A Quick Guide to the Virtual Office

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented tech companies with an opportunity to test the boundaries of their remote capabilities, while also challenging them to maintain their agility, culture, and collaboration.

Teams today are more connected than ever before. Video conferencing software, cloud-based documents, and collaboration tools like Slack, have made it easier for tech companies to roll out remote-friendly policies in recent years.

As a long-time advocate of distributed teams, Wizeline has navigated the waters of remote collaboration for several years (across global offices). We’ve worked hard to integrate organically with internal and external teams, and are sharing our tips for how to manage productivity, teams, and clients while your company works remotely. 

How to Maintain Your Productivity

Create a workspace in a quiet area of your home

First things first, if you don’t have a desk at home, you may need to get a bit creative. Any space large enough to accommodate your laptop, potentially an external monitor, notebook, wireless mouse, and any other tech accessories you may want or need.

Limit your distractions (and acknowledge the ones you cannot change)

Be mindful that some of your coworkers may not have an ideal workspace at home. Some of us may have children, pets, or roommates at home that can make it difficult or distracting to work from home. 

  • Sometimes there will be noises in your work environment that you can’t control, even if you have an office space in your home (i.e., crying baby nearby). If you don’t already have them, invest in noise-canceling headphones to help you focus.
  • Overcommunicate. Let your colleagues know when you’re in a video conference. Acknowledge the background noise, and then mute yourself when you’re not speaking.
  • Don’t stress too much about what you cannot change: working from home is hard, and it will take time to optimize your at-home space. Give yourself some time to adapt and find solutions that work for you and your family. 

Communicate the minutiae of your day with your core team

Running to the grocery store? Need to pick your kids up from school? Be sure to block off your calendar when you are unavailable, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. You can send an update to your team on Slack and let them know how long you’ll be gone.

Remember that you may have to ask your family and friends to adapt to your new work schedule. Here’s a great tip from the Harvard Business Review:

“If you do need to take on non-work-related requests during the day, set expectations for how much time you have, based on what your schedule is like in the office… Or break down errands into smaller pieces, such as, “I can drop off the car at the mechanic today, but won’t get to calling about the health insurance question until tomorrow.”

When you explain your limits, you don’t need to do so apologetically. Lay them out factually, having the same respect for your time working from home that you would have if you were on-site. As you consistently communicate and live by these expectations, other people will begin to expect them, and you’ll find yourself having more time for focused work.”

Create a routine and schedule

  • Schedule time for specific tasks and divide projects into manageable blocks of time.
  • Schedule your breaks. Take a break for lunch, take time for tea or coffee break in the afternoon, go for a walk.
  • Set an alarm for the end of your workday and leave your work there. It can be easy to work longer than you usually would during the workweek.

How to Manage Your Team

If you manage a team, you have the added responsibility of making sure your team is collaborative, successful, and feels supported in a remote environment.

Plan casual, daily check-ins

  • Ask how everyone is doing. Be sensitive to personal concerns. Folks are dealing with families, pets, roommates, and more on top of their work. 
  • Call out your team members, especially the quiet ones, to keep them engaged
  • Review any concerns and go through the day’s priorities
  • Make yourself available to support your team.

Manage expectations

  • For most companies, it’s the first time experiencing a fully remote office. These weeks will feel like an odd contingency plan, and you must help your team manage the way it communicates, looks, and works.
  • Clearly define scope, deadlines, and deliverables for each task or project your team is working on completing.
  • Document deliverables and deadlines, so everyone knows what needs to get done and when.
  • Focus on outcomes, not tasks. Deadlines should be precise to avoid ambiguity. 

Be flexible, but clear

  • Trust your team and emphasize the need to adhere to your regular business hours and policies.
  • Make sure that there is clarity about mandatory meetings or training.
  • Create accountability by asking your team to give you visibility on how they are getting their work done.

How to Nurture Your Client Accounts 

Everyone is managing risk and adapting to the current business climate. Your customers and partners need your support more than ever. How can you add value and solve their immediate problems? When working remotely with clients to help build their products, we focus on the following.

Communicate clearly and often

Remote work demands best practices in both product management and project management. A structured approach to both eliminate any misinterpretation of product vision and maintains alignment on deliverables. Make sure your team and your customer stakeholders are aligned, especially during times of change and uncertainty like we’re experiencing today.

Foster ownership and adaptability

In any project or account, the various moving parts are unlikely to remain constant throughout the entire product lifecycle—businesses change, technologies change, and new issues will always come up along the way. Empowering your team to take ownership and adapt to the needs of your client’s business is critical, as well as enabling your client to be open, honest, and engaged.  

Focus on building unity

At Wizeline, achieving a united engineering culture entails overcommunicating and finding opportunities to build rapport across teams. Building trust between offices, project teams, and client stakeholders helps the organization and morale. Leverage open text and voice channels like Slack. Prioritize face to face communication with regular video conferencing.

Conduct daily stand-ups

Daily check-ins keep projects on time. It also ensures bugs, hiccups, and miscommunications are caught earlier in development. Schedule stand-ups at a time that works for everyone on the project. When that’s not possible, focus on finding the right tools and communication mechanisms to be agile—loosely coupled architecture, empowered teams, and “fail fast” mentality.

Eliminate ambiguity

It’s essential to define when projects are considered done or complete clearly. This eliminates uncertainty and ensures everyone is on the same page. Does complete mean code has been written, reviewed, and merged? How are bugs reported? Define these things early on and document everything.

Our new reality calls for every team in the organization to adapt, learn how to share work between offices, communicate effectively, and grow a consistent culture across geographies—and not just the engineers! 

Nellie Luna

Posted by Nellie Luna on March 18, 2020