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Overcoming the Remote Work Challenges

By Nelson Parente
Nelson Parente
Software engineer addicted to solving complex challenges in the simplest ways. There's a 90% chance I'm wearing Nike in my feet every day.
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Overcoming the Remote Work Challenges
During the Covid-19 pandemic, our Todos Juntos value, a Portuguese phrase meaning ‘all together’ has shown it’s true strength and meaning. 

Todos Juntos is defined by the belief that our goal is always to act for the greater good of all teams, even when it’s beyond our area of expertise. Now, more than ever, we are living our Todos Juntos value,  working closely with our colleagues and celebrating our shared achievements. 

Following the World Health Organisation and Governments recommendations, most of our teams have been working from home for the past few months. This new reality brings with it new challenges, and in this blog article, I will present some of the actions taken by our Software Engineering team to be as efficient as possible.

For many of us, the main challenges of remote working are the way we communicate with our peers, maintaining focus on our tasks and making this new reality as smooth as possible. Now, more than ever, we have to communicate clearly and concisely between us from a distance.

Clear communication doesn't necessarily mean that we need to be talking all the time. It means that we must be clear and effective in the way we communicate. We should only interrupt our peers' tasks when it is necessary, to cause the least amount of disruption to their concentration and focus.

With that in mind, we gathered a few tips that made our working from home workflow as balanced and efficient as possible. 

Mindful Mentioning

Our main channel of communication is Slack, and here we have the option of using three types of mentions which result in different types of notifications. The three main mention types at Slack are:

  • @channel : notifies all the members of the channel.
  • @here : notifies the online members of the channel.
  • @john.doe : notifies the person mentioned.

We must be very mindful when choosing our mentions according to what we want to communicate to not disturb the focus time of our peers. For example, if we wish to make a basic announcement and its reply doesn't impact our current work, there is no need to use any mention. But if we need an answer, the @here should be applied.

In conclusion, we should only send a @here, @channel, or @john.doe notification if we need some urgent answer or approval from our peers to proceed with our tasks. In this case, by defining priorities, we will prevent our peers from losing focus and being distracted unnecessarily. 

Communicate through Emojis

We find that Slack Emojis are an effective way to communicate, with excellent benefits that enable us to communicate in a straightforward but efficient way.

Using these kinds of reactions can express one's intentions very clearly without needing to write a full sentence. As long as a team uses this type of communication to interact with each other, the team members will understand the meaning of every emoji and use them very effectively to send quick and clear messages. 

Let's imagine the scenario in the image above: I asked my team for a merge request review. One of our team members reacted to the message with the thumbs-up emoji.  Which means that I don’t need to worry because I know they have reviewed and approved my merge request. This form of communication is very simple but has proven to be very effective in our team.

Doc-First Methodology 

More than ever, the documentation first methodology is imperative: our documentation should be a complete and trusted resource. The documentation is an excellent way of communication. It can avoid lots of unnecessary wasted time repeating the same information over and over again.

Every question should have an answer in the documentation. If it doesn’t, then the documentation should be updated. If an answer is in the documentation, we can simply share the link to the documentation fulfilling one's needs for information in a very efficient way.

Look for helpful tools to overcome the distance 

Some meetings would be better to do on-site but since we are working from home, we must find ways to overcome the challenges that arise with the social distance.

One of the cases where we had to overcome this challenge was our Sprint Retrospective because we didn’t have a physical board to do our retrospective analysis of the sprint. 

The lack of a physical board doesn’t mean that this meeting will be less rich or productive than usual. So we went looking for an online board alternative for our Sprint Retrospectives and found FunRetro.

FunRetro provides Sprint Retrospectives online boards. Their boards have awesome features that make a Sprint Retrospective flow as smoothly as before. The moderator can hide cards, vote and customize the board according to your needs. 

With this tool, we were able to create productive Sprint Retrospectives, while socially distancing.

Start a daily music thread with your peers

Every morning we started to open a team thread just for sharing music, and the results were amazing. 

By adopting this new habit, we were able to connect with our peers by getting to know them a little bit better through their music. This was an excellent opportunity to discover new artists and songs that we didn’t even know existed.

Hang out with your peers online

Working remotely doesn’t imply that we don’t hang out anymore. At a time that we are physically distant, we must ensure that we still talk and relax together as we do in normal situations.

It is of the utmost importance that we overcome the distance barrier and gather together online so we can distract ourselves from the current scenario and relax Todos Juntos. 

Over these weeks we gathered online chatting, having a drink or playing games and it was awesome how, although we are physically distant, the sense of friendship and companionship prevails.

To sum up, remote work brings with it numerous new challenges that we don’t face when we all are at the office. The bottom line is that we must face these challenges together and try to find ways to overcome them in the best way possible.

The spirit of hard work and companionship must continue to prevail during these difficult times and make this an opportunity to promote and enhance the bonds we have with our peers. I’m sure that when we go back to the office, we will be better and stronger, and that many of the actions we took while remote working to overcome some challenges will continue to be a great help in the future.
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