“I want the study table for my zoom call and don’t disturb me for the next one hour” – hollered my 26-year-old “working professional” daughter at 10 A M on a typical busy weekday. Instantly there was a chain reaction in the modest two-bedroom flat that we live in upmarket Hiranandani Gardens, Mumbai.
She beat me to the only work table in the flat leaving me fuming to sit uncomfortably on our couch to take my own scheduled call at same time. It also upset her mother who had scheduled a doctor appointment at 10 AM in Hiranandani hospital expecting one of us to take her there. It then dawned on me that we need to sync our calendar for both home & office life brought about by remote work process that has now become part of our daily life. This incident set me thinking of posting this blog on our website to air my thoughts around our professional & personal life and the way to cope with it.
Creating conducive & healthy work atmosphere at home:
“Happiness begins at home” – So let me start with requirements of enabling work atmosphere at home.
High speed internet access, ergonomic desk setup, workspace, reliable computers, & smart phone for authentication are basic requirements taken for granted. In a city like Mumbai, where most of PayCraft’s employees are located, these facilities can be practically arranged. However, real estate is prohibitively expensive & carving out physical space in a cramped apartment is a challenge that employees have to deal with. It may not be so bad in India’s other cities but spacious homes are required for exclusive work space.
The other aspect to take care at home is summed in the personal situation that I described at the beginning of this blog. Giving equal importance to time management and planning for office & home is new phenomenon that pandemic has brought in for remote working from home ! Guys sync in your calendar with your wife and or children or there will be chaos at home .
Further, the din of daily chores, decibel levels of young children etc. cannot be avoided at home – so an 8-hour continuous working is not a reality in most cases. But commuting time to & fro to office ranging from 1 to 3 hours daily makes up for this in terms of overall time that can be dedicated to work.
With lack of physical movement & habit of working on couch/sofa comes health issues that needs to be addressed through exercise, yoga and proper sitting postures while working.
Don’t get me wrong on this para heading – I don’t mean one of the buzzwords used to describe an IT system design type. What I meant here is a type of work that is akin to an orchestra performance on stage which is harmonious, well-coordinated and produce results that is pleasing and enjoyable. As in an orchestra performance which has an ensemble of instruments & performers, planning & coordination through proper communication are important hygiene factors for remote working – home or elsewhere remotely.
In a physical office environment, one can often get away without preparation & work planning for tasks for the day as supervision, checks & guidance available from supervisors, bosses and even peers may make up for it to a large extent. Such flexibility hardly exist in remote working work flows unless the teams are online continuously which is not practically possible.
Hence communication for briefing & preparation for every day work using remote real time IT enabled platforms (like slack, troop messenger, Twist etc.) for co-working is essential for effectiveness. It is all the more pertinent to distributed agile workforces engaged in SW development projects in PayCraft.
Essentials Tools for remote working:
In PayCraft we use standard off the shelf IT tools to helps us in going about our work efficiently which includes effective communication, collaboration and document management. In fact, for distributed remote workforces as in the case of software development as indicated in the previous para, right set of collaboration tools are essential – without which things can come to standstill.
For effective collaboration of our work force in SW projects, at PayCraft we use Confluence tool that stores and organizes all of your information assets around the projects we are doing. This tool is integrated with another versatile tool our project managers use i.e. the popular JIRA – an issue management platform that allows teams to manage their issues throughout their entire lifecycle. In Jira:
• Our agile teams can mimic a virtual scrum board, a tool that epitomizes agile experience for scrum teams to get instant view of project progress.
• They can also use the integrated virtual boards for creative real-time collaboration for their online activities by mapping out everything from project plans, to sprints and tasks.
Further, we also use Gitlab, a popular version control system which provides web-based repositories that help with code management and sharing local file changes with a remote repository.
For video conferencing we use another popular Microsoft product “Teams”, a remote collaboration platform which can present and enable discussions on various business matters including supporting stand in meetings use in software development.
Thus at PayCraft we are fully equipped with essential tools that facilitate clear communications, collaborations and support remote working in software project management & software development life cycle management.
Softer Issues of remote communication
As human beings, we connect with each other as part of personal, social & professional pursuits. It is this human connection with a team in an organisation that creates trust, confidence and makes working in teams a success. We’re individuals & at the same time social creatures and so will need the freedom and independence of working alone along with the structure and community of working with others.
So running virtual meetings calls for different skills and rules on the part of whoever is facilitating the meeting. For example in agile development, Scrum masters perform this role.
From a perspective of having focus & human touch in virtual collaboration & meeting, it helps if we adhere to the following guidelines:
• As far as possible, the participants in virtual meetings should be a focus group dedicated for a specific activity or task. Inviting observers or other participants not connected with the process and task could derail meetings with off-the cuff remarks, irrelevant interventions and so on. So it is important to have only the right people in the meetings to make it purposeful and effective
• It makes a lot of difference in having a human touch & connection if the camera on your system is on and participants can see each other’s faces during virtual meetings. It builds camaraderie in the team. Smiles on faces can lighten up the atmosphere. Same thing with mute button too unless there is too much background noise to the detrimental of the meeting itself.
Activities like standing up and discussing in one room about task planning, achievement, questions, clarifications etc. can also be virtually emulated on video conference apps. with both camera & microphone on.
• Conversations should be encouraged with all participants contributing rather than getting bogged down by an aggressive participant taking the stage all the time. With recording facility available on all these tech platforms, the need to document in writing can also be eliminated. When we converse to each other, thing that would have been recessed in the back of your mind just pops up and we ask questions or doubts that can be clarified over the virtual call.
Complex issues that need to be delved deeper should be taken up with bilateral or small relevant team video calls. Wider participants group calls have limitation of time and there is the danger of other participants switching off mentally if one particular piece of conversation takes the stage and time for prolonged time.
• Remember the team outings for offsite bonding before we all were confined indoors. In fact it is more important now to have regular offsites or team vacations as organisational behaviour demands connecting on personal levels too as a key to team work, organisational stickiness and job satisfaction.
I am from a generation that was awed by reading the futurist Alvin Toffler’s famous book of 1970 – “Future Shock”(I still have a paperback edition of it in my private library). In 1980 he predicted in his sequel, The Third Wave that the home would “assume a startling new importance” in the information age, becoming “a central unit in the society of tomorrow – a unit with enhanced rather than diminished economic, medical, educational and social functions.” Though Toffler accurately saw technology’s potential, it would be some time before remote working became relatively easy – which finally happened with the advent of internet, improvement in telecommunication and explosion in Information technology & electronics that followed post the 1980s.
Amid the 1973 OPEC oil crisis and skyrocketing fuel prices, a University of Southern California research group led by Jack Nilles conducted a major study published in 1976 where he coined the term “telecommuting”. They concluded that technology would soon make it more economical for organisations to decentralise using telecommuting.
However the advent of technology still did not make “telecommuting” a big wave as much as it is now during the current pandemic situation. With a remote workforce, setting explicit deliverables and measuring performance based on how team members meet those deliverables is the biggest difference that we need to make in processes using the tools, techniques and behavioural changes explained in brief in this blog. The hardest part of being remote is to make an effort to establish that kind of culture in the organisation that I brought out in the para on softer issues of managing remote communication.
As we see PayCraft successfully navigating this disruption in workflows, through better collaboration, better teaming, better working, we may have to ask this question to ourselves:
“Do we really need that office space in Kailas Business Park in Mumbai ?
Happy teleporting !
June 20, 2021