Work from Home: The Art of Self-Motivation and Team Management

The coronavirus challenge has already changed our lives quite drastically, leaving most of us to cope with self-isolating, social distancing, and working from home. Although remote working is not a new concept in the software development world, it has never previously been a global trend. While most project managers spend time on calls, which can easily be done remotely without any compromise on efficiency, software engineers performing creative tasks such as coding and design may find it difficult to stay focused on work in the home-office environment. In this article, I would like to discuss the challenges of personal productivity and whether an elegant solution exists to help them through this challenging time of widespread quarantine.

Home-office Challenges

Remote work requires that employees possess several skills to remain productive. The most crucial attributes are the ability to maintain harsh self-discipline, manage time, prioritize tasks, handle distractions, and stay motivated. Ideally, remote workers need a quieter room in which no one can distract them from their daily roadmap. However, the COVID-19 pandemic means that we all have to adapt to other family members working from home or homeschooling in the same environment regardless of whether they have experience of remote working.

Working from home may be a challenge as the home has always been a place for relaxation, whereas an office is considered a dynamic and collaborative workspace that helps us focus on tasks. The home environment is full of distracting factors such as cats lying on keyboards and setting up equipment for kids’ remote classes. When staying focused becomes too difficult, there are no colleagues around to push you to work and we can easily slip into procrastination. We all know the frustration of longing to do something and ending up doing nothing at all.

Another aspect of remote work is sticking to a work schedule. When there is no need to drive to an office in the morning, people start relying on their circadian rhythms. Early birds prefer to work earlier in the day, whereas night owls are more productive later on. Performance periods and production phases run out of sync, which affects communications both among specific employees and across entire departments. Project managers struggle to keep track of the time their teams actually spend on work. This results in slow progress on tasks and may even halve a company’s velocity.

Spying on Employees is not a Solution

Businesses have already tried to solve the problem of self-motivation by controlling remote employees in various ways. For instance, some companies use always-on software that automatically takes pictures of employees and their computer screens at intervals throughout the day and tracks their browsing history. While this can help managers ensure that tasks are actually being performed, the negative side of this method is that very few employees can work under such pressure for a long time. Personally, I see it as a road to nowhere but stress, anxiety, and professional burnout.

Although I assume that spying on employees using a webcam is a dead end, I understand that it is still important to make remote work controllable, predictable, and effective. Certain widespread tools such as JIRA are insufficient because they mostly involve tracking task statuses. Remote and distributed teams need a tool that can help them keep focused and awake for long periods, particularly when projects require strong attention to detail and commitment to strict deadlines.

Using a time-tracking platform is quite effective for managers and less stressful for employees. These platforms usually combine a time tracker for monitoring employee activity and a messenger to regularly communicate about task statuses. Most solutions allow CRM integration, productivity reports, time-usage analytics, invoice generation and client billing based on time spent, and forecasting the time required for remaining tasks. With access to such a tool, customers can also track progress in real-time, change task priorities, and participate directly in project communications.

Today, there are many user-friendly and powerful time-tracking tools in the market but to what extent do they help to solve the problem in the current coronavirus situation? We at Auriga are looking for the most effective solutions. If you do have experience with time-tracking systems and don’t mind sharing it, please contact us.

Quarantine Means Compromise

The COVID-19 quarantine means that companies have to make many compromises, including business development and project planning. Online conferences, while are a great format for reporting, cannot fully replace dynamic face-to-face meetings to discuss urgent issues and share opinions on hot topics. Team spirit inevitably suffers because of the lack of eye-to-eye contact and shared collaborative atmosphere and miscommunication, which has always been a problem, occurs more frequently. Complex projects become even more complicated and innovative initiatives that require significant effort and focus are put on hold until better and safer days.

Behind the global chaos and panic, the coronavirus has revealed the actual level of employees’ self-motivation and the grade of managers’ talent in mastering the art of project and team management. Unfortunately, there is no single tool or approach that can help companies stay afloat in these difficult times. The self-discipline of each specific employee and a more attentive, flexible, and delicate style of management that involves thorough communication, detailed planning, problem-solving, and risk assessment may be a key to finding some stability in the current ever-changing situation.

Working from Home Tips and Tricks

In conclusion, I would like to share some of my recommendations on how to stay productive and motivated while working from home. Even though these may sound rather straightforward, they are all based on my personal experience and may be useful to those who are struggling to adjust to the home-office environment during the coronavirus pandemic.

  1. Make sure that you all start your working days simultaneously with your team with a short stand-up meeting to track progress.
  2. Share plans and sync up on the results you anticipate achieving by the end of the day.
  3. Agree to have lunch at the same time; try Zoom or Skype lunch sessions.
  4. Dress up like you would to go to the office. Pajama slacks won’t set you up for work.
  5. Keep your video camera on while conferencing.
  6. Encourage contact over the phone rather than writing an email. You will be surprised by how quickly small issues can be resolved.
  7. Create group chats to exchange in real-time for tasks/projects/divisions.
  8. Task- and time-tracking systems are even more indispensable, so pick one that helps you maintain self-discipline.
  9. Agree on your “Do not disturb” mode with your housemates (pets included). Plugged in headphones might work as a sign.
  10. Do not work in a kitchen. You will likely end up drinking coffee and grabbing snacks constantly.