2020 is undoubtedly a very turbulent year. Unless you have been living in a cave or on an island isolated from the rest of the world, you already know that a global pandemic stopped the planet. But the fact that people had to be confined at home does not mean that in many cases they could stop working. Hence, most companies chose to adapt to working remotely. And this is not always easy.
We live in a society focused on face-to-face interactions, commuting to the workplace in the morning and returning home to sleep. Changing this system overnight may seem unthinkable. But it is clear that if the pandemic has helped anything it is to promote virtual contacts (because the other kind was prohibited or very restricted by lockdowns).
Education has continued with its highs and lows through online classes, including taking online exams. We have kept in touch with our loved ones through multiple video call apps. And the same has happened with those jobs perhaps erroneously called “non-essential” (go tell a worker who has to pay the expenses of his home, whether his work is essential or not…).
In any case, we all had to adapt to special circumstances. And each one has done the best they can or know. So today I am going to explain to you how we at Nelio adapted to working remotely.
Remote Work at Nelio
Without being fully aware of this, at Nelio we were prepared to work remotely from the beginning. Being a software development company where we do everything online, going from working in a central office to working each one of us in our homes has made little difference. However, there are several aspects worth to note.
There are many areas that are affected when working remotely, but we are going to focus on the three main ones for Nelio: communication between us, product development, and user support. Let’s see how we have managed each one in detail.
For communication between us we use Google Hangouts, both chat and video calls. During business hours we communicate synchronously by this means. Every time some of us needs something from the others, he or she sends a message and discusses it in group chat or in pairs in case it only concerns someone else.
If the discussion can be managed by voice more easily, we also make a video call without turning the camera on using Google Hangouts. The good thing about Google Hangouts is that it allows you to share the screen with others, something very useful when you want to discuss a code snippet or the design of a specific functionality. That we all can see the same thing together helps a lot.
In addition to this, we do weekly or biweekly follow-up meetings, depending on the number of topics to be discussed, and we keep track of the meeting notes using Google Drive documents, which we can all edit at the same time.
For asynchronous communication we have a shared Google Apps account with Nelio’s email accounts. In this way we all see the emails that reach us all. So if there is something urgent but someone else is not available at that time, any of us can reply.
On the other hand, for the management and assignment of tasks we use Trello, a board application in which we have assembled a very basic GTD system which helps us to see what each one is doing and what tasks are pending.
It is true that this way of operating is something that serves us since all three of us have the same level of responsibility in the company. The day we have to incorporate more people, we will have to study how to change it.
Part of our daily work consists of developing WordPress plugins and evolving the ones we already have for sale. We keep our code in private Git repositories in Bitbucket. Why Bitbucket and not GitHub? Well, when we started, only Bitbucket allowed us to have unlimited private repositories for free.
If you are developing code between several people, having a centralized repository in which to upload new contributions is the best thing you can do. Even if you are a single developer, it is worth to have the repository as an external backup. Also, it allows you to follow the changes that are being made, create new branches of code or return to a previous version.
In addition to this, projects in Bitbucket allow us to have a system of issues, where we can list pending tasks, bugs to fix, or future improvements to make. Thus, by combining these development issues with Trello we have a clear way of assigning tasks and completing them.
On the other hand, our premium plugins make use of cloud servers to work. The fact of not having these servers in the office helps a lot to make working remotely easier. We use both Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services. Therefore, as long as the planet continues to rotate we should not worry about the availability of our servers. If Google and Amazon fall, it is that the pandemic has passed to Apocalypse and, in that case, we will not care much about our code in the cloud.
For user help and communication we use Freshdesk, a support ticket system that works quite well. Every time a user contacts us through the forms on our website or through a specific email address, a new support ticket is automatically created in Freshdesk.
Depending on the specific question indicated on the ticket, David, Ruth, or I will answer it. This is a good way to keep asynchronous communication with users as orderly as possible. In addition, you can see for each ticket its state, when it was answered, or its category.
In addition to Freshdesk, we also often receive help requests through the comments on our website or through our social networks. In these cases, if the issue can be resolved quickly, we respond through the same channel through which we received the request for help. Otherwise we create a ticket ourselves manually in Freshdesk and we carry the communication there privately (very useful when someone has to pass sensitive information about a website or similar).
The New Normal is Here to Stay
The global pandemic is not something that will vanish quickly. For this reason, remote work is gathering new momentum and is even being legally regulated in many countries where it was not yet.
We have not had too much trouble adapting to working remotely all the time. We were prepared long before the pandemic to work this way without too much disruption. But of course, we are computer scientists…
Adapting to remote work can be as easy or difficult as you want. If your work does not require machinery or elaborations where being present is mandatory, working remotely can be an interesting option. And it may help with the work-family balance and reduce emissions due to mobility in cities. However, this way of working requires self-discipline that many will find difficult to get.
If you have the option of working remotely, I encourage you to give it a try. It is the only way to see if you adapt well or if it’s not for you. And don’t forget to tell us about your experience. Do you prefer to go to the office or do you work better working from home?