Outsider view on continuous remote work

A year into remote working – do you know how it looks like to someone who returned to work just recently?

I spent the covid year in a family leave and came back to work at the beginning of 2021. I noticed some funny and some sad things about the new normal.

Expecting the worst

Nordcloud being a tech community, it wasn’t an issue for us to start working remotely.

We had our processes in place for reporting the work to do and following the progress, and communicating via instant messaging app instead of face-to-face discussions. I bet this has been very difficult for some industries.

I was a bit afraid of not seeing people personally. It turned out, seeing via video feels personal as well.

Although, people seem to be a bit disconnected from the discussion, because they are not expressing much body language. I’m confused when someone in a group says something funny, and no one laughs but me – and I can assure you it has happened so many times it’s not just my bad humour!

People are not nodding nor smiling to encourage the speaker to continue. I find this a bit concerning. Sometimes people are so still I suspect the video froze, until they move their eyes a bit.

We can be surprisingly still when not expressing body language!

Becoming familiar with remote work

I have found it to be natural to communicate via video conferences. Even onboarding a new team member became familiar to me, although I was sceptical at first. You who have been working remotely for a year don’t feel uncomfortable about this at all.

Working remotely with every team member has brought my international team members closer to me. At the same time, the colleagues from other teams are vanishing from my reality, because I don’t see them accidentally in the coffee room.

One thing I really love about remote work is the lack of commuting. I bet I’m not the only one who has recently realised that it’s not required to go to the office every day to get the work done. I have also agreed on shorter days with my employer, so currently I can spend a long afternoon with my kids and family.

Getting back to work remotely has been an interesting challenge which I think I’m winning now.

Have patience there working remotely, and let’s roll our eyes when we meet virtually!

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    Make Work Better by Documentation

    Sharing knowledge in a team is an ongoing challenge. Finding balance between writing documentation and keeping it up to date, and handling daily operations and discussing matters face to face or via chat is not an easy task. I’ve found written documentation to be well worth the time it takes. Here’s two examples of how documentation has helped to make our work better.

    Make uncertainties visible

    Documenting software requirements has a profession of its own. But one doesn’t need to be an expert in requirements engineering to be able to enhance customer communication and ease the development with documentation.

    Problem

    I had a customer at work who wanted to integrate a 3rd party service. The service was under development at the same time that we started discussing integrating it. The service would replace old processes in the customer’s existing service. There were lots of questions about how the new service would function, and what exactly it would mean to replace existing functionality with it.

    Solution

    I sat down with one of my colleagues who knew the customer software. With pen and paper, we drew several sequence diagrams to represent current processes. Then we created sequence diagrams to propose how the new service would be integrated. We drew big question marks where we were unsure of the current process or how the new service would function. We even included questions for manual processes in the customer end to better understand what information the new service should provide.

    Then I transformed the pictures from paper to digital form and included the diagrams to a wiki page. I gathered all questions to a table in the same wiki page. Next time we discussed with the customer, we went through the wiki page, answered all the questions and wrote a bunch more. The wiki page served well during the requirements gathering phase. It was liked by both the developers and the customer.

    Take-aways

    • Sequence diagrams are a lovely way to present processes.
    • Table of questions, with an empty column for an answer, invites discussion.
    • Wiki page with diagrams and question-answer tables serves well as documentation.

    Bring clarity with meaningful ways

    Managing development tasks, bug tickets and service requests can become a full-time job. When a team has several customers, and each customer has a lot going on, kanban boards can end up in a cluttered condition. More time is spent figuring out what to do instead of doing it.

    Problem

    We used a kanban board for service requests, bug tickets and sharing information with a customer. Their system was in beta test phase, and lots of questions and enhancement ideas were coming up. It was difficult for the team to keep up with the latest priorities. There was a weekly meeting with the customer, but information was poorly shared for those of the team who did not attend the meeting.

    Solution

    To have a common starting point, I listed all ongoing tickets and described their status in the very first agenda of weekly meetings. In the meeting, we agreed on a priority order for the tickets, and I wrote that down to the agenda, which became the meeting minutes on the fly.

    For the next weekly meeting, again I gathered information for all ongoing tasks. It wasn’t a fast thing to do, because there were so many sources of information for the work we were doing for the customer. But it was worth it. Weekly meetings became easier to lead, when we had a ready-made skeleton to follow, instead of tumbling around the kanban board. Also, having written documentation ensured that the whole team was informed about work ongoing and priorities for the next week.

    Take-aways

    • Prepare for meetings with an agenda. Share it beforehand with everyone involved and store it in a place available for both the team and the customer.
    • Write meeting minutes. An easy way is to transform the agenda to the minutes by updating the document during the meeting.
    • Make sure the team knows there is documentation in the form of agenda/minutes.

    Document when necessary

    As we’ve seen, written documentation can help a lot when planning a new service or handling quickly changing requirements. Documenting must be allocated a time of its own. It might be difficult to take the time for writing documents, if it is not a common practice within your team.

    Personal skills have a role to play, as well. Finding important information in the clutter of communication and getting it to a written form might not be easy for everyone. Leverage the various skills of your team and find the best ways of documenting your important matters.

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      Learning from each other

      The tech industry has a wide variety of tools and best practices. To enable a team to work effectively, knowledge must be distributed. At times, the whole team must learn something new. Read about the best practices Managed Cloud Applications team leverages for tackling these challenges.

      Managed Cloud Applications team faces new technologies and programming languages from time to time. The team also wants to develop their internal processes by learning from the front line. And all this in between the daily tasks of development, customer communication and incident management. How do they do it?

      Teaching each other

      Managed Cloud Applications team has a bi-weekly slot for 90 minute meeting dedicated to continuous improvement. From time to time, one of the team members is assigned to prepare a training session. The developer will prepare relevant information, examples and maybe a demo or hands-on task on the subject. As a result, the whole team learns a lot in a short time and with small effort.

      This kind of learning is recommended when one of the team members has knowledge that others don’t. For example, it might be:

      • former experience in a programming language that a new customer is using, or
      • knowledge gathered in using a new technology in a project.

      When the whole team wants to learn something new, a study group could be a more beneficial approach.

      Study group for books

      Besides developing new features, Managed Cloud Applications team handles anything traditional DevOps processes might contain. To be effective in handling the operational tasks, the team leverages from what bigger companies have already learned. This means reading a book in common pace and discussing it weekly.

      Recently, the team chose a book available online and agreed to read two chapters weekly. Each Monday developers met for three quarters of an hour to discuss what they had learned and how they could apply it to their work. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that not even the majority of attendants had had the time to read the chapters.

      To allocate time for everyone to read the book, the team changed their process. The meeting time was expanded to an hour, and it began with everyone reading only one chapter further. When everyone had read the week’s chapter, discussion could begin. The pace of reading the book was halved, but team members gained a lot more from discussion. Now every attendant is familiar with the topic and can bring their own ideas to the table.

      Learning together builds rapport

      Arranging study groups to read a book or assigning one team member to educate others has other effects besides increased knowledge. There are many positive effects, including but not limited to:

      • Developers learn to trust each other by learning together.
      • Leading a learning session empowers individuals to see how their knowledge benefits the whole team.
      • Developers get to enhance their performance skills when leading a learning session.

      Does your team take advantage of study groups? Could you start it today?

       

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        Stereotypes that still prevent women from pursuing IT

        Many young talents are lost when girls don’t even consider IT industry as one of their options due to stereotypes. I, for one, almost became one of those. For the International Women’s Day, I want to share my story to encourage people to see past stereotypes.

        The number of women in IT industry has stayed steadily low for a couple of decades. One would think that as Nordic countries have high gender-equality, the gender gap in technical professions would slowly narrow. It has been proven to be the other way around: societies with high gender-equality empower women to pick whatever career they want*. 

        As women are expected to be people-oriented and men to concentrate on gadgets, women are usually steered towards careers in the care sector and men in technical fields respectively. Stereotypes play a strong role here: the IT industry is seen as lonely hacking, including a lot of mathematical calculations – and filled with introverted professionals, usually men.

        As a professional in IT industry, I can say that none of these are necessarily true. But for teenagers thinking about their future profession, stereotypes might feel so strong that they don’t even question them.

        That’s what happened to me. It is only by luck that I came to study IT.

        How I discovered there’s more to tech

        In high school, you could say I was interested in programming. I spent a lot of time making funny little games and building a website with friends I had never seen but only communicated with online. Still, I thought that a career with computers would mean sitting in a desk alone, not allowed to talk to customers, or to any people for that matter. And I didn’t bother to ask.

        As girls usually, even when I was good in math, I was even better in reading and writing, and I wanted a career with social contacts. I had a vague dream about a career in literature. And no one questioned it – maybe because of my gender. That dream didn’t come true but instead lead me to apply for IT studies, without me even realizing it was IT that I was applying for.

        IT industry has evolved a lot since 2006 when I was thinking about my next step in education. Since IT is everywhere, there are lots of different roles and tasks. Developers are most on demand, but there are many other roles in IT that don’t include programming at all. Instead, all roles in the IT industry include a vast amount of communication with other people, including developer role.

        IT professionals don’t create IT products for other IT professionals – rather, they make the products for customers. A programmer needs to understand the problem for which the customer wants to have an IT solution. That is the most demanding and rewarding aspect of my work: understanding and helping the customer.

        This is what I wished from my career as a teenager, and surprisingly I got it from the IT industry.Nordcloud Johanna Kaihlavirta

        What all young women should know about IT

        I’d like to tell my 18-year-old self and today’s teenagers, that in my job as a software developer, I discuss with customers on a daily basis. I influence their business by building tools for them, which sometimes results in exponential positive impacts. In programming, I get to take care of tiny details and be precise. At the same time, I get to hold the big picture in my head and design building blocks for things much larger than I could achieve on my own. I get to solve logical problems, impact the quality of my team’s work and ensure good communication practices.

        I’d like to tell the world, that in my IT job, I have a great time with great colleagues who share same interest and values as I do, and who value my input and experience and help me grow better every day. I would tell any human pondering about their future: ignore stereotypes – investigate yourself. What did you find? Did you like it? Will you presume on your dream despite stereotypes?

        * The Atlantic & Olga Khazan (2018) The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM,  https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/02/the-more-gender-equality-the-fewer-women-in-stem/553592/

        Check out our open positions

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          NiceICT event: Team leads at Nordcloud

          CATEGORIES

          Life at Nordcloud

          In Jyväskylä, we Nordcloudians attend community events actively. Now it was our turn to invite NiceICT community to visit us. NiceICT has a strong cause for women in tech. Many members are students who are still pondering what they will become after graduation, so we wanted to spread knowledge of diverse roles in technology industry with a presentation on different team lead roles in our company from the pespectives of Tuire Peurala and Eija Jokilahti.

          Tuire is a supervisor in Nordcloud design studio Intergalactico, and also works as a designer on customer projects. She’s responsible of taking care of her team’s wellbeing and supporting professional development. Tuire participates actively in recruiting and works in collaboration with sales to staff most suitable people on projects, and to ensure that everyone gets to switch projects once in a while to keep up interest and get learning possibilities.

          One of the best things as a UX lead is to use my expertise to help others grow professionally.

          Eija Jokilahti has been working as a UX lead in her recent projects. Her responsibilities include putting design processes to practice, facilitating workshops and building design culture, among others. As one of her responsibilities was coaching others on design related issues, Eija reflects: “One of the best things as a UX lead is to use my expertise to help others grow professionally.”

          The event begun with bagels and lively discussion among the guests. After the presentation, there were lots of excellent questions to dig deeper in the roles we have. Following these questions, we discussed very personal matters of being a woman in tech industry. Tuire and Eija were glad to tell that Nordcloud has done exceptionally well in taking people as they are instead of focusing on external matters. Nordcloud hosting NiceICT

          When all the questions were asked and answered, we went back to vivid discussion in small groups. The event was very warm and had an intimate touch in it. Everybody went home happy and with more diverse view on what the work can be in tech industry.

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