On Working Remotely

May 11th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously brought remote working into focus. Many meetups have also been forced to move to use online mediums. Of interest to me is that this month’s Sydney Rorosyd meetup will focus on how COVID-19 has affected workers.

The meetup will include an interactive forum about “issues, opportunities, and challenges during the pandemic”.

Some of the questions to be discussed will include:

As someone who has worked remotely since 2008 I have a keen perspective on these questions. So I thought I would lay out some thoughts in this post in advance of the meetup.

Reflecting on Remote Work during COVID-19

Before I say more about working remotely during COVID-19 it is important for me to stress that because I have had the advantage of working remotely for many years, some of my recent experience is not that different from my experience during the previous 12 years.

However, perhaps that is one reason why I think I can offer a useful perspective about work during the pandemic.

Remote social connection

I’ve always felt that there’s something very valuable about mixing with work colleagues in a social environment, whether it’s at a pub or elsewhere. Obviously when all members of the work group are forced to work remotely from each other, the lack of such gatherings is brought into sharp focus.

Last week I realised that my own work group had been missing an element of social interaction. Before the COVID-19 restrictions came into force, I would visit the office in Melbourne every few months, enabling some important face-to-face interaction. It has now been nearly three months since my last visit and the next is unlikely to be any time soon. So, we have agreed to a monthly online gathering which has only two stipulations. Each member of the group will bring their beverage of choice and the online gathering will be strictly social. I’m hopeful that it will prove to be a fruitful bonding exercise. We shall see!

Remote work routines

My work group is currently all in the same time zone on the east coast of Australia. Several elements guide our daily work routine. First of all, we have a custom that when we start work for the day we announce that fact in our main Slack channel and set ourselves to active. This signal in Slack is a simple yet effective way of letting our colleagues know that we are working and available to collaborate.

Another key part of the “getting ready for the day” is our standup meeting, which we hold via a video call. Whilst we don’t conform to the traditional expectation of standing up, we definitely keep the meeting brief by sharing our main Trello screen and taking turns to let each other know where we are up to.

Our daily standup meeting is scheduled for 10am, which I consider to be a civilised time of day. Personally, I’m not an early starter. I tend to start work between 9am and 9:30am most days and usually work through until after 6pm. I find that our team’s 10am startup meeting is an importance cadence for our work pattern. It gives us a chance to get on the same page, understand what each other is aiming to achieve for the remainder of the day and then allows us to all get on with it.

For the remainder of the day, we communicate using whichever means is most effective. It may be via Slack, Trello, GitHub or, when the need arises, via a video call.

Remote collaboration

Has our team’s collaboration changed since we we all began working from home most of the time?

I find this question difficult to answer because I’m so used to working from home. However, I really don’t think it has much for us.

More generally, I will be interested to hear more about other people’s experiences. I know that some colleagues in the industry have found it difficult to adjust to working from home, especially those who live alone and are used to depending on social interaction in the workplace.

Taking care of yourself

How am I taking care of myself?

Well, I do try to maintain a discipline of doing my morning stretches and getting some exercise, even if it’s just walking the dog. And, in my case I’ve been fortunate to get in a few games of golf. Simple actions like getting outside and watering plants in my garden help my mental health as well.

As far as more work-related activities goes, I’ve been doing some work on the codebase that supports this site. I also provide occasional assistance to my startup partner on our side project, RemoteRetro, which, by the way, is an even more useful tool during these times.

And there’s always something work-related that I’m reading.

Remote Work in General

Advantages

I find it interesting to observe how people are adapting to remote work. To me it has many obvious advantages apart from helping prevent the spread of disease!

Here are a few that come easily to mind:

Acceptance

Acceptance of remote work by managers was a sticking point in many organisations prior to COVID-19. It will be interesting to see how much this attitude will have changed after the crisis has passed.

An obvious reason for a lack of acceptance in the past relates to trusting workers to actually spend the time that they’re paid to work by working. As software developers, it should be obvious how we can demonstrate that we are producing work of value.

Collectively, if we can use the tools at our disposal to demonstrate that we are being productive workers, hopefully greater acceptance will result.


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