I love working from home. Since beginning of my software developer career when I was working as a freelancer I fell in love with this kind of work. I am the most creative and concentrated when I can make my own office set-up with light, music, snacks, coffee, turned off phones etc..
In order to have this kind of work possible, some prerequisites have to be met.
The most important thing in proper home office work setup is that company managers are open for this kind of work. Without this, it is almost impossible to make it work.
Goals oriented approach to work
Next prerequisite is expectations management. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of companies practicing employee management inherited from old manufacturing industry, where all people are required to be at work from 9 to 5 and the only measure of quality is how many extra hours some employee made. Those that work Saturdays and Sundays are the best.
Fortunately, there are companies with modern approach. In those companies, employees still work hard and work in average 8 hours a day, but everything else is completely different. The most important measure of work quality in this kind of companies is if goals are met.
Work tasks are assigned in small (weekly or bi-weekly) bursts and progress could be followed on a daily basis. All that matters is if work is done, and we all know that finished projects are paying our salaries.
Let’s put some more details around goals oriented approach. Typically, companies are organized into teams and there is a team leader. Team leader takes care about work that needs to be done in the team in a given period of time. He is responsible to split this entire work into actionable tasks and assign them to his team members. Once a week he has to sit with his entire team, put on the table tasks that have to be finished that week and assign them to each team member. Next week at the same meeting they first discuss what is finished, what is unfinished from last week and what was the experience or lessons learned.
This kind of team organization is best done if there is a tool like JIRA, Trello, Basecamp or similar used in everyday work. If you keep reading you will see tool recommendations later.
Important thing with this type of organization of work is that it gives freedom to team members, but also it asks responsibility from them for the given tasks. When I say freedom I think above all to freedom of how each member wants to work. In the office, at home, in the evening or morning, in cafe or in a park when weather is good.
Someone works better if he works 8 hours in a row, but someone gives better results if he splits the day in 4 runs of 2 hours with some other activities in between. Goal oriented approach removes the burden of thinking about different types of people from the team leader. It gives freedom to the people and if they are responsible people they will return the highest quality of work back. If they are not responsible, that will be easily discovered in those weekly meetings. Lazy people are easily uncovered and removed from the team, while good workers are awarded by freedom to balance their business and private life in the best way they like.
Some countries and companies require that work-time is logged everyday and that is completely fine with goals oriented approach. There should be tool used for this like Toggl, and people just have to clock in while they work.
When people are not all together in the office, we need to think differently about how we communicate. When we are all in the office, we can directly approach our colleagues and ask what we need. That is the most typical way of synchronous communication. But if we are not in the same room, city, country or even continent, we have to abandon synchronous way and switch to asynchronous as much as we can. In this approach we send message to the other party and she will answer when it is best time for her.
Of course, there are situations when we need direct communication and in that case we can schedule a meeting, but this has to be used very carefully. If we take care we will soon learn that most of the time we do not need direct talk – asynchronous way is just fine. For this purpose we can use plenty of tools. One that I like the most is Slack, but there are many others.
If we want to adopt goals oriented work, very important thing is how we communicate. If we require team members to be always available on chat, phone, email or wherever that is wrong. It is wrong because it creates pressure to the people to be always on and for serious work we all need time to concentrate. There was a research that showed that we need nearly 30 minutes to refocus after we get distracted. That is why we have to stick to asynchronous communication as much as possible.
Tools, tools, tools
In order to make our way of work possible and more fluent, we have to use different software tools and to experiment with new tools to try to improve things we already have in place. Some of the tools that I used and liked a lot are:
Slack – team communication tool that keeps us always up to date with everything that is going on. This is great replacement for emails that could be really annoying when it comes to the point that more people trying to communicate by CC-ing everyone about everything. We can have rooms for projects, private and misc things. Whatever is going on in company at the moment you can find it on Slack wherever you are. This is very important tool for home office.
JIRA – project management tool where all tasks are organized, assigned to employees, scheduled, and tracked during their entire lifetime. Anytime you can tell what some employee is working at the moment by just going into JIRA and looking into appropriate project. Also, you can see what are the project goals for the current weeks and how things are going. This saves a lot of time and prevents unnecessary meetings that tend to eat too many hours just for obtaining information about who is working what right now.
GitHub – (software development teams) in a typical software company code changes tool is absolutely necessary. GitHub is software as a Service Git repository for tracking all source code changes. This is also important for quality control, because you can see how some developer resolves problems, does he tries to take extra mile and finish his task in an elegant way, or he is just trying to get rid of it.
Confluence – This is knowledge base where all project documentation is written and regularly updated. In an agile team there is a lot of work going on and a lot of different programming languages, frameworks and tools are used, so knowledge base is very important to keep track of everything. This is also very important enabler of home office, because you don’t need to call coworker lately in the evening just to ask him something that is normally kept in knowledge base.
This was list of the most important tools, and I want to say that you can always find several alternatives for each of them. This is my set that works at the moment, but maybe in a few months I change some of them if I find something that works better. No matter what tools are used, important conclusion is that tools are important to keep communication in the team smooth and to justify goals oriented approach in a company.
There are plenty of benefits in adopting goals oriented approach and giving the freedom to employees. Companies are opening entirely new possibilities to employ talents from many different places. All of a sudden, they are not limited to search for people only in their city or area, but countrywide, across the continent or even worldwide. Another gain for the company could be savings on the office space rental. Let’s not forget smaller CO2 footprint of the companies allowing their employees to work from where they live, rather than commuting everyday.
From the other hand, better work-life balanced employees are happier, which leads to better performance at work. Because of that they are less times per year on a sick leave, so they provide more value to the company. Additionally, they are less likely to change the company, because they can not easily find another one with such a wonderful work conditions. We should not forget that less distracted employees are deeper focused on work tasks which influences their performance.
If you are still not convinced that this could work for your company, give it a try. Make a three months pilot period for everyone, or select the team that is most keen to try this way of work and see what results you are getting. Setup some measures, or simply survey people during this time to see what they have to say. Happy goals orienting!