Best Practices

Here are our top tips for technical leaders, project managers, data scientists, and designers collaborating on data science, ML and AI projects, as well as some general best practices for working in a remote environment.

    • Help yourself to help others

      It's the age-old adage we hear so often when flying: "In the case of an emergency put on your oxygen mask before helping others." Setting clear boundaries for yourself and practicing mental check-ins will enable you to be the best leader possible.

      Only once you have done so, you are prepared to make the time to check in with your teams. Schedule regular one-on-ones as well as team meetings.  Make sure you have both a top-down and bottom-up approach by communicating with managers at a high level to keep business goals aligned. Do wellness checks and share resources often to help keep your teams healthy and safe.

    • Communicate well

      Communicate often with your managers and teams. Ensure your team is in sync with stand-ups and ideal times to collaborate throughout the day. This is especially important with distributed teams in multiple times zones and geographies. However, be flexible and understanding.

      Many colleagues have families, children, and other responsibilities they are balancing at home, and they may require more flex time than normal. Be considerate of those needs and clear about project priorities.

    • Invest in your employees

      Yes, like most organizations faced with the business repercussions of COVID-19 your financial belt may be tightened a few notches. However, there are some corners that simply cannot be cut. Invest in the right tools, products, and resources to help your teams work remotely. Share online blogs and sites like this one to keep them informed of the best ways to adopt their workflow to the remote environment, to be as productive and efficient as possible.

    • Stay organized

      Organization and attention to detail are two extremely desirable attributes of an effective project manager. Without in-person meetings or regular informal "Hey - how is element B doing on project Z" at the coffee station, it can become difficult to keep track of important updates, identify project needs, or gauge employee struggles or frustrations with a project.

      Use online software to keep project tasks on point, communicate clearly, and set actionable project scopes and deadlines for deliverables. Don't context-switch too often. Block time for each project you manage and make sure you use your scheduled time designated for a particular project to avoid getting sidetracked.

    • Don't skimp on the planning phase

      Front-loading the planning phase of your projects will prove very useful in the remote environment. Think Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation. Create a digital version of her famous planning binders. Use standardized file naming conventions, keep folders structured,  color-coded, and flagged. Prioritizing this action with help preemptively resolve pitfalls or pain-points before they flare up.

      Ensure you have the right personas developed from the start, with well thought out use cases built to scale. Verify that you have the resources and team support you need, and if not, be upfront about what you require to make this a successful project.

    • Build a diverse and empowered team

      Diversity is fundamental to your projects success. Diverse, empowered teams see problems from many different angles, with a multitude of solutions. Consider this: when building teams, you aren’t just assigning resources—you’re framing your approach to the problem. Each team member brings their unique perspective and expertise to the team, widening the range of possible outcomes. If you want a breakthrough idea, you’re more likely to get it with a diverse team.

    • Test, then test again – early and often

      With your team inevitably scattered around the globe and in different times zones, it is critical to test code and use cases early and often. This process can be incredibly time-consuming and costly if not done on a regular basis. Find your bugs early on and always double-check that not only does your code work, but it works as intended. Create valid unit tests and never work under assumptions. Test again and verify, and always have two eyes on everything.

    • Use the digital resources available

      GitHub repositories and Jupyter Notebooks are increasingly relevant and valuable in a remote environment. They can help you organize and test code, coordinate distributed work, develop good workflow and increase collaboration and innovation across developers. Another benefit is greater version control. Open-Source libraries are a great place to seek inspiration and help build out projects as well. (Just be sure you are clear about your company's policies regarding the use of open-source code.)

    • Practice IBM's Data Science Methodology

      Whether remote or not, following the guidelines set forth in IBM's Data Science Methodology will help ensure your project is delivered on time and on point - it also ensures that the data used in problem solving is relevant and properly manipulated to address the question at hand.

      Take this course to receive our free online badge, and familiarize yourself with our process and become a more efficient and effective data scientist.

    • Be mindful of version control

      When working remote there can be lots of back-and-forth. Feedback comes in varying forms, such as verbal conversations, instant messages, emails, tracked edits, scribbles on paper against the screen, and more. Be sure to document all aspects of provided feedback, including: who made the request, the business justification, the details of the request, and when it was submitted.

    • Prototype and iterate often

      If you're a product designer in tech working remotely, it is extremely important to build prototypes often, and iterate. Start with low-fidelity mockups and work your way up to functioning, high-fidelity models.

      Remember to gather feedback from all stakeholders, including the client, subject matter experts (SMEs), product (or offering) managers, developers, engineers - even marketing and sales if applicable; and integrate their feedback in your designs.

    • Practice IBM's Enterprise Design Thinking

      Good design thinking is not limited to design thinking sessions. It can be implemented into everyday life and in all facets of work and your projects. It can be invaluable in addressing client pain points, promoting innovation and discovery, creating use cases, developing better UX, UI, and products, and solving problem sets.

      Enterprise Design Thinking is IBM's approach to applying design thinking at the speed and scale of modern enterprise demands. It helps teams not only form intent, but deliver outcomes that advance the state of the art and improve the lives of the people they serve. Take our free online badge to learn how to integrate design thinking into your projects today, or learn Team Essentials for Design Thinking in AI.

Remote Working Tips and Tricks

Identify top priorities for the day

It can be hard to separate work from personal life when they both happen in your home. By organizing your tasks based on priority, you can help make work feel like work and home feel like home. Start your day with purpose and remember that breakfast and getting ready is still personal time. Enjoy your coffee or tea, eat breakfast, stretch, and get into your work gear (even if it's only on the top half). End your day with a meditation, walk, and a closed computer. Have a distinct moment when you start and end your work day, rather than beginning to check emails while the coffee is still brewing and taking calls while dinner is on the stove. 

Set up your work station

Setting up a physical distinction between your living space and your workspace is critical to avoid burnout and distractions. Even if you don't have an extra room to use, it can be something as simple as setting up a divider to block the TV from your dinning room table or setting up a monitor and some work supplies on an extra desk. Don't forget to add your rubber ducky to bounce ideas off of! If you do have to work in the living room, put work equipment away and in another room when it's time to transition to your personal space again.

Practice mindfulness to stretch your body and your mind

Break, and break often. Block your calendar for daily 15 minute walks around the block, lunch, late afternoon caffeine boosts, and even meditation and exercise. Practice the Pomodoro Technique with a twist. Use your breaks to get up and stretch, walk outside to get some sun, meditate, sit with your thoughts or let them wander. Most people forget to take these quick reliefs from work when we are not in the office with a water cooler or espresso machine to convene at.

Don't forget to eat (and drink)!

It can be easier to skip lunch when working from home. But when you are hungry (or lack caffeine like most of us), our productivity goes down. Start your day with a hearty, protein-rich breakfast, and snack on brain-boosting foods such as blueberries, avocado, nuts and seeds, oily fish, whole grains, and yes - even dark chocolate! Make sure lunch is screen-free and most importantly, don't forget water! Hydration is important not only to health and well being but also to productivity. Water is life.

Establish healthy flexibility

If your child needs help with their digital class, or you and your partner need to split childcare, arrange your day, block your calendar, and clearly communicate your time-off needs. Prioritization of daily tasks will provide clear focus and help you know how to maintain a healthy and productive balance.

Stay connected

Don't forget who your colleagues are by getting stuck in silos. Reach out often - whether it be daily stand-ups with your team to check in on project progress, a quick message to see how a colleague is doing, or virtual tea times and happy hours with the team. We can't expect people to be camera-ready at all times, but when you are able, flip that switch and enter gallery view. Seeing everyone's faces can really help reduce the feelings of isolation we are all experiencing. These small efforts can help projects stay on track, help teams work more efficiently, maintain collaboration on workloads, and boost team engagement and camaraderie.

Never stop learning

The landscape of the tech industry is always changing. Now more than ever, COVID-19 is rapidly altering nearly every industry at accelerated speeds - from the way we work and live to our needs and priorities. Leave time blocked in your day to read industry news, learn about new trends, or take online courses in your field. Download free trials of products you always wanted to know more about, learn a new programming language, or just brush up on soft skills.

IBM is offering many courses and badges for free ranging from Enterprise Design Thinking to Cybersecurity to Blockchain. Take advantage of this opportunity to become a leader in your field and build technical eminence.

Know when to unplug

Setting boundaries around when you are plugged into work or unplugged into your personal time is equally important to your job and your family. During breaks make sure notifications are paused, your away message is up, and your computer is closed. It's easier for colleagues to respect your break time if there is clear indication that you are away.

Browse our curated list of tools and resources to help you do your best work at home.

Resources and Tools