Pros and Cons of Working Remotely: A LiveChat Case Study
Two weeks have passed since the LiveChat, ChatBot, and HelpDesk team began to work remotely. It’s a completely new experience for us because, until recently, we only worked in the office. We strongly believe in teamwork and like all the random conversations that happen in our open-office space. They often lead to great ideas.
However, recently, for safety reasons, we started to work from home. I mentioned in my previous article that we work in SCRUM and use Jira to track our workflow. It made it easy for us to make that transition and leave our office entirely in less than 24 hours.
Now, I’ve gathered feedback from the team on what we like, what challenges we encounter, and what we still need to learn. It’s a great test for us as a team, and we encourage you to learn with us.
We organize meetings whenever it is convenient
With remote work, there’s no need to book a conference room. Why is that a thing? We have five conference rooms at LiveChat (Sputnik, Apollo, Falcon, Curiosity, Voyager). Anyone can reserve them to hold a meeting. However, with so many projects going on, they need to be booked in advance. No such problem exists online. We just create a link in Google Hangouts, and everyone can join.
Everyone is on time for meetings
When we were in the office, people being late to meetings would happen every now and then, and sometimes it was out of our control. With remote work, it’s not cool or nice to be late.
After all, it’s not like you were standing in line to make yourself a coffee or that someone with an urgent issue stopped you on your way to the meeting. Unless your previous call ran longer than expected, you just pause notifications on Slack and join the teleconference. Also, with remote work, there’s still a need to prove to everybody that you’re out there actually working: you’re not watching TV. So, being late doesn’t really happen, and we’re all happy about that.
Conducting meetings in Google Hangouts Meet and Zoom is easy
Before switching to remote work, we used Slack for calls, but now, we’re amazed by the quality of Google Hangouts Meet. Sometimes we conduct a meeting with 50 people: for example, during our demos every two weeks. The quality is awesome. Additionally, the option of “present now” when we share our screens is very useful and intuitive.
We will learn not to interrupt each other (right?)
You know how sometimes discussions can heat up with a lot of people in the room? It happens, especially with passionate people talking about projects they care about. Being online makes us much more patient because interrupting other people during a teleconference is more glaring than in an in-person meeting. Not only you do not hear each other very well, but there’s more confusion. That’s why everyone is more calm, and we speak our minds in a more balanced and productive way. Also, when someone is presenting, other people write questions in the available chat, and that’s useful as well.
You can do a lot of useful things when you’re stuck in traffic, like responding on Slack (if you use public transportation) or listening to awesome podcasts when you’re driving. However, there are many benefits of not having to go to the office that people appreciate more than morning self-development. They have more time to sleep (much appreciated when you have kids) and more time to spend with their family. Time is priceless and, once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back. Saving time on your commute might be the biggest personal benefit of remote work.
Peace and quiet for work that requires focus
People appreciate the peace and quiet they have at their home. With an open-office space, it’s hard to find a place like that. For work that you need to really focus on, peace is essential. It also allows you to do more work faster because there are no distractions. However, peace and quiet can be both pros and cons.
If it lasts too long, it can be a problem for many people. And for those people who have kids, it can be harder to find it. I have more about this in the cons section.
I put it in the pros list because we already have seen that we need to improve our asynchronous communication, and it’s a good thing. It means our tasks will have better descriptions, and we will improve our writing skills. Overall, our communication should be more efficient when we go back to the office.
What’s happening now is that we’ve noticed that people respond to Slack messages faster than if they were at the office. It might be because they’re still in the phase of proving to others that they’re actually working. However, being interrupted frequently by messages can cause a decrease in productivity. That’s why every team should come up with rules that work the best for them and accept asynchronous communication as an important part of working remotely.
We join different projects because all of them happen online
One of our team members noticed that it’s now easier to be part of projects we wouldn’t normally follow on a regular basis. There are more discussions on Slack now regarding various projects, so if we want to participate, we add questions and follow the thread. We go back to it whenever we want, and we’re up to date. More people are involved in a project, and there’s no need for everyone to be present at the same time.
We feel trusted and want to prove that we can deliver, so we work even harder
We’re happy that we don’t have to choose between our health and work during the coronavirus crisis. Obviously, the nature of our businesses made it easier to switch to remote work, but the final decision always belongs to the bosses. Ours trusted us, and now we all want to prove we can handle it and do our work like normal. Naturally, not every day is the same. Some of them are full of energy and efficiency, and some are more difficult and filled with anxiety about our families and the world in general.
That’s why hearing comforting words from our CEO, Mariusz Cieply, that our business is safe and we’re strong as a team, was a big boost for us. Here’s part of the message we received after one week of working remotely:
I just wanted to let you know how proud I feel when I see how quickly we switched to remote work and how we have operated during that time. I can see that we make progress every single day. The performance of the business has not changed, and our business goes as usual. Thank you! We’re stronger than ever!Mariusz Cieply, CEO at LiveChat
We have lunches with teammates who are overseas
Friday is a pizza day at LiveChat! We always gather together and talk about how we’re soon never going on a diet while licking our fingers and eating the best pizza in Wroclaw. With the quarantine, our Sales Director, Alex, who lives in Boston, organized a team lunch. For him it was breakfast, but we all know how good yesterday’s pizza can be. This time we used Zoom, and we enjoyed seeing each other's faces. As you can see, we also explored the background feature it offers. Fun!
People from various departments joined and, to be honest, I don’t think this discussion would’ve happened in real life because we usually meet within our own team.
What cons did we encounter during our first weeks of working remotely?
A lot of typing
We all type pretty fast (the Typing Speed Test was a popular break activity at work when it first came out). But when you have a lot of issues to handle during your day, typing makes it seem longer and more tiring. Explaining some issues on Slack takes forever, while in real life you just go to the person, talk for a few minutes, and everything is clear.
However, that’s something we need to get better at. There are many tools that can help with this. Not only using Meet for calls, but also using Discord or TeamSpeak has benefits. Our teammate, Michal Cichocki, recommended TeamSpeak:
If you work with someone and you need to discuss many issues during your shift, it’s easier to just connect to the channel and spend a few hours there, talking from time to time, instead of making a call through Slack or Meet each time.Michal Cichocki, Developer Relations
It’s hard to work with kids at home
Having an infant means there are always sounds around the house. Whether these are delightful laughs making you want to play with a kid, or wailing cries making you want to run back to the office, it’s all a distraction. Assuming you have another person taking care of the kids while you’re working remotely, good headphones should do the trick. However, with older kids, it’s hard to explain that mom or dad is busy coding and not playing an awesome game on the computer. Finding a separate place to work is crucial. That’s how you set up boundaries. Have patience guys!
Sometimes it’s too quiet
For those who don’t have kids, live alone, or simply need others around them to thrive, working from home is simply too boring and too quiet sometimes. They miss people, daily contact, and being surrounded by good energy. I’m not convinced that teleconferencing makes up for that for them because it is much less dynamic. Working from home is simply not for everybody. That’s why, before the quarantine, co-working spaces were so popular. People like to be surrounded by others.
If you miss having normal office noise in the background, we recommend Noisli, which allows you to chose different sounds to help improve your focus.
Using Slack is harder from home
Some people have said that they feel pressure to always be available and respond immediately on Slack. They didn’t have to do that at the office. This is definitely related to the fact that we didn’t have remote work before, and we want to show everyone that we’re online. I believe this will change after a while, and everyone will find the right balance to both respond to others and do work that requires concentration.
Some of us have already created some ground rules. They have a few hours of focused work in the early morning, then they respond on Slack and join meetings. Later, if they still need to concentrate, they adjust their notifications to only see direct mentions. You can definitely plan your day according to the work you do and how much your team needs you. Test it out, and find your own balance.
We miss each other!
We simply miss each other’s smiley faces, random conversations during lunch, lousy jokes, and the cakes we bake on a regular basis for the whole team. For now, we’re excited whenever we see each other on our screens!
Learning to work remotely
In these tough times, some people lose their morale, don’t feel the motivation to work, and change their outlook on life. Judging remote work right now, might be misleading.
Many of us assume that if we have laptops and the internet, then nothing will change. In fact, a lot has changed, and we need to adjust to the new reality we find ourselves in. Small things, like having a separate room for work, a suitable chair and monitor, or the fact that you’re easily distracted by your cat or a load of laundry, influence your mood, motivation, and outlook at work.
Don’t expect to be super efficient after one or two weeks, but try different things in order to be less distracted and more focused every day.
Whenever you lack the motivation to work, help others. It feels good. Help whoever you can. Start with your neighbors and do the grocery shopping for them, or help small businesses who offer vouchers to be redeemed later. You can also support initiatives that help hospitals and medical professionals do their job. Additionally, it’s a great time to start an online course, learn a new skill, or to read a book.
Don’t hesitate to call your teammates, friends, and family on camera! Play online games, eat dinner together, and stay safe together, at home.