My experiences as a Remote Worker

This week I had the honour and pleasure of being interviewed for an episode of the wonderful Testing In The Pub podcast. I love this podcast and it’s one that I’ve really enjoyed listening too since the first episode went Live. Stephen Janaway asked me if I’d like to come on and talk about being a tester on a remote team…

I was actually a little bit nervous, which is strange but I didn’t want to sound like a fool and let anyone down. I obviously missed points that I wanted to talk about and glossed over some of the points that I did talk through – This post hopefully adds to the topic and fills in some of the missing blanks.

You can check out the full podcast episode here: http://testinginthepub.co.uk/testinginthepub/testing/testing-pub-episode-36-part-remote-team/

How did I become a remote worker…

Being a remote worker is not all fun and games, it’s really not for everyone but it works for me. For the last 18 months, I’ve been pretty much a remote worker – The pure hardcore remote people would probably call me a fraud as I’m not full-time at home but I feel I do this more than enough to have some personal experiences to share.

I joined NewVoiceMedia at the beginning of 2014, it was always going to be a move that would either make me or destroy me. I wanted to work for them, they had a huge reputation in the test community, Rob Lambert was leading the test team at the time and they had some amazingly talented people who I knew I can learn so much from – The trouble was that it was just under a 4 hour round trip to get there and back. Looking back now, I think I had my rainbow-tinted glasses on and was only seeing the learning and personal development aspects of the job and not the huge strain physically, financially and mentally that I was about to put myself under.

Luckily, the role involved the ability to work from my home during the week and that was key to me jumping on board and accepting the job offer.

During my 3 month probation period I was in the office 5 days a week, it was a killer! I was overwhelmed by new surroundings, new people, new well….everything! I’ve always said that this is when I became a tester, this was my first proper testing role so as well as all the new environmental changes I was learning how to be a tester!!

Thankfully they wanted to keep me on after the probation period and then after establishing a good working relationship with my feature team and the members of the test team, I started to work from home once a week, this over time, increased to 4 days a week and that where I find myself now…

My pattern of life…

Most people, in my experience, have a Pattern Of Life that they follow. They tend to wake up at the same time, have a standard morning routine in regards to getting ready/having breakfast, they catch the train or bus at the same time and sit roughly in the same seat, they read, watch or listen to something similar on the commute each day, get the same coffee at the same shop before going into the office etc.

A daily routine has always been part of my life in the British Army, for 11 years I was told what time I had to get out of bed, what time to eat, what uniform to wear, what location I had to be at certain times of the day, etc. – It was an extremely structured life.

My daily routine during the week would always follow something similar to this:
0600 – Reveille/Rouse
0630 – Block Jobs (Cleaning)
0700 – Breakfast
0800 – First Parade
0830 – Platoon Administration
1000 – Physical Training
1230 – Lunch
1330 – Rifle Drill
Etc.

I’m a creature of habit and some things have stayed with me since leaving, I follow a loose routine when working at home. These actions ensure that I’m not letting my own personal standards slip and that I have a level of structure to my working day, while at home.

I tend to stick to this daily routine more or less, there are occasions that timings slip but I don’t let myself feel bad about that:

0700 – Morning Dog Walk
0730 – Breakfast including reading a selection of blogs from my backlog
0830 – Showered and Dressed for work
0900 – Get into my office and fire up my laptop
0915 – Daily Stand Up
1230 – Lunch (Timing dependent on the morning meetings or tasks )
1700 – An hour of personal learning

I only have semi-set times on the things that I can control, every day is different in terms of the work that I’m doing so those activities are harder to predict. This might seem far too rigid for a lot of people but if you look back and analyse your day in the office you may be doing something slightly similar without even knowing it.

Feeling like part of the team…

In your office environment, people can physically see you with their own two eyes, remote workers don’t really have this as an option. Members of my team obviously know that I’m working because they would have seen and spoken to me during the daily stand up but after that call – It’s very easy to become invisible. I love talking, I’ll talk to anyone so I’m often on a text chat or video chats with my developers. Collaboration is key and the only way to ensure that we’re all talking to each other is by…actually talking to each other!

We use Hipchat as our main method of communication, every team has their own room that people can drop in and out of if they need anything but teams also have “banter” rooms where its open season. I work with some very funny guys and if I haven’t laughed at least once from something that has been posted to the room, there’s something going wrong.

I also stay very active with people outside of my team, this can be asking questions in the other rooms or responding to other people’s questions if I know that answers. I love to try to improve things for the test team at NVM, I have created a personal Trello board with areas that I would like to make changes – Communicating these ideas and changes to the team via Hipchat or Emails, has indirectly made me more visible. It’s also made me feel less isolated and part of a bigger team.

Access to all the things…

A big part, for me, in knocking down any home vs office mindsets is ensuring that I have access to everything that I can get my hands on. I don’t want to every use the excuse of “I can’t get to that internal page from home” – I don’t ever want my location to dictate what I can and cannot view. Nothing is impossible to get access too, it may take a little time and effort but it’s not unachievable.

I’m inquisitive and I also love having control over my own environment, If I can’t get to an admin page on the local network because the firewall is blocking me from doing so at home – I’m going to be contacting the relevant people to set up a proxy or provide me with a workaround. You never want to feel reliant on someone in the office to make changes for you, you lose the element of control and that’s never a good thing.

One person is remote, we’re all remote…

I’m not the only person in my team that works from home, during the week we will have at least 1 person from the team at home. We have an ethos within my team, if one person is remote then we are all remote. This basically means that all of our meetings are done online and not in an office meeting room. We could only have 1 of the team at home and the rest in the office and we will all still jump on the call individually. This ensures that we can all hear and see each other, one person will share their screen so we are all looking at the same thing – It works really well for us and saves us all fighting to hear each other in an echo-filled meeting room with terrible audio and visual equipment.

This has really helped with things like 3 Amigos, Sprint Planning and Retrospectives. We are able to have a productive meeting rather than fighting with any sort of tech issues or getting access to meeting rooms. Personally, I feel that we are more focused and productive during our meetings.

The challenges…

Currently, we’re in a very good place. We all know what call to be on and at what time. We have team specific permanent Skype links that we always use or tools that we know work for us to achieve a certain goal. I don’t ever feel like I can’t get hold of someone quickly or feel like I’m on my own. It hasn’t always been this way…

Working from home used to be a very painful experience, I remember a couple of things in particular. We would have our morning stand-up meeting in the office, the guys in the office would gather in a circle and run through the standard set of questions. We had 1 person remote working so we would grab an Ipad and dial them in via Hangouts. We would then pass the Ipad around like “pass the parcel” style – god knows why it even began let alone lasted for as long as it did! Another painful one was everyone using their own favourite tool for communication, at one point I was monitoring…Lync, Hangouts (lot’s of different ones), Hipchat, Email, GoTo Meeting – it was insane!! I don’t know how we actually got anything done!!

One last thing that we have thankfully sorted ish, the audio and visual equipment in the meeting rooms was very poor – Pair that with the dodgy network at the time, this made being part of meetings a non-event. I had several occasions where I just dropped out of the meeting completely because is was absolutely unworkable.

Not everyone in the business likes remote working, your company may have a culture that lends itself to this way of working but companies are made up of people. If they have had a poor experience of remote workers in the past, it’s very difficult to change their mindset.

Things that have helped me the most…

  • Invest (get your company to pay) in a decent Headset and Camera – I had a rubbish headset and my laptop webcam was pointed at the side of my face. As soon as I got some new ones, conversations and meetings were 100% better!
  • Try and organise an office day to get the whole team together. Make it a social event and not just about work. Get to know your team mates!!
  • Have a space in your home that’s just for work – avoid working in your family space. You need to have a clear divide between the two or you never really finish work for the day. Leave work at work.
  • Have patience – People in the office are not actively ignoring you. Their status may say that they are free but they could be talking to someone at their desk. If you really need them, try speaking to someone from another team and ask them to get “eyes on” they can give you a much clearer picture of the office.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave your desk, people in the office do it all the time. Don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong by not being chained to your desk.

I can’t tell you how to succeed at working from home, there’s not a one size fits all approach to it I’m afraid. Experiment with different things and see what works and what doesn’t work for your team. Good luck and if you ever need to speak to someone, give me a shout on Twitter or Skype and we can have a chat about it! Always remember, you’re not on your own.

 

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