Certainly, the concept of ‘remote work’ sounds very tempting…

Ill

(Photo credit: Jan Kaláb)

… but don’t let that fool you! Working remotely is a double-edged sword.

I have found three main areas you need to take care of if you want to stay productive while working remotely: discipline, communication, and time zones. Keep reading to see why I am saying this, plus some tips that will prevent you from performing poorly. And who knows, perhaps you’ll end up having a better performance working remotely than if working onsite.

Discipline

I remember the first time I worked remotely, it felt awesome! I could start or pause work at any time I wanted. And that feeling of freedom, of being able to go to the kitchen and grab some food, watch some TV if I got bored… it was great. I used to wake up at 9:00am, have breakfast, take a shower, and then start work at 10:00am. At this point I was running an hour late, if we compare it with a typical office schedule.

It didn’t take long before I found myself working the whole day. Starting at 10:00am, making frequent breaks, plus doing all the chores and errands a normal person in his twenties has to do. The result: I ended my work days at 12:00am… I had turned into a slave of the freedom that I had.

The solution

You need to take remote work as seriously as if you were working onsite. Remember, with so much freedom it might not seem like it is the same, but you still have have a job to do!

Obviously, taking breaks once in a while does not hurt, but I recommend you avoid granting yourself too much freedom until you have mastered your procrastinating nature. It’s possible to tell if your impulses are under control after a couple of months of working on it, tracking how successful you have become at achieving your goals. And yes, you read right, it takes months. It has been proved that it takes over 2 months of daily practice to develop and establish a new habit.

If it is very hard for you to be disciplined, there are some tools available out there that could help you keep focused on work. A very popular (and effective) one is the pomodoro technique. This time-management method can help you improve your focus and mental agility. Pomodoro promotes work intervals that last 25 minutes, and are alternated with 5-minute breaks, thus increasing your productivity. I have tried it myself and it works, it structures your work day in a way that makes you spend your time more efficiently.Try it out yourself and see if it brings any positive changes to your productivity.

Communication

When I started working remotely I was in charge of a team of 3 people. As you can imagine, not only was my own performance compromised, but also that of my team and project’s. Unread emails and messages were something I had to deal with every day; slowly but surely this was something that was affecting our work deliveries.

The solution

Remember, when you work remotely, you aren’t really alone. You have co-workers, clients, supervisors and other people you work with. Because of this, it is very important to share your status frequently. You can decide on different strategies with your teammates. These are some I personally prefer:

1. Email at the beginning and at the end of the day. I recommend this specially to improve communication with your client. Generally, they are very busy during the day because they have very tight schedules. A good practice I like keeping is sharing my work plan for the day with the client, using the following Scrum-based format:

  • What I accomplished since yesterday:
    • goal 1
    • goal 2
    • goal n
  • What I’m planning to accomplish today:
    • goal 1
    • goal 2
    • goal n
  • Impediments:
    • list the stuff that prevented you from achieving a goal

 

2. Use text messengers appropriately. Use them concisely and only when communicating important stuff to your teammates, you don’t want to interrupt them frequently as you don’t want to be interrupted often either. Here are some examples of things worth communicating and how to do it briefly:

  • ‘A bug appeared in production…’,
  • ‘I finished the feature…’
  • ‘I would like to know the status of…’
  • Or simply ‘I am leaving!’, so everyone is aware you won’t be available from that moment on.

 

3. Keep project management tools updated. Some PM tools allow the addition of comments inside stories (also known as tickets). I recommend you to keep your stories updated by adding a comment with an status whenever any of the following happens:

  • You hit a milestone while building a feature.
  • You have made progress solving a bug.
  • You are going to perform a chore.
  • You are stuck.

 

This way, the client and your teammates know what’s the progress on that story. You will help others to determine if the committed work is in risk of not being delivered, and you can receive help to speed up your work.

Beware of different time zones

This is perhaps the least harmful of the three, because it does not affect your work directly, but it can be a rock in the shoe. I didn’t know this was going to be a constant pain until I started working remotely. I had to deal with 3 different time zones: our customer was on PST, my co-workers on CST, and I was on EST. I was 3 hours ahead of our customer and 1 from my co-workers, and this brought communication issues. When any of them tried to contact me it was very likely that I had already finished my work day.

The solution

Be sensible when arranging meetings, inform others the time when you usually have lunch. Let them know at least one week in advance if you are going to take days off (including those you take for religious reasons, if that’s your case). It took me about 4 weeks to get used to all time zones and to adjust my personal schedule, sometimes having to move my lunch time an hour earlier or later, but at the end it was worth it.

Other good practices

Here at TangoSource we are proud of our remote work practices. We summarized best practices for remote work on our playbook so that anyone can work remotely effectively. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. Create a daily routine list. This list contains recurring action items that you will be checking at the beginning, during, and at the end of the day. An example of a daily routine is: checking and answering emails at the beginning of the day, check messenger apps during the day, and sharing your status at the end of the day.
  2. Create a weekly routine list. This list contains all action items that you will need to take care of during the week. Example: meetings, days off, deployments to servers, etc. Having this routine will help you to have a well-organized schedule.

The conclusion

It took me four to five months to master the three areas mentioned above. If you’re struggling to deliver results while working remotely, or if you’ve never done it and are afraid to try, well, now you know what to do. Put these ideas in practice, don’t give up, and soon you’ll be ready to work from the Caribbean!

Are you interested in learning more about TangoSource and having us as part of your development team? Shoot us an email! We would absolutely love to hear from you! 🙂

by Marco Gallardo: Email / Github