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Working Remotely: Good Practices and Useful Resources

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Key Takeaways

  • Remote working is not a new phenomenon, however the way so many people have been forced into working remotely is a cause of stress and uncertainty
  • What is happening is not “normal” remote working - it probably involves sharing the working space with a spouse, partner, parents or flatmate and quite likely children who are simultaneously trying to figure out how remote-schooling works
  • One of the most important pieces of advice which has been repeated around the world as societies respond to the need for people to be isolated is “be kind”
  • There are a wide range of resources which can help make the transition to remote working more effective
This is an evolving page and it will be updated with new information regularly. The content was last updated on 01 December 2020.

 

2020 will go down in history as the year remote work suddenly became the way we do things.  The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a trend that InfoQ has been following for the last few years.  Today knowledge workers are not bound by the constraints of a single office location - creativity and productivity are not tied to being in a single place for a fixed number of hours. 

Because of the pandemic many millions of people have been thrown into the situation of having to work remotely, often without the right tools and support in place (at least initially) for them to be effective. 

While remote working may appear straightforward, there are common issues that come up as you shift to this way of working that may not be apparent, even if you’ve done regular remote days as part of your working week. For people thrust into this suddenly, the impact of the change will be significant.   This is not “normal” remote working, in which people have time to plan how they will set up their space, find equipment and furniture which suits their location and lifestyle and make a considered transition to working remotely.  This is responding to change in the most immediate way, it probably involves sharing the working space with a spouse, partner, parents or flatmate and quite likely children who are simultaneously trying to figure out how remote-schooling works.

One of the most important pieces of advice which has been repeated around the world as societies respond to the need for people to be isolated is “be kind” - be kind to yourself, be kind to your colleagues, be kind to your staff, be kind to your manager, be kind to the people sharing your space.  Kindness, empathy and genuine care for each other’s well being will bring us through this time, and coming out the other side we’ll see what the “new normal” really is. 

These resources will help you navigate the remote working issues so you can work as effectively as possible in the current times.

InfoQ will continue to focus on remote working as new things evolve in this space.  To receive notifications, follow the topic "remote developer" on InfoQ.

Remote working good practices and resources from QCon London 2020 and Elsewhere

Follow the topic "QCon London 2020" to receive notifications as we publish other videos from the conference.

How to make remote working effective

At QCon London 2020 earlier this month, Charles Humble gave a well-received talk sharing his experiences working remotely for InfoQ and elsewhere. Charles covered practical suggestions on how to make remote working effective, touching on issues such as deep work, mental health, and psychological safety.

Scaling Distributed Teams Around the Globe

Ranganathan Balashanmugam, CTO at EverestEngineering, explains how one distributed organization (with bases in two Indian cities, and in Australia) has applied distributed systems patterns to scaling distributed teams’ processes and further improved them. He shares examples of what went right, what went wrong, what they've learned as they've built a network of effective distributed teams across multiple countries, in multiple time zones.

Mark Kilby, Distributed Coach/Mentor & Community Cultivator, discusses disciplines for leading a distributed organization: manage change through experimentation, amplify communication and collaboration, and focus on principles over practices.

How to Be a High Performing Distributed Agile Team

Lisette Sutherland, Author of Work Together Anywhere, shares her new ideas for what it means to be "present" at work and how to create that sense of camaraderie even when you’re virtual.

Handling "Difficult" Remote Conversations Like A Pro

Remote Collaboration Consultant Judy Rees provided advice for leaders on having difficult conversations with individuals and groups in a remote setting. Judy shares her tips that have worked for distributed-working pioneers and ways to apply them yourselves.

Setting Up a Virtual Office for Remote Teams

Angela Yurchenko of MightyCall provides practical advice on what’s needed from a tools and technology perspective as well as the important cultural changes many managers need to enable in order to support effective remote working.  She explains how important it is to provide the same technology stack, project management tools, cybersecurity, and communication software for all employees regardless of working location

Ideas for Remote Retrospectives that Engage

Retrospectives are an important tool for teams to improve their ways of working and increase collaboration. A remote meetup in March 2020 explored a variety of ways to run remote retrospectives using different tools. 

As organisations make remote working more and more the norm, the employee onboarding experience needs to change to engage new people with their colleagues and the organisation effectively. The onboarding experience needs to be designed to engage the new employee and actively make them feel welcome and a part of the team.

A Canvas for Remote Teamwork

The secret to success for an effective meeting, in person or remote, is the preparation put into the event.  With remote meetings the deliberate design for the event has a direct impact on the participants’ experience.  The folks from Double O Consulting have prepared a remote team canvas and a remote meeting canvas to help plan and position what is needed when it comes to effective remote collaboration.  

The remote team canvas is designed to help you work out what things need to be in place to work together effectively and maintain workflow from remote locations. It's designed to go beyond technical capability to focus on communication, team norms, expectations, meetings and well-being.

Both canvases can be downloaded from the Double O website.

The Effective Remote Developer

At QCon San Francisco 2017, David Copeland, (who was until recently director of engineering at Stitch Fix), gave a wonderful presentation about being an effective remote developer. David discusses what can be done to be our best self as a remote team member, as well as what people need from their environment, team, and company. It's not about technical stuff - it's the human stuff. How one can be present and effective when not physically there.

GitLab 2020 Remote Work Report

GitLab has just released its 2020 Remote Work Report. InfoQ spoke to GitLab head of remote Darren Murph to learn more about their findings. Based on over 3,000 respondents across various industries and roles, the report gives a glimpse of what remote work might look like in the future.

Buffer & AngelList 2020 State of Remote Work report

Buffer and AngelList recently published the 2020 State of Remote Work report which found that Remote Work Flourishes and Enables Business Continuity.  Even before COVID-19 forced so many people to suddenly become remote workers, the report found that

The question is no longer "is remote work here to stay?" It seems like remote work might even be the new normal.

The report explored the challenges people found with remote working. The report revealed that 58% of negative experiences were down to collaboration difficulties, isolation and "not being able to unplug."  All of these challenges are being exacerbated in the current situation where people have been forced to become suddenly remote

 

Remote working is here to stay 

It has become very clear that remote working is a trend that is here to stay.  Organisations large and small have identified the benefits and overcome some of the challenges of remote working and found it on balance to be a good thing.  As tech industry employees get used to working from home, large tech companies are making long-term decisions about allowing and encouraging their people to work remotely. Facebook, Twitter, Shopify and others are making plans to have most or all of their workforce permanently remote.

Maintaining Mental & Physical Health While Working Remotely

Mental health and wellbeing is in the spotlight - with hundreds of thousands of people shifting to a new working environment in the midst of the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,  anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and frustration are normal reactions.   InfoQ reported on some resources and advice to help maintain mental health when under stress.  We need to be kind to ourselves, and accept that these emotions will happen, without minimising or denying them. There are things that you can do to help overcome the stress; empathic responding is one way to positively deal with the stresses we all find ourselves under.

Research shows that mental health is still not well addressed in most workplaces, mainly because it is still stigmatized in society despite impacting at least one in five people at any given time,  and the importance of training managers to support the mental health of their teams.  The World Health Organisation has stated that maintaining physical and mental health are key to resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides advice on how to look after yourself and support those around you.   Time Magazine provides some straightforward tips on how to stay physically and mentally healthy while stuck at home.

When teams are co-located it’s easy to notice behavioural changes which may be an indicator of something going wrong for a colleague or a group.  When Working remotely this is not so clear.  Dr Michelle O’Sullivan, a clinical psychologist, wrote a series of three articles on “Tech-ing care” of yourself, your team and your community.

Being aware of types of anxiety disorders that we may be subject to is useful knowledge, The folks from AMFM - A Mission for Michael have shared a pretty comprehensive list that  and some useful advice on coping with anxiety.  

More Resources from Around the Web

Judy Rees recently released a downloadable guide to Web Events that Connect, which she describes as a how-to guide to delivering engagement, multilateral dialogue and after-event action. The guide can be downloaded here (requires registration).

Lisette Sutherland of Collaboration Superpowers has a comprehensive list of tools for remote teams, as well as a weekly newsletter that provides advice on a wide range of topics related to working effectively remotely.

Brenda Leeuwenberg of Nomad8 makes a point that the “new new ways of working” are not normal.  She points out that:

Many people have failed to understand that working from home, and being online is not just transferring a 9-5 office rhythm to one in front of your webcam.

What I want to emphasize is the need to calm the f*** down people. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Life is not normal. This is not the new normal way of working. Cut yourselves some slack. And don’t spend your whole day online trying to be what you were offline.

Chris Weston and Dominic Mason  are curating a comprehensive Remote Work Survival Kit in a  Google doc that they invite others to contribute to.

Simon Powers of Adventures with Agile has started a series of video lessons on facilitating remote meetings.  The first one talks about Zoom settings and having presence in a remote meeting.

Jimmy Janlén and Anders Ivarsson of Crisp compiled a list of tips and advice on how to make the most of remote collaboration and working from home. Their presentation can be downloaded here.

Lindred Greer wrote a piece in Entrepreneur  exploring Why Remote Work Makes Teams (And Leaders) Better.  She says: 

The silver lining of this is that these difficulties in going remote will force companies to take a more intentional approach to people dynamics than they did when operating in person, and this will only make companies more effective when in-person operations resume again.

Dom Nicastro  asks Does Your Work from Home Policy Respect Employee Nuances?  Quoting Kristina Podnar who says: 

These policies need to account for the way in which employees want to work and how they work

Steve Denning explains in a Forbes article Why Working Virtually Will Become A Permanent Option

By the Numbers: The folks at Xobin have compiled 90 Remote Work Statistics drawing on a number of published studies.

Forbes published a discussion of the 4 Work-From-Home Mistakes That Cost Businesses Thousands Of Dollars featuring Molood Ceccarelli of Remote Forever

These mistakes are:

  • Using Too Many Online Tools
  • Instituting Mandatory Meetings
  • Not Being Explicit About Expectations 
  • Depending On Real-Time Conversations

She says:

If remote work is new to your team, remember this: it doesn’t have to be a copy cat of your office set up. Open yourself up to new possibilities of getting things done, working together and creating culture.

Matt Srephens of Inpulse has written a piece on Employee Engagement for remote teams with advice on establishing communications patterns, promoting wellbeing and ideas around feedback and support.

Effective Remote Meetings Article Series & eMag

Remote working expert Judy Rees curated a series of articles for InfoQ on making remote meetings more effective.  These were turned into an eMag released in October 2019.

She says that:

while remote meeting technology is steadily improving, outdated remote meeting practices aren’t keeping pace with changes in the way teams work. For example, rigid agendas and command-style chairmanship, near-obsolete when it comes to in-person meetings are still common online

In the series the authors explore how to keep people engaged during remote meetings, how to overcome cultural differences, provide guidance on technology and tools that help make remote meetings more effective, explore team culture and how it impacts effective remote collaboration and how to strengthen relationships remotely.

Software Teams and Teamwork Trends Report Q1 2020

How do we cope with an environment that has been radically disrupted, where people are suddenly thrust into remote work in a chaotic state? What are the emerging good practices and new ideas that are shaping the way in which software development teams work? What can we do to make the workplace a more secure and diverse one while increasing the productivity of our teams? The Software Teams and Teamwork Trends Report aims to assist technical leaders in making mid- to long-term decisions that will have a positive impact on their organisations and teams and help individual contributors find the practices, approaches, tools, techniques and frameworks that can help them get a better experience at work - irrespective of where they are working from.

InfoQ Culture Podcasts On Remote Work, Teamwork and Coping with the New Normal

Panel: Suddenly Distributed - Effective Agility in the Age of Coronavirus     

In this special edition of the podcast, made in conjunction with Retrium and the Agile Alliance, we brought together a panel of remote working experts to explore and share experiences around what teams and individuals can do to cope and be effective in the environment where so many people are suddenly forced to work from home and collaborate remotely. 

Jim Rose on Building a Great Engineering Culture in a Remote Team         

In this podcast, Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Jim Rose of Circle CI about building a great engineering culture in a distributed, remote team.

You won’t find new and creative ways to solve problems unless you experiment and try new things, and see which work and which don’t.

Helen Bartimote and Jamie Dobson on Mental Health and Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In this podcast, Shane spoke to Helen Bartimote and Jamie Dobson from Container Solutions about maintaining mental health and wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acknowledging the emotional reactions and their impact is an important part of being able to cope with what is happening.  It's really important to give them time and know that they will pass, come back again and pass, and that’s OK.

Judy Rees on Effective Remote Meetings

In this podcast Shane spoke to Judy Rees about how real, interactive, participative meetings and training conducted over video conferences is now possible, provided some effort is put in to getting things right from the beginning.  The quality of conversations matters; if you want high-quality conversations then you need to allow time for human, social interactions.

Advice for Managers to Promote Mental Wellness in Turbulent Times

In this podcast, Shane spoke to Dr. Michelle O’Sullivan and Douglas Talbot about how managers and team leads can support the mental wellness of their teams through turbulent times.

Johanna Rothman & Mark Kilby on Their Book From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams

In this podcast recorded at Agile 2019, Shane spoke to Johanna Rothman & Mark Kilby about their book From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams

Quinn Slack of Sourcegraph on Moving to Fully Remote and Zoomcations

In this podcast, Shane spoke to Quinn Slack, CEO of Sourcegraph, about becoming a fully remote company, ways to improve communication and collaboration and the value of Zoomcations.

About the Authors

Shane Hastie is the Director of Community Development for ICAgile, a global accreditation and certification body dedicated to improving the state of agile learning. Since first using XP in 2000 Shane's been passionate about helping organizations and teams adopt sustainable, humanistic ways of working – irrespective of the brand or label they go by. Shane was a Director of the Agile Alliance from 2011 until 2016. Shane leads the Culture and Methods editorial team for InfoQ.com

Charles Humble was editor-in-chief at InfoQ.com from March 2014 to April 2020, guiding our content creation including news, articles, books, video presentations and interviews. Prior to taking on the full-time role at InfoQ, Charles led our Java coverage, and was CTO for PRPi Consulting, a renumeration research firm that was acquired by PwC in July 2012. For PRPi he had overall responsibility for the development of all the custom software used within the company. He has worked in enterprise software for around 20 years as a developer, architect and development manager. In his spare time he writes music as 1/3 of London-based ambient techno group Twofish, whose debut album came out in February 2014 after 14 years of messing about with expensive toys, and spends as much time as he can with his wife and young family.

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