communication between remote employees tends to be more formal and people are more hesitant to reach out unless it is a very important or urgent matter. Establishing a culture where spontaneous conversations and asking for opinions or help from other team members are encouraged could help bring the team closer.
Communication between the technical and non-technical departments in the company can be challenging for both parties involved. This is true for both onsite and remote work arrangements. For those who are used to communicating in person, virtual communication could be a greater challenge. Christian recommends speaking using your audience’s language. If you are explaining something technical to management, they would most likely be more interested in how the technical change you’re proposing will impact their business metrics. Keeping the project up to date with the latest framework version, following the new standards, and addressing deprecations are crucial to keeping tech debt low. Hence, the importance of effectively communicating to management to have allocated resources and time to address these issues. For example, if you want to introduce testing to your project, also discuss the return of investment (ROI) of said changes, and how the time spent writing the tests will save time debugging.
Collaboration and pair programming
Handover is typically the most time-consuming process in development. This process becomes more apparent with distributed teams working different hours where developers have to wait for others to continue working on their tasks.
Pair programming and collaboration could help mitigate the problem by getting everyone on the team on the same page. Setting up pair programming sessions early on helps speed up decisions such as how to implement a feature, structure the project, naming conventions, etc.
A traditional pair programming session usually happens in a dedicated room where two developers discuss the task and take turns typing on the laptop. With the tools today, you could achieve a similar pair programming experience remotely. Instead of being in the same room, the two developers would share their screens and take turns piloting.
Disrupting your routine of going to the office in the morning and going home in the evening could affect your work performance. Marek recommends having a good ergonomic chair and table for a dedicated workspace. Regular exercise, sleep, and socializing can also help you improve your work-from-home experience.
Working from home can sometimes blur the line between your work and personal time. It’s important to take regular breaks throughout the day. Because you’re spending your time at home, some people are not comfortable taking time off. Ask for a few days off, if you need to recharge. You’ll return to work more energized and focused.
Working from home has its pros and cons. Some might prefer the work-from-home lifestyle and don’t want to return to working in the office, while others might be eagerly waiting to get back to the office. It also doesn’t have to be one or the other, more companies are offering hybrid roles with a mix of onsite and remote. Either way, staying productive while working from home is a great skill to have in your toolbox.