Remote work

Common traps

Recent Covid-19 situation forced many IT companies to allow its workers to perform their duties from home offices. Some of us are familiar with working remotely, others tried it for the first time. Those who consider themselves fully remote workers, or digital nomads experienced no change in their day-to-day work. Others had to rearrange their lives to efficiently work from home.

Perhaps you were one of the stationary employees who enjoyed working remotely and would love to continue working from anywhere you’d like to after the pandemic is over. If your company is taking its first steps in enabling remote work for anyone, you might experience some common problems and need to avoid risks that might not be obvious at first.

Permanent remote work is much more difficult than short term home office period. Since it is not temporary, you need to overcome each issue related to remote work you might encounter. A few of them are so annoying they can discourage you from continuing remote employment career. It is simpler to fight them once you observe their first symptoms.

Insufficient communication

Co-located teams benefit from close physical distance of team members. It is easy to approach someone’s desk and get updates on a given subject. It is more difficult when team members aren’t physically present and often don’t share the same time zone. If they ignore communication channels, their work might conflict with efforts of the rest of the team or sometimes be unnoticed.

If you proceed with some task but fail to inform others the team might unnecessarily double the effort on this task. Risky project decisions, taking ownership of fixing production issues, or fixing a bug also needs to be broadcasted to the team.

Most of the time teams utilize collaboration tools like issue trackers and group communicators. Right tools combined with a set of rules of communication and group collaboration can easily eliminate this problem. Don’t try the lone gunman attitude, it can be more harmful in a distributed team than in a co-located team.

Work-life balance disruption

When you work from home it is easy to fall into a trap of trading your private time for additional office time. At first it seems harmless to spend extra time to fix one more bug, approach a complex issue from another angle or catch-up with a team member working during different office hours than you.

Working in isolation is easy when everything is going well. When you fail to deliver on time, face problems you didn’t predict, or simply don’t know how to deliver a solution you might think that others wonder whether you’re slacking off instead of delivering. You might start to doubt whether you’re capable to work alone or even skilled enough to proceed with tasks you were assigned to deal with.

This might lead to working overtime in order to catch up and disruption of work-life balance. Your workday slowly becomes longer than the number of hours you agreed to spend with the team. Your family becomes confused why you are not available for them even though you were expected to finish your work already.

Constant feeling of being at work, no clear separation of business time and private time, and family dissatisfaction over the quality of life led a few of my colleagues to fast burnout and ending remote work career.

In the end you need to spend time on personal tasks during agreed office hours to catch up with personal obligations. Your team members become confused why they can’t count on you when you’re expected to be focusing your attention on team needs. Your family is confused, why you are not available to them even though your office hours are over. Frustration grows both on the family side and team side.

First steps with remote work might end up horribly if boundaries between work and private life aren’t clearly defined and strictly obeyed.

It is easy to avoid this problem. You need to be aware you won’t be able to solve every problem on your own and it’s not a sign of weakness to ask other team members for help and advice.

Social distancing

If you like socializing with your peers face-to-face then interacting with your team over video calls or chats might not be enough. Social distancing might be tough if it is against your nature. In this case you might consider a hybrid solution where you spend a few days a week working from home and show up in the office rest of the time. You might also realize that remote work is not for you. And it’s completely fine.

Second class citizens

Your team might tend to exclude remote team members from decision making meetings. It is easy to create a quick ad-hoc meeting in office kitchen, discuss an issue and decide how to solve it. Inviting a remote team member to join via a video call might seem too much trouble. Such approach is devastating to team’s integrity. A team member excluded from decision making process might quickly lose all the enthusiasm and initiative. This leads to indifference and providing minimum effort to deliver the quickest solution, most of the time at the cost of quality.

Summary

It is easy to be bad at remote working. Communication issues can be devastating. Small misunderstandings might grow to big problems. It is crucial to spend extra effort on making sure each team member’s voice is equal and equally easily heard.

If your team is utilizing Scrum, make sure every meeting is equally accessible for each team member. Retrospective meetings might require additional tools for anonymous gathering subjects to discuss and platform to vote on most relevant ones. Daily stand up meetings have to gather all team members. Remote team members should be able to demo solutions to client as same as co-located team members. 

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Andrzej Bobak

Andrzej Bobak

Java Development

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