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Remote working for the masses

An illustration of a school, next to an illustration of Bit the Raccoon.

At the start of 2020, I became a Microsoft MVP in Developer Technologies. Around the same time, I had taken a massive leap, quitting full-time employment and focusing on running a business I started in the summer of 2019 instead.

So, what’s my point in starting this post in this way? I had ideas, I had talks I wanted to give, and I had blog posts I wanted to write. With the flexibility of being my own boss to choose to take a day to write, or take a day to produce videos as it’s all my work for my company, it all seemed fantastic. One idea I wanted to cover was entitled:

“The 20s – is this the decade remote working becomes the norm?”

It’s now May and well, times have changed, really quickly. For a lot of people, the last 3 months have been especially tough. Some have lost work or their jobs completely. People are trying to adjust to working, looking after children and relatives and stay safe in difficult times. Generally, people are all finding the situation challenging.

 

Advocate for remote

Two years ago, I was very much on the fence about remote working. I admit I was ignorant and had many unanswered questions about it. Both from an employee and employer standpoint I didn’t have any knowledge about how it could work, how companies can trust their employees and how employees feel about working remotely.

This changed when I got a remote role, this role wasn’t just any remote role, it was 99.5% remote. In total over the 1 and a half years I was there I went to the HQ a total of around 7 maybe 8 times. This short time changed my mind on remote working and gave me a huge insight into how it can and does work.

 

What are we doing here today?

I’m going to cover 10 key points for both employees and employers on how to work remotely. We won’t call it proper remote working though, we’ll call it “Working from lockdown”. So, what’s the difference I hear you cry? Part one is the difference between remote working and working from home. In general, a lot of people see no difference between the two, and others don’t explain the difference. Working from home is when you have an office to go to, however, you may work from home when waiting for a package, the gas man or plumber, for example. Working remotely is when you typically have no office to go to, your day to day working is not in an office, you are not expected to be at HQ (if there is one). With remote working you may not even work in your house, you may work from a café, coffee shop, pub, park. Part two, working from lockdown, this is imposed working from home, it’s something people didn’t expect, it’s something people were not prepared for and it’s much, much harder on you compared to remote working. There are no advantages that come from working from lockdown.

 

Working remotely during Lockdown

Although entitled “during lockdown” this could be used on the much broader “just” working remotely, or could even take some of these points into your office space when we are allowed back into our office/place of work.

 

1. Trust

As an employer and employee, you have to trust in yourself and others. One often cited reason I have heard from employers and employees in going remote is TRUST. How can I trust my employees? How can I trust myself? The one argument I always bring to the table on this is, if I’m not doing my job you’ll soon find out and soon kick me to the curb. As an employee trusting yourself, that’s more difficult. We know we can do the work, what we do lack is the education on how to work remotely. You can do it, it’s a different mindset. Remote working is not for everyone, however right now some have little choice. Some will thrive and be able to be self-disciplined. Those that don’t will need to be able to discuss and find ways forward with their employers. (See following points).

 

2. Physically Distant

While working under lockdown, you should try and make yourself physically distant from the rest of your household. This is often not easy, especially when the majority don’t have a dedicated space to work remotely. Take what you may have learnt in the office and convert that to home life. A lot of us work in offices where there may be background noise, this noise is different. I’m currently writing this piece while my son plays with his train track less than 3 metres away. He’s being noisy, it’s distracting when you first try and work in this atmosphere, however you soon get used to it. Your family also know when it’s okay and when it’s not okay to disturb you. It’s like working in the office, there is usually that one loud person who has a shouty phone voice.

 

3. Socially Close

A lot of people against remote working see it as “anti-social” and it is difficult for remote workers to feel part of “the team”. While being physically distant how do you remain socially close? I put this down to technology, something I did in my previous role and something I have been doing during this current situation. Call someone… The easiest way to staying connected and social is to call someone. At this time, I use communication software like Microsoft Teams, Discord or similar. I have taken to just starting a meeting in Teams and sitting there in silence, if someone joins that meeting then fantastic, talk, even if you just sit there most of the time not talking, connect anyway, at least you know someone is there. In Discord, I have been sitting in open voice channels, just so people can talk. If you have colleagues, start a call with one or many of them? I recall even before this, I spent almost a full week, 40+ hours on the phone to one of my colleagues while we were both working on separate parts of the same system. The majority of the time we didn’t talk, we had each other’s back when we needed it, just as you would in an office. Be available during work hours, talk to each other. This brings me on to my next point.

 

4. Cost

I bet you thought this point is about money. There are cost advantages and disadvantages to remote working. Like for you employers, you can save on office space, leasing, etc. Employees, you can save on commuting, even going from a two-car family to one, is a possibility. However, that is not the cost I was thinking about.

I want to talk about the mental cost. Remote working is not something many people have considered doing or in some cases made a conscious effort not to do. Remote working is not a one size fits all. It requires a mind shift. With working from lockdown, the effect is

mentally draining for everyone and more so for those that do not want or like remote working.

Please, if you are comfortable at remote working, if you have got your system down, help those that haven’t. Help those that are struggling. For those that are struggling, don’t sit in silence, tell someone you’re having a hard time. I know I am; I don’t like working from lockdown, it’s emotionally draining and not being able to “just nip to the shop”, or “go to the pub for a pint” is the opposite to how I am.

 

5. Plan

Plan your days, plan your weeks, make sure you and your team or even clients know when you are going to be available. As I mentioned we are all working in strange times and I have yet to meet or talk to anyone who hasn’t been affected and hasn’t had to change their way of thinking. It may be a case that your 9-5 position will have to come down to 8-12 then 6-10, with time in between to look after the kids. It may be that you need to schedule meetings on one day a week, or work longer on one day to not work on another. This leads to the next point series of points, Flexibility, Meetings, Teamwork & Timing!

 

6. Flexibility

Remain flexible, although planning is important, you have to also remain flexible. A lot of people will be used to this already, some less so. Things crop up, clients, employees and employers may go through a lot of changes. The key is amongst the planning be flexible to change and don’t worry if you lose time to one task while doing another and don’t try and chalk up work time “just in case” something happens and you need a day away from work. Everything works itself out in the end and if you have to take a day, fine, work that extra hour here and there. Employers, understand that your employees are working hard, doing what they are meant to. If they aren’t, see my first point on Trust. You will have the same flexibility as your team and employees, you need that just as much as they do.

 

7. Meetings

A lot of this is relevant in any work situation now just remote working. Could this be done in an email? Don’t waste yours or others time. With everything above, you may not have all teammates or colleagues available to you at all times. With teammates, clients or even yourself doing some home schooling, or other activity you may be working at odd times during the day. If meetings are needed, use what’s at your disposal, Microsoft Teams has been a great way for me to have meetings. The key point is, keep it short, don’t wait for everyone to be there, record the meeting, so you and others can reference back to it. When working in remote teams’ daily stand-ups, sprint reviews and retrospectives don’t have to end. These happen in different ways. Of course, I’m talking mainly around development terms when it comes down to it as that is my bread and butter. However, marketing, recruitment and other industries can most certainly take something from keeping a meeting on track and sticking to the subject. If you are talking to clients, arrange a morning of meetings, don’t try and spread them during the day, at least you will know you have that 2-hour slot and you’re done with scheduled talking to others.

 

8. Teamwork

Know your team, colleagues even neighbours. We are not all in the same boat, but we are in this together. I have found myself sitting in open voice channels, talking and offering help to neighbours all because we have a common goal of “Let’s get through this”. I am not struggling so much with Lockdown working, this does not mean others aren’t and it’s time to

say “I can help”. I talk to many people each day, as many as I can, not just to keep myself sane, I feel I need to help others with what they are going through. I can offer expertise.

 

9. Timing

Knowing when you are at work and when you are not, when you are at the same location is no easy task. You have to set breakpoints, where you change activity, make sure to do something to signify that. When it’s 5pm, time to finish work, don’t just stay sat at your PC and switch a computer game on. Instead get up, walk around the house, go outside for your daily exercise, cook, talk to others in your household. Do something that splits up your day. Set break times into your schedule. Have a chat on your coffee break, leading on to:

 

10. Active

Stay active, easier said than done, however take breaks, get up, stretch. There is nothing worse than sitting in the same position for hours on end. You may have done this in the office, it’s just as bad for you there. Time to change your habits and do other things. This also helps with the point above of timing. It helps split the day into work vs non-work.

 

11. Balance

Work-life balance has been a buzz phrase for some time; however, I feel it doesn’t exist. Work is a part of life there is no balancing needed. The balance that is needed is knowing when to stop and when to start. Knowing that when you are not in work you should try to not think about it.

How successfully you can co-ordinate time at work with time away will affect how you feel overall about remote working. Employees, talk to your managers, make sure they know any difficulties you are having, make sure they know how hard some parts of your life are. Believe me when I say, in some cases your manager is going through the same thing. Employers and Managers, know your teams, know that some are now home schooling their children, know some are working in a house with 2 adults working side by side in two different industries with no other space to work. Others are carers or have health issues. Many of the things that people have in a standard working environment, but have become more intense in our current situation.

 

That’s 11, you said 10

I did, Planning needed a bit more of an explanation before going into the other points that revolve around it. You see what I did there? Planned for 10, had the Flexibility to do 11.

 

A final thought

The original talk I wrote was about are the 20s the decade of remote work. That seems to have been imposed on many of us during this time. What I would say is work together, work as a team, we are still the same people, in the same places. We can get through to whatever happens down the line.

I still feel strongly that remote working will become the norm in the 20s, this is not normal and don’t take the current situation as a normal remote working ethos. This is Working from Lockdown, nothing more. If you are an employer, I hope that if you have been able to offer remote working, that despite the current situation it has given you ideas. Instead of reverting to office only you offer employees the chance to choose where and how they work. Employees, I hope that this has not tainted the ideas of remote working and I hope that you have the chance of “proper” remote working when this is over.

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In this time of uncertainty, we’re here to help. Whether you need support with remote working and collaboration, security, the culture of working remotely or learning new skills, here are some resources we hope you find useful.