Tips from Matt Yonkovit, Chief Experience Officer, Percona
Percona has years of experience with fully remote teams:
- I have personally been working remotely for over 15 years!
- Many of our employees have previous experience working remotely at least part-time.
- In interviews, more and more applicants list remote working as one of the main reasons they are considering a job with us.
We are now in a situation where remote working may be required for many people, for extended periods of time, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak. However, we feel that a remote culture and the benefits of remote working should not be tied to a global crisis. A remote workforce enables you to:
- Hire the best talent in the world no matter where they are.
- Promote diversity and increase innovation. Different cultures bring different experiences and different decision-making skills to the team.
- Get more done with a remote workforce!
- Promote a healthy work-life balance.
- Increase retention and work satisfaction among the workforce.
5 Things to Watch Out For:
1. Work-life balance is a huge benefit of working from home, but it’s easy to lose the boundary between work and family life, especially if you work and socialize in the same setting.
2. Your family can get confused about work-life boundaries, especially if they are not used to you being home. For example, if your spouse has to go into the office every day, you may get asked to pick up additional chores, “since you’re home anyway.”
- When I first started working remotely this was a big challenge for me. It was easy for my wife to move the every-day stuff to me… “Can you call the plumber? Can you swing by the grocery store?”
- Working from home offers flexibility for you and your family, and there is nothing wrong with using that flexibility to your advantage, but be careful doing too much. Otherwise, you end up being the full-time, stay-at-home person first and then stress over not getting your paying job done.
- Kids don’t often understand the difference between working and non-working time. They just know you are home, and available for attention.
3. Isolation can be an issue. Working from home is great, but working from home for too long often leads to feeling disconnected and feeling alone. You need to connect with real people. This isolation can increase with the more individual work you do, for example, coding all day long with no video, chat, or in-person time can be very isolating after a while.
- It is vital you stay connected with each other personally and professionally, even if that is virtual.
- It will be harder for you to know what’s going on with co-workers and what the status is for projects if you are too cut off, so make sure you are vocal and staying engaged online and in chats and conference calls whenever possible.
4. Lag deaths are real when working from home. Normally, during the day, your internet is used primarily by you. But, as soon as the rest of your family walks in the door, they start streaming multiple devices that will impact video and streaming from your computer. Make sure you have backups so that you can complete your work even when the networks are overloaded.
5. The Invisibility Cloak of Assumption. Don’t assume that coworkers know you are online, working, and what the status of things is. You don’t know how much you pick up face-to-face that you don’t in a completely virtual world:
- The status of projects or work is lost without direct communication or updates.
- Without social cues and body language, you miss a lot. When I see people I can tell by their body language if they are upset, excited, or zoned out. You can’t do that over Slack.
5 Things to Promote a Healthy Work Environment
1. Boundaries, real (physical) and virtual are required:
- Put your home office behind a door, if at all possible, and separate it from where you and your family spend most of your time. If you work all day long in your living area, the lines between work and non-work are blurry. Also, having an office that you can walk into and out of, and leave at the end of the day, helps create balance and boundaries for your own well-being.
2. Have your desk setup for success:
- This seems obvious but invest in a nice chair with good back support.
- Have multiple monitors and a good docking station.
- Make sure you have an encrypted drive for backing up important things.
- Try to keep your “work” on a machine/laptop for dedicated just to work and your personal life on a separate machine. This not only helps set boundaries but is a best practice for security and compliance reasons.
3. Use your calendar:
- Mark your work times clearly in your calendar. I actually block off every day before 7 am and after 6 pm so that people can not schedule me for any meetings. Google Calendar has a great feature to set work hours.
- Set times in your calendar (with alerts) for breaks and lunch. You’re at home, it’s more comfortable for you… it’s easier to eat at your desk, work through long stretches, etc., but it is important that you get up and stretch or go for a little walk. You need to take breaks to keep fresh.
- Share your schedule with your family/roommates so that you can interact with real people during the breaks, whenever possible.
- Having a regular schedule also allows you to schedule your personal appointments and things you need to take care of around the house during ‘non-working’ times.
4. Have a solid internet service and a backup. Everyone has internet issues from time to time, so its good to have a solid backup plan. Sometimes that is a cell phone, sometimes it’s a second line, depending on services in your area.
- In the past, I have had a primary and a secondary internet option (cable-based internet and a DSL based internet). This is not always a requirement, but when you are a consultant, are paid hourly, or have strict deadlines, downtime is not an option.
- Cell-based internet is good enough for meetings and light work, but make sure you know the limits of your plan, and make sure the signal works well in your house. Cell signal boosters are available from most providers if you have issues.
- Power and the internet are the most important utilities for a remote worker. Having an external battery to charge your laptop or phone may be essential.
5. Keep up with work relationships.
- Moving to a remote working arrangement does not mean you stop talking with work colleagues or sharing parts of your life. It can be more difficult when you are remote, but it’s even more important to maintain these relationships.
- Ask people about their weekends, complain about your neighbors, talk about your vacation plans, etc. Try to live a normal work life!
5 Things Managers Should do for Remote Employees
1. Hold regular team meetings, and turn the camera on! You need face time in a remote environment — it makes a huge difference.
2. Over-communicate! It’s super easy to assume people know things that they don’t. Daily standups or check-ins over Slack are a great way to help keep people engaged and in the loop.
- In Slack, set up a daily reminder to ask everyone simple questions, like, “Any good news for the day?” or “Anything you need help with today?”
- Saying hello when you start a chat, and goodbye when you sign off. You would do this in an office environment, so why not over chat?
- Go out of your way to recognize your team’s accomplishments and share them widely with others.
- Setup a social channel for the team to encourage a bit of water-cooler banter to keep the team connected and engaged with each other.
3. Set up and keep regular one-on-one meetings with all your direct reports and/or critical coworkers. Try to hold them over video-chat, keep good notes, and then share those notes after the meeting. If possible, come up with a list of topics to talk about ahead of time that can be edited and added to by your team members.
4. Plan for some in-person time on a regular basis. While remote is awesome, getting together in person a few times a year is indispensable for healthy team building.
5. Don’t be a taskmaster!
- Don’t micro-manage or schedule too many meetings. Going virtual for the first time a lot of managers overcompensate and schedule tons of “meeting” time to keep people in sync, but then no one gets anything done.
- Be flexible with your employees. Let them adjust meeting times to not conflict with their family schedule. If their kids get off the bus in the afternoon, avoid scheduling a meeting at that time, and encourage them to sign-off for a bit and engage with their family… they will be more productive when they aren’t pulled in too many directions.
5 Tools Essential to a Remote Environment
1. Slack (or similar, business-level chat service)
- This is bigger than email — being able to chat quickly go back and forth with co-workers is vital for remote work environments.
2. Zoom (or your preferred video-conferencing software)
- Face-to-face is critical, and a reliable conferencing tool is essential.
3. Google Calendar (or similar share office calendar)
- In a remote environment, it is critical to have your calendars set up properly. When you are in an office, people can just drop in and see someone if the door is open, but with remote, your calendar is your office door.
4. Google Docs (or Office 360)
- Without a whiteboard, these often serve as a way to quickly share ideas, collect comments, and give feedback in a shared and collaborative way.
5. Task Management Software (Asana, Basecamp, JIRA, etc.)
- Whether your tasks involve code or graphics, almost all team members are part of larger projects that require hand-offs or timed deliverables. With a professional task management system, there are clear deadlines and easier handling of tasks between all team members.