At the time of writing this, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing many us to work from home. After a month of working fully remotely, I think it’s a good time to write down some observations and lessons learned during this time.
Don’t simulate the office environment
AppUnite has always been a remote friendly place, but the entire team working fully remotely is a new thing for us.
Without much experience with remote work, the first instinct was to try to simulate the office environment. Some people created a Discord channel so that the entire team could be in touch all the time.
I wanted to try a different approach. My assumption going into this was to treat the situation as an experiment, approach it with an open mind and try to learn as much as possible. I felt that if we tried to work as if we were still in the same room, we’d learn nothing new after things back to normal.
Asynchronous > synchronous
When it comes to synchronous communication, nothing beats talking eye to eye, preferably in front of the whiteboard. Neither chat, nor audio/video calls can fully replace it. What we can try is to go on the other end of the spectrum and stop expecting people to respond right away.
When you know that the recipient can read your message even after few hours, you have to be more deliberate in your communication. You want to avoid imprecision and the need to add additional questions. You have to provide as much context as necessary. You have to make your messages recipient-friendly to make sure that the other person can fully understand the message.
Don’t assume people know what’s going on. Your message should clearly describe the problem well, give necessary references (direct links are great), specify what action is needed and who needs to take that action. Be as explicit as possible.
The biggest fear of asynchronous communication is that not responding immediately will slow people down. I have to say that when you’re used to synchronous communication, this can be true for a while. But with time, I’m starting to se many benefits. If we really take time to make the communication clear and explicit, it takes less time. You are forced to express your thoughts and needs clearly, to plan your work more thoughtfully, do more research yourself. It improves not only the communication, but also your thinking and organisation skills.
Asynchronous communication is a skill and it requires practice to master. The good part is that you can quickly see benefits.
Of course, there’s still the need for synchronous communication. But I’m learning to avoid anything between. If you need a synchronous communication, gather everyone involved, have a quick and intense video call. If you don’t, prefer asynchronous, long-text messages. Cut out as much of the back-to-back text conversations as much as possible.
Write a plan
After each day, I write down the things I want to accomplish the next day.
First of all, it’s a great sign that the work is done for the day. It gives me mental clarity because I know that nothing is left unattended. If I wasn’t able to finish something that day, I plan it for the next day, I’m no longer worried about it and I get that needed rest.
The second benefit is that it allows you to keep focused, which can be a challenge outside of the office. With a plan, when you sit down to work you know exactly what to do. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment if you do the things you have written down.
Having a plan also allows you to think about who you need to collaborate with. This is crucial with asynchronous communication. When you know what you have to do, you can plan your work and communication for the day so you don’t have to spend time waiting for crucial piece of information from someone.
Separate work and free time
I think it’s important to be able to clearly separate work time and free time. Walking from the office was a great way to do this, so I had to find a replacement.
I found out it can be really simple. You don’t have to have a separate room for work. It can be as easy as putting your computer in a closet, changing clothes, making dinner, telling your partner that you finished. The important thing is to have a ritual which tells your mind that the work time is over (writing down a plan for the next day can be a part of that ritual!)
Use the breaks well
A surprising thing I noticed - I’m more effective when working from home. I thing the reason is that my breaks are more effective, too.
At the office, not only breaks seem counterproductive, they are also too related to work. After all, we’re still in the same environment and talking to the same people.
At home, I can do something completely different during breaks. I can exercise a bit, prepare dinner, talk to my partner. I can do things that really take my mind off work. This makes me feel more rested and as a result, the work after the break is better.
I used to believe that offices are great because they help you to stay focused and productive. Now, I’m starting to believe that what offices are actually good at is keeping you busy, but not necessarily productive (they are great for socialising, though.) At office, there’s often nothing really interesting to do apart from working. So even if you’re not effective, you keep working. At home, you risk getting distracted (that’s why a written down plan is helpful!), but the actual work time can be much more effective. As a result, you can spend less actual time in front of your computer and still get more done.
Be cool, everybody’s struggling
The last important thing worth mentioning. Be easy on yourself. For most of us, working fully remotely is a new situation. It’s normal that it’s hard so accept the difficulties. If you want to use that time to learn and grow, that’s great. But it’s perfectly fine to just want to survive this.
The good part is that we’re all in this together. If you struggle, show that to other people - let them know that they’re not alone. And if you’re doing well, try to find a way to help and support others.
I have to say that I really enjoy the remote work. I feel more rested, more effective. I feel that I learned a lot of things that I can use in the future, even when (or if) we go back to working from office.
But you may have completely different opinions on remote work. So if there’s one thing I’d like you to get from this (and the most important lesson I learned) is to treat all changes and problems as an opportunity to learn something new. Approach things with an open mind and learn to embrace the struggle and you’ll be much better off.
Originally published on AppUnite Blog