So-Called Advent Calendar Day 6 - Creating A Remote Environment
In the spirit of the holiday season, this is a series of short blog posts covering random things I have learned while doing Salesforce development, one for each day of Advent.
I want to take a moment to voice my appreciation of being able to work remotely. When I worked in an office, my commute was right around an hour each way, door to door. But the benefits of being able to work from home go far beyond just getting those two hours back instead of having to commute.
From a productivity standpoint, I get more done because I feel less distracted. Especially in a world where companies are increasingly obsessed with open work spaces, it’s hard to keep engaged in your work when there is so much noise to distract everyone. I would have loved a cubicle - instead the only way I could get away and get something done was to put on giant noise cancelling headphones that I had to buy and bring from home. I wouldn’t even turn them on sometimes - it was just the only “door” I had so I could get some work done. (I REALLY disagree with the idea that “serendipitous interactions” make this all worth it, but that’s for another time)
I also love how it forces you to collaborate asynchronously, which I think is the absolute best way to collaborate on long term projects. Everything is written down and tracked. You can give ideas and questions the thought they deserve instead of trying to answer things live in person. And most importantly you can get to things when you have to the time and focus to do so instead of constantly context switching. It makes work feel so much less hectic.
But the biggest benefit I have seen is that by working from home, my life isn’t as defined by my work and being in an office. I feel more like my own person since I don’t constantly put on the masks that we sometimes wear while we are at work. Turns out that I like to cook (even though I have a lot to learn!). That I enjoy some light gardening (I grew those sunflowers in the picture above! They died really quickly.) That I like to read, especially things that aren’t tech related. That I miss playing the piano more often, that I want to go on more walks with my family.
That’s not to say working remotely is a magic formula that automatically makes your life better. Just like most endeavors, you need to make sure to set yourself up for success.
Create a separation between work and home
Without a separate work environment, you might feel that you are constantly at work. The easiest way to do this is have a home office, but that is not feasible for everyone. If you can, try to dedicate some space that you will only use for work. If that’s not possible, try to clean up your workspace at the end of the day, as a sort of way to “put away” work when the day ends. And when the day ends, take a moment to decompress - without a commute, you are already home and you might need that transition to turn off.
Find ways to interact with people!
The hardest adjustment was not seeing people consistently. This wasn’t as much of an issue for me since I’m married and get to see my best friend everyday. But if you live alone, make an effort to attend some kind of social gathering, like a meetup, do volunteer work, anything! This is purely anecdotal, but I definitely start to get a little stir crazy during those rare times when I am left to myself without social interaction for a week or more.
Create a routine
While one of the best perks about working from home is not having to wear pants, regularly not wearing pants can sometimes devolve into not doing other things. I remember when I first started I would have a regular routine where I would wake up, shower, get dressed (pants included), make breakfast and do a little light reading before getting started for the day. When I started to let that slip, eventually that turned into rolling out of bed at the latest possible moment and into the first meeting of the day. Like candy, that’s a routine that you should indulge in occasionally, not regularly. Otherwise you will find yourself wondering if you actually did shower today (you didn’t). This is purely anecdotal, but I start to feel myself falling into a more depressed state when I would let that go on too long. Taking care of yourself is fun and important for your mental health!
In addition to setting up your environment for successful remote work, help your company adopt a remote friendly environment too!
If someone on your team is working remotely, have them turn their camera on and put them on the screen when you are in a meeting. Just having them on the phone will often lead to them being forgotten and left out conversation. Also, by having the camera on you not only get facetime with them, but it also reduces the temptation to try to do other work during the meeting since everyone can see them!
Meetings don’t always have to be work related
Take a moment to schedule 10 - 15 minutes with your co-workers to just chat and get to know each other. You don’t really get water cooler time when you are remote, so it can be harder to establish relationships. On the team I am on now, stand up usually takes longer than the generally accepted 10 minutes, but that’s because we also allow for time to just chat to each other as friends.
Trust is key to a successful team, especially one that doesn’t see other every day. But trust will quickly erode if you keep missing each other’s expectations, which will happen when expectations are not clear. So take the time establish processes within your team. How do you communicate? Where is progress tracked? When is something considered done? These are a just a few things to think about when creating your team’s processes. While the agile manifesto says “People over processes”, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have any processes at all!
If your role can be done remotely, I suggest you try to it out, even if just one day a week. I think you’ll be presently surprised by the results, especially if you take the steps to make it work for you