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April 2020
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How we organize remote work as an IT company

Peter JansPeter Jans

COVID-19 has forced a lot of people to temporarily stop working, or in our case, work from home. But what are our practices and tools we use to facilitate remote work? In this blog post, we’ll go over some tips and tricks about how we organize remote work.

Communication is key

When you’re not physically able to connect to others, communication in various formats and through various channels becomes even more important than it already was. Here’s a few ways we maximize our communication when working remotely.

How we organize remote work as an IT company
How we organize remote work as an IT company

The tips above mainly apply when you’re keeping in touch with your team members. But team members aren’t the only ones you need to keep in contact with.

But most importantly: apply continuous improvement to all the points above. Some might work in your context, and others might not. Or new elements, particular to your concrete situation, might arise. Therefore, allow your communication practices to evolve. There is no final stage you can reach, and there’s always room for improvement!

Tools are secondary

Communication is key, but you need the tools to facilitate that communication. Below is a set of tools we have come to use over time.

Task boards

We have been adopting the Atlassian tools for more than 10 years now, so we have gotten used to define all of our work in tasks in Atlassian Jira and its marketplace apps. Not only for our software processes but also for HR, fleet management, marketing, finance, legal, project management, logistics, internal, helpdesks and so on. Some of our most used apps on top of that are Tempo, EazyBI, Structure, Portfolio, Dataplane, Insight and many more.

Retrospective meetings

There are quite a few tools available for remote retrospective meetings. At ACA, we prefer TeamRetro. The tool supports different formats for retros, but most of them are pretty standard. If you want some more uncommon formats for your retros, you’ll have to look elsewhere. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial.

Whiteboards

Whiteboards are easy to use in a face-to-face environment, but it’s a different story to do so online. Luckily, you can easily create interactive whiteboards in Zoom. Start a Zoom video call, share your screen with other participants and select ‘Whiteboard’. Then, click ‘Annotate’ and you can start drawing and writing! The whiteboard is interactive for all meeting participants. Afterwards, you can easily save the whiteboard by clicking the ‘Save’ button.

Miro is another tool we can recommend when it comes to whiteboards. Miro allows you to create and collaborate on whiteboards, but also share these. Additionally, Miro includes a mind mapping tool.

A Google JamBoard can also get you started collaborating with fellow team members.

Video Conferencing

For all kinds of video collaboration zoom.us is our tool of preference. It offers the possibility to join up to 49 people in one call, share screens and presentations, collaborate, pass control, and its chat options give tremendous flexibility when working together. Finally, its recording option is pretty powerful, making it easy to share a session with people who were unable to attend.

Chatting

When organizing or facilitating remote work, the ability to work together is crucial. There are a number of tools that can help you with this. Slack is well-known chat application that we use to help our teams communicate. You can chat directly, in teams or topic-oriented. Additionally, people can choose which channels they’d like to follow.

Content management

Confluence is a great tool to help teams organize their work and collaborate. Confluence is particularly great when working remotely because it inspires conversation as well: it encourage everyone to share announcements, strengthen company culture, and give/get instant feedback. Plus the collaborative editing features are really powerful, try them! Confluence also serves as our main channel for internal blog posts and spreading information throughout the organization.

How we organize remote work as an IT company

Additionally, we make extensive use of Google Apps for their co-creation functionalities. For example, Google Documents when creating blog posts like this one or Google slides when preparing and sharing presentations.

DevOps

We combine tools and techniques like BitBucket, Jenkins and Jira to have everyone work in a similar way (test, code, validate, pull request) so that handing over work and releasing it happens in the same way as many open source projects do (since those often also work with people remote and in different time zones).

What about performance?

P = f(p,e). Performance is a function of a person and their environment.

Is working remotely more or less productive for someone? Often, working remotely means you’re more productive due to less interrupts. However, these are unprecedented times, so it’s not fair to make a comparison at this moment. We are but human and are overwhelmed by the news, the current situation and any personal feelings that might trouble our minds and distract us.

Regardless of that aspect, here are some tips that can apply when working from home:

How we organize remote work as an IT company

Some final tips

Some external references that also contain good information:

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