WFH Essentials: a Guide to Teleworking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

guide to teleworking

During this uncertain and stressful time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, your employees may not be as productive as they used to be when they worked from the office (WFO).

Work from home (WFH) doesn’t mean a person will be working in full isolation; they’ll most likely be surrounded by family members who may be facing anxiety, and rightly so. Teleworking requires accountability, empathy, and trust, both from employees and employers. Therefore, it requires a significant change in mindset.

Having over 10 years’ experience of building and managing remote extended software teams for our multinational clients, Evolve is ideally placed to share tips that can improve substantially your outcomes from teleworking amid this coronavirus crisis and beyond it. 

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to accommodate each employee’s teleworking efficiently by helping them set up a home-based virtual workspace, providing all required accesses to respective team members based on predefined roles and permissions, ensuring data safety and continual communication with colleagues not to lose a sense of attachment to the team and project in general.

At Evolve, for instance, we work closely with every Extended Team client,  set up workflows and deploy secure virtual communication and collaboration environments for their team members who work from home. This approach helps our clients’ product owners/tech leads to engage in virtual communication with their remote team, and better feel the pulse of their project.

Compared to working in the office and collaborating remotely with other offices, or even WFH for 1-2 days, the work-life of being a full-time teleworker has unique challenges. Working on completely distributed teams means you need different ways of informing each other, different ways of making decisions, and different ways of staying connected.

To help your teleworking team to embrace remote work philosophy faster, you need to set the right expectations and over-communicate them to bring the entire team on the same page.

Setting Expectations for Teleworking Teams

First and foremost, each team/tech lead should set the right expectations while minding the teleworking context. Each and every expectation should be written down and shared with all team members. Your expectations should cover everything from how to set up 1-to-1 sessions in Slack to how you want daily status updates to be structured. The more concise and clear your expectations, the less your team will stress out each time they need to ping you for feedback or advice in MS Teams.

Our CFO’s home office during COVID-19 outbreak

Once your team of software engineers embraces remote working philosophy, it’ll be time to set up a robust, shared development environment using DevOps.

The Role of DevOps in Remote Working

Once the shared development environment is built, you’ll have to initiate a cultural shift. 

After all, building successful digital products depends on a cohesive environment where there’s enhanced communication and collaboration.

DevOps is essential for integrating continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) tools into your enterprise/corporate ecosystem. These are just some of the examples of such tools:

How to Ensure Data Privacy and Security for Your WFH Team

While social distancing helps curb the spread of COVID-19, working from home can lead to an explosion of cyberattacks. To avert a data breach, you need to build a secure foundation to collaborate on the cloud securely.

As your team of developers are already tech-savvy, you’ll just need to remind and reaffirm the following:

  • Ensure that their home WiFi connection is secure
  • Ensure that all security software (including antivirus software) is updated
  • Add privacy tools and add-ons for the browser (and patch and update them regularly)
  • Deploy a robust backup strategy (and prepare for a potential attack)
  • Leverage strong encryption tools
  • Implement restricted access to sensitive information (because you can never be too careful) 

COVID-19 has also inspired a campaign of phishing emails, so it’ll help to remind both technical and non-technical staff to be alert to them.

How to Encourage Enhanced Communication and Collaboration

“One of the most sizable challenges when going remote is keeping everyone in the loop in an efficient way. Put concerted effort around systematically documenting important process changes in a central place to minimize confusion and dysfunction.” Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab.

To make it work, you have to have periodic meetings where the whole team comes together. You can achieve this quickly with tools like Asana, Jira, Microsoft Suite (including Microsoft Teams), Skype, Trello, and Zoom.

Smaller development teams can quickly achieve this with communication tools like Slack and WhatsApp. BTW, according to the latest State of Software Development Survey 2020, Slack is the #1 tool used by more than 50% of Agile teams globally.

Any meeting you have been leading in the physical world, including Spring Retrospectives, can be done virtually (from home).

But regardless of the platform you use, make sure that you and your team secure all communication channels from end-to-end. 

Engaging in a virtual daily stand-up/SCRUM meetings can help you better manage the project and get an idea about how everyone is feeling. We recommend that you consider implementing async stand-ups via Slack or email, as an alternative to video calls. 

WiFi stability can vary wildly per team member on residential internet, and this will help you avoid glitches during standups.

It’s important because some team members might not be comfortable with sudden changes. Or they might find it challenging to get things done with competing priorities at home. 

Or they might be worried about the ongoing pandemic. You’ll have to manage all these different variables carefully to keep the project moving. 

During each of these meetings, you need to make sure that you create a culture of over-communication. Regardless of how many members are involved in the project, get them to share as much as possible.

It’s also essential to make these meetings intentional. Think about the purpose of each session. If it’s a brainstorming meeting, for example, have a virtual whiteboard ready to get critical inputs from team members. 

What about pair programming?

Try out these tried-and-tested options for pair programming:

Google Meet: While this option can drain a computer battery faster than Zoom, it works and is an option to act as a back-up platform if/as needed.

Slack: however, do your own test prior to full use to make sure it performs as you need it to. 

vscode live share: it works well for those with strong Internet connectivity and if only one person is making changes to a file. Note that multiple users making changes can cause the file to get out of sync.

WFH Productivity Checklist for Team Leads and Managers

  • Set, document and communicate clearly your expectations for WFH;
  • Collaborate and agree on a “WFH rules of engagement” document that is tailored to your tele-team;
  • Set home office hours during which your teleworking team members are expected to be available. Add and share your calendar so that your staffers would be able to block time in your calendar when they need to discuss individual matters;
  • Set up security rules, define roles and access levels for different corporate systems; 
  • When communicating virtually, there’s a high risk that your tone of voice will be misinterpreted or misunderstood. As such, do spice up your messages with emoji. Although this may sound silly, emojis help bring emotions to online communication, stress importance, show you’re not satisfied with something, etc.;
  • Implement DARCI (decider, accountable, responsible, consulted and informed) accountability model;
  • Minimise your virtual tools stack (the more tools you use, the higher the chance people will confuse them and it’ll be more difficult to find certain pieces of information, the cause of the error, etc.);
  • Work in short, fast increments and iterate regularly;
  • To enable your teleworking software teams to deliver code changes more frequently and reliably and stay focused on code quality and security, use CI/CD best practices;
  • Check-in often during a day and use emojis to make your chats more explicit and emotional.

WFH Productivity Checklist for Employees

  • Create a unique workspace in your home to avoid being distracted by family members and kids during your teleworking hours (Set an agreed signal with the family so they know when you are on the clock);
  • Take regular breaks every one or two hours;
  • Always update the status on the appropriate channels so that your colleagues know you are away for lunch, exercising or doing other activities; 
  • Consider implementing async stand-ups via Slack or email;
  • Set clear expectations on your anticipated response times for each communication channel with your direct manager and fellow team members;
  • Use Clockwise, a Google Calendar plug-in that automatically optimises focus time for you and your co-workers;
  • If you are receiving a status update or comment from your colleague or manager, use emojis to let them know you’ve seen it (e.g., a thumb-up on Slack or smile on MS Teams);
  • If you have had more than 4-5 back-and-forth message exchanges, it’s a sign that you need to hop on a call to hash it out;
  • Prepare for the teleworking day as you would if actually going into the office (wake up at the same time, do your morning rituals, as usual, read or listen to a book as you would if you were on the actual commute to work, finish at the same time, etc.);
  • Feel free to have a virtual “watercooler talk” with your team members before starting to work on your task;
  • If you have a partner who is also WFH, agree on a schedule that will allow you both to have time to focus on work;
  • Follow rules set forth in your WFH rules of engagement document;
  • Continuously refine processes and explore new ways of telework.
Do you want to embrace a Work From Home model to ensure business continuity? We can help! Request a call back from out of our in-house experts.

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