by Johannes Horm, Delivery manager for Estonian distributed teams at Nortal, March 23, 2020
Remember, we have an opportunity to come out stronger and better as we learn new ways to dynamically navigate in this new work environment.
One of the challenges imposed upon us by COVID-19 is the need to isolate ourselves and work from home to help ensure the safety of our loved ones (love you, grandma!) and ourselves.
While we have previously allowed for remote work, the current situation where everyone works from home puts existing team dynamics, and our individual ways of working, under stress. To help you cope with the new reality, we have put together six tips that can help you and your team to remain in high spirits, maintain communication with each other and remain productive.
The key thing to do from the beginning is agreeing to ground rules with your family, as they are a part of this effort as well, to separate work and personal life as much as possible. That means trying to set up a separate area for working, allocating time for family activities, and completing your work tasks. Don’t be discouraged if these ground rules aren’t effective from the start because everyone needs time and patience to get used to the new norm — especially if you have small children who are happy that you are home and would love nothing more than to spend quality time with you.
After moving from the office to a remote location, one of the most important things is keeping some routine in your day. Try to eat breakfast at the same time every morning, and maintain a distinct separation between work time and private time —otherwise, your day might turn into an unambiguous blob. During work hours, keep all the meetings and routines you used to have before. Make the start and end of your workday clear.
I know, obvious, right? At the same time, it would be the first thing that people will let go of. You had dailies at the office, but now, since everyone has their own schedule at home (homeschooling children, messed up sleeping schedules, tending to others in need, etc.), it is important to keep the contact and not just do written or audio dailies but video dailies to keep the team from distancing. This is the primary time during the day that you all should come together. Next time someone is participating with only audio, try to convince them otherwise.
Software engineers are accustomed to solving problems on the spot. This has now become a little complicated because you can’t simply gather around one computer or whiteboard. So you tend to write huge essays about your issue. Taking a lot of time trying to describe the problem, copying code snippets of what you have — and it ends up like a vast stackoverflow post that maybe no one can understand. Try to keep the description of the problem short, and ask your preferred communication channel who would be up for a call, or chat-up someone directly and set up a shared-screen video.
When in the office, it is easy to stumble into someone for a quick chat. When working remotely, the structure of your day gets loose — and so, I have found myself working a lot longer than in the office without taking actual breaks. Set reminders for yourself to rest, make tea, go for a 5-minute walk or just stretch. Also, do not forget to drink water! You will be more productive later on, I promise.
Losing everyday chitchats at the coffee machine or lunch is a huge blow. One of the reasons we work where we work is our colleagues. Still fool around (when appropriate) during team chats to keep up spirits, and continue scheduling occasional video calls to talk about the other aspects of life you used to talk about. Don’t let loneliness creep in (especially when you live alone). Now is the time to over-communicate!