I’ve been working remotely for Ludisto the past few months porting Poker Solitaire to iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. I’ve been doing development remotely from upstate New York in the USA, and even though the rest of our current team members live in Berlin (Germany), we don’t have a centralized office location. Though working from different locations in different time zones comes with some challenges, it’s been working out very well for us!
We use Trello for general project management, along with a handful of Google docs in a shared folder. Trello allows us to see what other teammates are working on and what the state of the project is at any point in time. It’s really easy to use while also being robust enough to manage our tasks. If we were a much larger team or working on a significantly larger project, it might not scale well to that size, but for our purposes it works fantastically. We leave Skype logged in while we’re working so others can reach us easily, and also to socialize and chat.
Communication and Meeting Regularly
Chuck (our CEO and awesome programmer) and I meet each weekday over Skype to chat about the project. In a traditional business environment, this would normally be a stereotypical example of a bad, time-wasting meeting: we start off going over anything related to the project that we need to chat about, but we eventually devolve into tangential, unrelated topics. However, given we don’t share an office or even a time zone, we’ve found it’s a great chance to socialize with our teammates. We’re usually still being moderately productive while chatting, but having some face-to-face time to just sit down and hang out makes a world of difference both in building team camaraderie and in keeping us from going stir crazy due to working from home. Originally, our goal was just a quick “stand-up” covering what we did the day before and our upcoming tasks, but it has evolved into something a lot different.
With a 6-hour time difference, it ends up being in the morning for me and the afternoon for him. If a task in Trello is ever unclear, or there’s an issue someone wants to address, it’ll get resolved within no more than a day. We also log into Skype while working, but as we work somewhat-inconsistent hours with a 6-hour time difference, having a set time where we’ll both be online helps a lot. The meetings are also very helpful for figuring out what’s the highest priority at the moment; it’s easy to stare at a big to-do list and have no idea where to start. As the meetings are a bit more friendly and involved than a traditional stand-up, I also feel a greater sense of accountability when it comes to getting work done.
Keeping Motivation High
One of the big challenges with working remotely is keeping yourself motivated and focused. Even when you get into a rhythm of working hard every day for weeks straight, it’s easy to fall out of the habit in only a day or two. While this also happens to an extent in a traditional office environment, working flexible hours from your home (possibly even your bedroom!) requires a lot more discipline. Different solutions work for different people, but I can talk a bit about what works for me.
I want to note that our daily meetings have been, by far, the most useful tool in keeping me on task. I have trouble if there’s no structure to my schedule, but blocking out a consistent 9-5 work schedule was overly rigid and removed the perk of flexible work hours. Having that short block of time every day spent in our meeting adds just enough structure to keep me focused without being overly rigid.
It’s important to separate “work time” and “not-work time”. I track my hours spent working on the project, so there’s a distinct divide between time clocked in and clocked out. If it’s not worth the short time it takes to log into Freshbooks/Toggl/whatever you use and start that timer, it can wait. Don’t overwork yourself; make sure you can say “I’m not working right now” and let that lengthy email you need to write wait until tomorrow.
Even if you’re not working excessive hours, it can be draining to spend 6-8 hours working on your computer then another 5 hours using it later in the day every single day. Some people have a lot of success designating a specific room or area they go to for work and only for work. Others have an easier time when using a separate computer for work time than they do for leisure. Some folks still block their day into an organized “9am to 5pm is work time,” even when working from home, but for others that doesn’t work at all. I don’t have the luxury of having an extra workspace available, so I make sure to step away from the computer every now and then. Even if it’s just using my phone or a tablet elsewhere in the house to accomplish the same exact task I’d be doing at my desk, having some variety helps a lot.
The discipline to work from home is a skill that needs to be developed; don’t expect to have it down perfectly from the start. Everyone eventually develops their own system that works for them, but it will take some time to adjust to.