Introducing our new Task Manager (Pro), a business-ready app that will help you manage your tasks and workflows. Learn more.

Remote work: how to work from home during a virus outbreak

10 Mar 2020 5 min read
Written by Alina Luchian, Communications and Marketing Manager

What do we know so far?

(updated on 18 March 2020)

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has officially been declared a pandemic, therefore it is not going away anytime soon. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. All health organizations recommend everyday actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including physical and psychological ones.

For more tips on how to be preventive check resources from the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or your national health ministry. 

Should you stay at home?

Even if your inbox has not yet received the dreaded coronavirus-related emails from HR or management, you should consider minimizing the chances of getting infected or spreading the virus: for your safety and your loved ones. What’s important to understand is that the point of self-quarantine isn’t to prevent us all from getting sick. The point is to slow the spread of the virus enough to prevent overloading the healthcare system. 

As a remote-friendly company, the recommendation of transitioning to 100% Work-From-Home (WFH) during the escalating crisis around coronavirus, has not changed our work dynamics. Over the past 15 years, we've been embracing flexible work, with people having the liberty to work either fully or partly remotely. Yet, as we understand not everyone has had the same environment, we are sharing some of our tips regarding remote working. 

As it's getting more traction worldwide, remote working has proven itself to be great when it comes to a bigger talent pool, better work/life balance, more focus, and productivity. But it also has challenges, from emotional one (feeling left out, sensing a lack of camaraderie), to more tools, processes, documentation and also more effort into building transparency. It’s one thing to stay home now and then and answer emails from your phone or finish a project with your laptop propped on your couch. But being away from the technical comforts of an office — including in-person interactions with co-workers — for such an extended period will demand a more regimented structure when it comes to home workspace, equipment, etiquette and more.

How does one start to Work from Home (WFH)?

The basics of remote digital access

  • Internet access 

Make sure your internet connection at home is stable, can support all your devices (both work and personal ones) and has enough bandwidth to help you be productive. Syncing files and data, having conference calls and collaborating realtime will be greatly affected by a poor internet connection.

  • Remote work devices

You'll presumably need one computer or tablet, plus any internet access hardware. But your specific business requirements will dictate what is needed. If you don't have a policy in place, check with your IT department if it's ok to take your work computer home. 

  • Secure remote access to business assets and online services

Often this translates into a VPN solution and a password manager. Again, check with your IT department for the existing solutions and policies in your company. Here at XWiki, we're using Passbolt, an Open Source solution to protect and share passwords within teams. Also, for sensitive information, we rely on CryptPad - a private-by-design alternative to popular office tools and cloud services. All the content stored on CryptPad is encrypted before being sent, which means nobody can access your data unless you give them the keys. 

Tools, apps, and solutions for collaboration

Building the infrastructure that allows people to collaborate efficiently is essential. Teams should have access to different collaboration tools such as Slack, Mattermost or Riot for chat, XWiki for collaboration and knowledge management, Trello, OpenProject or GitLab for project and task management. At XWiki, we use Riot to keep in touch with the team and we love it. It's very easy to use and it's Open Source. Not surprisingly, most of our work is organized in XWiki, customized with apps to make it fit our exact needs.

Develop remote working skills

The reality is that it is fundamentally different to work remotely. Obviously, everyone is much less visible, and it takes a toll on collaboration because it's just harder to connect with co-workers, even with all the digital tools in hand. This doesn't mean it can't be solved. From our experience with it, it's important to:

Perfect your communication skills

As in learn to narrate your work into digital tools. This aspect is key so that co-workers stay connected and engaged with each other, by returning some of the positive aspects of a physical workplace through regular streams of conversational activity. Remote work leans mostly on written communication, meaning fewer chances for being interrupted when pitching a new idea or supporting a decision. It allows everyone an equal opportunity to express their ideas in full without being cut off, so take full advantage of it.

  • Start the day with daily standup as a team. Get together as a team more than you normally would, to make sure all are doing ok and updated on the project progress. Think of adding a short check-out at the end of the day to share daily reflections and cover final open questions. 
  • Touch base with your manager daily. Over-communication becomes critical, so check in on each other daily, even if just over slack. 
  • Create a playbook-like document where explicit communication norms live. For example: “Here is how we use email, here is how we use chats, here is when we should call one another, etc.
  • Spend more time clarifying objectives and direction. Communication is just often less understood over chats. Double-check that you’ve understood deliverables correctly. Specifically, align with your manager on what success looks like. 
  • Trust and reliability become more important. Let others know when you’re going to get something done, and then stick to your word. Remote work falls apart when trust breaks down. If you can’t deliver on time, communicate early and proactively.

Take ownership of your time and work

Having flexibility in your schedule is highly important, especially if you're a parent that works from home. Create a schedule that would balance your work and personal time, without sacrificing yourself. Add your schedule in the company calendar and coordinate with your coworkers so that everyone is on-board, knowing when you're available or not.

  • Coordinate work schedules
  • Make the best use of the time away from the office to truly focus on moving forward with our critical projects and get them done. This is a unique opportunity for us to take!
  • Increase the visibility of your work. Send status updates about your work or align with your team and manager around a shared status update board or system. Ask for feedback early and often. CryptPad Kanbans can be useful here!
  • Culture doesn’t build in the same way as in the office. We will all have to play a consciously active role in contributing to it- from interacting with each other every day, to taking time to thank someone. Schedule some social time with your team like a 15 minutes virtual coffee break together to share personal things.
  • Collaborate with virtual whiteboards and sticky notes using tools like CryptPad Whiteboard, Jamboard or Figma. For retrospectives, check out FunRetro.
  • While working from home it is important to remain local and are able to return to the office at short notice should the policy change. We also have travel restrictions in place and these should take priority.

Make something out of nothing

  • WFH stands for Work From Home. You are expected to work out of your home to minimize contact with other individuals and avoid spreading the coronavirus. It is important that you abstain from working at coworking spaces or cafes for that matter.
  • Dress up for work: When you focus on your appearance and make a point of “dressing for work,” it signals to your mind that it’s time to concentrate on your daily tasks versus downtime.
  • Explicitly set expectations upfront with family and friends that while at home you are still working and should not be disturbed.
  • Be sure to take clear breaks away from your working area during the day. Go for a walk, do a quick workout routine, or whatever helps you keep your energy levels up!
  • Make sure you’re set up to work in a way that is kind to your body! Check out this link for some great tips on how to work from home in a way that won’t give you neck cramps.

Have knowledge sharing and solid processes in place 

They make onboarding easier and help drive transparency. Knowledge sharing also increases efficiency and minimizes friction as information becomes readily available for employees across different time zones. We try to document knowledge as much as possible, through product and project documentation, knowledge bases, FAQs, onboarding guides, etc. A good rule of thumb is that whenever someone asks a question on a chat the answers should point as much as possible to documents. Of course, it's easier to post a direct answer on the chat, but it's more useful in the long run to store that answer in a document for later reference.

These were our top tips on how to become a remote worker in these difficult times. Hoping this will be of help and that it might pave the road for more companies to become (at-least) remote-friendly. Wishing you to stay safe, clean and healthy.

You may also be interested in: