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A WFH Retrospective

Posted on December 1, 2017

It’s no secret that communication is essential for successful teams. Most of us have left the world of high cube walls for open floor plans in an attempt to increase communication. So certainly the worst thing you could do is have nobody work anyone near each other, right?

But wait…

We’re very lucky to be in the 0.0001% of humans in history to have access to this thing called the internet. Thanks to the internet we have video chat, smartphones, Slack, and any number of ways to communicate without physically sitting next to someone.

My team has always been co-located in the same area of the same office (thankfully with no high cube walls), but we work with business people who are spread all over the country. I’m guessing that many of you work in offices where the business people you interact with are in your same office, so you spend a lot of face to face time with them. We don’t have that luxury for the most part, but yet we seemed to do pretty well over the phone.

People on my team were occasionally working from home for the various usual reasons (people coming to fix something, sick kids, car in the shop, etc.). I heard from several developers that they liked the amount of productivity that they felt they were getting when they worked from home, so we decided to try an experiment — what if everyone worked from home?

So we gave it a try. I had one stipulation – we all had to communicate just as well as we would in the office. There couldn’t be any “I’ll just wait until tomorrow when we’re in the office to talk about this.” We had to be willing to get on the phone or on video chat to work through issues. And you know what, it worked.

The next level

Since it worked so well when we tried it, we’ve implemented work from home Fridays. Other than missing out on the food trucks there really have been no downsides to this. We’re about a month in and we’ve learned a lot along the way.

Video chat really helps

If you’re having a remote meeting, video chat is really good. There’s something about seeing someone’s face that really makes a difference. There are people (not on my team) that I’ve been on phone conferences with many times and I’ve never seen their face. That just feels weird. I’m building software for these people and they don’t even know what I look like.

Video also keeps people focused… you can’t sit in a meeting and just work on other things the entire time if people can see what you’re doing.

There are many tools out there for doing video chat, but you can always use Google Hangouts for free. If you need something more, you can invest in a better video communication tool or outfit your conference rooms with video conferencing equipment.

Online work tracking

For years I used a physical board to track tickets in addition to work item tracking tools, but remote working sort of requires the online option. We had gone away from the physical board anyway before we started working from home. The online tools have gotten much better over the years (we use Jira, but there are many choices). We haven’t seen any downsides from going online only, we don’t have to spend hours putting tickets up on the physical board only to have people forget to update it, making it relatively worthless at that point until someone spends hours updating it again.

Overcommunicating

Like I said earlier, there can’t be any “we’ll just talk about this in the office tomorrow.” If you need to discuss something, discuss it over chat or on the phone.

This is where I was most pleased. It got to a point that Slack was blowing up so much that I felt like I almost had fewer distractions when I was in the office. People were complaining because I took a break for lunch and didn’t set my status on Slack to away.

Days when some people work from home are better now

Since we’ve gotten good at communicating, that has spread to when only some of the team is working from home. We used to have problems where the people in the office would have conversations and leave out the people working remotely. Now we’re remembering to include everyone, either by having the conversation on Slack or calling the remote people in. We’re just getting better at communicating overall.

So many perks

There are many obvious benefits to working from home. I don’t have to spend 1.25 hours in the car every day. I can eat lunch with my family. People can leave town Thursday night and work from another city on Friday. I can start at 7am and be done at 3pm if I want. It’s not a big inconvenience if I need to have someone come work on my house. I can quit early and just work part of the evening if I want. I’m way more relaxed and energized at the end of the day because I don’t have to end it with a drive through rush hour traffic.

It’s a pretty competitive market for developers out there, so if I can give someone a perk that is hard to find and it doesn’t cost the company anything, that’s really a no brainer. Honestly if I had to give it up at this point, I would really miss it. In fact, it’s Friday night and instead of being exhausted from a long day, I’m writing this post. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but it was a rough and tiring week and today was a really good day.

You can’t be a micro-manager

If you’re one of those people who feels that people are going to slack off if you aren’t staring over their shoulder to make sure they’re working, working from home isn’t for your team. But I would say that if you can’t trust your people to be responsible adults, you have a bigger problem (and maybe the problem is you).

This is a results oriented business. If I stare over your shoulder all day and you don’t deliver, that doesn’t do anyone any good. But if I find self-motivated people and give them a reason to work hard and they take ownership of a problem and deliver, then everyone is going to win. I know my people are getting things done, they’re asking me questions all day, and I can watch tickets move on the online board.

What’s next

Part of the reason that I wanted to do this was because I knew we might have remote developers at some point, and that has come to pass as I just got a developer on my team who lives in Louisiana to go along with our BA from Louisiana. I wanted to practice working remotely so that we could get good at it. Now that we’re good at it, maybe we work from home more than just one day a week. Maybe we actually start recruiting team members that work in other cities. There are many teams that are 100% remote and they make it work. I don’t know that we’ll go 100% remote, but who knows.

If you’re a co-located team that typically comes into the office every day, maybe give it a try. Pick a Friday and have everyone work from home for a day and see what happens. We like what’s happened on our team, and maybe you will too.

1 Comment »

  1. [...] A WFH Retrospective [...]

    Professional Development 12/04/2017 – 12/10/2017 – The Software Mentor — December 11, 2017 @ 9:28 am

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I have over 15 years of software development experience on several different platforms (.NET, Ruby, JavaScript, SQL Server, and more). I recognize that software is expensive, so I'm always trying to find ways to speed up the software development process, but at the same time remembering that high quality is essential to building software that stands the test of time.
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