Covid-19 Pandemic Award — To the Tools that made Remote Work “Work”

Illustration by Matt

Remote work also known as WFH (Work From Home) is a new experience for many engineering teams at this time of social distancing and Covid-19 pandemic.

I am confident that when we come out of this, many technology teams will be changed in ways unexpected — perhaps, remote work would have gained more adoption from skeptics.

Brace Yourself for the Award Night

There are a myriad of tools to choose from today in order to keep work going, whether we are in the office or home front, it doesn’t matter. All you need is great internet connectivity and your computer.

Draw a picture in your mind similar to an Oscar or Grammy award evening. The only difference is, this evening, we shall present awards to the tools that came handy for us in these difficult times.

Great communication is the biggest key to the success of remote work. You want to keep the team talking in a way similar to being physically in the same room. There are so many great tools today to choose from. Many of them are free to use (maybe with limits on what you can do, except, of course, you go for a paid plan).

For this category, the nominees are Slack, Workplace by Facebook, G-Suite, Office360. It is usually better to have a tool that brings the entire team into a single room with different channels for different purposes, and a tool for video conferencing chat — some tools combine both of these. Great standalone video conferencing tools include Zoom, BlueJeans. Tools like Slack and G-Suite have video conferencing as part of their offering.

My favourite communication tool is SLACK

It helps to know what everyone is doing at any particular time. A basic Calendar tool like Google Calendar is enough. These tools won’t use themselves if we do not cultivate the attitude of judiciously adopting and updating them all the time, so that everyone else can see what we are doing. We need to respect other people’s time. Ask them for permission before you schedule meetings with them, look up their calendar to check out the free-times available.

My favourite time scheduling tool is GOOGLE CALENDAR

During this Covid-19 pandemic, many companies changed their goals, focus and strategy in order to survive resulting in ripple effects company wide. Since we are all working from home, there is no board to write these goals on for everyone to see, but there are good tools that can help us align and track. Roadmapping tools, task-centred tools are helpful here. I already listed some of them in the Time-Scheduling section. The nominees in this category are Jira, Asana, Monday, BaseCamp, Pivotal Tracker and the likes also come handy.

My winner in this category is PIVOTAL TRACKER.

Teams that work remotely will likely become better at documenting what they do. Teams that are new to this will quickly realise that they write more in order to foster asynchronous collaborations. What tools shall we bring in here? Google Docs, Evernote? My favourite is Notion! Notion is a great tool for documentation and for collaborating among teams.

Managers need to check-in regularly on their direct reports by scheduling meetings ahead. The key thing to do here is to make it consistent. Pick up on the previous meetings, look at the action items, and take it from there. I highly recommend Notion for recording meeting action points.

If your team works with the agile methodologies or an agile framework, then you follow some agile rituals such as daily standups, sprint planning, refinements and retrospectives. For these, there are so many tools to choose from when working remotely. I was recently introduced to Parabol, a great tool for retrospectives. There is pointingpoker — a simple tool for sprint planning/estimations. There are tons of standup bots/plugins that you can use with Slack. For standups, I recommend a 15minutes conference call at the start of every work day.

The best tools for pair programming are video sharing apps that allow you pass control of your computer to a colleague. My preference for this is Zoom. There are of course other great tools such as Team Viewer.

Conclusion

Here is a summary of my favourite tools.

Communication — Slack
Time Scheduling — Google Calendar
Goal Setting/Backlog Tools — Notion and Pivotal Tracker
Video Conferencing — Google Hangout
Pair Programming — Zoom
Documentation — Notion and Google Docs
One-on-Ones — Notion
Agile Retrospectives — Parabol
Sprint Planning — Pointing Poker

For each of these points, what are your own preferences? Care to share? Drop in the comment section, give this article some claps, and do share with your colleagues, managers, spouse and friends who are all working from home.

Software Engineering Manager.