Working from Home – 7 Tips from Auleek

The global pandemic has forced all companies to scramble toward methods for working effectively from home. Everyone is faced with various roadblocks to coordination, productivity and creativity. After a week of struggling ourselves, we have managed to get into the flow of things a bit better. We have compiled a list of seven tips, that we hope will help your company with your work-from-home journey.

 

Our office, normally bustling with activity during work hours, now desolate and empty. *Image for effect – this was captured back in 2018. Everyone at Auleek has been working at home since March 21st.

 

Tip 1: Daily Team Meetings over Video Calls

Google’s Meet service is free and simple to use, and offers good quality as well as performance. Alternatively, of course, Skype and Zoom are also great for the job.

When having these meetings, we strongly recommend that you observe these rules:

  • Keep the conversation focused. It helps to have a written list of the points that each person wishes to discuss.
  • Always use video – not only audio. This, in our experience, has repeatedly proven to be far more effective at conveying information than a “conference phone call”. Plus, it’s always nice to see a friendly face or two, right?
  • Always conduct meetings on a schedule, rather than at random times throughout the day.
  • Instruct everyone participating in the meeting to test their camera and microphone prior to the call. You can end up losing a lot of time if someone’s voice or camera is not functioning properly. Plus it is extremely annoying for the other people present at the meeting.
  • Take turns speaking. Multiple people speaking at the same time will just lead to a counterproductive mess. Let the last person finish speaking before you interject… 
  • And if you do have to interrupt, use the video – raise your hand so that everyone else can see that you have something to say.

 

Tip 2: Slack for Texting and Project Coordination

A video call at the start of the day will obviously not be enough to keep things rolling throughout the day. As such, you’ll want to implement a good text messaging platform to help keep the wheels turning.

There is no shortage of applications for this job, however, some prove to be far more effective than others. Slack has been Auleek’s weapon of choice since the beginning of the company. But it has proven far more invaluable now than ever before. Here’s how Slack helps keep things in order:

  • Assigning team members to different “channels” according to project/assignment. This helps to keep information organized and relevant.
  • Integration with various other cloud services, should you need it – such as Google Drive, Trello, ClickUp etc. (our favorite’s Giphy)
  • Ability to create conversation threads within channels and to pin important messages – great for neatly bundling individual conversation… well… threads.
Slack – running on everyone’s desktops, laptops and phones throughout the work day.

 

Tip 3: Worth a Thousand Words – Use Images and Annotations Where Possible

If you’re working in a design field (such as ourselves) try to share ideas and feedback with your team members and collaborators in the form of annotated images, sketches, etc. rather than trying to verbally provide cues. This saves time and reduces errors significantly.

This is a bit easier to tackle if you have a graphic tablet connected to your computer, have a touchscreen or digitizer pen-enabled laptop, or are using some kind of pen-enabled portable device, such as a Samsung Galaxy Note or Apple iPad with their Pencil accessory. This is not essential though, it can be done with a mouse or trackpad well enough.

Thirty seconds to provide feedback on drafts, thanks to the Windows Snip & Sketch tool and a Wacom Intuos graphic tablet.

Tip 4: Remotely Dealing with Projects and Assets

With a company like ours (i.e. heavily relying on our tech), several things are indispensable to our regular workflows. For example, our visualization projects require that the team have constant access to terabytes upon terabytes of 3D assets and previous projects; the software development teams need constant access to our project repositories, and so on. While Google Drive, WeTransfer and other similar cloud file sharing platforms are something we use on a daily basis, these is no substitute for being connected to our office network.

For this, we have set up two things: first, direct access to our office network from home (therefore allowing team members to directly and securely access network resources), and second – a file handling discipline, governing how teams are to access said resources or exchange large files through our NAS (Network Attached Storage.)

 

This overall setup has proven to be the single most essential tool in keeping our projects from coming to a grinding halt.

Going into details about how this was implemented would turn this blog post into a rather complex technical manual. So if you would like to build your own work-from-home network setup, please reach out to us at hello@auleek.com and we will be more than happy to help guide you through the steps we used.

 

Tip 5: Make the most of Project Management Tools

We have found ourselves really leaning on our cloud-based project management tools since going into work-from-home mode. And they have proved invaluable in keeping projects on track and deadlines being met. Having been through a spectrum of such tools, including Trello, Miro and ClickUp, we have found ourselves sticking with ClickUp most often for day-to-day project management, with Trello serving to manage longer timeframes.

ClickUp in action – letting the team leads and project managers maintain visibility and assign the right tasks to the right people.

ClickUp, with its vast array of features and collaboration tools, is great for managing teams of any size. It is quite similar to Trello in a number of ways, so if you have used Trello in the past, this won’t feel completely alien to you. For us, its robust cloud integration has proven helpful. Team members assigned to particular tasks will be notified immediately via email (or push notifications in the apps), and daily reminders will be sent for tasks which are pending/overdue/etc. 

Be warned though, this is a relatively new platform, so some user-experience touch points might be a bit annoying at times. ClickUp has a decent enough web app, which we use to maintain visibility and provide updates on projects. They also have a mobile and a desktop version available, but we don’t really recommend using the mobile app cause it feels kind of unfinished. 

If yours is a company that relies heavily on scrums and design sprints, give Miro a spin. Though a bit heavy on resources and somewhat slow to load, it’s a pretty good substitute for standing around a whiteboard with markers and sticky notes.

 

Tip 6: Video Conferencing (once again) and Screen Sharing

Need to discuss project details one-on-one? Easy – just walk over to the person’s desk and… oh wait. Well, screen sharing will have to do for now. There are a number of ways this can be done, the simplest being to use Google Meet (like mentioned earlier) and use the presenter mode, or the same with platforms like Skype or Zoom.

If you need to reach out to a larger audience, however, or if you require additional features such as picture-in-picture, sessions recording, etc. you may require a more elaborate solution.

While this is something that has not come of use right now, we have in the past been able to showcase our interactive projects and collaborate with teams abroad using video streaming. For our purposes we used Open Broadcaster Software as the capture tool and Twitch.tv – a popular video streaming website used largely for video games – as the outlet. This has proved to be a great pairing for our purposes, given that both are well optimized for delivering high-quality video content with excellent performance.

Live-streaming an architectural visualization project created using Unreal Engine via Twitch.tv

Again, if this is something you feel might help keep your wheels turning, there are hundreds of helpful tutorials on YouTube, so it should be a breeze.

 

Tip 7: Discipline is Key

Having clearly defined working hours promotes efficiency. Otherwise you’ll tend to get distracted and ultimately get no work done. Here’s a pro tip: maintain the regular office hours at home, that way you will be able to retain your productivity and finish your daily tasks on time. This will also ensure that you allocate adequate time to spend with your family, to keep yourself entertained and refreshed, and to learn new things. Which brings us to…

 

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Been thinking about learning how to use that new software, but never had the time? How about wanting to practice sketching so you can be better at your creative tasks? Meaning to read that series of books on business management, programming or whatever else? Well, now that there’s literally nowhere to go, here’s your chance.

If there is a soft skill which will help diversify your skill sets, perform better at work, or just make you happy to learn, set aside time to develop these skills. It is also an opportunity for self-improvement, so if you’ve been meaning to start working out, improve your diet, maybe start doing meditation or yoga, go for it. Healthy body, healthy mind and all that. And if this massively unfortunate situation has taught us anything – it’s how important it really is to maintain good health.

We are also doing the same. Additionally, we plan to make use of some of the tools listed above in conjunction with Google Classroom to share ideas and knowledge across different teams of different disciplines. We believe this to be key in making ourselves a more well-rounded organization. It should also be an enjoyable way to learn something new and to socialize at the same time.

If you think there are members of your staff who would benefit from learning skills from others, organizing internal classes, webinars, etc. could help elevate skills across the board. Some day (hopefully soon) this crisis will be over, and it’s preparation like this will be key to recovering from the damage all organizations – and the livelihoods of their employees – have inevitably been suffering.

 

In Conclusion

For companies whose Modus Operandi doesn’t involve regularly working from home, being suddenly forced to do so can be tough. But at the end of the day, the success of this endeavor is not dictated by software tools or internet services. It is down to the individual efforts of you and your coworkers. We at Auleek are very lucky and privileged to have the most sincere and dedicated team members, working together to power through these tough times.

We sincerely hope this post has helped you in some way to find a modicum of stability in these uncertain times. We would very much appreciate your views on this. Share your stories and tips for working from home – comment on this post, or share with us on our Facebook/LinkedIn page. If you think this post will help others who are struggling with their work, please do spread the word.

We would like to close out by stating that: nothing – not your business, not the economy, not your paycheck – nothing is more important than ensuring the safety of your community, your friends and family, your coworkers and yourself.

Work as hard as you must, the challenges you face now will ensure the eventual survival and success of your company – something you and your colleagues have no doubt spent months, years, even decades to build up and nurture.

Let’s remember that not everyone has the privilege or luxury of working from home – there are people out their risking their own well-being so that society can still function. So if you are able to, then help them and everyone else by working from home.

And stay safe.