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Ted Goas
Ted Goas

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Suddenly Working from Home?

A Short Guide to Working Remotely for Co-located Teams

COVID-19 is unlike anything we've seen in our lifetime. Companies are taking precautions to protect their employees and (hopefully) curb the Coronavirus's spread. This means many are closing their offices and asking employees to work from home.

That's the right call for us privileged folk who can work from home.

But now you're scrambling to translate your team's office culture online. Let me tell you something:

You can do this!

Working remotely is less scary than it may feel like at first. It's about the people and the culture, not the tools. I'm not even gonna talk about tools in this article.

Maybe you start by doing a few Google searches and seeing what tips are being shared on social media. Companies like Buffer, Zapier, GitLab, Basecamp, and Automattic come up a lot.

If you only take one thing away here, make it this:

Do not compare yourself to these companies

These companies have years of experience working with a distributed workforce. It's in their DNA. Sure it's insightful to see how they overcome the challenges of working remotely, but it's a lot to take in for a team trying to salvage some resemblance of productivity amidst a pandemic.

Remember, this isn't about remote work, it's about forced isolation. As Andreas Klinger says:

Your goal right now is not to become a fully functional remote team overnight. Your first goal is to establish an emergency work-from-home setup that sustains your productivity.

Got it? Good. Phew!

With that out of the way, think about the most important parts of your team's culture. Remote work isn’t an all or none concept, so you can pick the parts that work best for you and your team.

I've worked remotely since 2016 when I joined Stack Overflow, but I worked in office jobs for 15+ years before that. I remember what it's like to be on both sides. Here are a few random thoughts based on that transition:

Productivity will probably decrease.

"Can you hear me?" "Can you see my screen?" There will be technical glitches. Folks won't grok all the new tools right away. That's ok. Remember we're just trying to salvage what we can here, especially in the first few weeks.

Establish working hours and norms.

If your company has an ass-in-chair mentality (hey we've all been there), set up a #current-status or #hi-bye channel in chat where folks can signal when they're available and when they're away. It's also important to be more aware of the time, especially late in the day. Since you're already at home and might not notice that it's dark out and you've been working for 12 hours because you're at home!

Remember to walk around.

Commuting and navigating an office involves walking. Working at home really doesn't. Your bed, kitchen, and bathroom are likely only a few steps away from your work area, so it's important to get intentional exercise. Going for a walk around your neighborhood seems to be one of a few safe things to do. I'm also digging into at-home workouts.

Remember the idle chat.

Spontaneous conversations at work are important. Conversations around the coffee machine and having lunch together are great ways to bond with coworkers in an office. You can recreate some of this online by creating non-work channels in chat (eg. #random, #listening-room, #coffee-n-tea, #work-from-home-tips), having a happy hour over video chat (hey I'm doing that with my non-work friends), and holding team building exercises on a Google Meet call. I've found there's almost nothing you can't recreate in video chat, you just have to be creative for a while.

Be transparent with your communication.

When communication is moved from an office to 100% online, folks might be afraid they're missing out on key conversations and decisions they might otherwise see in the office. Transparent communication solves this issue.

Use public chat rooms whenever possible. As Jon Ericson says:

Instead of asking 'Who needs to know this?', ask 'Is there any reason this should be private?' The answer is almost always No.

"Public by default, private if you have to."

I promised this'd be short, so I'll stop there. I'm happy to keep the discussion going in the comments πŸ’¬

Remember this isn't about transforming your culture to be remote-first or rethinking your companies core values and processes. We're just trying to get by in this strange, new world.

I won't hit you will a million WFH links published within the last week, but here are two worth reading:

Stay safe our there friends ✌️

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