Lessons Learned from Our Year of #RemoteWork

Posted on March 19, 2020 | Tags: , ,
Senior Manager of Business Management Services

James spent over 20 years at Microsoft as a Senior Program Manager. He’s a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and has a Project Management Professional (PMP) designation. James is particularly skilled at building out project teams to deliver high quality technical solutions. A lover of all things outer space, James is a volunteer for the Mars Society, the world’s largest non-profit devoted to sending people to the planet Mars.

Our team at Artic Consulting is made up only of remote workers, and as a result, we have some relevant perspectives to the shift currently underway towards telecommuting. Here are some insights we’ve gained from the past year.

At Artic, our focus is on creating business value for our clients, and ensuring our team is mentally successful. When you are physically alone, you thrive even more on human contact, and human contact engenders perspective.  Like all remote workers, we strive to find the balance between the increased efficiency from working alone and the reduction in opportunities to maintain social relationships, which science demonstrates are very important.

It starts with having best-of-class tools for collaboration.

 

Modern Collaboration Technology

As a small but growing company, we need to ensure we are working smartly on the right things.  We use modern collaboration tools to ensure this, and we have been early adopters of Microsoft Teams.

Here at Artic, our folks on staff have experienced all the problems people have with online meetings – poor connections, confusing interfaces, people struggling to join the meeting, or struggling see what I’m sharing. We quickly adopted Microsoft Teams because it was clear to us how solid of a collaboration product it is.  As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we’ve had experience with previous collaboration offerings, and it’s obvious how Microsoft spent a lot of time and effort making Teams.

Teams makes my life so much easier because of how robust and simple to use it is. It’s effortless to schedule a Teams meeting, to share my screen, and record the meeting for later review and sharing.  Teams also boast many other interesting features such as chat channels, and integration with SharePoint, OneNote, and other 3rd party solutions.  It’s even the case that you can manage a whole software development pipeline within Teams by utilizing new integrations with Azure DevOps and Github. You can get a lot of work done just within the Teams client!

The only problem we sometimes have is bandwidth, resulting in choppy audio, but usually I attribute that to my home Internet connection more than Teams.  If you experience issues like that, I recommend turning off video.  When meeting a new client, we will typically have video on for the first few minutes of introduction, then turn it off to maximize bandwidth.

 

Virtual Staff Meetings

Every morning, we conduct a Daily Scrum to go over what each of us plans to work on for the next 24 hours. I always look forward to this meeting — first because I’m in charge of our shared work plan (known as “the Board”), but mostly because we take at least 5-10 minutes to do small talk.  Some of our most enjoyable and rewarding discussions about our industry and what’s going on in the world have come from these ad-hoc discussions.

When we finally do get to “the Board”, it’s very quick for me to share my screen using Teams and make updates in real-time as we talk.  We use Azure DevOps Services to power the Board and I can efficiently make updates.  In other organizations, I have used similar tools (such as Trello) to the same effect.

 

Measuring Output instead of Effort

In managing “the Board”, we keep track of time estimates and time worked.  We are results-oriented and we closely track the goals of what we are doing and the deliverables we produce.  We ask each other questions like “Why are we doing this?” to confirm it’s something we should be spending precious time on, and “Is this the best approach?” to tease out the best ideas on how to optimize delivery. We’ll make weekly and daily commitments on what we’ll complete.

 

The Importance of Feedback

The quality of the committed deliverables is of extreme importance.  To that end, we ask each other for feedback on everything.  In fact, the main yardstick of whether I’m ready to stop working on something is “Is it ready for feedback?”

Soliciting a review & getting feedback on my work provides three things – 1) it ensures the quality is high, 2) it ensures that the finished product is meeting the initial goal, and 3) perhaps most importantly, the feedback maintains alignment among our team on Why the work is being done.  An added benefit is the social aspect of talking to a colleague outside of the main team meeting, where we will often check in on other topics.

 

By following our approaches, Artic has been successful and delivered several projects to a wide variety of clients across the U.S.

 

It can be Fun to Remote Work

We’ve also learned the benefits of Remote Work to maintaining a work-life balance.  It is very easy to transition from work time to family or leisure time – all you have to do is close your laptop!  According to a study by Owl Labs, remote workers report they are happier in their jobs 29% more than on-site workers, and having a better work-life balance is the #1 appeal for working remotely.

For me, being able to spend more time with my daughters before and after school, having lunch with my wife, and talking to my neighbors more often is a huge benefit to me personally.

And finally, if that wasn’t enough motivation, here are some bonus fashion tips for remote workers!

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