Remote work and distributed teams are what makes software development industry thrive, bringing together people from different locations and time zones. Wondering how to get started with home office? Read on.
Remote work from a CEO’s/PM’s viewpoint
The main concerns of business executives regarding remote work are:
Business continuity. Keeping the company going, projects moving forward and being able to make profit. Can this be done without direct supervision over other team members?
Project management. How to replace daily standups, retros etc. you hold in your conference room?
Information security. How to prevent information leaks that could drown your business? How to protect the data you process in your company’s daily operations? How to make sure your remote employees are prepared for it?
Let’s address them one by one.
Remote work management tips
Remote work and business continuity
While in many companies remote work is a standard, others want to make sure if allowing employees to work from somewhere else doesn’t affect their business continuity. This paragraph is for them.
If you run a software house, an agency or pretty much any kind of startup, then a certain part of your work has already been done remotely.
Think of your clients (actual or potential) from a different country. To many of them, you are an outsourced software development partner. Or that agency from a different city that counsels you on marketing. I bet you don’t work under one roof, so you outsource work to that agency.
Since 2012, Prograils has been a remote business partner for dozens of companies from all around the world. Some of these relationships are lasting until today.
Having said that, business continuity while working remotely comes down to two things. And these are…
Here are some tips you will need managing a remote team:
Use video calls for meetings. There is probably always one or two people using it at every stand up anyway.
Embrace asynchronous communication. Don’t expect your employees to reply on Slack (or any other communicator) in a couple of minutes. It simply ruins everyone’s workflow. Let them manage their own working hours, prioritize tasks and keep themselves in the most productive mindset. Simply: let them be in charge. Don’t ping when unnecessary. Bet on mutual trust instead. Answers within a couple of hours in non-priority cases are perfectly OK.
Treat everyone individually. It’s not true that everyone likes working from home, coworking space and any other spot that is not the office. Some people have no issues staying motivated and organized. Others do. Be accessible to them, answer questions, follow up with them.
Be specific. If good communication is of great importance for the office, then for remote work it is critical. Be accurate when assigning people with tasks and make double sure if they are clear to them.
Practice microtickets/ticket-per-issue. Working in a ticket system? Split complex tasks into smaller ones. Instead of “Design a user onboarding flow”, assign tasks like “build registration form”, “design the sign in button”, “write the hello copy”. It makes your team feel more productive, their progress easier to track and the overall atmosphere better.
Remote work security tips
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing a remote team, some common information security rules apply.
Use strong passwords. Strong means a long one with upper- and lower case letters, and at least one number. Avoid using the same passes across multiple accounts. To handle this…
Use password managing software. Accounts are hacked all the time. Make it much harder for intruders. It takes a couple of minutes to register with 1Password or any other application.
Hard drive encryption. No one has put it better than Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson in “Remote”:
“(...) this ensures that a lost laptop is merely an inconvenience and an insurance claim, not a company-wide emergency and a scramble to (...) worry about what documents might be leaked”.
Do not connect to public WIFI networks (e.g. at restaurants or coffee shops). Use mobile tethering, company-owned mobile routers or your own connection protected by a strong password.
Use VPNs. Virtual private networks are encrypted and give you a security layer when connecting to an unknown network.
Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. You will need your cell phone and a login code to access your Gmail or any other account, and so will need anyone trying to access it.
Control and protect your workspace. Working from public spaces, make sure no one is taking a suspicious look at your laptop’s monitor. Don’t talk about the company’s sensitive matters over the phone or attend video conferences while sitting among strangers.
Avoid using unencrypted portable devices.
Use lock codes on your smartphone and tablets.
In 2019, Prograils has implemented an Information Security Management System (ISMS) and received the ISO 27001 certificate for it. We constantly improve our information security standards and keep our employees in the know.
Remote work employee tips
Working from home looks cool at first sight, but can be also tricky. You will face lots of distractions and it's up to you how you handle them. In fact, when working remotely you have to draw the line between only being present on communicators, and actually delivering the goods.
Here are a few tips that will help you get on the right track:
Use tools. These boots are made for walking, and these tools are used for working: in our case Slack for internal communication, Trello for tasks, Gitlab/Github for version control, Google Docs for drafting pretty much everything. Teamlens for project tracking. Plus Zoom and Hangouts for video calls. You use them at the office? Do so at home.
Be present. Working in sprints? Use video calls for daily stand ups and don’t miss them. If you feel the need, connect with your team mates or PM to clarify issues or just chat and strengthen the team spirit.
Make your work visible. Move that damn ticket to the right column in Trello or whatever tool you use. Mark the task as completed once you are done with it. When a major task is fulfilled (e.g. a functional part of code is deployed) - announce it on a dedicated Slack channel. Don’t make others wonder what you are doing at the moment.
Be specific. Make double sure you understand others and that they got you right, too. Define common ground by asking questions until you are certain about what you are expected to do and how.
Build routine. To separate private life from work, you’ll have to build one. And relax, you won’t do it overnight. There is no-one-size-fits-all solution, so you have to try different things. Think of the hours within the day when you are most focused and plan your work accordingly. Take on your office outfit. Or stay in your home clothes. Take breaks to do something else (take a walk, do laundry, eat something) and refocus again.
Create your workspace. No matter if you use an adjustable desk or a vintage table, ergonomic chair or an old school one, like to sit or lie on your cosy sofa - make it your fortress. Limit access to this place to feel comfortable and focused to the max. After trying several options, you’ll notice that creating a home office is a constant process, but the one you can manage.
To wrap up
Remote work might seem tempting and dangerous at first. And both intuitions are true: while you are not confined to the office walls, you have to harness everything yourself and take on some of your PM’s usual responsibilities. Self-organizing is a challenge, but there are ways to deal with it.
Being present and accurate, asynchronous communication, proactive attitude and creating an atmosphere of trust are the foundation to build upon.