As a company with offices in five different countries in northern Europe and one that likes to sell cross-site teams, our employees have some experience in this area. We really do think it’s a great way of working under normal circumstances, too, and our experiences with remote teams working from several locations are primarily positive.
What makes remote work really work is a highly subjective experience, so as a company we’ve never set out to define guidelines for how to get the most out of it. Luckily, many awesome people at Futurice have taken it upon themselves to find ways to make remote work as rewarding, efficient and enjoyable as possible, without resorting to watching Nailed It! on Netflix and ignoring all incoming calls and messages.
Make remote work really work
As stated, it’s a highly subjective experience, so experimenting is a good idea. Here are some things that have worked for people at Futurice to get you started and a reading list if you wish to go a bit deeper:
Always assume that people have good intentions. A collaboration of distributed teams can easily lead to misunderstanding. Always assume that nobody tries to create confusion but work together in a team and be respected as an individual.
If only a part of your team is co-located, make sure everyone is included. Don’t get cliquey. We’re not in high school anymore. You may have to make some extra effort to keep everyone in the inner circle. Make Slack or some other comms channel your real office.
Communicate at least as actively as you do when you’re at the office - but sometimes even more actively
Out of sight, out of mind is a thing. Don’t fall prey to it and make sure you communicate actively with your team and anyone else you need to when you’re working from home - both formally and informally. The latter is a very important information conduit in development teams.
Try to do all the things you usually do to keep the team culture and spirit: dailies, afternoon chats, etc.
But above all, be smart. Don’t blast away in all channels all the time. The point is to make sure that no information vital to the success of the project is lost despite the prevailing circumstances. Asynchronous communication like comments and task assignments can be very powerful when used right.
Pay attention to how and when you receive communications
Be available to receive communications. That being said, remote work and its attendant need for more or at least different communications in various channels doesn’t mean you have to make yourself available at all times. Be smart. Do not interrupt what you are doing to receive communications. If necessary, have a pad next to your computer and make notes that you can get back to after you’ve completed your current task.
Schedule calls for times when you know you’re not working on something else. It may be anything from 15 minutes to several hours after the initial request, but make sure you communicate it clearly.
Keep your working routines as intact as possible - both as individuals and teams
Don’t postpone things just because you’re working remotely. If you need your work environment to be as close to the one you have at the office try to replicate it at home: if you’re used to working at a desk with a proper chair and a screen, sitting on the couch with a laptop may take you out of your groove. If you’re the sort of person who likes change, go for it. Put your feet on the coffee table!
Video and voice
For team meetings, use video whenever possible. It really does make the participants more present.
Avoid communicating in writing about things you’d normally prefer to talk about in person or over the phone. Do a telco or a video meeting. Especially if the subject is potentially difficult or lends itself to negative interpretations.
Always-on video or voice for project work is the extreme choice - great for some, a distraction for others, so use with care. Having an always-on connection with your team or a colleague may bring you closer and give you someone to even have lunch with. If you feel leery about having this kind of connection in your home, you can use it at defined junctures in a project, such as when doing pair programming or going over a particularly challenging issue.
This requires high-quality video and audio equipment. A big screen is essential. Noise from a tiny laptop speaker and a tiny little colleague on a tiny little screen are not something that you want in your space all the time. We've had some good experiences with multi-site teams using always-on video.
Meeting virtually requires more care
Having a meeting with some or all participants “dialing in” requires a little more care and expectations management than sitting in a room together. Make sure that the purpose is clear to everyone. Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them during the meeting. Distributing information about the meeting in advance in writing is a good idea. Always. Take some time to prep and make sure all the tech works. Taking notes and other forms of documentation, such as visualizations, are very important. Use co-creation tools that allow anyone who wants to contribute to do so.
Make sure everyone leaves the meeting with a clear picture of what is expected of them.
Embrace the flex
You don’t have to work 9-to-5. You can decide on different hours based on the needs of the team, client or project.
Please note none of the above means that remote work should strive to totally replicate the office experience. It can’t. Take the parts of the office that help you work and use those.
Reading list (Updated March 17th)
There are some companies that have made a real virtue out of remote work under normal circumstances, creating products that have had a huge impact on the net and even society. We expect the amount of Gabriel Garcia Marquez references to just keep growing and growing... Here are some reading materials recommended by our employees:
Harvard Business Review's talk with Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley about remote work
- Marten Mickos: 8 strategies to set up remote work during the coronavirus outbreak
- Marten Mickos also runs the School of Herring website for leadership in a distributed world.
- A selection of remote work guides from Twist
- A Quick Security Checklist for Remote Works (or Anyone, Really) from doist
- Alice Goldfuss: Work in the Time of Corona
- A Harvard Business Review article with good pointers on making remote teams work
- How to Work from Home and Not Feel Like a Lonely Garbage Slug by Vice - customary language and tone warnings in effect
- Our very own Nelli Myllylä and Sebastian Hojas on facilitating remote workshops
- Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hanson: Remote - Office Not Required
- Scott Berkun: The Year Without Pants - WordPress.com and the Future of Work
- Wade Foster & the Zapier Team: The Ultimate Guide to Remote Work
- Scott Hanselman: Love in a Time of Corona - Tips, Tricks and Best Practices for Working Remotely
- Matt Mullenweg: Coronavirus and the Remote Work Experiment No One Asked For
- A fairly thorough look at what not to do when implementing remote work by GitLab