How To Work From Home


With the expansion of the recent coronavirus, major companies like Microsoft have started asking their teams to work from home to limit exposure. I find remote work is often the most productive, but the transition can be messy. I’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve learned some lessons I thought I’d share.

✔️ Lesson #1: keep the ticket tracker up to date

One of the hardest parts of managing a remote team is keeping confidence that you know what’s going on. Good managers keep a keen ear on their team, but when their team goes remote their ears aren’t enough. The best way to help them is to make the ticket tracker (like Jira or Trello) the source of truth for the team’s work. My rule is this:

If the boss needs to know the status of your work, all they should need to do is refresh the ticket board.

🗣 Lesson #2: use chat software for discussions but don’t use it to communicate requirements

It’s easy to take everything to your chat app as soon as you leave your shared office space, but I find that leads to dropped tasks. If it has to get done, it should be a ticket in the ticket tracker or at least an email that copies the Project Manager and Manager of the project. A ping in a chat channel isn’t enough. It’s too easy to scroll past something critical. My rule is this:

If something gets missed and it was only posted in chat, the miss belongs to the person who posted.

👥 Lesson #3: replace check-in meetings (like Scrum stand-ups) with a tool

If there’s noise in your home workspace, like a roommate coming home or a kid leaving for school, a pair of headphones is enough to mask it and help you focus. On a call, that background noise disrupts everything. Regular check-in meetings exaggerate competition for your workspace, but they’re also repetitive so they’re easy to replace with a text-based system. I’ve used Status Hero for this. It sends reminders, teammates can tag each other if they need help, and it tracks blockers. It instantly reduces the call schedule. It’s a quick win when you’re trying to bootstrap a newly-remote team.

📫 Lesson #4: use Inbox Zero

Unanswered emails are one of the biggest frustrations I face as a remote worker. Things get missed and chat channels get polluted with “hey did you see that email…” messages. I try not to create the same frustration for others.

Everybody gets a lot of email. Checking it is hard, even for diligent workers. Inbox Zero teaches you to process email instead of checking it. If you’re on a thread with an action item, create a ticket and archive the message. If someone sends you a link, bookmark it and archive the message. Instead of letting messages build up into a database of everything, process them into wherever they go and then get rid of them. Then unanswered messages don’t get lost in the pile.

Enjoy skipping your commute!


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