Work from Home Guide: The Team Beat Edition

With the evolving pandemic crisis of COVID-19, many professionals have been forced to rearrange and reevaluate their routines and work from home. While the return back to normal varies across different locations and industries around the world, it looks like remote working is here to stay for an undefined amount of time affecting a wide range of professions.


Remote working is part of the Beat DNA.
From cooperating with colleagues located across the globe and having teams distributed in Athens, Amsterdam and Latin America, to having a work-from-home (WFH) policy and all the appropriate tools (Slack, Google Drive, Zoom, etc) up and running for all employees. Team Beat has the know-how to ensure its workforce productivity when the WFH mode is on.


When
the outbreak of COVID-19 first arrived in Europe, Beat was among the first companies in the western hemisphere to implement the Work from Home policy, along with a number of other measures against the virus. It was easy for us to immediately turn on an existing policy for the vast majority of our employees and ensure the smooth operations and business continuity from day one. This was soon extended to all of our teams in Latin America.


Here is a
Remote Working Guide from Team Beat, sharing tips and best practices from our experience to make working from home work for you:

Workspace & Worklife.

Making your home your transitional office, means you need to reshuffle your daily routine, or even build a new one. While challenges vary from person to person, from no space for a proper desk, to having kids and pets looking for attention, here are a few go-to productivity tips by Beat to make the “Work from Home” mode work for you.

Create the right set up for you

Define your workspace area.
Choose or create a spot or room in your house that makes for a comfy work place where you “go to” every day. This consistent set-up helps your brain associate that spot (smells, sights and sounds) with getting work done. It is equally important to determine the areas where you don’t work. This helps create mental distance and allows you to relax even though your work is at home with you.

 

Make it comfortable & quiet
You will spend lots of time in your new office location, so use the most comfortable chair you can with back support. Working remotely also means that you’re going to have a lot of video meetings, so again, it’s key to find a space where you can do it quietly and dependably.

 

Practice “one tab working”
If you don’t have a large monitor or your usual screen setup at home, it’s even more important to focus on one tab at a time. If you’re on a video call from your laptop, minimize all other tabs and focus on the conversation, just like you would go to a meeting or call room, put away your phone or close your laptop in a meeting to stay engaged.

 

Wear a headset
Video calls can sound really bad without a headset. Using the computer speakers might create feedback in your video, as people will be able to hear what is projected from your speakers. Headsets and external microphones limit the background noise. Video conference platforms regulate that voice-over and therefore also facilitate the rule that one person speaks at a time. 

Bonus Tip: For the digital nomads having company in the house, putting on headphones can be your “busy-signal”.

Maintain a routine

Follow a routine that gets you into the right mood and mindset. Hunker down and work at your own pace. Stick to your regular business activities: fix your meetings, take scheduled breaks, set “in office” hours. But also, take advantage of the no-commute time.

Respect work hours

People tend to work more when at home because it’s harder to “leave” work. Set “in office” hours and communicate these with both your colleagues and family. Communicate your schedule and availability so that expectations are clearly set.

Ways of working & interacting.

Remote working is not a one-fits-all condition. What works for a team might not work for other teams in the same company, and what works for one company might not work for another. Different teams have different needs to address, depending on their size, craft, ways of working, industry, and many more. The Beat golden rule, applicable in everything we do, is; One remote, everyone remote! Here are some more tips of how we make this work for us:

Make your availability transparent

Let your colleagues know when you are busy, on a call or away. Regardless of the communication tools you use, make sure you keep your status updated. This way you define the expectations between the team members and further enhance trust and accountability.  An example:

The Beat app Slack status update for Lunch break

Bonus Tip: Define the status options on a team or company level. Keep them consistent and make them funny using emojis.

Share your screen

The most basic but also fundamental rule. Find the “share screen” button on your video call platform, and use it to ensure all participants focus on the same thing simultaneously.

Bonus Tip: If the meeting is recurring, ask different members to share their screens to keep everyone engaged.

Use the right tools

Working remotely means you need to find the right tools to work, communicate and cooperate effectively. At Beat, we apply Agile methodologies across our departments considering effective communication as one of the key factors to bring great results. Daily stand ups, estimation and retrospective meetings are some of the standard rituals for Team Beat members. Our toolset to ensure a smooth and effective operation across our members regardless their location, include:

Internal communication

    • Slack is our main means of internal communication
    • Zoom for long and short calls
    • Discord / Push to talk: Push-to-talk is the video gamers classic form of communication — a walkie-talkie-like functionality at your desktop. A group of people can share a channel and while someone keeps the “talk key” pressed on his keyboard, others in the channel can hear him talk. In this way, you communicate with anyone as if they were sitting next to you.
    • Miro as a virtual post-it wall and source of truth. We use this functionality either as part of our meetings or to transfer the office post-it-decoration to the virtual world for remote colleagues to enjoy. 

 

Retrospective meetings
Perhaps the most important ritual for Beat Engineering teams. During a Retro we go through a project iteration, openly discuss, track what works or not, and identify our actions for improvement. For a Retro meeting to happen it’s essential for everyone who worked on a project to come together no matter the physical location. Here are some of the tools we use:

 

  • Retrium is a useful tool for remote retro, providing a range of ready to use templates, easy transition to each phase and access to the history of previous retrospectives.
  • FunRetro is an easily customisable board to run basic retro formats like Stop, Start, Continue, or Mad, Sad, Glad.
  • Mural to visually collaborate and brainstorm

 

Sprint estimation sessions
During our sprint planning meetings, we use a number of tools to facilitate the estimation process. All of them are online so colleagues working remotely can also use them and equally participate in the process. Some of them:

  • Scrum Poker is a free online tool where you can easily set up an estimation session.
  • Scrumvee a free online tool Scrum poker estimations for Agile teams.
  • Hatjitsu is a free tool for planning poker, a technique used in estimation sessions.

 

These are only some of the tools we use at Beat to facilitate our needs and help us do our jobs hassle-free, regardless of the location or time zone. Our advice is to define your needs and look for the most appropriate tools for you and your team. 

Bonus Tip: Equally important to find the tools is to best-practice them. We never stop looking for integrations between our tools, short-cuts, plugins and new features to constantly improve our experience and ways of working.

Distribute the information effectively and transparently

Losing important information is a common risk and challenge when you have remote working team members. Sometimes it is easier to simply turn and speak to the person sitting close to you, than type. But what happens with those not in the room? That could be a trap causing miscommunication, internal malfunction, feeling of isolation and lack of trust. The solution is to find ways to pass the information to all team members as they happen. How? Here are some tips:

 

  • Prefer written communication and chats. Video calls, chat and code review tools should become the number one way of sharing work information. In this way you treat everyone equally and allow them to go through the information at their own time and pace.

Bonus Tip: While missing the privilege of physically pinging your mate sitting next to you in the office, making a quick Slack/Zoom call will help you keep personal contact and get things done quickly. 

 

  • Always use comments to share feedback, even to the people in the same room. This applies to any type of feedback, from simple docs to code reviews, and helps everyone follow the progress, updates and rationale at their own time. Imagine a remote person looking at an open code review and suddenly see changes taking place without any notice or justification. This can cause disencouragement and misunderstandings. For further analysis and discussion, the team should call for an online meeting.

 

  • Avoid direct messages and prefer the team’s channel. In this way you put everyone on the same page. 

 

  • Always share an agenda (Beat-Must-Tip). Don’t call for a meeting letting the guests wondering what this is about. Before any meeting, provide the participants with the time and space to get prepared and define what outcomes you expect. This will save you time and get you straight to the topic.
Meetings vs Text

It might be challenging to find the correct balance between writing a text and having a meeting. Choose wisely what can fit in a Slack message, a shared doc or an email, and what needs to be discussed over a meeting. Written methods of communication are sometimes prone to misunderstandings and cause delays. When you sense this is happening, be quick to jump on a video call to resolve issues.

Bonus Tip: Create a Zoom link that never expires and pin it in the team’s slack channel. This way, everyone knows where to login if they need to jump on a quick call.

Give kudos

At Beat, this is not an one-off thing but an everyday practice open to everyone. We praise people who do the extra mile, bring something different to the table, and contribute to the team’s growth and success in their own unique way. Kudobox can help you virtually spread kudos among colleagues.

Meet your colleagues informally

Make time every day to text with colleagues, check in personally, share stories, ask how people are doing, work together.

Some ideas:

  • Log in your daily standups 5 minutes earlier to catch up on your news. No business talking!
  • Arrange coffee or lunch breaks with your team members. Don’t forget to mark your calendar!
  • Bring after-work drinks and birthday festivities into the digital space.
  • Create a digital working space. Establish a time within the day when your team can join a video call and work together. This can relieve the feelings of isolation and loneliness 
  • Run icebreaker activities. Getting together with your team is vital to maintain good relationships based on mutual trust and openness. Ice breaker activities not only reinforce the bonding between the participants, but also help the rest of the conversation move forward. Remote workers are no exception to the above. There are a lot of creative and fun ideas available online, with Drawasaurus and Quiziz being among our favourites. 

Bonus Tip: Try to include an icebreaker activity in the beginning of all big meetings. When someone speaks in the first 5 minutes, it’s also much more likely to open up and speak up during the meeting.

Ask for feedback

There is always space for improvement. Exchanging feedback is the key to unlock this space and gradually conquer it. Something that used to work doesn’t necessarily mean is still working or serving the current needs. At Beat, we deeply value feedback and this applies in remote working too. Ask your team members their opinion on how things work, if they still find value in processes and what could be improved.

Learning & Development.

We are a company that supports continuous learning and personal growth, aiming first and foremost to be a learning organisation. Not being able to physically attend a training or conference is no obstacle or excuse for less knowledge consumption and generation. Mobile learning is the most efficient and truly flexible way to invest in your personal and professional development. The digital space is full of available resources, and here are some recommendations: 

Go to Trainings or Talks

A significant number of training and big conferences have turned digital for 2020. Keep a track of those of your interest and craft, and take advantage of the fact that you can now attend without travelling to the location of the event. Podcasts and Ted talks can be one more useful tool to enhance your knowledge. New York Times’ list of favourite podcasts can help you find some good ones,  while we also have some recommendations in store for you: 

Podcasts: 

Ted Talks:

Go to Bookstores

A good book can be the best source of knowledge, companion or escape. Here are some recommended resources to find your next chapters: 

  • Openculture.com – 1,000 free audio books
  • Planet ebook – Free literature for your device.
  • Audible Stories a new service through which the company will be providing free audiobooks for small children and teens
  • Scribd – Read Free for 30 days
  • Libby – Free online borrowing library
Go to the Theatre

As most public gatherings worldwide have been suspended in response to COVID-19, shows and special programs are announcing streaming plans daily. Insider.com provided a list of the 10 best Broadway shows you can stream for free online while self-isolating.

Go to a Museum

Although travelling abroad might sound difficult at the time, you can still take a (virtual) tour in famous museums all over the world. Google Arts & Culture can get you to some of them.

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