This year two OSC folks are working remotely for extended periods of time. Youssef spent 6 weeks in Lebanon earlier this year, and I am spending the month of July in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We had talked about some of the rewards as well as challenges of working effectively when you are in a new/fun/exciting/[insert superlative here] place. Youssef and I came up with a few tips to make balancing work/play easier!
Tip 1: Establish a Routine
Youssef says: There will be no shortage of distractions, specially during the World Cup season. A trip to the mountains, a music festival or a friend’s unannounced (or announced) visit are all good reasons to drop what you’re doing and enjoy the place you are in. The only way to both get your work done and have fun is to know when is the appropriate time for each. I found that establishing a routine worked best for me. I woke up early every morning and took advantage of the early quiet hours of the day. Started work at 8am and got plenty done early on. Then I gave myself a couple of hours of break time for unscheduled events (a friend’s visit, a trip to the store to get souvenirs, or even a couple of hours at the beach). Then I resumed work till the evening when I had a conference call scheduled every day at 5:45pm. After the call I was free to do whatever I wanted and that gave me plenty of time, specially in a city like Beirut that does not sleep. ** Eric says:** I know that I sometimes struggle to get started working in the morning. And being in the office makes it simpler because everyone else is working. So having a specific schedule of when I am working helps me shift my brain out of family/vacation mode and into work mode!
Tip 2: Fast Internet Connection
Eric says: When we looked for cottages to rent, one of our requirements was that they have something better then dial up! We got lucky that one of our top choices was just installing a HughesNet satellite link at the cottage. ** Youssef says:** It is embarrassing to be a on a call with a client and have that call be constantly dropped because of a bad connection. Skype requires a decent bandwidth and fast connection to work properly. You do not want a 15 minute stand up call to turn into a half an hour of you asking the people on the other end “Can you hear me now?” (Verizon does not operate in foreign countries!). So make sure you get yourself a decent internet connection even if you have to spend a little extra on it. And always take any install CDs or DVDs you think you might use with you. Some countries do not have the proper infrastructure and thus impose a cap on the download/upload limit you may use, which makes you think twice about how you use that limit (downloading the new Xcode from apple’s website is not an option). ** Eric chimes in: **I ran into the same Skype issue, turns out Skype doesn’t work well with satellite internet due to the latency issue! Fortunately, if I am upstairs on the west side of the cottage, standing on one foot, with my finger in my ear, my iPhone gets 1 bar of signal! Phew. I did notice that I needed to talk a little slower and not move about too much and folks can hear me.
Tip 3: Regular Checkins
Youssef says: Stand up calls in Scrum keep the developers honest. When you are working remotely, you do not want to lose touch with the work environment, specifically in a field that evolves constantly such as software development. Having a point of contact in the “real world” or the “work world” helps you stay in touch and not lose focus. ** Eric says:** When you are in the office everyday, you pick up all the water cooler gossip. But working remotely means you lose that contact. I find that having a regular series of checkins helps stay connected. I put them on my calendar so they don’t get skipped!
Tip 4: Track your time!
Eric says: Don’t forget that you are working remotely is because you are doing something special. In my case, it’s taking my family for a month to the mountains. So I want to make sure that I don’t miss out on the experience. Over the four weeks I am here, I am taking a week of vacation, spread out a bit. So I am tracking my hours both to make sure I don’t shortchange work, but also don’t shortchange the experience of being 200 feet from the Appalachian Trail! ** Youssef says:** I definitely did not travel for 24 hours, crossed an ocean, a continent and a sea to do the exact the same things I was doing in Charlottesville. It also does not mean I should use that as an excuse to ignore my responsibilities. Tracking your time helps you balance out the experience and establishing a routine like we mentioned above goes well with this concept.
Tip 5: Stay Agile
Youssef says: Working remotely does not mean you should change the way you work, but flexibility is key. Working on the east coast while your client is on the west coast requires some coordination. Working in Lebanon (GMT + 2) while your coworker is on the east coast and your client is on the west coast, well that requires some bending and flexibility. The key part about dealing with this situation is an agreement with all parties involved about which approach to follow. The method I followed included three chunks of time. A chunk where I was working ahead of everyone else (during which I could be dealing with issues that came up the day before), a chunk of time where everyone was available at the same time and third chunk when I was off the clock while everyone else was still working. That allowed for ample communication and work time without sacrificing my fun time. Others might prefer to synchronize the working time, or might prefer to just deal with the delays. Balance worked best for me. ** Eric says:** I agree with Youssef, being flexible on your approach to work can make being remote a very enjoyable and productive experience!