Together, but remote

alt Working from home might be a dream or a nightmare depending on whom you ask. Many companies offer you a mix of being remote and attending the office, but not everyone can do it.

I was first introduced to home working at my job in London. There were vigorous policies surrounding it – not everyone was allowed to do it and certainly not every day. Staff were discouraged from working from home and there was no easy process to follow. At The Technology Studio we have found ways to work with various people remotely while still getting the job done. I personally don’t do home working too often, as I like the office environment, but there are various staff whose work is completely remote.

Benefits

Obvious benefits are reducing your commute and having less disruptions when working, i.e. no need to put your headphones on to ignore other people and block out any noise.

Other benefits include work and life balance, being able to be flexible and work hours that are best for you. Some home workers are more productive and happy than office workers. There are benefits for the business as well - by reducing office overheads and being able to hire great talents that can’t be found locally.

Problems

Remote working however is not everyone’s cup of tea. And we take tea seriously in The Technology Studio! You have to make sure that home workers have an environment fit enough for work (internet speed for one thing), but some other problems might not be as obvious.

When I first started working from home, I felt alone and disconnected with things in the office and sometimes it was hard to see the bigger picture of projects. I still find it hard to work from home when I need access to all the testing devices, but Browserstack partially solves it (no emulator can actually simulate an actual device).

We have worked really hard to improve information sharing by using Jira/Confluence, Axure, and TeamWork. We have also ensured our home workers have access to everything that office workers have by using Office365 and Browserstack. Furthermore we invested in infrastructure to promote communication with Slack, Skype and Hangouts.

This still doesn't solve the psychological effects behind working alone at home. You are either fit for it or you aren't.

Are you disciplined enough to work without any distractions without starting to do some house work or getting distracted by other people in your house? Do you feel depressed by being alone or your managers don’t trust you to do the work? There is no option to just bounce ideas around as per face to face contact allows.

We use Hangouts or Appear.in to make sure that we can always see people who are working from home and they can see who is at office. It makes you feel part of office, though truthfully still a bit distracting, just like you are in the office.

Practices and Techniques

When working from home quite often you have to prioritise information gathering over doing actual work. This could be carried out by just calling someone or doing pair programming / testing. However, there are various other ways to improve your output:

  • Resourcing – know who is working on what project every day
  • Work time + time zone – what times should you expect your colleagues to appear in office / home and when do they leave?
  • Stand ups / Retrospectives / Sprint planning and other meetings – they help you to keep up to date
  • Guidelines on home working that would help new employees
  • Social events and visiting the office from time to time

Once you have started your business with ‘remote’ workers, you can’t just switch back to just standard office work without firing people and changing your offices. So review, think and see if it’s something that could work for you.