In September last year, I began working remotely with DiUS from Perth. I had previously worked from home on the occasion, but working remotely day in day out is a different story. After living in Sydney for five years, of which three were spent working with DiUS, it was time to move back to Perth and be with family. For the transition, I was able to keep working with the same client and team who were already working remotely. In fact, due to the way we work at DiUS, the jump to remote working would have been simple regardless of the project I was on, as the tools we use for stand ups and retrospectives are just as effective in a remote setting.
Being remote, full-time certainly has its benefits. There’s no commute which frees up time and finances. For those that pack lunch in the morning, there’s now an option to prepare your lunch at home. I’m fortunate to be able to have lunch with my family at lunch time. And, of course, your office can be set up exactly as you’d like.
When you’re the only team member who’s working remotely, it can have its downsides. Even when the team does their best to be inclusive, there’s inevitably conversations that happen in the office. When there’s a meeting, people may start drawing things on whiteboards or pointing at screens. Little things like this can start to add up.
There’s just one other issue with working remotely, and that’s the three hour time difference between Sydney and Perth. So, I choose to have an early start. In order to start work at 9am Sydney time, I normally wake up at 5:20am to start work at 6am Perth time. The team would have accommodated me starting later, but that would have meant that meetings would need to be scheduled in a smaller window. It would have also left a big chunk of the day where everyone would have gone home and I’d be working on my own.
With COVID-19, our team has become fully remote. When everyone is remote, the above issues are non-existent. Furthermore, people become more aware of the potentially isolating effects of remote working. At DiUS, initiatives such as remote lunching and remote Friday night drinks have been introduced to mitigate these isolating effects.
Tools for team collaboration
To stay connected, our team uses Slack for chat. Recently, we agreed that we should post to our team channel as much as possible and minimise private messaging, to ensure everyone feels connected. For video conferencing, our team uses Zoom, Google Hangouts and Whereby which has given us reliable video and audio. And for standups we use Jira.
We are constantly experimenting with different apps for retrospectives. So far, FunRetro and IdeaBoardz have been our favourite. In fact, we were using these tools even when nobody was remote. These tools have features that allow you to vote on cards and group cards. FunRetro has additional features such as timers and the ability to hide cards until everyone has finished.
Having worked remotely for six months now, I can say that it is possible to be fully remote and productive. It’s not the same as working with people in the office and some will like it more than others, but my hope is that in the future, working remotely will be more widely adopted and embraced by the wider community.