The Challenges of Working Remotely in the face of COVID-19

The situation with COVID-19 changed quickly, and we all needed to adapt with it.  We and our families are working from home in the face of safety and security.  In order to make this work as best we can, here are some tips, tricks, best practices, lessons learned, and gotchas that I have learned, tried, or heard about from team members over the last two weeks while working remotely.

Environment

  • A comfortable, quiet work environment where you wont be disturbed, and where you won’t disturb others.
  • A desk with enough room so you can spread out.
  • A chair that is comfortable, even hours after sitting in it.  I have found the chairs designed with mesh on the back and seat to be the most comfortable to me.
  • Ideally you should have a view of the outdoors.  People are more productive when they can see the sunlight and the environment outside.
  • Be sure you have breakfast and lunch, possibly prepared beforehand, or are easy to make.  Skipping meals is not good.
  • When you get dressed in the morning, wear comfortable but work-video-conference-appropriate clothes.
  • Set rules about space with the people at home.  When you are available to talk, when can’t you be disturbed, when are your breaks, and the same availability times for your new work-from-home officemates.  Signals like doors or flags can be a big help.

Tech

  • Enough bandwidth at home to accommodate you and your other family members in parallel while you are working.  Remember children and spouses will all be competing for bandwidth.  FIOS Gigabit Connection might be available in your area.
  • Robust wifi network for sustained usage – strong AC or AX router like Asus RT-AX88U, or even better – upgrade to mesh, like the Eero Pro.
  • Get a great set of comfortable bluetooth headphones, able to be used wired and wireless, and usable while charging.  I like the Bose 700 but they are real expensive.  I bought the Apple AirPods Pro. on sale on Amazon Warehouse and they are great.  But working at home, I really like the Jabra Elite 85h.  I got those via Amazon Warehouse, too.  Price isn’t everything – Anker SoundBuds Slim+ and Anker SoundCore Life P2 are just as good.   And I still have my trusty wired Bose Soundsports for emergencies.
  • Wireless mice, trackpads, keyboards, etc.  I like the Logitech MX Anywhere 2S, and (i know it’s strange) the original Apple Wireless Keyboard.
  • A second monitor is a blessing.  Particularly if you are going to be sharing your screen all the time on video conference calls. There are a LOT of them out there.  Pick a budget and find the best one you can for yourself.
  • If you are going to have all those devices hooked up to your computer, a USB hub might be a good idea.  I just bought the Vava USB-C 9-in-1 Hub.
  • Get all the chargers, cables, adapters, etc. for all your devices.  I like this particular multi-charger cable on Amazon – it can charge Lightning, Micro-USB, and USB-C devices.
  • Ensure your VPN is properly configured and is working as expected.
  • If your desktop or laptop doesn’t come with a video conference camera, then the Logitech HD Pro C920 or C922 will work great.
  • Video and Audio Conferencing software is installed and working as expected on your machine from home.  Most companies use WebEx.  If so, use Brady Bunch mode, to see your team all at once.
  • Slack or Microsoft Teams are a staple in communication.  Ensure it is connected on multiple devices and ready to go.
  • The whole world is connecting to work via VPN, using WebEx, and turning on their video cameras.  Put WebEx on your phone, and disconnect from Wifi.  Be prepared to use it as a backup if VPN and WebEx are slow, or crash.
  • If you are a software developer, you may need to pair program.  VSCode Live Share can do this.  You can also use Tuple if you are on a Mac.

Team

  • You need to actively connect with your team.  People don’t walk by or bump into you in the cafeteria any more.
  • Schedule more one-on-ones, even if they are only 5 to 15 minutes.  Consciously interact within your circles.
  • It may be good to schedule virtual water cooler time with your team, just to ensure communication and camaraderie still happens regularly.
  • Someone on my team scheduled a virtual Happy Hour.  Everyone brought their own drinks, and hung out around the video cameras at the event.  They laughed and carried on and had a great time.
  • Teambuilding events are a great way to break the monotony, get peoples’ minds off work and the news for a while, and interact with their team members.  There are lots of things you can do remotely.  I will be doing a follow-up post on this.
  • Be sure to prioritize communication and collaboration.  Over-communicate if necessary, on multiple communication channels.  Reward people who come up with creative and resourceful ways to keep interaction levels high.

Mindfullness

  • Begin and end the day around the same time as much as possible.  Ensure you create a balance between work and home, just as you do when commuting to the office.
  • Ensure you also create the transitions to and from work.  When commuting, that was naturally created on the train or in the car.  You still need that transition.  Get dressed, get your coffee, have breakfast, make a to do list for the day, start slow with email.  Develop the same kind of routine to break away from work – check off your to do list, ideas for tomorrow, take a short walk.
  • Build in time to get up, walk around, take a break, possibly go for a stroll outside.  My peers share photos from their walks and snack times with each other to keep the spirits up and break up the routine.
  • Remember that in the face of COVID-19, services like childcare, pet care, food shopping, etc. are going to be much harder, and teammates may need to dedicate work time towards those things.  Be sure to be accommodating.
  • Don’t forget that you need to take a break, and vacation days and sick days / mental health days are still critically important.  Don’t hesitate to take them as you need them.

Wrap Up

These are just some of the experiences that me and my colleagues have had over the lat two weeks as we adjust.  i am sure there will be many more, and lots of opportunities to learn and improve.

Scott Hanselman has been working remotely for a very long time, and writes quite often about it.  You can read his tips, tricks, and best practices for working remotely.  He has written a lot of other good articles about remote working, and he dropped some of the links right on the blog post.  Lots to learn for all of us in these articles.

Here is a group of 21 Thought Leaders On Remote Work.  Also lots of great articles on best practices, culture setting, meeting best practices, time zone management, and more.

I am sure you have your own ideas about what works and what doesn’t.  Leave comments below about your experiences.

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