Some would say working from home is a dream come true. Others might choose in-office over remote any day. But one thing’s for sure: working from home is a very different animal than “punching in” at the office. Especially as a tech professional when frequent collaboration, communication and problem-solving sessions with your team is key to a product’s success.
It’s easier than ever for teams (and even entire companies) to stay connected digitally when working remotely. But with COVID-19, a lot of engineering and product teams may have been forced to adjust to a fully remote environment overnight. And whether you work from home one day a week or five, you’re bound to face a new set of challenges.
No matter the case, the right mindset and strategies can help keep you and your team engaged, productive and happy. Whether you’re looking for help or looking for ways to keep your team together, here are six work-from-home tips, plus real insight from Seen by Indeed tech pros embracing the WFH life.
Table of contents
- Introvert or extrovert, stay connected
- Communicate (often) and be as available as possible
- Clean up messy processes (+ invest in the right tools)
- Set up a dedicated workspace
- Get in a routine
- Ask for help
How to work from home successfully: top tips for product and engineering teams
1. Introvert or extrovert, stay connected
Working onsite leads to hallway conversations and exchanges with coworkers you might not normally interact with. And sometimes, those spontaneous chats or brainstorming sessions can trigger some of the best ideas.
In light of COVID-19, the Seen by Indeed team recently transitioned to remote work. Michael Heath, Senior Product Manager at Seen says that his team is “extremely intelligent, opinionated and almost all introverts. In the office, they’re more willing to communicate because they can see or hear what everyone is working on.”
But working remotely means that “now, they can’t. So that leads a lot of the team to be quiet.” Heath’s fix? Encouraging open communication to keep engagement high.
So while working from home can feel isolating and eliminates any chance of overhearing a side conversation you can chime in on, try not to let it stop you from sharing thoughts or ideas (or touch base with someone just to say hi).
Remember, staying connected doesn’t mean conversations always have to be work-related. Morning catch-ups over coffee and five-minute talks about weekend plans are often missed when working remote. But these interactions are part of what brings teams together, and a good chance to both engage introverts and reenergize extraverts with a dose of social interaction.
Check in with each other regularly over Slack or Hangouts, or set up a Discord server where people can pop in for quick conversations. Schedule lunches or team-building activities over video chat. Start a virtual happy hour. Share photos of your pets. And while you can use a tool like Zoom for an audio-only call, make it a point to turn the camera on more often than not for some face time.
2. Communicate (often) and be as available as possible
You’re not working side-by-side anymore, which means tapping each other with questions and ideas isn’t as easy as swivelling your chair around—you have to make it a point to stay in touch.
“We’ve had to become much more deliberate about communicating with each other. When we were right next to each other, it was much easier to do small things, but over text little details can easily be missed,” explains Heath. “So we’re having to be a bit more formal in requirements and follow questions.”
To solve communication challenges, Heath over-communicates everything. “This can come across a little annoying, but it fixes a lot of problems right out of the gate.”
So while communicating more often when working remotely might feel excessive, it’s often essential. Mitchell Breinholt, Data Analytics and Operations Team Lead at Seen recommends having one place where everyone can get together and cross-collaborate versus having 20 different conversations going at once. He also increased the number of weekly stand ups for his team, scheduling an extra Slack convo to the mix.
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Another part of communicating is being as responsive as you can in your WFH situation (though sometimes time zones, kids, appointments will get in the way). Will your team get a timely response from you should they need it? Say a bug surfaces for a big chunk of your users—the last thing you’d want to be is MIA for too long if you’re the one responsible for finding a solution.
But while staying in touch remotely can be a challenge (especially for those making a transition to it), Breinholt finds that meeting with teams he doesn’t normally meet with is easier. Why? Because there’s no dependency on physical places. Plus, extra schedule flexibility means you can adjust your schedule to accommodate another’s, if needed.
3. Clean up messy processes (+ invest in the right tools)
The right tools will mean something different for every individual, team and company. But a good starting point is looking at what you already use and asking if it’ll work in a remote environment, too. Even if the tools you use work just fine, should you rethink your current processes or invest in an add-on or feature better suited for remote work?
Wildbit’s remote-first team, for example, thought about ways they could optimize Slack for daily stand-up meetings. Its team was looking for a “lightweight, useful and more frequent way to check in with each other as a whole team,” but they also “wanted to make it a useful planning tool for individual work as well.”
The solution? A stand-up bot built for Slack, Geekbot. “We set up Geekbot to ask each team member (product, design, engineering, and QA—we’re all in this) a set of questions at 9 am in their time zone” so that “each team member [could] use these questions to be thoughtful about their days and what they want to accomplish.”
Through trial and error, Wildbit adapted the questions to their needs. Doing this helps the team plan their day and troubleshoot things that went wrong the day prior. And in place of weekly hour-long meetings to talk about what everyone is working on, they “can have focused 30-minute sessions in [their] project teams every Monday [to] solve problems and address issues that came up during the week.”
Or, maybe you have processes that can be streamlined. When working onsite, Heath’s team was “using sticky notes on a whiteboard for general tracking of ideas and planning,” and going fully remote meant coming up with a new way for the entire team to easily access and track these ideas and projects from home. His team already used Jira, but it needed tweaking. This means that Heath “had to go in and clean a lot of [Jira] up” to allow his team to ideate and track projects more effectively.
4. Set up a dedicated workspace
While slinking onto your couch (or staying in bed altogether) might be your first instinct, setting up a dedicated workspace in your home is one of the first things you should do. This will help you shift your mindset into productivity mode and create boundaries between your home and work life.
Create a quiet and organized space that allows you to focus and think creatively (and jump onto a short-notice video chat, if needed). Minimize distractions by setting up shop in a separate room away from high-traffic or noisy spaces, and ask any family members or roommates to avoid that area during working hours.
Short a home office essential or two? Find out what your company will provide, like a monitor, charging cable or headset, for instance. Another option is to ask your employer if they offer a work-from-home reimbursement benefit to help get you what you need to create a comfortable space, like a standing desk or a pair of monitors.
5. Get in a routine
Falling out of a routine is far easier when working from home, so do your best to stick to a daily schedule. Structuring your day can keep you on track, plus create a clear transition between personal and work life. Not only that, but it can help you mentally prepare in the mornings and recharge after a long day of coding or debugging.
Wake up at the same time you would if you were commuting to the office (or at least the same time every day). Schedule a dedicated lunch break, along with any other mid-day breaks to rest your mind and eyes. Switch off when the day is done rather than working that extra hour because you don’t have any evening plans.
Other helpful tips:
- Get dressed (like you would for work). This helps you shift into a work mindset, increase productivity and create boundaries.
- Prepare healthy meals and snacks. Eating foods that fuel your body and mind can ward off hunger and keep you energized.
- Minimize distractions. Invest in noise-canceling headphones to drown out unwanted noise. Or place your phone in a far away spot if you know it’ll break your focus more often than not.
- Actually take breaks. Set a timer if you need to. Try the Pomodoro technique where you’d work for 25 minutes, then break for five minutes. Do that four times to earn a longer 15- to 30-minute break. Here’s an online timer you can try. When you do take breaks, step away from your workstation to get your body moving by taking your dog on a quick walk or doing some light stretching.
6. Ask for help
Everyone responds to remote work differently. Not only can it be difficult to overcome initial hurdles, but the challenges of working remotely can come with its own set of mental health risks.
Know when you’re struggling (and with what) and keep an open line of communication with people who can help. If you’re feeling overloaded, tell your manager before it affects your wellbeing or productivity. Feeling isolated? Don’t wait to connect with a team member you can count on.
This can also mean reaching out for professional help. Check with your employer to see if there’s an employee assistance program that can offer 1:1 guidance, or contact a health professional to explore the right solution for you. Some companies even offer employees free access to mental health and meditation apps like Headspace or Calm.
Make working from home work for you
Working from home has a learning curve, but a positive mindset, the right tools and plenty of communication can alleviate some of the issues tied to working remotely.
Because there’s no perfect solution for everyone, one of the first steps is understanding how you do your best work (and stay healthy). Need a quiet space? Most productive in the early morning? Can count on a short walk for an afternoon pick-me-up? Use this insight so you can tailor your WFH situation for you.