Remote work? I miss the office! well, do I?
After a year of being forced to start working remotely ( due to the pandemic), I began to notice that there are some simple things and rituals that I am currently missing from the good old office days. A list of events in which casual interaction while grabbing a cup of coffee is for sure at the top of the list.
Before the pandemic really hit our lives I decided to switch jobs and countries. And, while planning the move and shipping away all my stuff, I was forced to start the new company's onboarding remotely. Consequently, as you can imagine, and because of how the situation has been progressing, I barely know my colleagues in face-to-face situations (aka real life), which makes things hard when trying to get to know the dynamics of a new work environment and build a team spirit.
This challenge was the initial motivator to start writing this article and share some of the things I am currently missing from office life.
Socializing, in general, is one of the missing aspects of every company that was compelled to do remote work and was not remote-friendly before, this small detail to keep in mind because there were places where remote work was already on their DNA, hence this was not necessarily a challenge for them.
Although this helped us to trigger better practices for asynchronous work, it always takes time to adapt and get the tooling around to make the collaboration smoother.
As I mentioned before, casual interaction in common spaces is for sure the human interaction that I miss the most. Those random coffee talks when you get to meet other colleagues at different times during the day, and more special out of your close team and department. Which as a result encourages you to know more about the context that surrounds you.
Funny enough, based on some reading I have done, this was put into consideration when Apple designed its circular Apple Park building. They wanted to create a campus to encourage collaboration between workers and different departments. Mainly because it can potentially move you off of the routine and help you to develop your creativity.
On the technical side, the whiteboard sessions can fit into the list of missing things as well. As a developer, I truly miss those sessions when having the classic A-HA! moments. I must say that those moments were crucial to me, finally understanding technical aspects, dependencies, migrations, collaboration, etc. Eventually the end goal of promoting knowledge transfer between the rest of my pairs.
Changing topics a bit, related to commuting - which I will never miss - I have to admit that I regret not having that moment of leaving the office building and switching off from work completely and turning back to the real-life track again. Feeling that after working remotely for a year I have found it very difficult.
But if we analyze things from the company's point of view, what does this mean for them? - Leaving the costs of the offices outside of the scope.
In terms of productivity and based on metrics we get from the usual working hours - we know as a fact that on average most of the employees of the place where I work were working more hours than before, which doesn't exactly mean that the productivity was higher. But that wasn't ready to stay yet. After months of being immersed in the routine of waking up and doing the same things over and over for months, some other patterns and topics started to evolve, such as anxiety, stress, lack of motivation, excessive screen-time exposure, depression, languishing, among other terrible side effects that this world wide-pandemic brought to the picture. All of these points were a summary I did from talks with friends, news, wellbeing/wellness webinars (stress and uncertainties management), and social media feelings.
Although every role is going to be affected by this massive change, I can imagine some extra challenges in any management-level position. Again, communication will be the key. The thing is, that I can already see some difficulties and obstacles in finding and understanding the feelings and vibe around the work environment. Handling expectations and reactions is going to be hard, especially for people who used to share the same space. And now, all of a sudden, there are a lot of assumptions around because we barely see each other apart from VC meetings. To put it differently, a lack of feedback and status can evolve into micromanagement all around. But anyway, this is just something I am guessing/predicting.
Let's learn and adapt
In the agile world, we live in, things can change drastically and dynamically over time, so we must learn and adapt. With time I got used to working remotely and unclip daily new habits that make the work/life balance as healthier as possible. But of course, leaving that comfort zone of checking my phone from the bed wasn't easy.
But, How is this remote work affecting us internally? Is this for every person?
Within my group of friends, some prefer offices, and others still prefer to stay away from that and work at what they call the commodity of their home because going to the office is time-consuming.
I would say there is no black and white. It is a matter of putting things in balance and finding whatever suits you and your daily work better. Personally, there are days that I feel like working from home especially if I have to finish something for which I need a lot of focus time with no external dependencies. But, there are others that I feel like social interaction and communication with pairs will be better to unblock the things that I have in my working pipeline.
Here is a list of things I have collected and might help you:
- Change some low-level habits, so I recommend Atomic Habits, a book that can potentially help you to change things that you might be doing wrong or want to improve. Sleeping, eating, routines, etc. (it helps to start tracking and change a few things to feel better daily)
- Avoid using the phone (especially work-related calendars) right after waking up or before going to bed, as silly as it sounds I was really surprised at how much this was affecting my days
- Read before going to bed, switch off screen time
- Morning and midday walks, to mimic commutes to help to switch off from work
- Use your laptop from different rooms in your home
- Change clothes before starting your day, wearing my pajamas all day was fun in the beginning but for sure something that I never wanted to stay forever
- Set coffee break sessions with friends, which can be within your company or outside, and an event to set pair programming sessions - depending on the measures we are doing this every Friday and it is helping us a lot!
There is a lot of tooling out there to fix the things I miss, and I will for sure find social interaction again, any time soon. I even did an escape room online the other day! Fortunately, things are changing.
Does it make sense to work from 9 to 18 then?
A few things might have changed us and the way we work, and asynchronous sync was something that for sure impacted my work.
My home, my rules! we all have different morning routines and habits, and because it was not required for us to meet all together at the same time, some of the meetings and rituals we used to have, evolved into Slack threads, email reports, and confluence meeting notes, among others.
Night owls and early birds, on despite what's the reason for that, what if we create some dynamics where two profiles can finally work together? Where we can potentiate their work whenever they feel more comfortable and motivated. As an early bird, I used to get mad when all the meetings were late in the morning. But now, with the new dynamics and the amount of asynchronicity we have, I must that I am enjoying it and making my days more productive than before.
This was a game-changer not only for related roles and routines but also for every worker who realized that working remotely is not as bad as people tend to think. As a disclaimer and as you might observe, I am not (or wasn't) a big fan of remote work, because I consider social interaction quite important, but the world is changing so we need to adapt.
Going back to remote work, one of the main questions of this article is, does it still make sense to have a fixed set of working hours per day, which is usually from 09:00hs till 18:00hs?
What are the other alternatives? I have asked around and flexibility seems to be one of the main topics that we could take advantage of, given the situation we live in.
Is it possible to give flexible working hours, and work based on goals and objectives instead of hours without affecting productivity? Can this also affect the work-life balance?
Most probably this will be a motivator for us to change rituals like daily meetings, so we can start using chat or emails to share information instead. The same goes for catchup meetings, given the fact that we are having more virtual meetings than ever, some of them need to adapt.
But then, can everyone work in the same way? Does this mean that most of the meetings we used to have were useless? Well from my point of view not necessarily, we are humans and we tailor ourselves to fit better in the environment we live in.
Written by Manu
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