In a formidable turn of events, most people have been confined to the limits of their own quarters over the last few weeks all over the world. For people who work in IT related fields, this doesn’t mean that their work has stopped. It has only become harder for a few due to the problems related to ‘remote working’. This post is to hopefully help those people who are facing problems because they are not in the proximity of their colleagues. It does not go on to suggest that working from a silo is about the same as working from a shared space with your colleagues only with minor added challenges. The reason for writing it is that the differences are fairly major. Even then, I would be willing to put my money on the fact that productivity does not have to take a hit. Why should you trust us? Because at kaamwork, this is our usual way of working. We started on the idea about a year before the outbreak and thus faced the same problems the whole workforce is facing now, just a bit early. We had an advantage of knowing that in case it doesn’t work out, we could always meet and finish the work whenever needed. Having that taken away puts some pressure on the others trying the same experiment now.

I’m going to break down the advice into 4 parts : (i) how your work setup should be, (ii) how you should let your colleagues know when you are available for meetings and other work that has to be done in groups or even alone, (iii) how you should communicate effectively and finally (iv) some usage of tools to help with the work. Consider them more as guidelines than rules.

Setup: Get off your couch! This might seem like a really small change, but having a separate physical space for working gives us an edge mentally. If you want to take it one step ahead, dress up before you sit down to work, it doesn’t have to be a complete 3 piece, but getting out of your pajamas does help. Get clear lighting in the room, for one, you don’t want to strain your eyes, and you’ll be much less likely to watch one more episode of bojack horseman before you get back to your code. Get up, go sit at the table and you’re halfway there. You also want to make sure that you reduce your distractions otherwise. If you live with other people, chances are that you will talk to them. The mental energy required to move from work to a casual conversation and back to work is extremely high, and can probably be avoided if you just create some rules for yourself and the people living with you.

Rules of engagement/ Expectation setting: One problem that many of us face while working from home is that we don’t know when work time ends and when our personal time begins. For this, I’d suggest letting your colleagues know when you’re available to take meetings and decide for yourself when you want to focus on your work alone. But do have a beginning and end of your work day for yourself and demarcate it well. This will also help you prioritize your tasks and you’ll probably also work out how long you might need for each task. It will definitely help you not overestimate how much you can achieve in a day and hence prevent you from overpromising and falling short. It’s a great tool for tracking if you’re on time, and if you’re not you can ask for help sooner. That gets me to my next point…

Communication: This is probably the most important and most overlooked part of remote working. The secret formula is to over-communicate. The difference between working alone and working while sitting next to your team members become very clear here. Make sure your questions/suggestions are detailed and least ambiguous. For example, in a room of 10 people, you might just shout, “Hey, XYZ is not working on my computer, can anyone tell me what I can try?” This might open up conversations with multiple people and sitting with them, that’s easy to manage. But if you’re sitting alone, this strategy does not work. Plus people are less likely to try and help you if they have to ask you multiple questions to just understand your problem. Another added advantage of this is that while you write your problem down in detail, you are more likely to see what you were missing out on earlier and know where to search for the answer yourself.

Tools: I thought hard about what to write in this section, and then I realized that tools are just what they are. It’s not about the tools, but more about how you use them. So I can’t tell you which tools will work better for you, but my only tip would be to think about your own workflow and see how any tool can help with optimizing it. For example, one thing I used in between for a while was that if someone sent me a message on a specific slack channel, it would just get copied to my trello board and once I was looking at that board, I could easily see what tasks were there. It sounds like a great idea in theory, but over time I saw that more messages on my trello boards were not actually tasks, but conversations from previous tasks. Of course I could tweak the process a bit more to optimize it, but it turns out if I ask people to just write the task on Jira directly, I’m much better off. So that had more to do with my rules around communication than to use the tools. But yes, there are some tools that deserve an applause like source code tracking, whiteboard, screen-share, task-trackers etc. The point is to not be dependent on one tool so you don’t see any other way, but instead make the tools work for you. Also, always have backup tools. If video calling over a certain tool isn’t working, you should at least be able to message someone to let them know that, and ideally have another tool ready to shift your video meeting there.

This article might not answer all the burning questions you have related to remote work but I hope this serves as a guideline for you to(question your own process and) make it easier.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay productive

Leave your comments below and let me know if you have any other tips or if you don’t agree with me on something.