The past few months was about change. The world-changing threat of COVID-19 started making its rounds in the news and recently it seems to be the only news on all the channels. Its effects are panic buying of food, closing borders, shortage of supplies, event cancellations and school closures.
One of the very interesting consequences of the epidemic is companies switching to remote work as much as they can to be able to continue operations and protect their employees.
Getting started with working from home for someone who is used to the office environment can be overwhelming. So many questions arise, like ‘Where shall I set up my office at home?’ ‘What will be my schedule for each day?’ ‘How will I keep on track?’ ‘Will I lose the connections with my co-workers?’ and so on. I remember when I started at Sponge Hammer, I had these questions too , despite I was – well, I thought I was- prepared for telecommuting.
It took me a few months to settle in and understand what it really is and I am finding that it’s a constantly evolving process that prods me to look for ways of improving various aspects of it.
As Sponge Hammer has been set up as a fully remote company from the beginning, collectively we have years of experience in this field and we are happy to share all this information. If you have just been forced by the circumstances to work from home, maybe our tips will help you.
So how to work from home?
I would definitely get a decent desk and chair as a first thing. It is an expense which your company probably won’t cover, but in the long term, you will benefit from it. Nothing is worse than having a terrible backache after a long day. If you can’t afford it right now, you can use a cushion or a lumbar pillow and something to rest your foot on.
Have a room with a door that you can close, indicating you are working. Make sure your family understands when the door is closed they are not allowed to disturb you. Turn off notifications and close those pages/apps are not related to work as they can easily distract you from your task.
It is well known when you are working from home, the line between your job and your life is getting very thin. It does mean that so easy to carry on working even when you finished your shift and your hours are done. I would recommend sticking to your original office hours and when you’ve finished, just say goodbye on chat to your colleagues. It might help you to disconnect from work.
If you have kids around as the schools already closed, then the only thing you can do is to put your schedule around them. This is what I do at Sponge Hammer when I need to take care of a family matter. I work a few hours before my little one waking up and after he has gone to bed. We prefer not to work in the evenings or the weekends, but flexibility at least gives us the option to do that in case of Vis Major.
Video calls and chat about non-work related subjects can help, as it happens with us finding ourselves talking about casually or even cooking during the call. The team working on the same game project usually playing together with the same game. Make sure that won’t affect productivity.
So how do we do?
Although our hours are usually flexible, we have the core hours set, between 9 to 5 UK time. We start every day with a short call where each team gives a heads-up what happened a day before. If there is any issue blocking us, we discuss it. The meeting isn’t long, usually 5-10 minutes, but it allows us to gather together, see each other, get some insight on what the others were doing and build a personal connection with people working in the team. These morning meetings isn’t always informal and improve a lot of the social side of remote working.
An odd joke or fun story makes a huge difference.
After the morning call I get on with my tasks, but I am always available for ad-hoc calls or chat on Slack. On Slack, we have channels for none work-related stuff and that helps again to fight with loneliness. Well, fun always helps.
On every Monday morning, we have a company update which sets the vision of where are we going together as a company. Our MD, Csaba, brings a summary of what happened last week, and what will happen the present week, how far we’ve got and what we achieved. This makes us feel part of the company, part of a team and not people working separately from the others.
We are also involved in social media actions, contributing with our own photos, picking the articles for our weekly round-up and giving our own thoughts to the subjects we post on social media.
I believe that tools are the most important part of remote working. We talk about them here more detailed, however, here is a quick summary:
Slack is our main communication platform. It is a chat app and we set up dedicated channels for many different subjects. 99% of the written communication goes through Slack as it has eliminated emails.
In case you and your team working from home, I definitely recommend a chat application as emails will delay instant communication.
We use it for video calls and meetings as it is incredibly reliable, easy to use and you can record the calls. When I want to talk to a colleague, I make a call through Zoom. It’s like walking to your co-worker’s desk: if he is there, you talk, if not, you try again later.
Trello is a perfect tool for tracking projects and it looks a lot like an interactive scrum board. You can integrate the boards with external apps, such as google calendar and you can manage tasks easily. You can also use Jira or other task management software if that is more suitable for your business.
Bitbucket is a hosted git subscription service provided by Atlassian. We use the pipelines feature quite a bit for automating our code checks, package creation, and deployments.
GSuite is the business-oriented version of Google’s Gmail. It includes an admin dashboard which allows defining user accounts, password policies, control over devices, and web apps accessing company information.
You also get all the free services come with the Gmail account: Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides and Calendar. For us, Calendar is extremely important to organise all the meetings and calls.
We also use Confluence for our documents as you can store the docs in a tree structure, easy to search and you can cross-link the pages and in case the document changes the link adapting to that as well.
At this stage, there is a lot of uncertainty about the COVID-19. We don’t know how long it will last, but experts estimate it will be months, therefore the companies in the affected countries will look into alternative options to continue their operations.
One of them will be remote working.
If you have any question about this article, let us know and we will answer it if we can.. We like to work remotely at Sponge Hammer and we believe for many industries this will be the future.