by Nortal

Maintaining productivity and quality while working remotely

To build off of our tips for working from home in a distributed team setup, we sat down with two developers, who regularly work from home, to get their advice on maintaining work productivity and quality. Read below for summaries and recommendations from our esteemed colleagues Mike Hitchcock and Robert Baggett.

What are some myths around working remotely and how it impacts quality and productivity? 

A common myth is that there will be more distractions at home so you won’t accomplish as much, especially if you have a family. However, working from home can make you realize how distracting office life can be; you spend a lot of time having conversations and chatting in the break room. It’s also a myth that you feel isolated – it’s about what you make of it. You can have a meaningful social interaction virtually (and asynchronously) rather than having people drop by your desk and take time away from your projects. You are still a part of a team that is expecting communication and high-quality deliverables.

“In general people believe that productivity tends to get impacted more at home than in the office. If you set yourself up correctly it is quite the opposite. Setting up boundaries [with people at home] allows you to be more productive than in the office.” – Robert 

Are there habits that you have to get you in a productive head space?

The three biggest habits that lead to productivity are setting boundaries with people at home, making a plan for the day, and acting as if you are going into the office. Having a dedicated space at home where others understand you are in work mode is imperative for productivity. This also allows you a spot to focus on tasks at hand. Organizing a schedule for the day gives you the opportunity to prioritize work projects and family time, so that everyone in your household is on the same page.

“Act like you are going to work. Wake up, shower and get ready. Consistency is important so start at the same time everyday. It’s important to take breaks because suddenly you can look up and five hours go by. I set alarms every 90 minutes to take a breather.” – Mike

What are some applications or technologies that help you stay productive while working remotely?

A communication channel such as Teams or Google Hangout that enables you to connect with your team is essential. This allows you to keep in contact regarding projects, blockers, and new ideas regardless of where you work. Consistent communication allows you to develop rapport and camaraderie with your colleagues, which in turn creates a better team environment. On the topic of communication, having a functional headphone and microphone set so that your coworkers can hear you clearly is essential. Nothing is worse than audio issues in a meeting.

“Slack because you can insert any communication channel there. This one might get discounted, but buy a high quality headset and microphone.” – Robert 

What work from home habits do you adopt that make a difference in the quality of your projects?

Consistency is key. Working remotely can allow for more flexibility in your schedule which can be tempting, but you can also use this to your advantage. Having a static daily routine allows you to meet job responsibilities while those at home will have a consistent understanding of work and family time.

“Work from home habits have to embrace family as well. When I’m at work I’m busy, but if something is important then they can slip me a note or text me. These boundaries do exist and need to be paid attention to.” – Mike

How do you maintain productivity when there are distractions surrounding you at home?

Taking breaks is important for staying focused on your work responsibilities throughout the day. It allows you to give attention to household tasks or loved ones when it’s necessary. It may seem counterintuitive, but prioritizing breaks gives you the room to accomplish personal tasks so you can stay focused on deliverables while working. Also, using headphones during meetings and heads down projects allows you to concentrate.

“You need to learn when to step away and have family time versus office time. Don’t try to merge them.” – Robert

In what ways do you stay organized to keep on top of projects?

Regardless of if you are working remotely or not, documentation is critical to the success of your deliverables. Documentation lets your team know the status, progress and blockers of projects so that you can work together effectively. Without documentation, it’s hard to manage goals and responsibilities which are the basis of meeting work expectations. There are also a multitude of programs and software that can help you stay organized including OneNote, Trello and Google Docs.

“I use Quiver to manage code and projects. It’s a Mac app and I’ve been really happy with it.” – Robert

How do you maintain clear communication with clients and colleagues while working remotely?

When working remotely you lose body language and tone so it’s easier to misunderstand communication. In these situations, always assume the best intentions and over communicate if you need to. Instead of relying on instant messaging for meetings, try calling or connecting over video. This allows you to hear or see emotion first-hand rather than trying to read meaning behind text.

“I’ve found that when you are working remotely you don’t have body language. It’s easier to miscommunicate so I try to focus my messages. If I have three different questions then I’ll start three email chains to keep things as simple and targeted as possible.” – Mike 

How do you ensure that your project delivery is consistent with client expectations while working remotely?

The smaller you make user stories and tasks, the easier it is to manage expectations. If you stay organized and focused, meeting milestones should be a breeze. Working at home doesn’t mean you lose responsibility, it actually means the opposite. Your team is trusting you to get the same amount of work accomplished with less supervision.

“I don’t think there is a difference. When you maintain clear and direct communication then you organically deliver consistent results.” – Robert

What is your last piece of advice for those that are new to working from home?

“When you are working from home it is extra important to be positive and helpful when communicating. You don’t have anything else to make an impression with, that’s it. If you aren’t the kind of person who doesn’t have a good habit of reaching out then you should work on that. Also, treat the day as if you are going into the office.” – Robert

“As they say in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ‘Don’t panic’. Practice communication skills with someone who has been working from home for awhile. It’ll help you feel plugged into the process. Remember it’s not just you in front of a keyboard, you need to be part of a team.” – Mike

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I joined Nortal, a company that perfectly aligned with my values and offered a program called 'Nortal Nomad,' enabling me to grab my suitcase and code globally.

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