Extraordinary Home Office Circumstances
We are currently in the world’s biggest Home Office experiment, at least for everyone whose job can be done online. Almost every single company has scrambled all of its technical resources in a matter of days to allow all of us to continue working from home. It’s the only way to #FlattenTheCurve and let the doctors who are on the frontlines fighting the coronavirus catch their breath.
I am grateful to my current employer, TrustYou, for enforcing the home office policy already in the beginning of March when the coronavirus was still at its early stages of spreading in Germany.
Meanwhile, we are all quarantined in our homes, often together with our families. Many of you may remember that video of the BBC reporter joining in on the interview from home and in the middle of live forecast his kids and then his wife all run into the room. Well, take that and multiply by a hundred. Your spouse walking into the room while you are in a call with the CEO? Check. Your daughter sitting on your lap during an important negotiations call? Check. You forgot to turn off your microphone during a town hall meeting while eating? Check. This is only the tip of the iceberg and we will hear and see more wild stories these days. For now, let’s try to optimize our working environment at home and see how we can keep our productivity at a reasonable level.
Remote Work for Developer Teams
If you are in the IT industry, remote work is no news to you. However, at the current scale, it requires some adjustments.
First and foremost we need to cherish transparency and trust within the team even more than before. This also includes setting clear expectations and goals (read more on this at 3 Pillars of a Successful Remote Team by Slavik Shynkarenko), which is the key to minimizing miscommunication and any form of drift from the company goals. Team and personal OKRs are a great tool to keep both of these aligned throughout the whole team. During times like these, team OKRs need to be re-aligned with the company’s potentially changed vision and personal OKRs need to be re-adjusted according to the needs of each individual within the team and their current personal circumstances.
Regular check-ins become even more important than before. Daily stand-ups, weekly retrospectives, and planning meetings are great to keep everyone on the same page. Even having a separate session for just regular chat is a great idea. These will also allow your team to talk about the current problems they face in this transition phase. Additionally, pair programming should be encouraged even more. It’s a great software engineering practice that in these times will also help with alleviating the effects of social isolation within your team and will encourage collaboration and trust on a whole new level.
When everyone works remotely, it’s also important to have a reasonable documentation every engineer can refer to. It will help cut down frustration within the team and save time in the long run. Now is a good time to extend explanations and examples of the most frequently used parts of your software project.
Teamwork is essential, however, you should also optimize your personal routine to both keep productive and avoid burnout.
Working Productively and in Reasonable Measure
It is important not to be too hard on yourself. We want to be productive, but the current situation will definitely reflect on your mental state. Additionally, if you have kids around, your productivity goes down even more. You are in a transition state and you are still adjusting to new circumstances of working from home. You save time on the commute but that time is now spent on preparing food and cleaning the house. Your work and personal space are merged into one and it will take a while to immerse yourself in work given this new environment.
Hopefully, your company will also support you in these changing times. A great example of that is Facebook that recently pledged to give their employees a perfect performance score on the next performance evaluation due to the crisis. If you are in the management position of any sort, remember that your employees are humans first and keep tabs on their mental state, health and any issues they might have in transitioning to HO. Regular chats with them on a personal level will boost their motivation and trust in you as a leader.
When you accept the limits of your productivity, you can do the following to improve your current situation:
Set your personal daily goals. You can also align them with your personal OKRs to keep you more focused. Try to limit them to 2 or 3 manageable goals not to overload yourself.
Explore the Pomodoro technique. Switch between 25 minutes of focused work and 5 minutes break intervals. Use an actual timer for that or an online Pomodoro tracker for more accountability. Adjust the lengths of your work and break sessions as you go to fit your style of work.
If you can, use your training time to hone your skills or learn new ones. Various IT companies have dedicated training time available to their employees. At TrustYou we have 96 hours per year that we can use for this purpose. And now it is exactly the best time to use it. First of all, it will give you something else to concentrate on and help diversify your current work tasks a bit. Secondly, a lot of great conferences and meetups are moving online and are usually free, like the GTC 2020 Digital, LeadDev Live, and many others, all opening up a lot of new possibilities to learn.
You will be sitting a lot, so do sport exercises regularly in between work. A quick round of power walk will keep you both healthy and give you the energy to continue working. Missing the hardcore workout from the gym? No problem, try following the LesMilles workouts online or any similar training plan. Quarantine regulations also allow you to go for a run in the park (at least in Germany, check with your local authorities otherwise), use that opportunity if possible.
Check the news only at a specific time of the day, preferably not during work. Checking news constantly affects your concentration and also mental health. Set a specific time of the day when you check the news. If there is anything critical happening outside of that timeslot someone from the company will definitely post it on Slack’s #random channel. You can also scratch the news reports for a more informative live dashboard like the one from Johns Hopkins University. Alternatively, you can also check out this website that only shows positive news related to the outbreak at https://spreadcheernotfear.social/.
Some people have a different problem when working from home, they are productive working from home and lose track of time, others can bury themselves in work as an emotional response to the crisis. This is dangerous and can quickly lead to burnout. To avoid this, try to be strict with your working hours by tracking the times you start and finish work every day to keep yourself in check.
This article was originally published on Medium.com.