Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Working remotely

For the past few months, I have been working for Oxygen remotely. We learn better ways to adapt to the environment everyday, and overall it has been successful. Ken has posted plenty of pictures of our remoting adventures and the worst part is that I miss everyone.

I love working from home, however, it takes a lot of discipline -- and not just for me. My teammates need to be aware that they need to speak a little louder or stand by a camera and I need to stay away from halo during the day :P

Personally, I find it easy to stay in a work mode while I'm at home. Pairing is quite effective remotely. I tend to keep better focus while I'm remoting with a pair than in person.

Meetings are a lot more challenging. Good microphones and video feeds are a must if you are to have any chance of "being" in the meeting. When I first started working from home, I wasn't able to participate in meetings at all, but with help of some additional media equipment, I can go to every meeting in my pajamas :)

If you are working from home, here is some advice:
  1. Have space dedicated to work. This helps you stay focused and keeps you from working too much. If I setup shop in my den, chances of me working extra hours while my husband plays xbox is dramatically increased.
  2. Be honest and open about communication limitations. Its better to interrupt if your call drops off or someone is too far from the microphone than miss something.
  3. Respect your coworkers during meetings and while they're talking. Just because they can't see you surfing the web while they are talking about some deployment doesn't make it okay.
  4. Take breaks, walk the dog, get some exercise. Believe it or not, its easier to sit on the computer during lunch than in the office. Its just as important to walk around when you are at home. And stay away from the snacks in the kitchen!!
  5. Get a really good espresso machine.
  6. Visit the office. Even if you don't have to come in, its good to keep the bonds strong with teammates. If you are too far to come in on a whim, try to work something out with your company that lets you come in not just when you have to, but when you want as well.


Kent Boogaart said...

Good tips Wendy. If you have a young child (as I do), I'd also suggest getting a door that closes and locks (which I didn't) :)

Joe said...

You mention pairing remotely. This is something our team has struggled with. I would really like to know how you accomplish this and any tips/tricks you may have.

wunda said...

How have you struggled? We use vnc and skype for pair communications. The biggest struggle happens when my pair has a conversation with another pair w/o putting me on speakers so I miss participation. Specifics about your environment will help me give tips :P

Sharon said...

I'd like more details about the pairing remotely, too, please. That could really solve some problems for us.

Translating the ideas to the technology I've got around here, it sounds like you use Skype for audio (i.e., a phone call, with headsets), and you share control of one person's workstation with VNC (desktop sharing through a net meeting). This seems... really simple, actually; why isn't my team doing this?

Do you have a handy method for whiteboard-type sketches, while you talk about ideas?

Joe said...

Did not think to try VNC. We tried out Remote Desktop with some success, but it never worked out well.
Our problem is not really geographical distance, we are in the same building, but we have small cubes that make it hard to pair up. Someone is always behind the "driver" looking over their shoulder. Our biggest problem is just finding the tools that can allow us to share the dev box. Will have to check out VNC in that regard.

wunda said...

While we're pairing we rarely white board. I think one time we opened paint and drew some rectangles to discuss relationships between different entities :P
Google docs has been useful for collaborative writing or verifying of stories.

Steve said...

Great post with good tips Wendy. We miss you too! Steve

Mark said...

Pairing can have some unexpected benefits. Yes, there's a lot to learn related to coding well. But as Wendy said, the work-life balance includes appreciation for another type of bean. As my friend from Belgium impressed not only on me, but on the entire staff of a local coffee house .. espresso is not espresso. A month or so of cajoling and he converted everybody. (We're fascinated with Europeans) Here's the secret.