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Working Remotely: A Complete Guide to the New Reality of 2020

Reading time 12 minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic turned virtually all technology professionals into remote workers. I’ve been a remote worker for quite some time, and I love working remotely, but in my case, the change was carefully planned. I had the support of my employer, the proper infrastructure was in place, and perhaps most important of all, I wanted to do it.

Due to the havoc the novel coronavirus is causing around the globe, huge numbers of knowledge workers are being thrown into remote work all of sudden, with little preparation—or often, no prep at all.

This post is our contribution to making the transition easier for those workers. If you’re a tech professional that all of a sudden became a remote worker and you’re having a hard time adapting to your new situation, this post is for you. If you’re a leader in a tech organization and you’re struggling to help your employees during this transition, then this post is for you as well.

The post will be divided into two main sections: organization and tools. The organization part will feature tips and advice on the things you should do to make the most out of your new situation. The tools section will cover software tools that will allow you to create, communicate, and collaborate with your peers, no matter how far away you are from each other.

Does that sound good to you? If so, let’s dig in.

Organization

Going remote all of a sudden is a dramatic change. In the office, you were surrounded by peers; at home, you’re either alone or accompanied by family members, your significant other, or maybe your pets. Back at the office, you could get distracted by your coworkers chatting or similar sources of noise. But other than that, you didn’t have other things to do.

At home, while you’re spared from noisy coworkers, there are a million other potential sources of distraction: family members wanting to talk, a plethora of house chores, and, of course, the TV and gaming console.

As it turns out, one of the hardest parts of adjusting to remote work life is changing your mindset and attitude. That’s why we’re starting our guide by attacking this angle: we’ll share a list of tips you should follow in order to get off to a great start when it comes to your remote working journey. Let’s go.

Define Your Work Hours and Stick to Them

This may or may not be applicable to you—or your subordinates—depending on the type of organization you work for and its approach to work hours. If you’re all working from home but still following the same hours as before, you can skip to the next section.

If you’re still reading, that means your organization allows flexible hours, which is great. However, when faced with 86400 seconds of pure potential, many professionals freeze. It’s like a writer facing a blank page and not knowing how to start their piece. The risk here is falling into a chaotic pattern. One day you work in the morning, the following day you play video games the whole day and start working after dinner. This routine-free, highly-spontaneous way of living and working might be fun for a while, but it doesn’t take long for it to start taking its toll on your productivity and mental health.

So, in short: define your work hours and stick to them.

Set up Your Workspace and Protect It

People who have trouble sleeping often suffer from poor sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene means a set of practices and habits you need to cultivate to have a restoring night’s sleep. Many of these habits refer to protecting your sleeping environment, not performing other activities such as working or watching TV in your bed.

The idea behind our second entry is that you should apply the same concept to your working environment while working from home.

You should start by getting a space in which you can work. If you have a proper home office, with a door you can close, then you’re golden. However, that’s most likely not the case, since you’re probably a newcomer to remote work. So, get a workspace. It doesn’t have to be fancy or anything. It just needs to be a distinct geographic space you can walk into and out of, like a corner in your living room.

After having your working place, the next step is to respect it. Don’t watch Netflix or YouTube while you’re there. Don’t play games or consume any kind of entertainment product whatsoever. The opposite is also true: don’t do any kind of work while sitting on your couch or wherever your “entertainment station” is.

However, if you don’t live all by yourself, respecting your working environment isn’t only up to you, which brings us to the next item.

Set Boundaries With Family Members

If you live with other people, chances are they’re not prepared for having you hanging around the house all day. It might take a while for them to adjust, and you’ll need to help them in this journey.

At least, in the beginning, they might mistake you being around the house for you being available for doing things with them. If you have children, they might want you to play with them. Your significant other might ask for your help with chores around the house.

It’s crucial you make sure they understand that you’re not free all of the time while you’re home. That’s where having a somewhat fixed schedule helps. You might let your family know that from 10 AM to 6 PM, you’re working, but after that, you’re available to spend quality time with them. Having a dedicated room that serves as a home office is incredibly valuable as well: you can teach them not to disturb you when you’re inside, and the door is closed.

Keep a Routine

As we’ve already mentioned, a complete lack of structure in your daily life during the quarantine might sound like a more spontaneous way to approach this new order. It might even be fun, at least in the beginning, but in the long run that will cost you, not only in productivity but also in your overall well being and mental health. So, define a routine and stick to it as much as you can.

This entry summarizes the three previous ones. Defining and respecting both a workspace and your working are required steps if you want to follow a routine.

Tools

Having finished the “organization” section, it’s finally time for us to cover some tools that can help your organization during this unplanned switch to remote work.

As it turns out, even without thinking about remote work, many organizations already employ some tools that might facilitate it. On the one hand, this can make the transition to remote easier. If your company already uses some or most of the tools needed in remote work, your costs—which include learning curves for all tools—will be lower.

On the other hand, companies sometimes go overboard, adopting tools whose use cases overlap. What happens then is that many valuable pieces of information end up spread out through many different applications and tools, which causes waste. In scenarios like these, it makes sense to invest in creating a central, single source of truth for the most valuable information in the organization. That way, team members know exactly where they need to go to find what they need to perform their jobs. After we’re done with the list of tools we want to cover, we’ll wrap-up by presenting a tool that can help you when creating this single source of truth for your organization.

The tools we’ll list will be divided into the following categories: communication, coding, collaboration, and project management. Let’s start.

Communication

When you have team members working from home, they can’t just talk to a coworker like they do in the open-space office. Water cooler chats? That’s a thing from the past. The same goes for coffee/tea/smoking breaks. So, setting up efficient communication channels is of paramount importance in a remote working scenario, not only for productivity but also for maintaining—and maybe boosting—team morale. After all, we homo sapiens continue to be social animals.

Without further ado, let’s check the tools in our “communication” category.

Slack (Or similar)

Email is the de facto communication tool in the corporate world. However, the fast-paced realities of most tech organizations call for more dynamic means of communication. That’s where chat apps like Slack come in handy.

Slack—and similar tools, like Mattermost or RocketChat—allow teams to communicate via text in a dynamic and intuitive way. Teams can create channels to store discussions on specific topics, interests, or projects. They can share documents, images, and other types of files. It’s possible to mention people or even whole channels in order to get their attention.

Zoom

We can say that Slack defined the state-of-the-art for text-based communication tools. If you don’t use Slack, you most likely use a clone of it. Zoom is sort of the same when it comes to video-based communication solutions.

Founded in 2011, Zoom offers a video conference platform that can be used for free for personal, one on one meetings. If you need conferences for more participants, Zoom has a number of plans that are available to cater to organizations of different sizes.

Coding

Software development organizations obviously need tools to enable the creation, building, and deploying of software, so that’s what we’re covering now.

GitHub

GitHub is the most known and used solution for repository hosting. The platform is widely used for managing contributions to open-source projects. However, it also offers plans for organizations that want to use it for managing their private projects.

By leveraging GitHub, software organizations can not only manage their repositories but also manage access privileges to those repositories. They can define which users can read or write to the repositories. GitHub also offers project management capabilities in the form of issues that teams can use to track bugs or new development tasks. You can also create a wiki for your project to keep all of its documentation in a single, accessible place.

Many companies around the world had transformed the way they create software by leveraging the power of GitHub, even before COVID-19 took the world by storm. They’re certainly in a good position now that remote working is the new way of life. Such companies will have a virtually seamless transition to the remote work scenario since GitHub is especially suitable for remote, asynchronous, parallel development.

CI Solutions

Jenkins is a free and open-source automation server. Software teams around the world employ Jenkins to take care of their CI/CD needs. CircleCI is yet another popular tool organizations use to manage their CI/CD pipelines.

By leveraging such tools, software organizations can automate tasks related to building, testing, and deploying code, making the whole software development lifecycle more streamlined and efficient. With a proper CI/CD pipeline in place, companies can improve the quality of their applications, detecting and fixing issues as early as possible in the lifecycle.

Project Management

Writing, testing, building, and deploying code isn’t all there is to a software development organization. Project management is something that you just can’t avoid. You have to assign tasks to people, analyze how long it takes to solve them, and ensure to keep this time as low as possible. That’s why we’re now covering project management solutions.

Trello

Trello is a project collaboration tool that is now a subsidiary of Atlassian. The tool allows users to create task boards with custom-named columns. Tasks are represented by cards that users move between the columns to indicate that a given step is complete.

Jira

Jira is an issue-tracking application also by Atlassian. It allows organizations to perform bug tracking and Agile project management.

One Tool to Rule Them All: Plutora

As we’ve said before, one of the risks of remote consists of people not finding information that is valuable to them. This happens, among other reasons, when information is spread throughout a large number of applications, tools, or platforms.

So, it makes sense to have what we call a central source of truth. Having a centralized platform that can integrate with the most used tools for remote work can be the difference between an efficient remote work scenario and pure chaos.

Plutora’s offering is such a tool. By integrating the information from your entire software delivery toolset into Plutora, you gain full visibility, control, and automation over your whole software pipeline.

Conclusion

Welcome to the brave new world of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way we all live, work, shop, and communicate with family and friends. Since the disease is highly contagious, governments around the world are adopting quarantine policies. They’re shutting down schools, universities, parks, and all sorts of places that could attract crowds. Non-essential businesses were closed, and the future of the economy is uncertain. In this scenario, the possibility of working remotely is definitely a privilege and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Being a privilege doesn’t make it easy, however. Quite the opposite, in fact. Remote work, despite its many advantages, it’s not without its challenges. It takes some time to acclimate to remote work, and you can do it in ways that are more or less efficient. The pandemic forced lots of people into a remote working situation they haven’t necessarily asked for. This happened all of a sudden, and with little to no preparation time. These peculiarities make the remote work challenges even harder than what they normally are.

That’s why we’ve written this guide: to help professionals and teams struggling with these challenges.

Carlos Schults Carlos Schults

This post was written by Carlos Schults. Carlos is a .NET software developer with experience in both desktop and web development, and he’s now trying his hand at mobile. He has a passion for writing clean and concise code, and he’s interested in practices that help you improve app health, such as code review, automated testing, and continuous build.