2020-03-10 Daily Update: Chinese introspection; Should you work from home?; Working remotely as a team

Wow, The WFH Times subscriber list doubled in size overnight, for those of you who are new, welcome!

Correction: Yesterday I suggested working from a cafe if you didn’t have space at home for a desk. This might be ok in general, but not so good during a public health crisis. I regret suggesting this, and please find a way to create a workspace at home.

Also, please email me (andrew@wfhtimes.com) your tricks for getting in “work mode” when you’re working from home. In a future newsletter, I’ll collect all of these great ideas and put them in one place.

On to the update.

China sees itself as largely having won the fight against the virus as cases outside China increase dramatically

Xinhua talks up the positive trend:

After the whole country's arduous efforts, a positive trend has emerged as the epidemic prevention and control situation has seen steady improvement and the resumption of the order of work and life has been accelerating.

Also, the 丁香园 (dīng xiāng yuán) daily update gives more focus to outside China than inside, including comparing death rates among countries and showing a state by state map of US confirmed cases.

What is happening on the ground seems to be that Wuhan in particular is still enduring a historic lockdown, lasting over 40 days. And this is despite the official case numbers falling over the past few weeks (for those who don’t read Chinese, the chart below shows active cases in Wuhan’s province, Hubei 湖北):

Here in the USA, the growth in cases is as expected (a.k.a. exponentially increasing), more conferences are being canceled including 9 medical conferences, more people are choosing to work from home, and it seems like even if you wanted life to continue on as normal, the rest of society has decided for that not to be the case.

Should you work from home?

One question everyone seems to be asking themselves is “Should I work from home?”

The potential health benefits and productivity risks can be calculated by someone else. What I want to focus on is the opportunity.

This is an amazing opportunity. Coronavirus has given us a chance to show employers that teams can be effective even outside the office.

So, sharpen your skills, get your team on board, and get to work.

Working remotely as a team

It’s one thing to work remotely on individual work. It’s something else entirely to work with a team. This is a skill worth learning as I expect it to be increasingly common as time goes on.

At a basic level, working remotely throws two big wrenches into the teamwork engine:

  1. Workflows break down when they depend on being in-person.

  2. The emotional pulse of the team is harder to observe.

Workflows often break in obvious ways, like realizing you need a whiteboard to sketch out an idea, or seeing how people keep starting to speak at the same time on video chat because of the time delay. The solutions are not always so obvious. If you experience these, email me (andrew@wfhtimes.com) and I can help you brainstorm ideas to solve them.

In the office, the emotional pulse is usually palpable. Is this person excited? annoyed? sad? You can see it on someone’s face and in how they interact with other people. This doesn’t happen naturally when a team isn’t in the same place. If you’ve ever tried to text someone and they misunderstood your emotion, you understand how this happens.

My recommendations for making the emotional pulse visible include:

  • Create 1 on 1 video chats with people that you work with where in the office you may have simply relied on unstructured time with them.

  • Create a daily update and post it on your team’s slack. It should include what you did yesterday, what you plan to do today, and where you are stuck.

  • Be mindful that text does not convey emotion well, especially emotions that we don’t even know we’re expressing. Get on video, or at least on voice.

  • Reserve time in your meetings to learn more about your teammates’ lives outside of work. Working remotely eliminates lunchtime and other typical times that teams have this casual but essential conversation.

For team leaders I recommend three more practices:

  • Challenge yourself: Can you delegate work in a way that avoids roundtrips, aka all questions are answered upfront?

  • Implement the 24-hour rule: don’t let decisions take more than 24 hours.

  • Start a dialog with your team about how to work effectively while remote (posting this newsletter could be a good start)

If you’re looking for more, Tal, Nick and I go into depth on How To Product S1 E7: Working with Remote Teams. This podcast is geared towards product managers, but people tell me that what we talk about is broadly applicable.


A friend in San Francisco sent this photo of their WFH setup. I’m not sure what the water heater is for, presumably tea but I’m not sure why that’s relevant. If you have a photo of something fun you did while working from home, let me know!

Thank you for reading! Please share this with your team on slack or externally on twitter if you find it helpful. And please send me a tweet if you want to add a comment.

See you tomorrow,