Efficient work from home

23/03/20, by Dario Ferrer

These days is more important than ever to work from home efficiently. Your company may be lacking a WFH culture or have a non efficient one, employees are not able to focus or keep motivation level up, etc, etc.

The office at home

When you work from home you still need an “office”. Ideally you will have a spare room dedicated to be your working place, but if it is not convenient or not possible just find a place that serves the purpose of an office desk.

So, the desk, you need a proper desk, chair, screen, etc, just like in the office. At Mayara cloud we have regular office desks and chairs at home, the company pays for them as they are considered work tools. It is very common that people that work from home from time to time just use any table and chair available at home, or even no table at all, you end up seeing people working from a sofa, a bed … This is a big mistake, not recommended for a single WFH day and just not viable for an extended period.

Mayara Desk

To summarise, desk and chair, as well as proper light, not a noisy environment, etc. Are paramount.

Interruptions

One common mistake does not come from ourselves, but from the rest of people around at home, kids, partners, flatmates, etc. They are used to interact with each other at home, this is natural, yet we have to avoid this by setting working times not to be interrupted. It is very important that people at home and you (the remote worker) have a clear time schedule in which you are working, not available to chat, help with domestic tasks, etc. In most cases, a closed door is the best tool to stay quiet, but if we do not have a full room we have to create a virtual one.

You are simply not available at home, make it clear to yours.

Social interactions

We’ve all heard many times, or even said, “I don’t like to work from home, I need social interaction”. Well, yes, you need social interaction, but you can have it working from home. What you actually lack is a WFH culture and tooling. If your communication channels are mainly the phone and email, then yes, you are going to feel alone at home. Chat and video conferencing tools are the office, and using them is easier than what most people think.

We (at Mayara) use Slack as main communication channel. We not only use it to speak about work, but also to socialise. We comment the news, gossips, latest tendencies, personal feelings, etc. Just like in the office, in fact, back in the day, when we were all physically at the office, the norm was to chat over Slack rather than regular chatter. The main reasons were not to disturb the workmates not interested in the conversation and to make the serious technical conversations available to review. When you work from home the same reasons are valid.

One important fact, is that all the social interaction becomes visible. Some old school companies still have this concept of “speaking is slacking off”, this is just not true. In fact, when the conversation is visible across the whole team (including the “boss”), the guilt disappears, it becomes clear that it is just a healthy social interaction that normally ends up in knowledge sharing, profitable for the company. And that is exactly the next topic.

Knowledge sharing

When using web chatting tools as mainly communication tool all day our conversations get visible and traceable. This means that the whole team can follow (or not) a conversation about an interesting technical topic, individuals can start participating on it if they feel like they can contribute to the topic, etc.

We have to be careful though, there are some enemies in web chats that we need to be aware of, distractions are tempting, there can be many conversations at the same time and we may end up not focusing on the task at hand.

Here are some bullet points on how to use the online communication tools efficiently:

  • Never DM (direct message) anyone. This rule is absolute paramount. If you speak on a private 1:1 conversation, that conversation is hidden from everyone else. There is no knowledge sharing at all, it is effectively a secret between you and the person you’re speaking too. It should be reserved for not work related, private topics conversations, and the office web chat is probably not the tool to do that. There are many (not valid) reasons to use DMs:

    • To hide some lack of knowledge, so that the whole team does not realise it.
    • To grab the attention of a particular person. You should mention him or her in an open channel instead.
    • To create trust with the person we are speaking with. This also causes the opposite effect to the rest of the team.
  • Always speak in the proper channel. There should be a sensible number of specific topic channels so that conversations are properly structured. The “Default” or “General” channel should be left for ephemeral generic social chatter. If necessary, move a conversation to a specific channel if it became relevant to the channel’s topic.

  • Do not create 1000 channels. It is good to keep separated topics, but having a channel for each not relevant topic is not a good idea either. Teammates are going to join only the channels that they are interested in, and they could potentially miss interesting conversations.

  • If a conversation became a long discussion, make it a call. It is always good to hear and see workmates anyway, an ad-hoc call can solve problems fast.

  • Remind people about your messages, but not 100 times. Sometimes a person may forgot to respond you, it is ok if you mention him or her to get an answer, but if you already did, the person is probably busy or do not want to respond, respect that.

  • Use all the gifs, emojis, etc. This is the 21st century, stay fun (not ridiculous), boring people are also boring when working from home, don’t be one of them.

Video Conferencing

Sometimes text chat is not enough, plus we should see each other faces often. There are some great tools for videoconferencing these days, like Google Meet or Zoom. We’ve always used Google Meet, it is html5, lightweight and powerful, with support for many dozens of users at the same time.

Traditionally, conference calls are scheduled in advance and several subtopics are discussed. These calls are usually long.

There is nothing bad about long scheduled calls, but people tend to schedule every call they are going to have making it a big event. Most of times, ad-hoc calls are more efficient. When you are working on a specific topic with one or more persons, you can just move it to a video call. That way you can share your screen, discuss, etc.

It is important that our set up is able to handle video calls efficiently. Our laptop, desk, chair, headset, etc, must be prepared and available at all times. If we need to prepare every single call we are having, we are not properly working remotely. This also means, you are not working on your pyjamas.

Show your face. Many people are used to join video calls with voice only, as they want to keep their home private. We are working, find a spot to work at home that you can show in a webcam, brush your hair and wash your face. Showing your face on the video calls brings the “office” a much more human feeling. You can literally see whether your workmates seem happy, tired, stressed, etc.

In our meetings, it is mandatory to show your face.

Internet

If you are working from home, you need a good Internet connection. This can be provided by the employer if needed. If you live in a hut on top of a lonely mountain with no fiber, no cooper, and poor 4G or even 3G signal, you cannot work form home. It is a shared responsibility between the employer and the employee to provide a proper broadband connection to the workplace, our house in this case.

Sometimes an individual is always having problems when making video calls or when downloading or uploading big files, etc. This needs addressing. It is not an unsolvable problem in the 21st century. A poor connection in a remote working environment is like a bad laptop, it needs to be changed.

The image of the company itself does not look well when a meeting participant keeps freezing or disconnecting. This happens often when connecting from the actual office as well, IMO, this makes the company look very bad.

Email

Yes, email is still a thing. Use emails for specific communications that you want to keep trace of, like official company communications.

It is very important to keep a clean inbox, emails normally require an action on them, so you can treat your email as a to-do list. Archive the emails that do not require to act on them. Respond promptly to those that require it. A near 0 messages inbox means you are not piling up things to do.

Do not use emails for un-important communications, by sending few emails you are ensuring they get responded on time. People will ignore your emails if you are a spammer, and not without reasons.

Presence etiquette

Last but not least, people often don’t “show up” in the virtual office and wait for others to contact them, staying invisible until they are required. This is not a good practice, instead we have to make some noise and make the team to notice when you are and when you are not around.

Notifications in Slack like good morning, out for coffee, lunch time, or I'm off are very useful. They give visibility of your actual availability and influence in others’ behavior. It is also good for yourself, you have the feeling of being in the office somehow, as people know that you’re available.

23/03/20 Efficient work from home, by Dario Ferrer

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