Thursday, February 5, 2009

New member's pocket guide to a virtual team

Two weeks ago, Sorin wrote a juicy post about welcoming a new member in a virtual team. There were a couple of times in the past when I was wearing the shoes of a newcomer in a virtual team and throughout time I learned from mistakes and developed some guidelines to keep me comfortable.

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Centralize data
I made a habit of keeping data centralized in a single location. It feels comfortable to know that you have a single place from where to start looking for your stuff. Every document, meeting minutes and conclusions from discussion on email or IM, things that I need to do for the projects and so on were stored in the central place. This doesn't eliminate the need to sometimes look for an old email, but at least it diminishes it.

Keep a worklog
At one point in the past I started to track my daily activity, by writing down as much as I considered relevant. Besides the things that I've been working on, the list also includes mentions of Skype or phone conversations with my colleagues. If you get paid by the hour, this is probably mandatory, but even if you don't, it pays off in time.

Stick to a strict working schedule

When I started working from home, it seemed cool to me to have a loose schedule. More like no schedule at all. But after a while I noticed that I actually didn't know when to stand up from the desk and call the day off. This started to affect my health and my ability to focus.

And there is another side effect of the schedule-free work style: your friends will consider you're always available and ask your help with different chores. If you don't commit to a time schedule, you'll end up doing other things when you should be focusing on work and you'll find yourself pushing working hours late into the night.

Schedule and timezones
Since the team is distributed geographically, the members could be on different timezones and it's good to know who is available and when. Worldclock and FoxClocks are two useful tools to see the current time of your colleagues.

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I used to convey upfront the time interval when I was going to be available. Even if I wasn't working in an office I still needed lunch breaks, so this was also included in the schedule.

Communicate often to keep yourself on track
Have a chat on IM each morning with the whole team, if possible, or only with your coordinator to say what you were working on, what do you intend to do that day and also ask what others are working on. Keep it short and concise!

Asynchronous interaction is your friend
Your colleagues are not in the office near you. Take advantage of this. You cannot be interrupted from your work flow and I suppose you don't want to. Rely heavily on email, collaboration tools, wikis and other non-interruptive mediums.

Invest in your workspace
If you're working from home and you just started your virtual work adventure, it's probably better to create a proper environment. Separating home from office is an advisable thing to do, even when the office is at home. So make it look like a nice office rather than a cozy place at home.

The Home Office Planner is a dainty book that comes to your help in transforming any space into a functional work area. You may also use IKEA 2008 Office planner, a desktop application for designing your office in a 3D view. The software let's you try various colors and also see the total cost.


Anca said...

Well synthesized and useful information. Thank you!

Violeta said...

I'm smiling here. Totally agree with you.

Pawel Brodzinski said...

There's one tricky thing with working from home. Some people have problems with keeping focus. Personally I'm not a person who would perform best at home. Unfortunately it's more about character than about specific tool or technique one can use.

On the other hand one of my friends started telecommuting a few months ago and now he can't imagine other way of work.

Paul Marculescu said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. :)

Pawel, I agree with you. I'm one of these people that have problems focusing on work from home.

That's I came up with the things I mentioned in this post, like creating a work environment in the house, to help with the mental state of being @work, not @home or keeping a strict schedule.