One major takeaway from the 2017 Stack Overflow survey was that many people who have jobs in QA and Development appreciate flexibility and the ability to work remotely.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise since many software-oriented organizations have teams that work in different offices, cities, countries, and continents. However, when no one is working in the same space and may even be spread out among different time zones, it can raise challenges with communication.
As teams begin to adopt Agile methodologies, Continuous Integration, and DevOps, this aspect of collaboration between individuals as well as different departments becomes increasingly important to a company’s overall success.
Ways Companies Can Help Remote Employees
Look for skills during hiring – Remote working is not a native skill to every employee. In fact, it takes the right kind of person to be successful doing their job remotely every day. You need to find someone who is motivated, disciplined, focused, and communicative, or working remote may be more of a distraction than a perk.
Have daily standups – These can be as simple as having everyone post their top task in Slack when they start every morning, but it’ll help you keep track of what everyone’s working on while helping your workers to prioritize their daily responsibilities.
Hold weekly video conferences – Having a video call with the entire team helps keep everyone on the same page to discuss accomplishments, challenges, completed tasks, and upcoming projects. It’s a good idea to check in at the beginning or end of the week to determine team goals and see where everyone stands.
Check-in with individuals – As importantly, it’s crucial to speak to team members individually to clarify expectations and requirements for their tasks. While you don’t have the advantage of stopping by their desk to chat and discuss projects, there are many tools (as we’ll discuss later) that assure you have no excuse not to initiate conversation with your team members.
Celebrate achievements – As a manager, it’s important not just to communicate with your team when you’re asking them to do something, but also to recognize accomplishments. Calling people out whether it be in a Slack chat or video conference for things they’re doing well will keep them motivated and driven to contribute to the big picture.
Trust your team – If you hired someone you trust and have seen their good work, trust that they’re managing their time well as a remote employee. Don’t breathe down their neck by abusing tools, watching activity, or constantly checking in for no reason, but trust that by giving them the independence, freedom, and flexibility that they’re in the position that allows them to do their job most successfully.
Ways Remote Workers Can Stay Productive
Work remote, remotely – Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you have to work at home. In fact, staying in the same spot all day will probably make it harder for you to be productive and stay focused. Instead, it’s a good idea to have a few spots you can travel to (with Wi-Fi, of course) like a park, coffee shop, library, or shared workspace where you can get your job done.
Keep consistent hours – One of the great things about working remote is being able to more or less make your own schedule. Not a morning person? Start the day at 11 a.m. instead of 9. Have to pick your kids up from school in the afternoon? Great, just make sure that you’re keeping your hours consistent and communicating them with your co-workers so they can know when to expect you online.
Update your team – You don’t have to save your thoughts for stand-up. If you’re accomplishing throughout the day or coming across challenges, share it with the team throughout the day and keep the lines of communication open.
Reach out to management – Similarly, don’t just wait for your boss to tell you what to do over a video chat. If you’re working remote, you have to have autocracy for your own productivity. If you need clarification on an assignment or are looking for more work, keep your manager in the loop.
Be part of casual conversation – It’s nice not to be continuously distracted by co-workers throughout the day, but social interaction is an important way to stay happy with your work, bond with colleagues, and give yourself breaks throughout the day. You don’t just have converse over technical topics; make sure to keep light conversation throughout the day. If you see a funny video, post it. If you read an interesting article, share it. There’s plenty of ways to keep a friendly office environment without being there in person.
Don’t overwork yourself – When you’re working from home, you’re not leaving your desk at the end of the day. Sometimes this can make it hard to stop working, but it’s important to remember you’re going to be much more productive working hard for a full day than overworking yourself to go over time. Additionally, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re getting up from your screen and giving yourself breaks throughout the day.
Tools for Remote Collaboration
- Sketchboard – Sketchboard is a virtual whiteboard to encourage team collaboration. It was actually created by a software developer, so you know it’s optimized specifically for the people on your team. The tool helps remote workers plan, brainstorm, and share ideas through visuals like sketches, mind maps, and diagrams to foster more communication and inspire fast feedback without having to get together in-person.
- Spacetime – This one’s a Slack integration because it’s seldom you come across any tech company that doesn’t use Slack these days. In general, Slack is a great messaging platform to talk to remote employees, but the Spacetime integration takes it a step further. It’s made specifically for teams in different countries or time zones. By prompting information about where different people are and translating time zones, Spacetime makes it easier to schedule calls or conferences.
- Google Drive – Google Drive applications like Docs and Sheets allow everyone on the team to commit to shared documents. Users can comment and edit, so the original owner can see suggested changes and even reply before accepting them. You can see who’s looking at the document in real-time, and all changes are autosaved, so you don’t have to worry about that remote developer or tester with unreliable internet losing important documentation info.
- Zoom – Zoom uses video chat to allow easy communication between remote employees with up to 70 people. You can also do screen sharing, record meetings, integrate with calendar, schedule recurring meetings, and use it on multiple devices. If anything, it’s better to resolve issues quickly and efficiently over video conference than wasting time in unproductive meetings all day, and Zoom creates an optimized experience to encourage quick calls.
- Groove – Groove is a great way to get the whole team involved in the customer support process. This makes it easier to track tickets for bugs with a chat feature, email management, and knowledge base. You can also assign tickets and exchange private notes on them. Groove aims to get rid of the clutter and complexity while streamlining messaging to involve the whole team in personalized customer support, which is especially important with highly technical products and services.
- Trello – Trello is one of the most popular task management systems for developers and testers. The Kanban style set-up is a familiar layout for developers and testers, and it’s continuously a straightforward way to organize assignments as “To-do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” It’s accessible on different browsers and devices for workers on the go and creates an organized workflow that other team members can access for reference of their own projects.
- Jell – While it’s important to have regular stand-up with your remote team, taking up too much time defeats the purpose. Jell makes them short, simple, and to the point asking three questions about what team members have accomplished, what they’re doing today, and what challenges they have. Jell requires you to write down important tasks, track successes, and stay focused on meeting daily, quarterly, and yearly goals.
- TapMyBack – Speaking of calling out accomplishments, TapMyBack is a great way to recognize employees for a job well done when you’re not holding daily, in-person meetings. It’s a fun way for management to recognize their employees, as well as for peers to recognize each other for going above and beyond. Additionally, it keeps teams on track to and motivates by showing that everyone is working towards the same mission.
What have you found is an effective method of being productive when working remotely? Share with us in the comments section!