4.3. Work

4.3.1. General

This page tries to be the “style-guide” for your life :)

Working in a distributed team can be fun and challenging, but not everything is fun and joy… at least not all the time.

A distributed team is scattered across different locations, and everyone works wherever they want. People can work from home (bedroom, living room or home office room), from co-working places, or from any place they feel comfortable in.

If you have always worked at a “job office”, the transition can be rough. Working remotely isn’t for everyone, and it can take a while to adjust to it. Ask for advice from your team members, they have also been through this and can share their experiences.

While we don’t work from the same location, we are all within a 2 hours difference time zone.

We don’t have fixed working hours, but our customers expect us to be available from 9 to 5 from Monday until Friday GMT. We try to adapt to this requirement and we also don’t work on weekends.

The default timezone (ie used for meetings) is UTC.

We don’t impose a fixed amount of work hours per week, so you should work up to an amount with which you are comfortable and are really willing to work for.

The workload may differ greatly from one person to another, but we do get suspicious if someone wants to work more than 40 hours per week for an extended period of time, as everyone needs time for itself + sleep.

4.3.2. You are in control

When you work in a distributed team, you are in control. You plan your schedule and decide where and when to work.

The most difficult part is to find the motivation to work. Hopefully you enjoy what you do at work and genuinely care about getting the work done for the project. Otherwise you might need to find another project, or recognize that distributed teams are not your style.

There is nobody to tell you when to work, how to work, or to check that you are at work. It will be your own way of working and you will need to find the way to improve it.

The sustainable work hours number varies considerably for each person so take the time to observe your limits.

Define and respect boundaries between your work and your personal life. Realize your work throughput limit and stop working as soon as you hit the limit. It will be best for you and for the project.

There is no correlation between work hours and experience level. Working hours is a personal choice, you decide how much energy you want to spend on the project and on yourself/family/friends. This translates like this: the more energy you spend on the project, the less energy you will have left for yourself.

4.3.3. Stay focused on what you do

Try not to mix “at work” activities with “after work” activities. Make a clear distinction between when you are “at work” and when not. Otherwise you might end up working or slacking non-stop.

When you are “at work”, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend sitting at your desk or staring at the screen. The only thing you have to show for your day is that you’ve actually got something done.

Define a timeframe on when you will working, and a place where you will work. Let others know about these boundaries. When at home, other members of the house might find difficult to assimilate that even though you’re around, you’re actually “at the office” working.

Same boundaries apply when you are not at work or on leave / holiday. Dedicate the weekend for non-work related activities. Refrain from checking work email, colleagues progress or project status. Take that time to disconnect from work, recharge your energy and motivation and interact with your friends… just do something else.

4.3.4. Asynchronous tasks

Distributed or asynchronous work requires a completely different approach to handling tasks, in comparison with the 9 to 5 methodology.

We are a team, so we still need to collaborate in order to get tasks done.

While working on a task you will have to wait for feedback from one or more team members. For example, a review request, help with some idea… etc Since we may not be working in the same timeframe every moment, this will inevitably lead to having multiple opened tasks at the same time.

In order to reduce the number of tasks being worked in parallel, we will need to be quick when providing feedback to our team. The delay on providing feedback should be no more than 2 working days, preferably 1 working day.

If you need urgent feedback, mark the feedback request as such, eg. put a big URGENT tag on the review, or in the subject of your email.

You must know that on weekends most people will not be working, so those days will not count as working hours.

In case a team member is taking too long to provide feedback, get in touch with him/her and try to remind him you are waiting for his response.

Try to keep the number of parallel tasks to a manageable size of less than 5 at any given time.

Make sure you have the right tools so that switching between tasks is easy and fun:

  • the tools should provide good support for switching between environments or operating systems, sharing configurations or environments.

  • review comments should be clear so that you will always know what you need to do next.

  • changes after review should be easy to detect and focus.

4.3.5. Staying Healthy

Staying healthy, both physically and mentally, is harder when you are on your own.

When you work from home like in bedroom, you tend to do little physical effort. Fitness is something you have to pay close attention to.

Make sure you have a comfortable desk, chair, keyboard, mouse and monitor. Any of these can cause short or long term injuries. There is also the option of working from a standing desk.

Being alone at work is probably the hardest part. When you work from home, the only people you may talk to all day would be members of the house. You can experience some loneliness if you compare it to a normal office.

So when you are done, remember to disconnect yourself from work, stay away from the screen, and feel more like a social human being. Be proactive and invite friends for lunch, coffee, dinner, game nights, pasta nights, drinks, etc. You shouldn’t be dependent on work for social interactions.

4.3.6. Communication

Use a dedicated account (email, chat, skype) for work. This will help you filter the work related communication.

Use “away” and “busy” functionality of you instant messaging tool to let other know about your status.

Since we don’t work based on fixed working hours you will receive emails, review requests, and feedback when you are outside of your working hours. Ignore them and don’t feel the obligation to read or respond to them.

When you talk to someone face-to-face or voice-to-voice, you get a lot of contextual information and unspoken messages, and information is exchanged pretty quickly.

When communicating using text messages, many or these unspoken messages are not received. Always acknowledge that you have received and understood a text message. Be as clear as possible and avoid subtle irony or local culture jokes. Use emoticons to hint for mood, e.g. This is a silly joke :) Avoid ALL CAPS as much as possible, otherwise people will feel that you are shouting at them. Use the appropriate text markup to **emphasize** something.

Since most of the communications will be done done using text, you should get proficient at typing and get good tools to help with it (eg. a good mechanical keyboard). You will write a lot of code, emails, documents, text chats.

The process of writing should encourage you to slow down, organize, and clarify your thoughts before sharing them with someone else.

When things get too complicated, don’t hesitate to switch to voice chat. After a voice chat, don’t forget to document what was discussed by updating a document, sending a follow up email, updating a ticket, or creating new tickets with new tasks.

Document everything in public places. Folks can look up the information they need to see how a project is going, how to perform a task, and also someone can quickly step in when a colleague is away.

Add your emergency contact in the Team page.

4.3.7. Well documented, small tasks based work

It feels flattering to be essential to the project. But that usually also means that project won’t make rapid progress without you.

This is not a good thing. Both for you and for the project. What happens if you want to take a (spontaneous) vacation or if you get sick? Or if some work gets delayed and overlaps with your great vacation, scheduled many months before.

If you are critical to the project, there’s no slack left for anything new or urgent. You can not prevent new or urgent things from showing up - and they will - you can count on it.

To handle this, break all of your work into small tasks as described in a previous section, and make sure each task is well documented so that it can be followed up at any time by another team member.

4.3.8. Tools

Make sure all development tools are on your laptop.

“Verba volant, scripta manent” (from the latin: ‘spoken words fly away, written words remain’) As the main communication is done using text, you can keep track of all past conversations. Configure your instant messaging client to keep logs of all previous conversations, and archive your emails instead of deleting them.

Buy a good headset and microphone.

Any expenses required for acquiring work related equipment (like laptop, peripherals, desk, etc) will be covered by the company.

4.3.9. References

This page was inspired by: