How To Succeed At Working From Home

In the past two years, I worked from home sometimes. To be honestly, I do prefer working from office however I work for a very distributed release team and I am the only member from China.

For me, Release Engineering is a 24*6 job and working from home can give me more time to work especially in a developing country the traffic jam is very terrible. The lucky thing is, in the past two years, I could contribute more to the team by working from home and I want to share my experience in working from home from perspective of Release Engineering.

Actually this post is based on http://oduinn.com/images/2012/blog_we_are_all_remoties.pdf with my real experience. In John’s blog, http://oduinn.com/blog/category/remoties/ it has some more very good posts about how to be a good remotie in Release Engineering.

(I am on a long vacation from Sep 14th to Oct 7th. Should continue this topic after I am back from vacation 🙂 )

 

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I happened to get a survey about how to be a good remotie. Here is my input,

1. What are the biggest challenges in your distributed team?
2. How have you tried to overcome these challenges?

a.     Working hours/Time zone.

My team members from India are working in IDC+5.5 timezone which are 2.5 hrs later than China time while other team members from San Jose work in Pacific timezone. For example, my team members from India usually come to office around 10AM (12:30PM China time) and others from San Jose start to work around 9AM Pacific time (23:30 China time). Particularly we have different Public Holidays Schedules and also different vacation plan (people usually take long vacation by conjunctting with their public holidays so in that way they can enjoy a long vacation with less leave days).

My way to overcome this:

If that day I work from home, I usually get up at around 7AM China time to check my email in case any requests/issues from US (It is around 5PM Pacific Time). If no issues, then I will hit my bed again to take sleep otherwise I will start to work. Usually I will take 1-2hrs to hae breakfast, walk around the park, take a bath, or go to library (my apartment is near the district library) before 11:30AM, and come back to work at around 12:30PM, when team members from India are arrival to office. My main working hours will be 12:30PM – 8:00PM (7.5hrs, it is 10AM – 5:30PM India time) with 1hr leave for lunch at around 2PM China time. I will come back to work at around 11:30PM China time to work with US team members when they are arrival office at 9:00AM their time). In this way I can work around 8-9 hours only but I can cover all of the issues from a very distributed team in a very timely manner. Regarding holidays and vacations, we usually create an info page to note down all of the public holidays in different offices for our references, so that we can do backup/handover before our holiday and we can leave for even 1month without any issues.

My suggestion here:

If someone wants to be successful in a very distributed team he has to be a very autonomic guy and generous. Without managers’ monitoring, it is not easy to work professional as you have too many chances to kill time. Don’t count working hours too much because working in a distributed team you have to get yourself prepared for issues/bugs/requests anytime. But also it is a very good welfare that you can work remotely because you can work even from your living room and you can take sleep sometimes if no urgent issues.

b.    Team spirit.

Due to team budget, we can’t travel to other office to meet each other face to face. Sometimes I might feel very down suddenly when I realize that I am working alone from China. This feeling is very terrible and I might have idea to have a job change.

My way to overcome this:

During time slot, I chat with my team members for a while about entertainment, learning local languages, etc. In this way I can sync up with them just like we were in the same office and were talking in office canteen. Last year I also had personal vacation to India and enjoyed my vacation there.

My suggestion here:

The company should give some budget for team travelling at least once every year. It is not for any technical issues but just to ensure team members from a distributed tam can see each other annually. For example, this year it can choose City A as the destination while next year it can change to City B.

 

                 Overall, I am very comfortable to work with such a distributed team.
3. What have been the key factors to ensure successful collaboration in your distributed team? (processes, competences, values, behaviour, habits, tools etc)
    1. Define the processes. Our build/install automated flow has to be run overnight for couple of days, we have to incorporate the helps from other offices so every day before we go offline we will send out status email and hand over the work to other team members in other time zone. In the email we will brief our status and todo list.
    2. Every member in a distributed team should have a cell phone from that they can check emails regularly and also could be able to connect to IM from phone. This is very critical to ensure that team members can response very quickly – this is not a kind of sacrifice but it is a kind of compensation from team members to the company as the company also gives its team members enough trust and time to get a better work & life balance.
    3. Responsible, good in communication, and high self autonomous. Working in a distributed team means you have to do work hand over via email or phone but not communicate face to face. You have to be good at communication, at least, have skills to make your email clear and hit the points. Be responsible, the working day is not end after you send out the hand over email. We are not in the same office, if you are disappeared just after sending out the mail then supposed that people from other office hits issues and needs your input in urgent?
4. Please describe leadership in your team (who is perceived as the leader(s), how actively is he/she involved etc)
5. Please describe an ideal leader of a distributed team? (competences, values, behaviour, habits etc)
    1. My manager trusts me. We enjoy high trust between each other. He never question me where am I and what am I doing? He gives me the most independence as he can and does his best to make me feel comfortable. For example if I have to on leave for half a day in urgent, I just need to give him a call or ping me via IM. And I am also no need to submit leave application via our HR system because my manager will reject that as he says ‘I know you work hard during weekend and nights sometimes, so pls. just regard this leave as compensation’. In a distributed team, neither of manager or employee himself should count working hours too much as in such a team flexible working hours should be adopted. As a manager, should not question his employees’ questions like, where are you? What are you doing? Or ‘I am not able to contact you’, etc.
    2. My manager gives me enough challenge. By providing employees enough challenge, managers can keep their team members focus on their work otherwise they may get used to their work and get bored without inspiration. Take me as example, my manager always knows when he should give me new challenge and this kinds of new challenges can make me feel fresh in the team. This is also a way to feel the team spirit.