The quickly evolving COVID-19 situation has impacted many industries, forcing companies to re-imagine the way they operate. For many, this has meant standing up a remote workforce in a hurry. 

As a technology consultancy with flexible work practices, we’re well versed in this way of working. So, we wanted to share some tips and tricks for how we work remotely with our clients. 

We spoke with Bryan Signey and Danilo Lo Santo, two of our Sydney based Software Engineers, about their experience working on a remote client project.

When working on a remote project, how do you build trust with a client? 

Bryan: It’s really down to your ability to perform and deliver on your tasks. From a clients perspective, seeing stories completed and sprint goals achieved is extremely important, as these tasks contribute to the project’s overall success. 

A lot of successful project teams are also really good at communicating and collaborating. I find that even when working remotely, I’m in constant communication with team members in order to perform and deliver my tasks. As a team we solve the challenges collaboratively and celebrate the wins together. 

And finally, I like to get to know my team members outside of the project. I’m not the biggest social butterfly, but I do believe that getting to know each other outside of the project can help build trust within the team. This can obviously be a challenge when working remotely, so we run virtual lunches and coffee breaks to get to know each other. 

 
Bryan enjoying his more permanent, work from home setup
 

Danilo: Your ability to deliver tasks on time is also extremely important, along with showing initiative and making yourself available to the client. 

I also try to understand and predict the expectations of my team members. I find this helps to eliminate any blockers and enables me to deliver my tasks efficiently. It definitely requires a creative approach and out-of-the-box thinking, but the results are well worth it.

What tools are you using to keep clients informed and engaged?

Bryan: Having access to team collaboration tools is essential in keeping team members informed and engaged, especially when everyone is working remotely.

To stay connected, we use Slack for messaging and chat. Slack allows you to chat one-to-one or as a group, and also has video call capability. I use the last feature frequently, especially when having quick conversations with a team member regarding a task I’m working on, for story kick-offs and walkthroughs, and sometimes for a quick pair programming exercise with a fellow developer.

For larger collaborations, we use Zoom. Other video conferencing tools I have used in the past include Google Meets and Whereby. Regardless of which tools you use, having reliable video and audio is a must.

For retrospectives, we use FunRetros and IdeaBoardz. We use these tools regardless of whether we’re working remotely or not. These tools allow you to vote on cards and even group cards. 

Danilo: We also use Jira and Confluence, respectively. Jira allows us to track project features and stories and Confluence helps us manage our project documentation. We also use email of course, but mainly Slack which is essential for instant messaging and notifications.

I’m currently working on a project where we’re experimenting with ‘group programming’.  When working on more complicated tasks, I make sure the code I write is easy to read for a non-technical person, and before starting any tests, we connect on Slack so I can run my team members through the code. This activity makes the delivery stage of software development more integrated and less impersonal.

How are you managing the everyday ceremonies like card kick offs, standups and showcases with the entire team now working remotely? 

Bryan: As I mentioned earlier, we use Zoom for ceremonies like stand-ups and showcases. They are still important ceremonies to ensure that the team is maintaining a good flow of stories, maintain a shared understanding of what’s being worked on and to celebrate team successes. I am finding though, with everyone working remotely and not worrying about meeting room availability, that more detailed discussions about the progress of stories are occurring. This is great as team members are communicating and collaborating together, but we need to be mindful of what discussions we have to ensure stand-ups remain efficient and focused.

I find that while stand-ups are great, story kick-offs, walkthroughs and handovers become more critical to maintain a shared understanding of what is being delivered. Again, tools such as Zoom (for large groups) and Slack (for smaller groups) have been great in ensuring these ceremonies still take place, especially when working remotely.

Danilo: Under normal circumstances, the essential ceremonies like standups and sprint kickoffs are a great way to mark the time and give the ‘beat’ to the team. There are of course some logistic limits, like rooms and time availability. 

When working remotely, you can still achieve the same benefits provided by these ceremonies, whilst removing some of the aforementioned limits. Virtual chats are more flexible and easier to reschedule if a team member is busy. What’s more, the environment is generally quieter and more relaxed. Another aspect that I like about virtual meetings is that everybody is more relaxed and comfortable in their own homes—you get more of a sense of the person, not just the ‘developer’ you used to sit next to at work.  I believe that this limits the conflict and thus improves productivity.

Office or living room? Danilo hard at work in the comfort of his own home
 

And finally, what are your three top tips for working remotely?

  1. Follow a routine as closely as you would have when working in the office. That might mean starting work, having the same breaks and finishing all at the same time as you were still working in the office. 
  2. More than anything, constant communication is essential. So having a good set of tools that allows you to communicate effectively, and using those tools to talk to and collaborate with team members is really important
  3. Get outside of the office during your breaks. Turning off from work can sometimes be hard seeing as home and the office become one, so making plans to get out of the house is really important. Get outside, exercise and get some fresh air. Get yourself some sun, it’s good for you.