Multiple Authors
13. December 2020
11 min

Advent Calendar: Remote working and Home Office

Third week of the advent calendar.This week its about working from home, remote working and keeping a healthy mind while still reaching your results you want to reach.

Its already the third advent sunday, and especially this year I think time flies before christmas. 2020 was (and still is) an extreme year with lots of challenges. But one thing, that at least for me changed like nothing else is the topic Remote Work and Work from Home. Don’t get me wrong, Novatec always had a very easy Home Office policy – Stay at home and work from there if you want. I never had to ask for permissions and could work from home whenever I wanted to. And I used this before this year. But 2020 changed the way I, and a lot of others , work. Even my mother, who works as an Kindergardener, now had to do home office and work from home, doing organizational stuff and assisting her colleagues, who where still allowed to work in the Kindergarden.

And as far as I can predict the future, the start of 2021 will not change this. So I decided to talk to colleagues of mine, how they handle being locked in their homes and what they do to communicate with their colleagues. Besides the well known tools, like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Jira, some more interesting approaches where suggested, so here is a list with tips, tricks and some food for thought.

Mural (by Ariane Kraus)

Honestly, I only learned about Mural two months ago through a seminar in entrepreneurship. We were groups of 5 to 6 people and supposed to work out things like a spark canvas. No, I also never heard of this term before.
It’s a little bit as if you would work on a single huge power point slide together with others.
You can drag and drop things around, insert pictures and icons as well as text fields or notes and you’re also able to see the cursor of the others.
The tool is web-based, so there is no need to download anything and I personally think it runs pretty smoth.
If you put in a little effort, you’re more or less able to prepare what you would usually have your seminar participants do on a whiteboard or flipchart.
So how does it work? Well, I as a participant simply got a link to the board. Upon entering I could either choose or use the autogenerated one which made others see my cursor as ‘Visiting fish’. At least I had fun inserting huge icons and having others ask ‘what is this fish doing there?’.
The board itself belonged to the seminar lead. So while it was free for me, he is either having a subscription or was using the free trial.
So depending on your use-case, trying it out might be worth it. I think for something like a seminar or retro it is useful and also fun. On the other hand, I don’t need it in my everyday work as I usually only talk to or phone people and if we collaborately work on something it is usually some kind of document or a power point.
If I would end up having a use case and buying a substricption, I would probably share that one with my colleagues since the owner doesn’t need to be active for others to use the board. He likely has more possibilities like putting in a background, but one can do that beforehand.

Jitsi (by Ariane Kraus)

Jitsy is one of many tools for video calls where you can see each other, talk, share and let others control your screen. The difference to all those other tools you probably already use is that Jitsi is solely web-based and doesn’t require you to register an account. At least as long as you are less than 50 participants.
So for those who do not want to download anything or register jitsi might be an alternative to try out.
I usually use zoom or teams for my everyday meetings at work. But my friends don’t so we use jisti for those occasions. In these groups with up to 8 people it worked quite well and there was nothing I could complain about.
I also heard that it is in some schools used for only lectures. Wether or not this is a good thing is probably up to you and depends on your or your kids experience.

Gather (by Ariane Kraus)

A little different is gather which in addition to being a tool for video calls also tries to put in some location feeling.
Gather is also completely web-based and you’re able to talk and and see each other.
As the name suggests, it’s not only about a collaborate meeting but also about gathering. You can create your own avatar and will be spawned in a room or so called space. From there on you can walk around, see others walking around and interact with some of the items in the room (or put your own items there) which might be embedded videos or websites. You can step on a portal to teleport yourself into a different room or step on stage to broadcast to everyone at the same time.
While you can see the avatars of others you can’t see and talk to them unless you’re close to each other.
Similary, you can have private areas within your room where you need to enter first before you can talk to those within.
If you want to try out, you’re able to create a space without registering but doing so will give you the possibility of more configurations and the option to use a paid plan.
You will need a paid plan if you want to have more than 25 people enter or use some functionalities like sharing your screen.
Currently, payment doesn’t work on a subscription base but is instead time and user based. You basically book a time slot and how many people your space you expect at a maximum. Sadly, paying afterward depending on how many people actually attended is not possible. However, according to their FAQ you could exceed the maximum amount of people even during your time slot, it will simple take a few minutes. I haven’t needed and didn’t try it yet, but it does sound fair in my opinion.
So what do we use it for? Well, now in christmas time we usually have team gatherings in the evening were we cook, eat or would go to a christmas market for some wine. Well, we can’t have that right now so we meet online.
Since we are quite a lot of people we can’t have everyone in the same call since a casual talk would get difficult. We were thinking about breakout-rooms to split the large group into smaller ones but then we always have the same small group or a hard cut once the rooms are mixed new.
Gather allows a smoother flow in that sense since everyone can decide on their own where they have their avatar running around.
With the pixel style it also puts a little fun into it. I think I will try putting TVs everywhere with some strange video embedded 😉 Just to see how it goes.

Objectives and Key Results methodology (by Elena Schatz)

Since working remotely became a new normal, it is essential to keep distributed teams focused and to bring clarity to what a company chooses to work on. The Objectives and Key Results (or OKR) methodology provides an agile way for teams to stay aligned and see the progress toward common goals even if everyone works from home. Objectives define what is to be achieved. Being short, concrete and ideally inspirational, they have to be set every month or every quarter. The department, team or even personal objectives must support or contribute the top company goals. The key results at the same time should make it possible to monitor and measure the progress of fulfilling the chosen objective. For this reason, they have to be specific and quantifiable. Each objective usually has two to five key results.
Special OKR tools can help with implementing the OKR framework successfully by achieving the necessary level of transparency across all the teams. For example, if you are using Jira for your projects company-wide, a plugin OKR Board would be a natural choice. Its features include:

  • creating company, group and personal OKRs
  • setting key results
  • linking Jira Epics or Issues to auto-track progress of OKRs
  • backlog for future OKRs
  • choosing your own period for tracking of an OKR (e.g. Annual, Quarter, etc.)

Using the tool provides easy access to all of the OKRs within a company, allows to easily update key results and generally ensures that everyone is moving in the same direction.

Spaceship you (by Corvin Schapöhler)

I am sometimes a “One Book Expert” – reading one book, or watching one video, gathering the information from there and then behaving like the biggest expert with the most knowledge there is. Its a bad habit, and I try to work on it as much as possible. When the topic “Working from Home” started, and when I started reducing my contacts and staying inside my home, I started reading studies and watching videos about mental health in such an environment. One that burned itself into my mind is the following (I hope the embedded video works, else click the link):

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TLDR: For your mental health it is important to separate different areas in your mind as well as physically:

  1. Exercise
    This is a space to work out and do sports. The reason is simple, before a lookdown, you went out, maybe to your football club or a fitness studio or something. Since this is gone, it is important to keep your physical health as well as you mental health. Your job can be to maximize this, or at least do a little bit more then just the survival. I personally started with a small wake up routine by just stretching, then added some walks outside and riding my bike to work / visits of my parents (to reduce people i meet in the trains), and then (transparency is also important) stopped that and while writing this post remembered myself to do something about this.
  2. Sleep
    A place where you sleep, and nothing else. A lot of studies proof, that an unhealthy and irregular sleep schedule leads to unhealthy minds, that stop you in your journey in this lookdown. So try to keep a healthy sleep schedule and don’t keep your mind occupied with videos in you bed. I generally have a solid sleep schedule, so this was no big problem for me. And even before the lookdown, i usually didn’t watch Youtube in bed. When not tired, i read a book or get up and go into my next space until I’m tired.
  3. Recreation
    This place is for breaks, for example playing a video game or watching a movie. To keep yourself from overusing this space, it is a good idea to limit access to it. BUT whenever you feel like doing nothing, use this space to use your time. It really helps actively thinking about it. For me this already reduced the time I spent in recreation, and increase time in the final space
  4. Creation
    This is where I do my work from home as well as learning new skill. I started knitting again, to keep my mind busy and reduce recreation time. To get this space productive, it is important to focus on creation. Don’t eat here, don’t watch the funny video you want to see. Use your recreation space.

For me keeping this separation in mind helped with getting in a mindset. When I sit down in my Creation area, I usually don’t think about watching Youtube videos or such things. And when I do, I get up, sit on my couch and count that as recreation. I don’t think everyone can work like this and I think that other might have a better way, but if you feel like you start drifting and your “core” starts draining, this might help you. Also, don’t overthink everything. Not learning a new skill in a pandemic where you have lots of time might sound like a waste of time, but you have a lot in your mind, with the pandemic itself, so it’s totally fine not to be as productive as without a pandemic.

Initially I didn’t want to include mental health as a topic, since these posts are about tools and tricks and tips, and usually not as “heavy” as this topic is. But Ariane included a part in her drafts, that I think fits here and I don’t want to hide it from you.

Socializing (by Ariane Kraus)

Socializing with others is still important so I do think video calls with others is important. Both, from the point of collaboratively working but also from the point of asking how one another is doing.

So first thing: Once in a while having a video call simply about chitchat is just as nice and probably helps you in your daily work more than you think. Getting to know people, who you don’t have contact with every day, will help you to see an overview within your organization and how your and the work of each person contributes to a bigger picture. Knowing people also helps you to know in which topics someone is good. And you will need this type of information latest when you could use some help. At least for me, knowing people also results in me deciding a little earlier to simply ask for someones help, knowing it won’t bother them, and in the end save me time and stress. So while you might have been working with your team for some time and already know everyone, there are also those who just started recently. Without a personal onboarding or having lunch and coffee together it just became even more difficult to get to know the whole team and each’s work.

This being said, I work in a team were everyone turns on their video cameras. I honestly got used to this and while I got on-boarded into a new project recently I just turned on my camera in every call. Somewhere in the beginning I had a call with a colleague and a customer. I naturally went in with my camera already turned on and everyone else did just as well. After the call, my colleague told me he only turned on his camera because I did and he never did before – even tough he always does in internal calls. Upon asking why, it turned out this was never done by anyone when he joined the project. Apparently, he has been talking to said customer regularly for almost 1,5 years and this was the first time he saw his face.
Turning on your camera and microphone makes a huge difference. I don’t say turn on your microphone all the time when someone is talking right behind your back or sneeze into it. And I know some people simply don’t feel comfortable turning the camera on first as you might keep being the only one.
But even so, when I have my camera turned on people can tell me when I’m still muted while talking (which actually happens more often than you think). If someone says something you can’t get the non-verbal communication without seeing him. Know those funny people who make hard to get jokes? Realizing it’s a joke is even harder without seeing him. And being the one who makes a joke without seeing or hearing anyone laugh afterward is simply frustrating. I don’t know about you, but if I’m muted I don’t un-mute before I start laughing. Or how about those who don’t always ask when something is unclear but you would usually see them with a big question mark on their face and explain again anyway? And what about this new colleague who recently joined and has been working for weeks in the team and has never seen anyone’s face? You might pass each other in the supermarket and would never realize.
But I can’t be all blame. I don’t always turn on my camera either. I also walk into the kitchen to get some water during a call and I turn it off for this. I have days when I’m grumpy and don’t want to see anyone least having anyone see me. And I also don’t turn on the camera when I know I’m in a call with 10 people for two hours and nobody else will turn it on – as I don’t want to be the only one.
But I will do it slow 😉 I will turn the camera on when it’s just the two of us… and you will feel the need to do so as well at some point… and once I got you to always turn your camera on I will continue when it’s the two of us a third person…. and at some point he will feel the need to do so as well…
This is honestly a culture topic. But we will get there eventually 😉

Further Remarks

I know, remote work is an extremely difficult topic, especially in a pandemic. I hope the tools, tips and tricks help you in your journey in the rest of this pandemic. Let’s all hope this ends soon, and grabbing a cup of coffee with your colleagues is not some weird idea but a usual occurrence. And maybe, working from home is here to stay for some of us, who really enjoy it and we all learn how to deal with this. Finally, I want to bring attention to another colleague of mine, who unfortunately could not write a whole paragraph, but did write some posts earlier this year: Linda Kiesnere. Have a look into her Blog posts, that helped me with my adventure in the full home office world.

Last but not least, after three weeks of this advent calendar, I think its time for a less serious and more funny topic. So next week there will be a collection of gimicky toys and tools. 

We wish you a nice third advent sunday. Stay safe and stay healthy.

Authors

Mural, Jitsi, Gather – Ariane Kraus
Objectives and Key Results methodology – Elena Schatz
Spaceship You – Corvin Schapöhler and Ariane Kraus

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