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Rules to Better Remote Work - 24 Rules

Working Remotely is something that is going to become more common. It is important that we have the tools to continue to work from home (aka WFH) effectively and efficiently whilst also maintaining good mental health.

If you need help with your business, SSW can assist in putting the tools in place to allow your employees to continue working from home with little to no impact on their efficiency and productivity.

Figure: Check out Jason's tips on Working From Home

Need help with working remotely? Check SSW's Remote Work consulting page.

  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.

    This means not just rolling out of bed in your PJs and starting work 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 take care of your personal appearance 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. However, 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 and attending meetings as you would if you were there in person.

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

    dressing meeting bad
    Bad example - Figure: Not dressing accordingly or not having a work station from home can drastically reduce your concentration

    dressing meeting good
    Good example - Figure: Nice work station and good personal presentation whilst working from home

  3. 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 notes app:

      • For most important tasks (MIT) - what I would like to get done today
      • For new features - when developing a new feature, a concise TODO list of what needs to be done
      • 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. 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. Sitting all day is bad for you both physically and mentally. It's recommended taking 5 minutes every few hours to stretch and walk around. Tip: You may want to try the 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
  4. 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. Bodyweight exercises, or calisthenics, offer a convenient and effective way to enhance strength, flexibility and overall fitness without reliance on memberships or equipment.

    The Australian Department of Health recommends for people aged 18-64:

    • 2.5-5 hours of moderate per week or
    • 1.5-2.5 hours of vigorous exercise per week
  5. Do you aim to keep your working hours consistent?

    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 (Do you set your work hours in your calendars?). Keep a routine, it will help you stay focused and others to know when you're around.

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

    Lock your computer when the working day ends, as you would normally do in the office.

  6. Communication - Do you have a daily catch-up?

    Daily Scrums are important because:

    • They keep us in sync + show what we are working on
    • They increase visibility, especially towards blockers
    • Are an opportunity to adjust priorities if something urgent comes up

    If you can't do a proper Daily Scrum, have a catch up with your clients and/or team anyways. People need to be across what you’re working on to improve visibility and grow trust.

  7. Communication - Do you make yourself accessible?

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

    When you’re working remotely, your colleagues can’t 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 more important than when you’re in the office, and with great collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, it’s hard to have an excuse not to be available.

    When working from home your goal should be for customers to say:

    Jason is a gun. Even though he works from home he is always available. I can reach out by any channel and I'm guaranteed to get a quick response.

    You also need to manage unnecessary interruptions.

  8. Communication - Do you know the options for remote meetings?

    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.

    Microsoft Teams is recommended for company meetings and for internal communication. It's 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 are the options?

    Zoom – is the leader in modern enterprise video communication, with an easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars across mobile, desktop, and room systems. Zoom Rooms is the original software-based conference room solution used around the world in board, conference, huddle, and training rooms, as well as executive offices and classrooms.

    Microsoft Teams – Microsoft 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.

    Skype – an instant messaging app that provides online text messages 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). skype chat

    Figure: Bad example - Numerous group chats with no group name and therefore no way of tracking previous chats/files

    Teams chat

    Figure: Good example - Figure showing all of the team members. This group chat can be used over and over for project discussions with all data in one place and integrated with SharePoint.

  9. 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.

  10. Setup - 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't not turn your entire home into your workspace.

    Figure: How you setup our home "spaceship" can affect your productivity while working remotely

  11. Setup - 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
  12. Setup - 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, Zoom 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 colleagues.

  13. Setup - 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, as 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!

  14. Setup - Do you test your microphone, web camera and audio before meetings?

    As a tech company, SSW are pretty well set up for remote work. Our clients require us to work remotely all the time. However, we're not huge on working from home because we love the team to be together. So working from home for the next few weeks was a big decision, but we wanted to keep our people safe.

    Like most, we have lots of internal and external meetings, and it's important to maintain our professional look while working solely online. We've learned that it's important to have a good home office setup.

    The steps: Get yourself setup and then ask someone from your team to do a ‘test please’ on your background, microphone, audio, lighting, and personal presentation. Once you get a 'Test Passed', you are ready!

    See our facebook post for some examples.

    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.

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

  15. Do you have a nice video background?

    You are likely to have constant Teams or Zoom 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 in the office, you can have a nice branded background, which is the best option.

    For home offices, follow "less is more":

    • 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.
      In other words, you may be fond of family pictures or band posters hanging on the wall, 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
    • Watch for the lights as they can improve the general quality of your video
    • If you want to go the extra mile, consider designating one wall as your company wall and keep it consistent with the company branding

    bad background
    Figure: Bad example – A messy background will not look professional

    good background
    Figure: OK example – Clean home background with a branded monitor (showing off the company website)

    brisbane office background example
    Figure: Good example – The office background

    Virtual backgrounds

    Not ideal, but if you can't have a nice and clean background, the alternative is to use the virtual background effect feature (e.g. Blur OR a background image):

  16. Setup - Do you have good lighting in your video calls?

    Lights can improve 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 decorative lights, such as desk lamps
    • On general principle, you always want the subject to be the brightest and most well-lit subject in the frame.

    overexposed kitchen
    Figure: Bad example - Overexposed kitchen

    good video background
    Figure: Good example - Person is the brightest subject in the frame

    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.

    lightning impacts
    Figure: See how different lighting setups can impact remote meetings videos

  17. Do you know you should always have your camera on for clients?

    When working with clients, inevitably you'll find yourself in Teams calls, and it's important to keep your front-facing camera on as much as possible. There's a lot of valuable information conveyed by your face and body language.

    • Facial expression and body language are important parts of communication, and help to convey your mood and intent
    • It's more friendly towards the other people in a call if they can see you as well as hear you. It feels a lot better to talk to a person than it does to a blank profile image
    • It also makes you more trustworthy. People are much more likely to listen and believe you if they can actually see you

    untitled2
    Figure: Bad example - The client feels like they are talking to a blank screen. Even with a profile picture, it feels impersonal

    untitled
    Figure: Good example - The client can see your face, and the call feels much more relaxed and personal

    Of course there are exceptions, and there are times when you should definitely not turn your camera on.

    • If you need to eat during a meeting, it's a good idea to turn video off
    • If someone is having network problems, often turning off video helps

    Note: It's always a good idea to have one person screensharing when pair programming

  18. Setup - 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 2 without compromising on space or layout.

    Figure: Good example - Two monitors are better than one

  19. 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.

  20. Do you share screens when working remotely?

    When working remotely, you should be sharing your screen whenever discussing changes to a document or software. This allows your colleague or client to see changes that are happening on the screen, making the remote collaboration experience much nicer.

    When you first share your screen, make sure the other person can see your screen before you start talking about it. Often it takes a little while for the image to appear. The same if a new participant joins the call.

    For a list of our recommended screen sharing tools, please check the SSW rules for remote support.

    Another good practice that follows on from this, is to leave a Teams/Zoom/Skype session open if you are working with the same person for the whole day. This eliminates the need to call your programming partner every time you have a query or question to ask.

  21. Do you know the best methods to remotely access/control a users PC?

    Sometimes you can’t resolve an issue without seeing the users' PC.

    Luckily you can easily share screens and control the users' computer when calling from Zoom or Microsoft Teams but the functionality on the platforms is limited.

    A full remote control experience is TeamViewer.

  22. Do you fix bugs with a phone call?

    While developers might not enjoy fixing bugs, it’s an important part of what they need to do. Fixing bugs interrupts the flow of new development work, so it’s good to deal with bug fixes as quickly as possible. 

    Imagine this familiar scenario:

    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 - Time spent trying to reproduce the bug by yourself

    The bug may have been reported poorly with not enough information to help you easily reproduce it or it might be a bug that's dependent on something specific to your client's environment.

    A slightly different approach can save some time and effort:

    You receive a bug report...
    you read it and only try to reproduce it if there are clear steps in the bug report - timebox reproducing the bug to 5 minutes

    If there are no reproduction steps in the bug report or you've spent 5 minutes unsuccessfully trying to reproduce it, then call the client and ask them to reproduce the issue. You have some good context for this conversation thanks to your effort in trying to reproduce it already.

    If they are able to reproduce it, then you fix it. 

    Good example - Calling the bug reporter if you can't easily reproduce the issue

    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 the client that we’re really responsive and care about issues that they encounter. 

    Tip: You can help your clients to understand how to provide better bug reports by using the ideas in the Do you know how to report bugs and give suggestions? rule.

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

  23. Do you know how to set up your workspace for video?

    Many businesses have made the transition to working from home (WFH). It’s important to still be able to easily and clearly communicate with your colleagues and externals.

    Without a spare room, it can be difficult to create a workable setup, however as you will see in the following examples, it is easy to create a clean and workable setup with a few smart tricks.

    Tip #1: Use a room divider

    room divider
    Figure: Christian uses this divider to hide his background

    Christian has used a folding room divider to hide his background and create something visually nice to look at.

    It has the added effect of softening any background light, e.g. windows, lamps etc.

    Tip #2: Off angle camera

    Jason’s setup is another good example:

    jason angle bed
    Figure: Jason is in a bedroom, however, the angle shows little of the bed

    In this setup, Jason is using a more ‘pro’ setup with a USB powered podcasting mic and an articulating arm. He is also using a high-quality webcam with a ring light.

    Originally the shot was more head-on, which meant you could see the bed in full view, however by moving the webcam off to the side and using the blinds, we can get a more pleasant looking shot.

    For remote video recordings and User Groups, this is an ideal setup.

    Tip #3: Get awesome audio

    One of the most frustrating aspects of remote calls is participants’ mixed audio quality. To minimize any issues, there are several different devices you can consider purchasing:

    USB webcam with built-in mic array

    logitech brio
    Figure: Logitech Brio 4k webcam

    Benefits

    • Improves audio *and* video quality compared to the built-in webcam
    • ‘One-stop-solution’; easy to install and will work on both laptop and desktop systems

    Podcast style microphone

    rode podcaster
    Figure: Rode USB Podcaster microphone

    Benefits

    • High-quality audio will be very useful if you plan to record videos. e.g. done videos
    • You look cool

    Tip #4: Improve video with lighting

    The best way to improve your video is not to buy a new fancy camera, but to improve your existing setup with great lighting.

    ring light
    Figure: Ring light for webcam/camera/smartphone

    Benefits

    • Drastically improves video quality
    • Adds professional spark to your presentation
    • This kit allows you to use a webcam or smartphone via Bluetooth
  24. Do you use the Pomodoro Technique?

    Getting difficult work done requires focus and there are many techniques to do that. This is why you should use the Pomodoro Technique.

    Video: The Pomodoro Technique - Study And Productivity Technique (animated) (5 min)

    The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that was developed in the late 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It is used to break up your work into intervals. By using a timer, you separate work intervals with short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro.

    A 25-minute Pomodoro session is considered by most long enough to get a little work done but not so long that it feels painful or overwhelming. However, it is possible to experiment with the length of your pomodoros. Learn more on The science behind the pomodoro technique.

    Video: Do you use the Pomodoro Technique? (16 min)

    If you would like to find out more, check out The Pomodoro® Technique website.

    The traditional technique uses 6 steps

    1. Decide on the task to be done.
    2. Set the pomodoro timer (Typically 25 minutes)
    3. Work on the task
    4. End work when the timer rings and take a short break (Typically 5-10 minutes)
    5. If you have fewer than three pomodoros, go back to Step 2 and repeat until you go through all 3 pomodoros
    6. After 3 pomodoros are done, take the 4th pomodoro and then take a long break (traditionally 20 to 30 minutes). Once the long break is finished, return to Step 2

    Use an app

    A great application that encourages the use of the Pomodoro Technique is Forest.

    For those running Windows, you can use focus sessions in Clock app:

    Microsoft Windows Focus session
    Figure: Using Focus session in Windows

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