As developers, the teams you work on can have a broad spectrum of work styles. Job opportunities can range from full-time in office work, to part-time work from home (maybe some days at home where your colleagues are only a whim away) to complete digital nomad (where you change places and time zones from one day to the next).
This broad spectrum of work experiences has its pros and cons and Covid-19 has brought these considerations to the forefront for all teams. Many companies are now going "remote first", which opens their horizons to qualified remote developers all around the globe. Physical barriers are no longer an issue for developers anymore.
Luckily as developers, it’s pretty easy to access the tools to keep you organized no matter where you are located. Apps such as Slack, Google Drive, Github, Zoom, etc. create synergy within your team. These tools make life easier for remote employees.
Whether you’re working remotely for the first time or you are a seasoned digital nomad, there’s always room for improvement in the realm of communication. Here are 3 tips that can truly improve the way you and your team handle remote work.
1. Keep Scheduled Meetings
When working in different time zones and countries, it's hard to keep in touch with your teammates. You can’t just pop your head over your cubicle and talk to them whenever you need.
That's why it's super important to schedule meetings in order to keep track of everything and create opportunities for interaction between teammates. Not only just for your Scrum ceremonies but also other meetings like 1:1 meetings with teammates to talk about whatever comes up.
Apps like Donut, a platform that connects you with random teammates and syncs your calendars to find an ideal time for both of you, can be used to help coordinate these meetings but they can also offer much more. For example, Donut’s randomization feature can be used to create a more personal connection with the people you work with and improve the synergy between members of the team.
Of course, it's important to keep big stretches of time “meeting free” in order to be able to do your best work undisturbed. A good way to communicate to your team that you are in “Do Not Disturb” mode is with a program called ClockWise, that allows you to set up "focus time" with your team.
2. Low vs High Bandwidth Comms
Once you have successfully squashed that bug during your focus time, you’ll need to reach out to your remote team and answer any questions you may have missed.
Low bandwidth communication focuses on quick async messages (think Slack, email and such). In contrast, high bandwidth communications like Zoom and Google Meet convey more nuance and employ the more primitive but highly developed human signal processing parts of our brain, perfect for getting subtle points across.
Recently, distributed teams have benefited from modern chat room experiences like Discord and Slack. Their chat rooms allow entire teams to openly collaborate in a public forum for all to contribute.
No matter which type of communication you prefer it’s likely that you will need to utilize both forms (low and high bandwidth) in order to stay in constant, understandable communication with your team.
If your message’s intention and high importance must be absolutely clear, then you should utilize the high bandwidth version of communication. As an example, a regular status update can be low bandwidth. But delivering feedback to teammates should be done in a high bandwidth channel.
3. Document, Document, Document
When working in completely different time zones you might not have the chance to constantly talk about every project detail. That's why documentation is so important. Tools like Notion, Jira Confluence, or others make documentation a breeze. These tools are just as important as your home office.
Teammates often rely on other remote members to understand how a product works. Answering teammate questions ad-hoc is fine until your time zones don't match up and then you’re waiting 8 hours until the person you need wakes up.
That’s why you should document everything from meeting notes to product documentation. Proper documentation is one of the most valuable tasks you can do for the productivity of your team as it allows all teams to keep the project progressing forward across time zones.
So yeah, working remotely is not the same as working in an office. While remote work provides independence and less time commuting, you may also have to put forth more effort in coordinating with your fellow coworkers. That's why it's important to set new protocols when working with remote teams.
These protocols will also help manage your mental health as explored in the Economist's article: Remote workers work longer, not more efficiently. The article explains how working remotely can sometimes lead to longer hours and less efficiency. This can cause distress to your mental capabilities and life. Without the physical separation of work and life, you risk living in an endless grind. That's why you need some extra planning to be more efficient with your workday and give yourself time to rest at home.
So work smarter not harder - utilize the tools listed above to make an easier transition to working remotely.