Communication, Discipline, Experience, Improvement, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Remote, Remote Leadership, Self-Awareness, success, Team Building, Technology

After One Year, I Stopped Working Remotely

I spent the past year working remotely. Working remotely sounded great! I envisioned that I’d be able to work from anywhere and be super productive. I talked to other remote team members to try and anticipate any issues and made preparations based on their suggestions. I thought I was prepared. It’s not exactly like the feature image for this post, but I think it can be close. Here are my learning lessons.

What Went Well

I was always caught up on email, rarely late to meetings and always got solo tasks completed on time.

Also, I found that leading remote teams, as a remote team leader, really helped me understand some of the challenges of being remote. I believe it enhanced leading remote team members, more than leading remote team members strictly from an office, as I have done in the past.

What Didn’t Go Well

I found myself struggling to collaborate with my leadership group and other team members at times, I spent a  lot of time making calls and leaving messages, sometimes I was physically uncomfortable and most unexpectedly, I was more lonely than I anticipated.

Bottom Line

Working remotely can definitely work, it just didn’t work for me. I prefer to work in the offices and around other people, rather than work remotely at home.

Why?

For me in my current role, my strengths are best suited for in-person interactions and I personally work better when I am in an office. I thought about working from a co-working space, but never took action on that, although I would encourage and suggest co-working spaces to others, if a viable option.

Suggestions For Others

I believe taking time to think about implementing these suggestions can improve and help anyone that is looking to transition into a remote environment. What is your experience? Let me know!

Try It Out Before Making The Jump

Remote work may or may not be for you. You should think about your strengths (more below), talk to other remote team members to understand their insights and try a short period of seriously working from home, before working remotely full time to see what works best for you. I suggest a three month trial period because it’s short enough to get a good understanding if it is right for you but not too long that you may suffer from it. Also, I suggest looking into a co-working space and trying that during your trial period.

Know Thy Self

What are your strengths? What allows you to bring your very best, as often as possible? If you don’t know these, you should spend some time reflecting and identify these items.

For me, my strengths are my physical energy, my curiosity to learn from others and build relationships, and my general energy/enthusiasm on a day-to-day basis. When I moved, I didn’t realize I’d be positioning myself in a way that impacted these. I realize you can still accomplish some of these things over the phone or via Skype/Zoom, but I determined remote work limited these strengths at times.

I Really Missed Office Furniture

Good desk chairs ARE SO WORTH IT! I missed our desk chairs more than any other material object. No free coffee, slushies, snacks, standing desks, fun events etc., will compare to how much a comfortable desk chair will literally make or break your work week. I bought a cheap IKEA desk chair on craigslist and it was fine, for a few weeks. Then it wasn’t. If you are seriously going to work remotely, invest in your office set up or work from a co-working space that has good furniture. A great desk chair, good desk and second monitor are essential, in my opinion, for a baseline level of success as a remote team member.

Working By Yourself Can Be Lonely

I enjoy working around other people that want to do great things. It inspires me and it provides a layer of support that I didn’t realize I needed until I moved.

Working at home, alone, became pretty lonely. I still got my work done, but it was harder to bounce ideas off people and build relationships with people you don’t know as well. I really enjoy bouncing ideas off others, but to be successful (in my opinion) you need to bounce ideas off lots of different people all the time. Building newer relationships to do this, remotely, was a lot more difficult for me than I anticipated.

Working With Non-Remote Team Members Requires Good Technology

This is a really big thing. If you’ve never worked remotely (different than working from home one day a week), it can be really hard to understand how to interact or connect with a remote TM. The amount of meetings where Zoom (remote conference room tech) didn’t work properly, happened multiple times per week.

In addition, make sure you set up expectations with yourself and your team on how you will be communicating on a regular basis. Using Zoom/Skype + a web cam is the best in my opinion because it’s the closest thing to face-to-face communication. It is great to see people, rather than just using a phone.

I did find that calling people from your cell phone in a day where robo-calls makes you feel really popular requires more time leaving messages, sending follow up emails/IMs and then waiting for replies. This became less efficient than I expected at first.

Keep A Routine & Get Some Fresh Air

I would wake up, bike to work, workout, shower, go to the office and eat breakfast in the office. This was my morning routine for most of the time I worked in Detroit. When I moved, I tried a few different things and ultimately found that minus a commute, working out before work, showering and eating breakfast set me up for success before I logged on  for the day.

Just because you work remotely, doesn’t mean you should sacrifice what makes you successful at getting prepared  to bring your best to work. You should prepare yourself just like you were going to the office, minus the commute.

Lastly, now that you aren’t commuting anymore take some time to leave your space and get some fresh air. While I was advised to separate your work space from your living space, I couldn’t do that. If you can’t afford to separate spaces, I believe it’s important to regularly separate yourself from your space so you avoid cabin fever.

 

Picture credit: https://www.myob.com/au/blog/the-future-of-working-remotely/

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Agile, Communication, Estimation, Focus, Goals, Improvement, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Remote, Remote Leadership, Team Building, Tools

Great Teams > Improved Estimation

A few weeks ago, one of the teams I lead tried a different way to structure their two week build.

Instead of committing to work and tasking everything out at the start of the two weeks, we started each day committing & tasking work and ended each day seeing if we made those commitments. Also, we had a retro at the end each day to try and improve for the next day.

We tried this approach due to two identified issues (described in Day 0)

  1. New team members cause storming
    • We added two new team members and we were storming. Our old processes of accomplishing work changed because new team members needed to learn our solutions and that added time to what we thought we could accomplish in the past
  2. Estimating our work is hard and we were struggling with it
    • Due to adding more time to what we thought we could accomplish, we had trouble estimating what we could truly accomplish over a two week period (our build cycle). We found that we were crunched for time or dropping work as we neared code complete.

It’s been over two weeks since we started this process. What happened as a result of this different way of working? Did we improve our estimation due to this?

The short answer is no.

Instead, we accomplished something I believe may be more valuable. Our teamwork improved! Instead of improving our estimation, we improved our ability to accomplish whatever was put in-front of us.

Here is how our teamwork and ability to accomplish our work improved

  • Setting a daily goal made each day clearer
    • We had a really good idea of what we wanted to accomplish by the end of that day and it reduced questions because we could bring them up at the start or end of each day, if not earlier during our teamwork on Zoom (Day 3)
  • Increase in challenging each other created better solutions
    • We started to challenge each other more often, when something didn’t seem clear or there seemed to be a better way (Day 7)
  • Our daily schedules helped understand our real capacity
    • Simple yet effective because it helps us understand how much capacity we had to accomplish work that day (Day 4)
    • We established that we would always use Eastern Time when describing meeting times, so we don’t have to figure out all the different time zones (Day 6)
  • Leveraged Zoom more often to improve problem solving as a remote team
    • We started to improve our problem solving because we used Zoom more by talking about issues that came up and we began raising awareness to roadblocks earlier (Day 3)
    • Pair-programmed via Zoom more often for work that was newer to others, regardless of experience level – this helped everyone learn and improved teamwork (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3)
    • Brought people into our Zoom room, instead of having solo conversations, so everyone could hear the issue and bring solutions to the table (Day 8)
  • Thinking about what the work really required, rather than guessing/assuming
    • We started spending time each morning really thinking and solution the story via tasking to create as many tasks we needed to do to accomplish each story, rather than just creating a few tasks based generalities of what we were trying to accomplish
    • This also led to understanding potential roadblocks sooner, which the team then went and tried to solve immediately, rather than running into the roadblock during development (Day 4)
  • Building time for future work with time boxes to avoid getting in the weeds
    • If we thought we would bring in new work the next day, but we didn’t have familiarity with it, we would build time (30 minutes to an hour) to learn about that work instead of guessing on the time it would take to accomplish the work (Day 3)
  • Celebrate success often!
    • We did an excellent job of finding ways to improve, but we forgot to celebrate our success until later in the two week build. We did so much and it was amazing to see! (Day 7)

So what’s next for the team?

We continue to utilize these ideas in our day-to-day build process. We’ve even added to them. Most notably, we have a weekly goal and use daily goals that roll up to the weekly goal. These goals are based on business deliverables for a project we are currently working on.

Final thought

We set out to improve our estimation. Instead, we became a better team. That result is better than expected. Why? Great teams can accomplish any challenge that is placed in front of them, even if their estimation is off. Our team’s goal remains the same – create amazing software solutions to make the real estate experience faster and easier for everyone. Now the team is better positioned to accomplish that goal because we are one step closer to being a great team.

(Featured Image Credit: https://www.genequityco.com/insights/m-a-success-hire-a-team)
Communication, Discipline, Focus, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Remote, Technology, Tools

Lights, Web Cam, Action!

At the start of October, I became a remote team leader and I am constantly in front of a web cam. Scary, I know (Happy Halloween :P).

IsaacRemoteSetting

Overall, remote life is not exactly what I thought it would be like. You don’t necessarily roll out of bed and start to work. That is what happened when I worked from home one day a week. Since this became my primary day-to-day lifestyle, I’ve noticed remote work is similar to the office except quieter and lacks structure.

Due to the quiet and lack of structure, remote work in my opinion, is more about discipline than it is about being comfortable working from your PJs. Comfort is important, but if you get too comfortable, you may not be discipline enough to accomplish your work.

When I set out to become a remote leader, I talked with a number of Quicken Loans FOC remote team members and leaders to learn from them. I wanted to learn about their experiences and how they worked through issues. Also, when I was working on The Mighty Docs team (#quackquack), I got excellent firsthand experience working with two remote team members.

Here are a few things I am learning and trying as a new remote team member, all of which require a level of discipline that I didn’t anticipate at first and seem similar to office work!

Leave your office after work

  • I heard it was important to develop a home office that is separate from where you “live.” I can’t financially do that, so I work most of the day at home and I go out at night. I don’t go out and party, but I’ll go to a park, ride my bike, workout, visits friends, grab dinner and take the time to really separate myself from my “office” aka my home.

Getting comfortable being on camera to be extra approachable

  • The Mighty Docs team set up a system where we brought the office to the virtual space. All remote team members (TMs) were on Zoom all the time and all Detroit TMs were on that Zoom when they were at their desk. Today, I’ve set up my own virtual office for anyone to come and talk to me whenever they need.

Over communicate

  • This is easier said than done. Technology makes communicating much easier, but it isn’t the same as face-to-face communication. To work through this, I try to check in with my TMs every day via any method I can, but at least a ping or text. I do this to see how my team members are doing because if I were in the office, I would come around to their desk every day or so to do the same.

Focus! – this works two ways

  • Increased Focus – with a quieter setting you can focus more on getting things done! This is what you typically read about with regards to work from home and improved productivity.
  • Lots of distractions – when you are on a conference call you need to stay focused on that meeting. It’s very tempting to look at another monitor and check your email while your team is having a discussion. Don’t do it!

See that wasn’t too scary…

 IsaacHalloween

Happy Halloween!!

 

Header Image credit – https://www.istockphoto.com/photos/pumpkin-headphones-halloween-squash?excludenudity=true&sort=mostpopular&mediatype=photography&phrase=pumpkin%20headphones%20halloween%20squash