Rules to Better Remote Work

Working Remotely is something that is going to begin to become more common, it is important that we have the tools to continue to work effectively and efficiently whilst also maintaining good mental health.​​

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  1. Do you have a morning routine?

    If you are spending many days working remotely, it is vital to remain in some sort of morning routine.​

    ​Meaning doesn’t just roll out of bed in your PJs and start working as is. This can be damaging to your mental health over time so it is vital to keep some sort of normality. ​Change your clothes, eat your breakfast, get ready for work.

  2. Do you have an ergonomic setup?

    ​​An ergonomic setup ensures that you are using your computer in a way that will not injure or strain you in any way. As you will likely be sitting/standing at your desk for up to 8 hours it is crucial to not become complacent with the layout of your desk.​

    Tips to remember when reviewing your desk:

    • Eyes should be level with the top of the screen
    • Eyes should be an arms length away from the screen
    • Upper legs should be parallel to the ground
    • Feet should be either flat on the ground or on a slightly angled foot rest
    • Shoulders and arms should be parallel to the ground 
    • Lower back should have support
    • ​You should be able to comfortably sit up straight
  3. Do you take breaks?

    When alone it is very easy to walk into the kitchen, grab your lunch and then walk back over to your workspace and eat where you work. Not only is this bad for you sitting all day, but it is also bad for your mental well being.

    ​We recommend taking 5 minutes every few hours to stretch and walk around.​​

    Read more about Do you take breaks?
  4. Do you have good audio conferencing?

    Whilst working remotely it is good practice to ensure you have a decent setup to have effective remote meetings. This includes:​​

    • Good Microphone
    • Camera
    • Conferencing software like Teams or Skype

    It is always better to have complicated discussions over a call rather than just using instant messaging. 

    It is also good to use your camera so that people can see your body language to better aid in gauging your feelings on a particular topic.

    Other good practices are to use headphones and to keep your microphone on mute when not speaking. ​

    Also don't forget this is also important for mental health, maintaining regular communication with your friends and colleges.

  5. Do you have a dedicated working space?

    ​Just like when going to work it is good to have a space that is completely dedicated to your job. This will allow you to get into a work mindset when in this space, but also at the end of the day or during breaks allow you to remove yourself from the work environment.

    ​Having downtime from work is important for your mental health so don not turn your entire home into your workspace.​

  6. Efficiency - Do you use two monitors?

    Studies have shown that you can get up to a 30% increase in productivity by using more than one monitor when you work.

    Providing users with the ability to access more information and images simultaneously, multiple monitor configurations allow for more efficient multitasking between applications.

    For example, if you were a developer; you could have your references in one monitor and your Visual Studio in another, and directly compare the two without compromising on space or layout.

    Two Monitors Better Than One
    Figure: Two monitors are better than one
  7. Do you have an indoor exercise routine?

    ​Many of us now have a desk job, which involves (if you don’t have a stand-up desk) a whole lot of sitting around, couple this with an inactive lifestyle outside of work and you have a recipe for poor body and mental health.

    If you are unable to get to the gym there is still plenty of exercises that can be done with no equipment at all, this form of exercise is known as calisthenics. This is essentially bodyweight exercises.

    The Australian Department of H​ealth recommends for people aged 18-64:

    • 2.5-5 hours of moderate per week​
    • 1.5-2.5 hours of vigorous exercise per week

  8. Staying connected - Do you have a daily catch-up?

    ​Do you do a Daily Scrum? Daily Scrums are important because:

    • They show what you are working on
    • They ​Increase visibility
    • Are an opportunity to adjust priorities if necessary and talk about blockers etc.
    If you don't do Daily Scrums, have a catch up with your client s and/or team anyway. People need to be across what you’re working on to improve visibility and grow trust.

  9. Do you prioritize communication by being available in a number of channels?

    ​Prioritize Communication - Make yourself highly available on a number of communication channels.

    When you’re working remotely, your colleagues can’t just walk up and talk to you. They lose the ease of access to you to ask quick questions or discuss urgent matters.  Due to this, you need other forms of communication as a stop-gap

    When working remotely, communication is important than when you’re in the office, and with great collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams now readily available, it’s hard to have an excuse not to be available.​

  10. Communication - Do you send "Done" videos?

    ​​​A picture is worth a thousand words; and a ​video is worth a thousand pictures.

    Clients love done videos. Done videos offer transparency, visibility, testing, and early releasing of a feature they might otherwise have to wait weeks or months to see released. The video lets them see the new feature and enables early feedback, which is beneficial to both the developer and client. 

    The best way to demonstrate that a new piece of functionality is working is to record yourself using it successfully. this works as both a demo, as well as a training aid if they need to reference it again later.​​

    Figure: Good example - Record yourself and your  screen
  11. Do you fix bugs with a phone call?

    ​Developers don’t really like fixing bugs, but it’s part of what they do from time to time. This is mainly because it interrupts your flow, so it’s good to get it out of the way quickly. 

    You receive a bug report, you read it, try to reproduce it, and try to fix it. If you can’t reproduce it, you then call the client and ask them to walk you through it. Then you fix it - if they were able to reproduce the issue.

    ​​Bad example

    You receive a bug report, you don’t read it. You immediately call the client and ask them to reproduce the issue. If they are able to reproduce it, then we fix it. 

    ​Good example

    Sometimes the client can’t reproduce the issue, or it turns out that the problem was external, e.g. an internet connectivity issue and not related to the product. In this case, there is nothing to fix, and you can close the bug report and get back to whatever you were supposed to be focusing on that day. In this case, we’ve fixed a bug with a phone call. We’ve also shown to the client that we’re really responsive and care about issues that they encounter. 

    Prioritizing communication​ is paramount and this is another great way of doing that. 

  12. Do you ensure speakers use a microphone?

    ​​It’s sometimes quite hard to hear who is speaking. Usually, the person leading the meeting is audible because they’ll be using a mic, but if others want to talk, they should come up next to the presenter and speak (if they are in the same room) – this is important so people who are attending the meeting remotely can hear what is being discussed.

    It’s worse when there are multiple conversations going on – let one person speak at a time, and make sure they’re close to the mic. No side conversations!​
  13. Do you know how to maintain productivity?

    ​It’s not always easy to stay on-flow and maintain productivity in a distracting environment. Here are 3 proven strategies to help you maintain productivity:

    1. Create TODO lists on your favourite note taking tech:
      • 1 list for most important tasks (MIT) - what I would like to get done today
      • 1 for new features - when developing a new feature, a concise TODO list of what needs to be done
      • 1 for additional tasks - any distractions such as additional tasks to be completed, can be noted on the appropriate list, without breaking concentration or stopping to focus on something else.​
    2. ​Pomodoro technique - This technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. 
    3. Have a soundscape or background music to keep you focused
  14. Do you make the best from flexible working hours?

    While flexible work hours are awesome, and it’s fun to set your own schedule, most roles where you are working with a client require you to have set hours. Chopping and changing when you are available looks unprofessional, so you need to have a known routine. 

    Set your hours and stick to them. It’s ok to start at 7 am and finish at 4 pm, that’s fine as long as everyone knows those are you set hours. Keep a routine, it will help you stay focused.

    ​Separat​​e your work and home time  - this is super important to help you structure your day and stay motivated.

  15. Do you provide at least two days’ notice for people in other time zones?

    Ideally, giving people more than 1 weeks’ notice gives people enough time to adjust their schedule, and keep their clients informed about their availability.​
  16. Do you give remote attendees the URL to shared videos?

    ​If the presenter wants to show a video, they should give remote attendees the URL to the video prior to playing. 

    Videos never play well over a shared screen, as there could be a delay on the internet connection​.
  17. Do you have a nice background in your home office?

    If you have constant video calls with clients or work colleagues, one of the first things you should think about should be how to have a nice background.​​

    When possible, try to have a neutral wall or setup behind you or with minimal objects – that will cause less distraction for others when talking to you. Less is more.​

    ​In other words, you may be fond of family pictures hanging on the wall or band posters, but the person on the other side may find them distracting. Also watch out if you have a pile of clothes to fold, boxes, or any mess that may be behind your desk.

    A nice test is to sit at your desk and to take a selfie to see what others will see in your background. Then organize your background accordingly. 

    If you want to go the extra mile, consider designating one wall as your company wall and keep it consistent with the company branding.

    Figure: Bad Example – A messy background will not look professional
    Figure: Good Example – Branded monitor in the background showing off the company website
  18. Do you have good lighting on your home office?

    Light can improve your productivity and the general quality of your calls. The best light will always be the natural one from a window. 

    Here are some tips:

    • If you have a desk lamp, move it so it is not directly on your face or on a white background to avoid extreme contrasting on your image
    • Avoid having light (even from a window) behind you, otherwise, it can create annoying glare on your monitor or shadows on your work station
    • You can have a nice work station with some nice decorative lights, such as desk lamps

    ​A good tip from The Spruce blog is to position your home office station facing north or south so that the sunlight doesn't throw a shadow at any point during the day, making you move your setup frequently. 

    Figure: see how the light can impact your presentation on remote meetings​
  19. Do you have successful remote meetings?

    ​​Ever had a remote meeting via Skype or Skype for Business and had numerous issues with people accessing the meeting, or you couldn't find the shared files, or links afterwards? The de facto approach of communicating via group emails and sharing files via a patchwork of different services is difficult, with the potential for missed messages and files. SSW thinks Microsoft Teams is designed to solve those problems.

    ​At SSW, we use Microsoft Teams for our company meetings and for our internal communication. Microsoft Teams is designed to provide an easier way for small groups of people to communicate and collaborate.

    Microsoft Teams winning feature is its tight integration with Office services and Groups, which allows users to seamlessly and securely switch between editing documents, shared dashboards and planners, and group chat, video and voice calls. The simplicity of just setting up a Team and having access to all these shared services — without the need to spend hours configuring them is part of what Microsoft sees as Teams' selling point. Teams integration with email also allows messages sent to a designated Team address to be copied to a conversation in Teams.  

    What’s the difference between Skype, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams?

    Skype – an instant messaging app that provides online text message and video chat services. Users may transmit both text and video messages and may exchange digital documents such as images, text, and video. 

    Skype for Business – a solid communication product boasting multiple modalities and the ability to easily switch between them, as well as share a variety of content forms (e.g., desktop, application, whiteboard, poll). 

    Microsoft Teams – MS Teams came along and boasted some of the features that Skype for Business offered – predominantly persistent chat, instant messaging, individual and group voice/video calls, and scheduled meetings.

    Figure: A chart showing a feature comparison for Skype, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
    skype chat.jpg
    Figure: Bad example - Numerous group chats with no group name and therefore no way of tracking previous chats/files
    Teams chat.jpg
    ​​​Figure: Good example - Figure showing all of the team members. This group chat can be used over and over for projects discussions with all data in one place and integrated with SharePoint.

  20. Do you keep a chat window open at the side of the screen at all times?

    ​It's important that the remote attendees are included, and because they can't see the other attendees, and audio quality might not be ideal, text is much better for short comments and replies.​

  21. Do you make it easy to see the users PC?

    ​​Sometimes you can’t resolve a ticket without seeing the users PC. Ask a user to install TeamViewer and then for the ID and Password isn't the 
    easier way.

    You should just give them a link they click on.

    Figure: Install TeamViewer app from Marketplace
    Figure: Easily send a link to the user

    More info: Integrate TeamViewer with Zendesk

  22. Do you send out an email summary after each meeting?

    After a meeting, you should summarise the main issues and decisions of the meeting, generating actionable tasks and delegating them to the proper person. ​The level of detail in the communication should suit the type of meeting, but should at least include a bullet point list of agenda items or any announcements made at the meeting. 

    This can also be used as a reference for those who did attend the meeting.​

  23. Do you take care of your personal presentation even for remote meetings?

    Some people might think that if they are working from home it’s okay to wear pyjamas or not brush their hair, for example. Instead, if you change into your usual dress code, you will feel more motivated and ready to work.

    ​​Also, you will show professionalism by not wearing pyjamas​ by attending meetings as you would if you were in person.​​

    ​Try to start your day afresh, as you would usually do to go to your workplace. Follow your usual morning routine: shower, dressing up, breakfast, and then start your work routine.

    Tip: try to avoid patterns as they can be distracting on camera.

    Bad example - Figure: Not dressing accordingly or not having a work station from home can drastically reduce your concentration
    Good example - Figure: nice work station and good personal presentation to work from home
  24. Do you test your microphone, web camera and audio before meetings?

    If your audio, camera or your microphone are not​ working properly, it’s very likely that you will have your communication affected on a call.

    We recommend that you do a test on the platform you are using for your meeting (Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, etc) and follow their procedure to test your microphone and your audio.

    ​A second option is to call a work colleague and ask them if they can hear and see you well. Good tips are to use headphones and to keep your microphone on mute when not speaking. ​

    Figure: Call a work colleague to test your presentation on online calls and make sure it works!