Mandatory Work from Home Survival Guide

Aten Team on Zoom

An Open Letter to my Aten Coworkers

Welcome to week five of mandatory work from home. Whether you’re showing up for the next Zoom call in PJs or yoga pants, here are a few ways we’ll keep rocking this pants-optional work situation.

Slack is the new open office.

We use Slack for free-form conversations: to ask questions, tell our colleagues what we’re up to, post a meme, tell a joke, or give kudos. This isn’t really new – we’ve been using Slack for years, and have a long history of leveraging chat tools (HipChat, Google Chat, Campfire, etc). But Slack has suddenly become the number one way we stay connected, all day every day. One interesting, though not terribly surprising, side-effect of increased company-wide use of Slack is that a number of our full-time remote colleagues report feeling much more connected to the rest of the team than they had before.

A few tips for Slack:

  • In general, post messages to the widest relevant group possible so everybody has access to the information they might need – both now and in the future.
  • Use channels when you can. Post development questions in #aten-team-dev, ask project managers for help in #aten-team-pms, throw hilarious memes (or a photoshop of Joe’s face) in #random, and so on.
  • Start a thread to keep conversations scannable. Threads make it easier for everyone to find and jump in on conversations.
  • Keep Slack open during your entire workday, but definitely turn it off (or snooze notifications) when you sign off for the day.
  • Post in #aten-whereabouts, set Slack notifications to snooze, or do both when you need heads-down time (or are away from your desk).

Some of our favorite, most-used Slack integrations:

  • Zoom
    Simply type “/zoom” to start a new video meeting with whoever you’re chatting with in Slack (individuals or groups). The Zoom app also posts a summary of meetings when you’re done. With a Zoom pro plan, you can make the phone icon in Slack instantly start a Zoom meeting.
  • Google Calendar and Google Calendar for Team Events
    Together these apps provide shared calendars and event reminders. One feature we really love that it automatically posts “Out of Office” calendar events as Slack messages in the #aten-whereabouts chanel.
  • icanhazdadjoke
    Type “/dadjoke” for chuckles – or eye-rolling. At least you can blame the app.
  • Jira Cloud
    Automatically post updates to Slack when Jira tickets are updated or reassigned.
  • Karma
    Give your coworkers kudos by typing “@so-and-s0 ++”. With the paid version, you get reports and leaderboards.
  • Polly
    Make polls quick and easy with Polly, which works for team-wide and group-specific polls.
    Sending secrets (like passwords) in Slack is a bad idea. Saltify makes it easy to send secrets securely, directly in Slack.

Face-time is as important as ever.

If Slack is the new office, Zoom is the new meeting room, coffee shop, bar, gym, park bench, you name it. We use Zoom for in-person, face-to-face interaction: one-on-ones, brainstorm sessions, conference calls, happy hours, co-watching TED talks, Friday Bingo (it’s a drinking game if you want it to be), and the list goes on.

A few tips for Zoom:

  • Turn on your camera!
    A big part of face-time is, well, face-time. In this season of social distancing, turning on the camera is more important than ever. Let’s all show up with the multi-tasking, kids-managing, wear-what’s-comfortable versions of ourselves, and enjoy each other’s company.
  • It’s old news but important: set a password for your meeting rooms. With the explosion of Zoom use globally, there has been a ton of “video chat vandalism” – unwanted visitors guessing meeting numbers and dropping in just to be disruptive. It’s annoying, and easily fixed by using passwords for your meetings. Even easier, there’s a setting that adds random passwords to all meetings by default.
  • Randomize your Zoom URLs. For the same reason listed above, it’s a good idea to let Zoom generate random, impossible-to-guess URLs for your meetings, rather than re-using your personal meeting room for everything.
  • Use Zoom for conversations and personal, face-to-face interaction, not brain bumps. Zoom is a great place to talk things through, figure things out, and hear directly from everyone involved. Zoom is not a good place for knowledge transfer. For that, stick with good old documentation tools like Basecamp, Google Docs, and Jira.
  • Watch your language. With everyone suddenly working from home, it's easy to forget that your audience likely includes partners, spouses, kids, and cats on the other end of the call. To be honest, this one’s for me… quit it with the f-bombs, Justin!
  • Mute Thyself. We all know it, but we don’t always do it. If you’re in a group call and not talking, mute your mic. With even more background noise than usual, muting yourself on a group call really helps cut down on distraction.
  • I love the custom backgrounds; please keep it up. No explanation needed.

New traditions help us stay connected.

With Monday status over breakfast, Friday lunch-and-learn, coffee-shop walks, ping-pong breaks, happy hours, shared meals, and all kinds of other ways to connect, we’ve always had a strong focus on people and relationships. Our focus hasn't changed, but the ways we stay connected suddenly have. Here are few of the things we’re doing to stay in touch all week long:

  • Ted Talk Tuesdays
    Watch a Ted Talk together over Zoom, then discuss.
  • Porter Presents Fridays
    A.k.a “Lunch and Learn,” a new subject or activity brought to you weekly (over Zoom of course) by Janice’s dog, Porter. Bring lunch and a beverage of choice.
  • #Aten-wellness
    From recipes to workouts, use the new Slack channel #aten-wellness to share how you’re staying healthy through the crisis.
  • Virtual prizes
    Prizes don’t always mean trophies. Get creative with delivery gift-cards or acts of service you can donate to the winner of a virtual competition.
  • News-free spaces
    We are all overwhelmed with current events. Let’s be sensitive to others by keeping meetings and chats by-and-large news free.
  • Virtual Coffee Breaks
    Check in with each other by scheduling virtual coffee breaks. Connecting face-to-face with someone for just 10 minutes to chat can help lift your mood.
  • Puzzle sharing / exchanging
    Trade your completed puzzle with another Atenaught who just finished theirs! Contact free delivery of course.
  • Trivia Tuesday
    Send your trivia and fun facts about yourself to Sally for a fun weekly question where we guess which Atenaught belongs to the trivia.

Your living room couch might be the perfect retreat, but it’s not an office.

Just because we’re all working from home doesn’t mean we should skimp on the office setup. Make sure you have a big screen, comfortable peripherals (mouse, trackpad, keyboard, etc.), supportive chair, and a nice desk. While I enjoy occasionally working from the couch, a comfortable home office – complete with the right equipment – is important for staying productive long-term.

Stay flexible and take care of each other.

We’ve always valued flexibility and believed that our people should be in control of their own individual work schedules. That applies now more than ever. Please make time for yourself: walk the dog, supervise your kids’ home learning program, go for a run, catch up with friends (on Zoom, of course), grab a snack; whatever you need. Take the occasional personal day, as needed. Keep your colleagues informed with #aten-whereabouts in Slack, and snooze notifications when you need to. If you need help or are having trouble of any kind, reach out to your manager, to Kristi, or to me directly. In these uncertain and unprecedented times, let’s show each other patience, understanding, and grace as we all juggle the needs of our loved ones, our own wellbeing, and our work. We may be working apart, but we’ll get through this together.

(If you have a survival tip you like to add, drop it in the comments section. I’ll keep a look out for relevant suggestions and update this post accordingly.)


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