Last Sunday we were informed that the Anghami offices would be closed as a precaution while measures are taken regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. That meant that for the entire week we would have to work remotely, which is something we do not usually do.
We’re used to being within earshot of each other and just getting up and walking to the other person whenever we need to discuss something. Of course this isn’t the first time this happened to us, as we also had to work remotely for a few days when the demonstrations reached their peak in Lebanon a few months ago.
And at the time, we did face some challenges that we could have handled better. But as always, we learned from them and this time we were ready.
Right off the bat, groups started forming on our internal channels (we use Workplace by Facebook https://www.workplace.com). Relevant stakeholders got a hold of their teams and established the ways of communication going further. So what was different this time?
First of all, clear goals were set for every individual. We scheduled 2 daily group video calls within the team. One in the morning to set up the targets and plans for the day, and another midday to assess our progress and discuss any obstacles we were facing. Being online the whole work day is essential for there to be proper communication. Everybody should be aware of their responsibilities. We all know we are trusted to do our work from home, but that of course comes at the cost of accountability.
It is important to properly orchestrate the follow ups. We naturally adopted a PPP scheme (progress, plans, problems) when doing our group calls. We each had a turn to talk where we described what we’re working on, what we’re doing next and what’s blocking us. This allows the entire team to be on the same page, and makes us feel less lonely knowing that we’re all working towards the same goal.
It is complicated to manage a team if each member is in a city. But release cycles and sprints won’t wait for you, there are tasks and deadlines to be met. So there needs to be trust between all parties that the job will get done. Everyone should know what they’re working on and why they’re working on it.
From an engineering perspective there are several tools and habits that allowed us to maintain our level of productivity to an optimal level.
We already had an environment where all of our repositories are open to all engineers, contributions are expected to be made through pull requests and proper code review. This was very beneficial to our remote work situation since we are already used to handling this aspect of our work pseudo-remotely. True, it’s a bit harder to manage all the pull requests when you can’t talk to people face to face, but we are certainly very reactive. To achieve this, we set up multiple hooks between GitHub and Workplace that alert us whenever we need to review a pull request or that one of our pull requests needs attention. This system is also hooked up to our task management tool Redmine, which bridges product tasks to pull requests seamlessly.
Looking at the productivity of our engineers during the remote work we can see that we were virtually unaffected by this unfamiliar experience. The tool we use to gather this kind of insights on our code base and its contributors is called WayDev https://waydev.co/. It’s interesting that when programmers are not interrupted every 10 minutes, they actually code more. Lack of distraction allowed us to power through many tasks while being in the comfort or our homes.
Another cool tool we took advantage of is the Live Share extension available on VScode. It allowed us to have pair programing sessions without having to be near each other. It was definitely very helpful in certain cases, especially for collaboration purposes.
Overall, this has been a fun experience and a good distraction from what’s been happening in the world around us. A rather lovely event happened where a bunch of us created a room using our upcoming Anghami Live feature. We were basically all listening to the same music at the same time, so we still felt connected and excited.
This was a personal validation that our users are going to love the upcoming update.
Stay safe everybody, don’t forget to follow every recommended precaution. And if you are also working from home right now, make sure that you have all the right tools you need to get through this period.
Check out this work from home playlist: