Research Computing: Working from home

Staff (and postgraduate researchers) at the University of Leeds have now been instructed to observe and follow the principle of “social distancing”, by where possible, working from home (for further details please visit coronavirus.leeds.ac.uk/staff-advice/). I (Nick Rhodes) would like to share some guidance and advice to help support teams on working effectively and comfortably from home.

I have in the past worked in organisations with teams split across a number sites hundreds of miles apart, as well as some home workers. I have also worked in teams that have followed Agile and Lean principles which can be adapted for remote working with the minimum of friction. What I observed was that the teams that worked most effectively had clear and understandable rules and processes, as well as conveying those typical aspects of a good working team such as effective communication, honesty, trust, support, adaptability and willingness to learn and improve.

It will come as no surprise, that starting with light/simple processes that a team has agreed to follow are more effective than devising something complex. The simpler a process, the easier it is to understand and there are less opportunities for mistakes. A simpler process is also easier to observe how successful it, analyse and feedback with improvements and react to any imposed changes in ways of working.

In terms of behaviours, effective communication is key to ensure we continue to work as a cohesive team, not a group of individuals and helps avoid feelings of isolation.

Honesty, trust and support are essential for ensuring a positive team environment and support the challenges to individuals when working remotely (at home).

There needs to be a willingness to adapt, learn and improve – there will be a need to devise and change process, adjust working habits to accommodate the changes and challenges that working from home brings.  We will make mistakes, but we will do these together, learn from them and improve our processes.

For tools for managing and collaborating, when starting out or if you prefer, there is nothing wrong with using phones, using a whiteboard, or sheet of paper to keep track of tasks and activities (which can be shared  by photo with the rest of the team).

Below I have shared a list rules that the Research Computing Team will be starting out with. Remember to be considerate of all the team members situations (family, accessibility) so that no-one feels out.

Our proposed way of working rules:

  • Core working hours 10am to 4pm, aiming for a minimum of 7 working hours a day.
    This allows for flexibility to meet peoples personal commitments.
  • Use and stay logged into Teams. Check emails at least 3 times a day (start, mid and end of day).
  • There will be a daily check-in at 10.30am each morning starting 10.30am on Monday 23rd March.
    This will include any team-level updates that could affect the current days work, individual updates (summary of previous day progress, today’s plans, any blockers to progress- standard ‘agile’ stuff).
  • There will be weekly catch up/team meeting.
    The purpose of this is to share non-urgent news, review previous weeks progress (show and tell, summary charts), outline general activities/themes for following week, review our agreed processes/rules and suggest tweaks/improvements, agree working times/patterns for the team.
  • When scheduling work, assign relative priorities and/or time-box for the week.
    If an individual feels a task is delayed and/or taking longer than planned, raise it at a daily stand-up.
  • Only do agreed/planned work/tasks/activities, if you are unsure, put on Kanban board (reviewed by manager, next day or end of week, depending on urgency).
  • Ensure Ticketing systems and Kanban board up to date at the end of the day (its good to update at-least twice a day).

We will be using the following tools:

  • ServiceNow – pick up support tickets as normal.
  • Kanban board to track agreed planned tasks/projects (Trello – with training and support to follow)
  • Calendars will be used wisely (time box agreed time/work) and kept up to date.
  • Use the Research Computing at Leeds team for collaboration.