Tips on Remote Working: How we do it at Datopian!

March 24, 2020 by Audrey Lobo-Pulo and Gift Egwuenu

In this article, we share our tips (and traps to avoid!) on working seamlessly in a remote-working setup.

Team member exploring trekking as a physical activity

Team member exploring trekking as a physical activity

While many governments and organisations are suddenly facing new challenges in transitioning to working remotely, we at Datopian[1] have always been a remote-first organisation. Working remotely might be a great opportunity to put your tech to even better use by finding new efficiencies — and help record and organise a lot of your corporate or government knowledge assets.

In this article, we share our tips (and traps to avoid!) on working seamlessly in a remote-working setup. You can find out more about how we work from our playbook.

# Plan, Plan, Plan

When working remotely, it’s easy to get distracted when the doorbell rings or be tempted by the call of a lunchtime trek — but planning your work online will allow you to keep track of your tasks, as well as enjoying its perks.

At Datopian we use a Gitlab “issue-tracker” and regular ‘standups’ updates to make sure our work pipelines are flowing smoothly. Our “issues” template has a brief description of the work, and a number of acceptance criteria and tasks listed.

Our issue template at Datopian

Our issue template at Datopian

Our issue tracker lets us assign pieces of work to various team members, with options for tracking milestones, time spent and due dates. Gitlab’s easy to use interface also allows users to see all of their projects and activities on — and ping other team members if there are any blockers. We also use GitHub for some projects and use these for tracking progress and assigning work to the team.

Our regular ‘stand-ups’ are simple — we have a ‘recap’ where we’re able to note the tasks we’ve completed in the previous session, a summary plan, and a list of ‘blockers’ where we can gently nudge our team for some assistance. The great thing about these is that they don’t need to be time-synchronised and allow for flexible working!

Standup update template

Standup Update Template

# Regular Engagement and Working Together

Engaging regularly with your colleagues when you’re working remotely takes some conscious effort — but once you establish what works for your team, it can be quite rewarding. Here’s what we’ve learned:

# Use your video for meetings whenever possible

Having a virtual presence can take some getting used to - online meetings can seem quite foreign to those who are used to face to face meetings, but it doesn’t have to be that daunting! A large part of our human communication is non-verbal and comes from visual cues such as facial expressions.

Our team at Datopian uses Google Meet and Zoom for our meetings. The ability for screen sharing can be great for co-working on documents together or simply agreeing if everyone’s on the same page with the meeting minutes. At Datopian, we often use this feature for syncing with the team and pair programming.

Pair (Pear) Programming with the team. Photo by Audrey Lobo-Pulo (CC-By), 2020

Pair (Pear) Programming with the team. Photo by Audrey Lobo-Pulo (CC-By), 2020

# Keep your online communication tools simple, purposeful and streamlined

Chat tools work wonderfully as a default communication platform as compared with email (at Datopian, we use GChat). The dialogue flows much more freely  —  and there are plenty of opportunities to fork out to new threads of conversations, while coming back to old ones.

However, there’s a danger of chat tools being used as a knowledge base or for information storage which can create all sorts of digital problems with version control, information reliability and a general sense of disorder. Make sure you provide your teams with a clear set of guidelines for how information is shared, stored and catalogued. At Datopian, we also make use of HackMD as a scratchpad for brainstorming to generate ideas of a project or a document.

# Have a channel for those ‘water cooler’ conversations

One of the most common issues with remote working is a feeling of isolation, and one of the easiest ways to address this is to have some form of digital social interaction that is non-work related. Social conversations will help deepen organisational relationships and will provide a healthier work ecosystem for your team - and you don’t need to time sync these if it’s on a digital platform!

At Datopian we have a ‘water cooler’ channel and a ‘Travelling Datopians and Culture Exchange’ channel on our chat platform, where we post updates and pictures of our pets, food, and travel - these have evolved into rich spaces of food reviews and interesting accommodation lists for travel.

# Know Thy Culture

Having a strong work culture with clearly defined values will strengthen your collective vision, produce better work outcomes and support any online work initiatives. When teams are aligned with the culture of your organisation, it’s easier for them to self-manage and work more effectively together — and this is particularly true for remote working.

At Datopian, we have team-mates and clients from many different nationalities and cultures — and our values of integrity, independent thinking, simplicity, rigor and excellence form a common understanding for our products and services.

Having your values carefully articulated and supporting your work practices, services and products will strengthen not only your remote working teams, but also your organisation.

© Datopian (CC Attribution-Sharealike (by-sa))

The authors would like to thank Patricio de Boca for the cover image.

  1. Datopian delivers outstanding solutions that enable your organization to realise your data’s potential. From hosted CKAN to customised data catalogs, from specialised data engineering to data strategy consultation, Datopian empowers your move from data to insight. ↩︎