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5 Tips for remote work and home office

#FlattenTheCurve - off to home office

It is an exceptional situation for all of us: due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the rapid developments, we are now increasingly called upon to take protective measures and avoid social contacts as far as possible. Events are cancelled, trips are postponed, companies ask their employees to work from home. Over night, a remote culture has to be introduced. Working from home, in distributed teams - how does that work?
For many companies, this now means an additional challenge: how do I organize a team that works completely remotely?

Articles and recommendations on remote work, home office and teleworking are currently circulating everywhere. GitLab is certainly a pioneer in this area and has recently published a detailed manual on remote working. We highly recommend this manual to anyone who is now facing the challenge of setting up and managing a remote team.
At OpenProject we have already been working in distributed teams for over 10 years. Of course, personal meetings are important, but with some discipline they can be kept to a minimum. Given the critical situation, it is necessary that we all do our part. Therefore, we would like to share our experiences and tips on remote work with you.

Working from home - how does it work?

Working from home, in your home office, requires a certain amount of discipline. But with a few tips it can be put into practice relatively easily.

1. Data security and data privacy - also and especially at home.

Data protection and the security and privacy of customer and company data not only have top priority when working in the office but also when working from home. Make sure again that all employees' hard drives are encrypted, that data or passwords are not externally stored (or written down) somewhere. Access to external applications should always be secured by a second factor. Most services offer a second authentication via SMS or an app. Make sure that e-mails with sensitive data are always sent encrypted (we use e.g. GPG). Access to sensitive services must be additionally secured and access should only be possible via a VPN from outside the company network.
Never leave your workplace without locking your computer. Make your employees and colleagues specifically aware of data protection and security.

2. Set up at home: a fixed workplace, good hardware and fast Internet.

The basic requirement for remote working are good hardware and a fast Internet connection at home. Don't skimp on a high-quality and high-resolution external monitor, a very good headset, a camera.
Are there other family members in the house or apartment during the day? If there is no separate room, you might be able to set up your workplace a little further away from the main activities. It is also important that you communicate clearly to the people present at what time you need to be undisturbed at home.

3. Establish processes and meetings.

Communication is especially important in distributed teams. I will share some insights about processes that can be implemented quickly and easily with great effect.  At OpenProject we implemented fixed processes and routines a long time ago. Meetings run according to the scaling up methodology, which we successfully introduced in the company over five years ago.

Daily coordination meetings with the team

Once a day, five days a week, we have a fixed team meeting ("Daily stand up"). Important: Don't forget a meeting invite for all participants.
The appointment enables a close and direct exchange within the team (despite distributed work places) and serves to keep up to date. Important topics are addressed, but there are no discussions held during this meeting. If necessary, follow-up meetings or calls will be scheduled.
The meeting always follows the same agenda, briefly and concisely. We take turns in the team, everyone briefs quickly:

First, what's new?
What is relevant for the team? Are there changes, progress, new decisions, important dates, etc.? Really only focus on the news. It is not about telling what everyone is working on at the moment.

2. my core priority?
What is the most important thing I want to achieve today?

3. where do I need support?
Am I stuck somewhere? Do I need input, support from the team?

4. key performance indicators (KPIs)
We briefly report the current status of our KPIs.

Weekly meetings

Once a week there is a more detailed meeting - for us always on Fridays. This meeting also always follows the same agenda:

1. good news (5 minutes)
What's the good news this week? New customers? Progress in the projects? Exciting developments? We share all the good news with the team for five minutes.

2. project status and key priorities for the quarter (10 minutes)
Everyone briefly reports the status of their core priorities, or quarterly target, and gives an outlook for the coming week. What progress has been made this week? Where do I want to be next week?

3. feedback from customers and colleagues (5 minutes)
What do our customers report? What positive and also negative experiences have we made this week? What can we learn from our customers?
But there is also a mutual appreciation within the team: What have individual employees done particularly well this week? Who do we want to thank? In this context, we also highlight if someone has made a special effort with regard to our corporate values.

4. what bothers me? ("culture of argument") (5 minutes)
Is there something bothering me? Be it the "coming in late" of a colleague, the boss's snotty answer or the still missing feedback from the customer. Everyone is allowed to unload everything. But, very important: There will be discussions and suggestions until we can all say: "Yes, we are all fine now!

5. discussion of a topic (30 - 60 minutes)
This point is optional and only takes place if we have agreed (in advance) on a common topic that we want to discuss in the team. Often this is based on our quarterly targets: Presentation of interim results or development status, coordination of requirements, prioritization of new topics, overall process topics, etc.

6. WWW (Who, What, When) - clarification of responsibilities (5 minutes)
Very simple: Who does what by when? And important: Creating tasks in tickets for tracking in OpenProject.

7. a final sentence ("One phrase close")
A motivating sentence at the end. My motto for today. What moves me?

In addition to this, we will of course also arrange further coordination meetings as required. The important thing is: We try to keep the number of participants at meetings as small as possible

4. The right tools for remote working and home office.

Of course we use OpenProject for task management and project management. What could we imagine better than working with our own software and seeing what we need to improve every day?

Web-based project management and team collaboration

What do we do with OpenProject?

OpenProject supports us significantly in remote work. With OpenProject, companies have secure access to important information from anywhere: projects, schedules, requirements, milestones, tasks, deadlines, protocols, documentation and the overview of the current status and priorities - all in one system.
Here is a brief overview of what we map in OpenProject.

Planning our development roadmap.
Definition, estimation, prioritization of requirements (epics, features).
Creating, assigning and tracking tasks.
Prioritization of topics in agile Kanban Boards.
File exchange (as an attachment of work packages).
Creation and documentation of schedules (agendas and protocols).
Forum for exchange with customers.
Wiki for process documentation.
Time recording on individual work packages for billing customers.
Project management, including project planning and project status.

What we do not do with OpenProject?
We have a few more tools that we are using in addition, which we would like to recommend here:

Source Code Management

Although OpenProject has an integrated source code management, there are0 better solutions. We use GitHub (an alternative would be GitLab). We have a Github integration in OpenProject. With this you create a pull request in Github and can link it directly to a work package in OpenProject.

Document Management

OpenProject is not a document management system. It is great for inserting attachments to tasks and other work packages, but not for collaborative work on documents. We use Google Docs and Google Drive for this. Currently, we are evaluating open source alternatives, Seafile might even be closer integrated into OpenProject in the future. What do you think?

Chat

An additional team chat is helpful for remote teams. At the moment we still use Slack to quickly communicate with employees and colleagues (an open source alternative would be RocketChat which we are currently evaluating for us). We have created different channels for different topics, so that everyone only gets the information they need.

Web meetings

For our meetings we use Whereby: digital meeting rooms and screen sharing. Runs directly in the browser without any installation of additional software. Happy to get any open source alternatives. Currently, we are testing Jitsi as an open source alternative.

Calendar

We maintain our calendars and share them with everyone. Everyone can see when which employee is available. Appointments are set and accepted or cancelled. Availability (days and time) (especially for part-time employees) and also holidays or absences are maintained in the calendar. We use Google calendar for this purpose. Also, we are currently evaluation any good open source alternative. Happy to exchange ideas and thoughts on this topic.

Customer meetings

For longer meetings with customers we use Zoom. Good picture and sound quality, recordings possible, screen sharing. An additional app must be installed for this. Same here, we still haven't found a good open source alternative. Let us know what you think!

5. Discipline

It sounds easier said than done: remote work requires more discipline. On the one hand, there is more distraction, but on the other hand, this also tempts you to be available without interruption. The best thing to do is to set up rules with your team that apply to everyone: Are there fixed working hours or do we allow flexible time management? What is each one's availability? For this, you enter your availability directly into the shared calendar. Appointments are always - and indeed always - accepted or cancelled. We never keep anyone waiting and arrive on time for a (web-based) meeting.

I hope I was able to give you some suggestions and help you set up a remote team. Feel free to contact me for an exchange and further tips and recommendations around the topic of home office and remote working.

My closing phrase: "I am convinced that if we all participate and are willing to reduce our social contacts to an absolute minimum for some time, we will be able to avert the worst!

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