Tips From Over A Decade of Working Remotely

Tips From Over A Decade of Working Remotely

The presence of COVID-19 has led to some unprecedented times. With a large portion of the workforce now working from home, there are numerous security implications that arise. Our previous post is an extensive FAQ that covers everything you need to know about the cybersecurity concerns and how to address them. Today, we’ll dive into tips for productivity while working remotely. 

Welcome to the world of remote work. Beware, it’s not for the uninitiated, and this is why I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve picked up from over a decade of both working remotely as well as managing remote teams. I’m hoping these tips help people who may find themselves in this position for the first time. I wanted to share a few highlights without getting too deep.

I’m a huge fan of remote work. To me, it solves the staffing challenges of a company in allowing them to source the best talent for their positions and not locking them to a geographic region. It’s certainly not perfect, and not all candidates are well suited to the self-discipline required, but then again, working in an office is far from perfect as well.

The perception of remote work can be negative to companies that don’t focus on innovation. What these companies don’t realize is that you can see an increase in both productivity and creativity with a remote workforce. The downside is, if it’s poorly managed, it can be a negative that reinforces this perception.

Know Yourself

The first step in remote work is knowing yourself. This knowledge isn’t through some deep philosophical meaning, but know your habits and who you are. This insight will be different for everyone. For example, if you are easily distracted, you won’t have the environment of a workplace to reign you back in. If you naturally spend too much time on social media, then you need to block those notifications during periods of work time. This situation seems simple enough to conceptualize, but some may find it hard to implement.

Inventory your distractions and come up with a plan. For each of the items you identify as potential blockers to productivity, it’s good to have some tool, control, or mindset in place to keep you in check. This is step number one, and if you don’t have it down, you may be in for a bad time. The good news is that after a while, a new habit will form, and some of this blocking will be second nature.

Separate Your Work Environment

Maintain a separate work environment. This way, you can keep your head in the right spot when you are working from home. A separate work area also gives you the feeling of “going to work.” I can’t imagine a lot of productivity would come out of lying in bed with your laptop and the TV on.

I’m lucky enough to have a home office, with a large monitor, an open desk and a comfortable chair. These are items that help me flex my creativity and separate me from the normal mindset of doing other home-based activities. If you don’t have enough room to have a dedicated office, then choose a room that you “go to” for work. I also suggest something, such as an external monitor or mouse and keyboard that makes it feel like a workplace.

If you have a family or children, they must understand you are “at work.” I don’t have this problem, but I know others that do. When possible, close the door on your workspace or set some other signal that you are working. If you are in an incredibly cramped space, close to family members, I suggest headphones. Let your family members know and understand this signal to minimize interruptions. If it’s not possible to go long periods without interruption, consider working in sprints for as many hour-long blocks as you can.

Keep a Schedule, Keep a Mindset

If you don’t feel like you are at work, you won’t produce like you are at work. This is where the previous point knowing yourself can play a significant role. It’s best to keep a routine because after all, you are going to work, you are just cutting out the pesky commute.
Wake up, shower, get dressed, do all of the same things that you would do if you were going to a workplace. You don’t need to put on formal clothing, but pajamas probably won’t make you feel productive either.

I live in Florida, and in case you haven’t heard, it gets hot down here. So it’s true when I wake up, part of my getting dressed may involve wearing a pair of shorts, but they aren’t the same ones I wore to bed, and that’s the point about getting into the work mindset.

Another thing that goes along with keeping a schedule is your health. Use a fitness tracker to remind you to stand up every hour and help maintain a routine of movement. Another thing I do is jog daily.

Just as important as keeping a separate workspace, is making sure you get away from that workspace. Other than the health benefits of getting exercise, I find that without the distraction of digital devices, my mind works out problems differently. I’ve solved many problems and came up with countless ideas, all while lost in my thoughts during my daily jog. My daily jog is critical to not only my creative process but to my problem solving as well.

Increase focus and minimize distractions

It’s imperative to understand your sources of distractions and minimize their impact as much as possible. Avoiding activities that are time sinks is great not only for general life but critical during the workday. Whatever your poison is, don’t partake during working hours.

Also, refer back to the previous comment about family members.

If you are easily distracted, try using a Pomodoro timer and slicing your activities up into small chunks where you can focus on them.

Prioritize your activities using the methodology of your choice and break those off into chunks that make the most sense. Always have an idea of what you need to accomplish that day or that week and make progress.

Utilize The Tools You Have

What remote collaboration tools do you have at your disposal? Inventory those and make the best use of them. Chose the best tool for the task, whether it be document collaboration, chat, video conferencing, or even remote brainstorming.

Stay organized for both yourself and your team. One issue with remote teams is never knowing where anything is. Try to organize documents in a single location to cut down on the amount of confusion and additional questions. If you can preemptively cut down on the amount of unnecessary communication through preparation, then you have won a battle.

Have a great task manager that runs on all your devices. You’ll find that information comes at you fast and from multiple sources. Having a great task manager syncs across all your devices will help ensure that things don’t get missed.

Know Your Team

Along with knowing your tools, know your team members and how they like to work and communicate. Match the preferred method of communication. People may prefer email, text, or maybe a phone call. Matching the preferred communication method will cut down on frustration as well as the amount of additional communication necessary to share a point.

Use The Phone

Yes, that thing you hold in your hand used to be a thing people utilized to send their voice to the ears of other people. It’s easy to get carried away communicating with text, chat, and email, but sometimes it’s easier to pick up the phone. Text communications can be hard to convey tone, and your tone can be misinterpreted. Often, a quick phone call can solve a lot of problems and save a lot of back and forth. Don’t be afraid to use that device for its original intent.

Be Clear

Find ways to improve your communication. Nobody wants to read a tome in their inbox. Get to what’s important quickly and at the beginning of the email. Strive for the right balance of brevity and completeness. Keep in mind that the email may be on the screen of a mobile device.

If you must write a long email and you are sending it to a decision-maker, try to put a few summary bullets up top or some important takeaways. Also, let the recipient know the message requires some action from them. This summary will increase the possibility of your email being read and show that you understand the value of the time of the person reading it.

In Closing

Welcome to the remote workforce. With the right balance of skills, tools, and discipline, you can increase your creativity and productivity. Hopefully, you found these tips useful.

If you’re interested in learning more about the cybersecurity concerns that arise while working remotely, click here to read our FAQ on the subject.

Join the Scrum – Retrospective as a Security Tool for Continuous Improvement

Join the Scrum – Retrospective as a Security Tool for Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is a fundamental part of any security standard or security management system, so during my career I have had the opportunity to implement, manage or audit different approaches to implement it.

As in the last years I’ve also been exposed to agile development methodologies, I have equally had the opportunity to see close up how continuous improvement can be managed by using the retrospective ritual as part of the scrum ceremonies.

A scrum retrospective is basically a meeting where all the team considers about how the last sprint was, identifying what went well and what didn’t go well. The goal is to come away with a proposal of how to modify the process that everybody on the team agrees with and is committed to for the upcoming sprint.

Sounds simple and it is. And it is this simplicity that surprised me when I realized how powerful and efficient this continuous improvement tool is: by investing 30 minutes on a bi-weekly meeting I saw tangible improvements and results on the morale and the efficiency of the team as well as the process the team was using.

From my point of view, the main advantages of using retrospectives are:

  • Doesn’t require a big investment; 30-60 minutes at the end of each iteration is enough.
  • Being a bottom-up approach has the extra advantage that helps to motivate the team since it’s empowers decision making and is self-organized.
  • The changes are tried on short cycles – if a proposed change does not work, it’s easy and quick to revert to the previous situation

Essentially, the scrum retrospective was created to improve development efficiency and scrum team motivation, so it’s true that it only works well with small teams, less than 8-10 members. However, I’m fully convinced this tool is also applicable to other fields within the security sector to improve the efficiency of any work team and improve security management processes.

We can imagine, for example, security consultants, penetration testers, MSSP or security integration teams using this retrospective approach to drive improvement on the processes used to manage their services or projects as well as being a tool to improve the communication and the motivation of those teams’ members.

It can be a really useful tool as well for a corporate security team by using retrospective as a way to improve the efficiency of the internal security teams. It also helps identify aspects that didn’t work well in the last cycle and find initiatives to improve those aspects in the near future. In order to do this, security professionals could use retrospectives on top of the post-mortem analysis on security incidents to get a wider perspective on, for example, the security incidents that happened during the last cycle (week, month, year…). The two key questions to be asked on those security retrospectives could be:

  • What went well on my security processes during the last iteration? What security incidents have been effectively detected, contained, eradicated or recovered? What are the security controls that helped us to be successful there?
  • What went wrong on my security processes during the last iteration? What security incidents were detected too late or were not properly contained, eradicated or recovered?

By analyzing the answers to these two main questions, the security team will better placed to select which initiatives should be accorded high priority and implemented during the next cycle – improving system efficiency being the basis for implementing a continuous improvement policy that provides tangible results.

In conclusion, it’s true that retrospectives can’t completely replace other traditional approaches for continuous improvement. But I’m convinced that it’s a really effective tool to be applied to a very wide range of situations so it should be always part of the toolbox of any team, service or project manager, not only in the development sphere but also in the security one.