Working remotely is no longer an option, but a necessity for most people. Veteran remote workers know this brings with it a unique set of challenges. If you’re a developer working exclusively from home for the first time due to the COVID-19 crisis, then I have three simple, effective tips for developers on navigating this new normal.
Tip #1: Work in a distraction-free zone
Easier said than done, right?
Distractions are everywhere: TV, social media, snacks, and, if you have a family, children. A recent Intuit Developer Twitter poll found that 40% of more than 12,000 respondents cited family as their biggest distraction. Thankfully, there are a few simple things you can do to limit your family’s ability to distract.
For example, if you have an office with a door, you can easily close and lock it when you need privacy. However, as we all know, this is not always effective. A locked door does not stop family from banging on it when they need (or want) you. This means you need to set up a clear system signaling when it’s not a good time to be interrupted, such as a “Do Not Disturb” sign. If your kids are younger, then an easy-to-understand red light/green light sign should do the trick.
Also, younger children may not understand why you can’t be with them when you’re home, so explain why you need quiet, undisturbed time, and how they can help. They will appreciate knowing they’re part of the solution and often work harder to make it happen. In turn, you’ll appreciate their efforts … even if they sometimes fail.
If you don’t have a private office space, then creating a distraction-free zone can be more difficult, but not impossible. You can:
- Invest in noise-cancelling headphones. Not only will these headphones block noises and help you concentrate, they can indicate to your family that you are in work mode and should not be disturbed.
- Provide your kids with activities while you’re working. COVID-19 has led to the creation of many resources to help parents and caregivers teach and entertain their kids. Intuit’s Bryan Cytron has compiled a list of 10 free resources for children while staying at home that you will want to check out.
- Set up a schedule. The freedom of working from home should not translate into a free-for-all. You need a schedule—that everyone can see—to help keep your family from impinging on your work time.
- Download a free Zoom background. This allows others who are on Zoom calls with you to focus on you and not what’s going on behind you.
This last bullet point leads us to tip #2.
Tip #2: Have a daily routine
In a Harvard Business Review article, the author discusses how she came to realize that a daily routine is essential and not a luxury. Her epiphany came after reading a book on the schedules of 161 painters, writers, composers, philosophers, scientists, and exceptional thinkers. I think it’s safe to say that developers fall into the category of exceptional thinkers!
The author says she saw “several common elements in the lives of the healthier geniuses … that allowed them to pursue the luxury of a productivity-enhancing routine.” The common elements included a workspace with minimal distractions (see Tip #1); a daily walk (Charles Dickens, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven all took one); keeping themselves accountable with charts and graphs (modern day metrics); and a supportive partner (or family).
A daily routine provides the structure you need to keep focused on the task at hand. Scheduling when you start work, breaks (perhaps including a daily walk or some form of exercise), and your stopping time will go a long way to increase your efficiency and productivity.
Tip #3: Connect professionally and socially with your team
Being home and isolated from your team is undeniably hard. It can lead to feeling disconnected, which then can lead to less engagement and reduced innovation.
To counteract this isolation-induced disconnect, you and your team need to communicate regularly. I’m not just talking through email and Slack; with today’s technology, people can communicate, if not in person, then face-to-face via Skype, Zoom, and many other video-chat options.
According to a Forbes article, “Strong social connections make people happier and physically healthier, which can translate into work performance.” The article points to increased happiness, less stress, increased engagement/loyalty, and a healthier life.
As Intuit developer Ramya Kasaraneni notes in Why I love being an Intuit Developer, Intuit is all about encouraging employee connection. Ramya says her team walks together, plays Ping Pong, celebrates birthdays, and more. Though interacting like this is currently limited, you can still play games, celebrate milestones, and encourage your fellow team members virtually.
Success in a remote environment
Success in a remote environment doesn’t have to be complicated. Follow these three simple suggestions, and you’ll be on your way, and just in case you want a few more tips for developers, here you go:
- Reduce the amount of meetings you either schedule or attend.
- Use project management tools.
- Consider work off limits every evening and weekend (or whichever days you have off) for some much-needed rest and relaxation.
Finally, know that you can reach out for help. The Intuit Developer Support Community is here for you. We will get through this together.