Remote working in a time of blight

Dariusz Hryciuk
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17 kwietnia 2020

We have all witnessed how the world has changed in a matter of weeks. The pandemic has forced all employers and employees - to change the form and tools of performing daily activities. Many people are forced to work remotely.

For IT people, this is not an insurmountable barrier. It seems that the programmer, tester, analyst, manager and other participants in agile methodologies who work on software development are familiar with remote work. Many IT companies provide this opportunity. There are also those who have been doing it constantly for a long time.

I have been a tester for many years. I work in international projects, so basically a distributed team is constantly remote for each other. But I haven't had to deal with working remotely for as long as I did in my viral days. On the day I am writing this text, a month has already passed. To my surprise, I am not yet lighting a fire with flints and talking to Wilson. But the challenge is not easy.

How to cope in this difficult time? I gathered some of my own experiences that I wanted to share. This will be a handful of professional, but also personal thoughts.

Beware of information overload!

Let me start by saying that I realized that in the early stages of the pandemic I had some sort of inner compulsion to be well informed. I read the news, watched reports, and regularly followed the statistics of the disease. The growth curve was and still is frightening. Journalists raced to conquer the atmosphere. Now, inundated with a flood of contradictory and frightening information, I began to think of this virus almost as an alien that, like a Predator, rushes at my throat and attacks everything that moves. People everywhere are already wearing masks and gloves, because the virus attacks from the air and in the saliva of the coughing public. Entering a store is like trying to get into some fancy club - a bouncer stands at the door and keeps watch. In front of the building a long line of sad people. People get fines for riding a bicycle or walking even alone. After all, a stranger can attack even while walking. No one knows how! There is a ban on entering the forest - because what? A stranger lives in the moss and you can get infected too? I don't know. All this can genuinely lead to paranoia. I don't want to be on the news anymore! I've noticed that the news affects me very negatively. I lose motivation, I don't know the meaning in my work. I waste time searching for new news. It is destructive.The solution to this is one - information self-isolation. I put my phone away so that I don't have it at hand. The sound is to the max, so I don't miss calls. But I don't catch myself adding another assertion to the test case anymore, suddenly landing and reading about the alleged causes of the virus.

Forget that you work from home

The second observation is the result of self-observation of how I work "remotely." The morning is much harder than in the office. It takes much longer to start up the psyche and body at home. There are more distractions and household chores that delay the start. My way of doing things myself is "don't slow down or you won't speed up again." I give Scout's word that I haven't watched a single series on Netflix in the last month. I didn't buy a console or any game to eat up time and get lazy. After a marathon of a game, TV series or anything else that is enjoyable but lazy, it's probably that very, very hard to get back to focusing on your professional work. That's why, consciously and strategically, as a way to myself, I take up every possible professional activity in the company: I do additional training, attend and conduct webinars, read documentation I previously didn't even want to move a stick, refactor my code, volunteer to join code review of other team members, add enhancements to the framework that I previously only thought of as nice to have, eagerly provoke retro discussions, and suddenly I have a mass of insights that need to be thoroughly debated All just to stay up to speed.

Man, learn for yourself

The fact is that many of us have more time in the home office than in the office anyway. What then? My way is self-learning. There are many e-learning platforms. Some offer excellent training courses and tutorials. It's a convenient time to increase your technical skills in the profession. It's also a way to "not slow down." However, self-study is not such an easy thing either. I caution against "consuming a whole lot of tutorials." I define consumption as watching videos of how others do it. Mostly, then, a conviction is born that it is quite trivial and obvious, which leads to self-certification and a master's title in a particular field. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many times I caught myself when I tried to do the same thing myself, already at the stage of installation and configuration the first problems appeared. And it is solving such problems that is the real knowledge. Now I don't even waste time "consuming training" anymore. If I already really want to invest in something, I do everything myself according to the instructions. The project, along with my notes, goes to a private remote repo on gitHub, for example. Sure enough, in a month's time I forget many details. Then the files on gitHub save the situation.

VPN - essential for work

Another observation of mine concerns VPNs. If the work culture in a company is high, employees have a VPN at their disposal, so that even at home they can access company resources in the same way as in the office. In practice, things are sometimes different. It happened that the client I worked for did not have this functionality at all or had it configured incorrectly. Then on the home office I have access only to mail and maybe to instant messaging, but already working on the database or access to servers with licenses to the necessary software is impossible. My professional productivity is severely limited. I can probably participate in communications, read documentation, plan and participate in scrum ceremonies, but already hard work on code is impossible. It seems that from the employee's point of view it is important to make sure that you have remote access to the company's tools and resources. Sometimes you have to take a moment to request a new virtual machine and its configuration, but the benefits will be felt at home. From the point of view of the employer and business owner, the investment in such solutions thanks to the pandemic has even become mandatory.

New reality requires new tools

On the prolonged remote consolidate my preference for communication tools. I don't want to do advertising for specific manufacturers, but I find with surprise that the well-known and paid communicators perform quite poorly. My positive surprise of recent weeks is Microsoft Teams (well, I failed not to mention specific manufacturers, but this is not an advertisement but a substantive analysis). This tool has a ton of useful capabilities, it holds the link well, I did not reach the limits of participants in large meetings.

In conditions of working from home, you can also see more clearly the advantages of tools that allow multiple users to create and edit documents at the same time. This is a much more efficient way of working than sending files to each other through the mail. So-called "gDocks" are a solution for, for example, business analysts who share documentation, review and expand business content together with others.

Compromise, or one of the components of home office

Home office is a logistical challenge especially for those who have a family and children. It's really hard to set up the hierarchy of class inheritance in a soluuon when my own 6-year-old heir is asking me for another round of indie play. When the kindergartens have been out of work for a few weeks, and the apartment became an office for my wife and me, a playroom and a backyard for the baby, I was very relieved to learn that the staff of my child's kindergarten started remote teaching. They found a free tool for simultaneous communication between the children and the teacher, where tasks can be published, solved and progress tracked. The children get a productive occupation for a few hours and those few hours of peace and quiet are a treasure. All that is required of employees of educational institutions is openness, curiosity and willingness to look for new paths to reach the student. I'm sure it's possible, even in times of blight, you just have to take advantage of what the World Wide Web offers.

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