“In 1665, Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Issac Newton decided to work from home. He discovered calculus & the laws of motion.”
We live in a truly remarkable moment. With the year 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak employees all over the world are staying home for quarantine, trying their best to sustain the normal flow of life, which means continue working. And this is something new compared to all the previous infectious pandemics humanity has survived through — this time we have the Internet.
It is fantastic how stress and powerful enough external irritants can change the way people think and act. We (as a species) were building the Internet for quite some time now. For us as a company, it's more than a decade in developing our fault-tolerant network.
For many Internet businesses, of all kinds, there were two ways of building a company — either hire on-premises (with a thought of a man working under certain hours within an office facility) or allow employees work from anywhere they like with an opportunity to have an office they could use. When companies are growing they have to use both ways, or they miss opportunities and in times like nowadays, when almost all offices are empty, companies that were created on the first path, have serious issues — such that could not be dealt with from 0% to 100% in a month.
And the worst part of this story is that now nobody can tell exactly how and when this will end.
So let’s dive into our perspective of the work from home.
Kobayashi Maru test
For the last five years, our company was telling every new job candidate the same thing: “You can work anywhere. There is no obligation to be at the office”. And yet the office spaces grew, the same as the number of company employees. At the same time, Qrator Labs continues to hire people in strategic locations, allowing them to work from the place they want to be at — home, shared office space. It doesn’t matter where the person is as long as the internet connection is available along with all the tools we provide for efficient communication.
And this is what matters:
- Corporate mail
- A corporate communication system (it should allow voice and video/screen sharing group meetings)
- Corporate repositories and issue tracking system
- Shared drive with collaboration tools
- Corporate portal/blog/journal
In the case of a software company, such a set should suffice. Choice of specific instruments and services could vary, and the security measures to prevent unsolicited access would differ from company to a company, so we won't give any recommendations — every company should evaluate what fits the requirements in the best way.
Though there are much more intricate nuances in working from home, which we will talk about in detail as those affect everyday work and communication much more than the absence of a unified means of communication within a company.
Company management should understand that employees need some time to adapt. For a company large enough, the switch to remote work is a sort of the Kobayashi Maru test: you physically can’t do it perfectly in a month. Even if half of the company worked from home and others were at the office, such a change will significantly affect everyday activities. Do your best: a company should clearly state its policy towards employees working from home; this will help to set the next thing.
For the management of enterprises which did not really encourage working from home before, here’s a hint: write a message to the families of your employees, explaining the situation and how it is important now not to distract their children, parents, or spouses while they are working. Face it: their families are now part of your company, at the very least because their living places are now a part of your office map.
“When I started working, I had no home office. It was just home I was working in — office came later” (a colleague of mine)
Individual working schedule. Those of us working from home offices for our whole lives know damn well that you have to limit yourself in working hours and take breaks. Otherwise, you'd burn out in a week. Make yourself a working schedule that involves your individual morning, midday and evening routine. Don't forget to get fresh air and at least a bit of physical activity!
Whether to dress up or not is up to you unless you do business meetings, which you probably know already. Be aware that some enterprise group call apps start calls with the camera automatically turned on, so wear funny underwear at all times.
“Do your job, not someone else’s job.”
A 2-minute rule is an absolute necessity to understand for everyone. Some people don't know how to work outside of the office, on their own, surrounded by kids at home and if they need help, you should try to help them. That does not mean that you should restrain from your tasks trying to help everyone solve their issues with messengers and whatever else — there should be a person for that if you are that person — my condolences. However, it's going to be tough for only a while at the beginning.
“Don’t try to hit me. Hit me!” (Morpheus to Neo)
Another important teleworking thing is to formulate your phrases succinctly, making sure that the interlocutor understands the essence of what you describe wholly and immediately. Don't write «Are you here?» before writing a statement — write the statement right away, it will save yours and the other party's time and energy.
Don’t think about multitasking. Think about diversification and responsibility.
Learn how to be asynchronous and expect that from your colleagues — you should have what else to do when you’re waiting for someone’s response. Responsibility could flatten, which means that you should always remember what you are critically responsible for, and maintain that thing working. Learn how to escalate appropriately when something is not working properly, or you struggle with solving an issue — when emails don’t work, try to message, in case of failure — call, it works you silly situational introvert!
We are all cyber now
Which means that you should get:
- Second ISP to the place you live. That might be a spare SIM card with a good billing plan, or even a separate cable if you’re paranoid. Make sure that your new ISP does not buy transit services from your old ISP (here’s where you can check) — they should have separate networks and could only peer or you won’t get any benefit from that.
- Get yourself a GOOD HEADSET. Make sure that it's comfortable and you can talk in it for an hour straight without being distressed. Test the microphone capture quality before buying it (we shouldn't say that, but okay, here it is). When in doubt, ask your fellow gamer, they are professionals in this stuff.
- And if the headset is something your company could provide you with there is another essential thing that you would have to purchase for yourself — the workplace. You still have to sit (or lie) somewhere, and it should be comfortable enough for you to continue working for hours (we all get into the flow, aren't we?).
It means that if you prefer sitting — get yourself a comfortable chair and a desk (through delivery, of course!). It would help you to effectively work from home, and you will support your poor local retail as well. It's pretty much the same as being at the office, but you have more freedom of choice — use it to create a workplace you're comfortable in, not stressed.
Let your family and anybody else you are living with know that you are going to work, which means that they should not draw your attention off work. This could take some time to establish, anyway you should try to write down notes on what you’re doing/working as this usually helps to get back into context.