This is Technical.ly Baltimore’s new “How I Work” series, where we’ll take a look at the tools and tips the region’s startup founders and creative leaders use to get through the day. If you’d like to be a part of this series, e-mail us.
Remote work is nothing new for Jason King and the team at Accella.
King started the agency that designs and develops websites and mobile applications 14 years ago after building up a small book of business as an independent consultant, and the team has been fully remote ever since — “always have been and always plan to be,” King said. The U.S. team has members in states including Texas, Washington, Missouri, Wisconsin, Alabama, Colorado and New Jersey.
With the current shift to remote work amid the spread of COVID-19, we asked the tech company leader about tips for working from home, and how he’s adjusted over the years.
This is how he works.
What’s your work from home setup?
I have an office towards the front of my house. We moved about seven years ago, and a dedicated office was a key requirement for me. My old setup was in the basement of our townhouse, so limited sunlight and it doubled as a workout room and storage area, so was a little tight. Now I’ve got two large windows with a nice view of our front yard and some seating for any business related visitors.
I have a sit/stand desk with a treadmill to help me get my blood flowing a bit throughout the day.
What’s the first thing you do every day before doing any tech-related work?
I’ve got 3 kids between 7 and 12 years old, so most mornings I’m helping to get them out the door for school, packing lunches, making breakfast and making coffee for my wife. Depending on how crazy work is, I’ll get up around 6 and try to get some work done while things are quiet before switching into family mode for a bit when the kids are up, and then getting back online between 8:30 or 9:00.
As I sit down to work, the first thing I do is scan emails and Slack for anything that has come in since I left the office the previous day and then set my list of priorities for the day and re-organize my priorities for the week as necessary. This helps keep me focused as new requests come in and keeps me goal oriented throughout the day.
For ongoing projects, how do you keep track of your progress?
We use a combination of AirTable, JIRA, SmartSheet, Slack and Google Docs for managing projects. AirTable is for tracking user stories, which then flow into JIRA as tickets for tracking estimates and for testing as projects get released. We use SmartSheet for Gantt-style project tracking for timeline to delivery and Slack and Google Drive for communication and document storage.
When you need to take a break, what are you turning to?
My wife is a part time substitute teacher, so she is around a good bit. So if I need a break, and she’s around, I’ll find her and hang out for a bit. It might just be a quick chat or a walk around the park across the street. Sometimes I meditate for a few minutes. Other times I’ll work out — either go for a run or some type of at home workout. When it’s nice out, I’ll sit on my front porch for a few minutes or shoot a few baskets in my driveway. Typically something at least a little bit active that either lets me get away from work, or allows me to step away from the computer (and Slack) and let my mind think about the bigger picture.
What tools do you use to keep communication with the team when you are working remotely?
We use Gmail, Slack and Zoom for communication. Slack is great for me to have a holistic view of our ongoing projects and allow me to jump in if I see something that needs attention. It’s been a great resource and has limited the amount of email communication that we have internally. To me, it has the feel of seeing someone in the hall and having a quick chat or dropping into someone’s office for an update. Just like those interactions though, it can sometimes be a distraction of sorts, so it’s important to pause the notifications when I really need to focus in on something. We run all of our calls via Zoom, most of the time with cameras off. The idea of camera on is nice, but with work from home, people are sometimes more hesitant because they are a bit more casual. I find camera on is nice from time to time, especially when talking to clients or prospects, so it becomes very situational.
What challenges have you faced working remotely from home, and how did you overcome them?
On a personal level, I have always enjoyed the flexibility of working from home. Just being able to take a break from time to time and not have people giving you a sideways look is nice. I’ll go for a walk, run an errand, even take a nap if I’m completely exhausted. That all might sound crazy coming from the boss, but I think it’s important to be able to step away from time to time and give your mind a break. I expect everyone to put in their hours, but working from home gives a little bit of flexibility around when and how those hours are worked.
So my challenges on the personal front have been limited. When you’ve done it for a while, you can sometimes get comfortable just staying in all the time, so I have to be pro-active about getting out and visiting prospects and clients and attending events. To combat this, I have rough goals around how often I need to be out of the house in a given week.
For the company, the challenges I’ve seen are around isolation/depression and the desire for social interaction. Everyone is a bit different, so it affects people in different ways. To increase social interaction and a feeling of community within the company, we have a few planned company calls throughout the month, just to keep everyone in the loop. I try to ask people questions on those calls that gets people talking a bit about their personal lives, to help build those connections, and we have a few channels in Slack that allow for more casual conversation (we have a foodie channel and have recently done some fun little things like quizzes and get to know you exercises that help bridge the gap). We also do things like NCAA and NFL football pools.
What’s one thing you do to maintain balance between work and personal life?
I have glass doors on my office with a lock as a starter! With three kids, even outside of this current situation, there are instances where they are home on a workday. I’ve been doing this long enough that there are clear expectations around when I’m available and not, though it still doesn’t work out perfectly.
I think having an actual office (or workspace) is important. Working in the kitchen or living room can sometimes offer a change of scenery, but also tends the blur the line too much between work and home. When you do that, family has different expectations around your availability and you have a tendency to never fully get away.
I try to limit work on the weekends to create a period of time when I can truly disengage. That’s not always completely feasible based on what’s going on with the business, but I find that creates a good barrier.-30-