Switching to Remote Offices: Working around Coronavirus

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Across the globe, business owners of all sizes are coming to terms with the new reality that the Coronavirus pandemic is creating. With the health of their employees in mind, many employers are facing closures and layoffs, while those that can are migrating to working from home.

In the past, TTT Studios has been blessed (and frankly privileged) with the opportunity to regularly work remotely and for years this has been a cornerstone of our HR policies. As such, when the time came, we were able to quickly institute a remote working policy and transition the company online.

We recognize that we are lucky to be in this position. And as many other organizations transition their workforce online, we want to offer our experience and best practices to support the business community as we all work together to navigate these trying times.

Work and communication

They say communication is important for all kinds of relationships and it’s even more important for coworkers that are working remotely. You’ll need to adjust your communication habits during this outbreak.

Clarify your definition of success

One of the best ways to set your team up for success when remote is to make sure they know the team’s definition of “success”.

Without the subtleties of non-verbal communication that you have in the office, you must be crystal clear with your goals or else important information could be lost. You can ensure success is well defined with S.M.A.R.T. goals

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

If your goals are S.M.A.R.T. then they will be clear and reachable even while remote.

Default to over-communication

Miscommunication is the true management boogeyman and can cause all kinds of delays and blockers. This is further exacerbated when all communication is happening remotely, whether someone is waiting on you for a pull request, an important piece of information, or for a decision to be made. As such, it’s a good idea to use multiple communication tools and channels. Below are some examples:

  1. After submitting a pull request, send a Slack message to update the relevant team. 
  2. At the end of every day, provide an update to your team with your progress or blockers
  3. Send the google hangout link in both the calendar and across your instant messaging tool so your team doesn’t need to look for it.

It’s better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.

Using the right channel

If you’re like most organizations, you probably use a variety of different communication tools in the office. Make sure to use the proper tool and channel for your needs. 

If you have an urgent need, consider directly messaging someone or giving them a call. That said, most often, a message to the relevant channel or group chat will keep everyone in the loop and encourage pragmatic over-communication. Using group chats, or setting up channels to talk about certain topics can also be helpful in making sure all the relevant parties are being kept in the loop.

Encourage video meetings

Although a phone call is a clearer method of communication than instant messaging, video meetings take the cake!

Social isolation doesn’t have to be lonely. Video calls not only allow for a more personal meeting experience but also helps display important non-verbal cues in a conversation, reducing miscommunication.

Most computers and smartphones have a built-in front-facing camera and microphone so you can video chat on desktop or mobile. Some video conferencing tools including Google Hangouts have an option to call into a meeting if you don’t have access to mobile data, making video both flexible and accessible.

Remember, before you send a Google Calendar invite for a Hangouts meeting, make sure to add a video conference link. This will keep you from having to send out links right before (or after) the start time.

Manage your expected response times

While leaving the office at 5:00 pm gives a clear cut-off for when you might be slower to respond to messages, this changes when working remotely. You might be around your work computer 24/7 at home. Should you be expected to reply at all times? At TTT, our team has healthy flexibility in how they allocate their time and when they’re expected to be available online.

Fortunately, messaging tools have features to clearly show if you’re done for the day — even when working from home. 


“Set a status” to busy or “Set yourself to away” to let your coworkers know when you’re not at your desk for work while remote.

In Slack, if you click your name in the top left corner a drop-down menu allows you to “Set a status” and “Set yourself to away”. Update your availability status to communicate when you’re at your desk for work.

You should remind your team members to check each other’s status when messaging. While it may take time to adjust to the new habit, indicating you’re away can help others avoid frustration and follow up messages. 

Documentation

Without your colleagues or supervisor sitting nearby, you might find yourself having to ask a lot of questions over Slack. This can become time-consuming.  A way to counteract this is through documentation. There are a lot of repetitive tasks that can be potentially time-consuming to fix if a single step is missed along the way. 

The following are some examples of topics that can be put into a knowledge base like Confluence or Notion

  • 1. How do we submit our apps to the store?
  • 2. How do we set up new environments for clients?
  • 3. Documentation for the current project we maintain.
  • 4. How we create branches and merge them while we develop.

If someone had a question related to any of the topics that have been put into a knowledge base, the team lead could direct them to the article instead of taking the time to answer the question.

Documentation is important on a normal day of work but now that everyone is remote, it’s even more crucial. 

Collect meeting notes

You should take notes for every meeting and write down every decision. Notion, a tool which TTT has been integrating into our documentation processes since the start of 2020, is great for this. 

There may be some who aren’t used to taking meeting notes, but it’s an important habit to get into. To make the notes more accessible, you can even write it directly into your documentation tool instead of sending the summary over email.  

The key to consistently taking notes is to not format the notes while in the meeting. Instead, jot down the gist of the points made, then take 5 to 10 minutes after the meeting to structure it properly and reference any relevant people.

Document imperfectly

Some tasks are often repeated. You should take the time to document the details of those processes.

Keep in mind that there’s no need to be perfect. Documentation is constantly changing and evolving along with your processes. For someone who is looking for documentation on how to properly create a subtask during a project, it’s better to have some information rather than no information. Team members using the documentation in the future could always help complete it. 

Culture

We’re not a remote-first company, we’re an office-based company in remote mode. We’re proud of our hard-working family-like culture and we won’t let the social distancing get in the way of staying connected.

TTT team members share pictures of their pets on Slack as they work from home.

Values

All of your values in the office should be the same while remote. It’s important to make sure that everyone feels included and has the chance to participate in the for-fun messaging channels on Slack. Check to make sure newer employees have been added to older channels and encourage people to check-in with each other.

Be proactive with culture

Since going remote, we’ve seen a surge in people sharing pet photos, home workstation selfies, stretch videos, social distancing compliant board games and a surge of home-baked goods that no longer need to be shared with the whole office. 

While fun will look different in every organization, humour is a great way to deal with the stress of the outbreak. We like to encourage team members to joke and have fun in the appropriate communication channels. Having fun, and being tight-knit is essential to our culture at TTT, which is why we have a Fun Committee.

The Fun Committee is normally responsible for organizing social events and lunch break activities at the office. Now that we’ve gone remote, the Fun Committee has been repurposed to keeping spirits high during the outbreak. Our Friday happy hour hangout will be online now featuring games over a voice chat. This encourages the team to take time to destress and stay connected with each other.

Adjusting to these tumultuous times won’t happen overnight. Although it’s not clear what the full ramifications of the pandemic will be, we’re able to stay productive, stay connected to each other, and most important of all, keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy by practising social distancing at home.