What I’ve learned from working from home in a distributed team and organisation
Working from home in a distributed team within and organisation can definitely be a plus but with it comes some hurdles to get used to. This is my 3rd role in which I’ve been fortunate to have the ability to work from home (WFH) and I personally love it. No more dealing with crazy morning starts fighting to get on the train and then battling to get a seat. Instead each morning I go into my home office and start work.
For me it’s ideal and I still have the option of going to London when needed to the office to meet people. Best of both worlds really. It does take some getting used to and for some it’s not suitable as they need the office style environment. The benefit of being able to work from my garden during the summer when it’s hot is an added bonus of not having to deal with working indoors!
Things I’ve found that work
Creating an office space – carving out something that I consider my work place. Where I can do my job and close the door away from distractions has been very good especially when there are others in the house.
Daily conversations with your team – have one central place that you join daily and say hi. Hang out there and ask questions. You’d do this in real life in the canteen or going for lunch so you need to try and find in your virtual world. The best example of this was when I worked on Canonical. Everyone from HR to Payrole, Engineers to CEO were on IRC so you could ping them and ask them questions. It was really great to see people with various technical abilities all in one place. It was the online office!
Be professional! Don’t work from home in your Pjs! Get up and get to your desk. One tip I was told years ago when I worked for GE was have a mirror on your desk that way when you talk to someone you don’t see you are can see the faces you make and this is conveyed over the phone by your tone.
Obstacles to over come
The biggest thing I’ve found hard to wrap my head around is the amount of tools each team or person uses. Nobody seems to want to standardise the tools!
One day you are having meetings using one tool and the next day you have to download another tool and get it to work. On a given day I use hip chat for my team conversations, Skype for calls, Bluejeans for group calls or GoTo meeting and then there are the conversations I have on hangouts. Each are interchangeable depending on which team you work with. I have found more engineering types of people use one tool over another compared to Sales and Marketing but perhaps this is just because people work a certain way.
Frustrations of communicating and following up on items! In organisations that are spread out you need to track what’s being done where and when, and any activity linked to it. This can be done via RT, Jira, burn down charts, khanban boards. What ever it is again it should be set in stone in a company this is the tool we use. All teams no matter their discipline should use them. Asking people to send requests via email is not scalable, it leads to items not being done and it’s not possible to get an overview on how progress is being made.
People assume when you work from home it’s ok to pop over. It’s not and that’s often hard for them to understand. You have a working day and when you have guests they assumed you can just down tools. It’s not as easy as that and best to just close the door however rude it may seem, you wouldn’t do this to someone who was in an office.
Downside to timezones and people being in various locations and needing to talk to people in different teams means you often have early morning or late night calls. Avoid being on late always try and alternate with people so the onus doesn’t always fall to the same people to stay back late. They have a life also. If you do have to ask someone to stay back for a meeting in their timeszone even if it’s for lunch, make sure you say Thank you, show some appreciation. It makes a difference.
Things that are hard!
I struggle daily to take a break or get up and stretch things you’d take for granted when working in an office environment. Take that lunch break, I’ve started to walk Bash in this time as has become useful to getting me to leave my desk!
Closing the lid and logging off. I think this is next to impossible. All Geeks are connected now more so than ever before, twitter, facebook, skype email notifications it’s harder to separate work from non work so you remain connected. Try and avoid to replying to mails late at night it means you’re always on and always reachable and people get used to that.
Being visible – This is tricky how do you let the powers that be know that you’re working and accomplishing a lot. If you go for that promotion you want to be in with a fair chance and not have the fact you WFH and not based in HQ held against you. I think this is the hardest bit for a person who works from home is up against. It’s great to get the job but for many organisations the ability to change to other roles is dependent on your location.
The list isn’t exhaustive it’s based on my experience over the last 5 years. I do love working from home with my snoring little pug Bash and wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m sure over time I’ll come across obstacles or find other things that work well. Many organisations are moving towards WHF and it does work – but it’s also dependent on the person. It’s not for everyone.