Since the start of this great pandemic of ours, there’s been a lot of virtual ink spilled about companies doing a shift to fully remote or hybrid models. As I’ve been working mostly remote since 2018, I thought I’d chime in on the matter.
Spoiler: I often say that articles asking a “Yes” or “No” question in the titles can usually be answered by “No”. This is no exception.
Remote work takes effort
I’ve seen inside a few companies during their shift to remote. Some of them are doing well, but others… not so much. There seem to be patterns in the later, such as:
Not embracing asynchronicity
Requiring employees to do work during strict office hours, such as 9 to 5, eliminates some of the advantages of remote work. This is especially true when the team isn’t all in the same timezone.
At most, the team should be setting some core hours where everyone is around for collaboration purposes, with meetings scheduled within those hours.
Reality is, for software development, a number of tasks are usually done in isolation, and there isn’t much reason to constrain working on those during certain hours.
Zoom fatigue is real, and cameras are a big reason for this. I find that in group meetings, being allowed to turn the camera off allows me to relax quite a bit more and spend more energy toward the discussion instead of faces.
Requiring cameras to be turned on, on worse, calling on specific people in group meetings to turn on their cameras, is detrimental to the conversation.
Not trusting employees
There’s more and more software available to measure “employee engagement” during working hours. When a company can’t trust its own employees, I doubt that they’ll be very successful working in a distributed fashion.
Mandatory fun times
To compensate for the lack of contact outside of normal meetings, some places create mandatory fun meetings where people can chat, play games, have a drink, what have you.
To me, the idea of forcing people in attending even more meetings than required, and have fun doing it, is a more than a little flawed.
If you want have a social hour, that’s not a bad idea on its own, but please don’t make it mandatory, and don’t shame people if they can’t or simply don’t want to attend on a specific day.
I think the hybrid model where you allow people to either work in office or remote can work well, with some caveats.
If the team has at least one person remote, avoid conference rooms for the people in the office. I find that it creates two levels of conversations, and the remote folks are often excluded, especially since conference room microphones can be finicky. Instead, let people join the meetings from whatever desk they are at, whether in the office or remote.
Another thing to look at would be reorganizing your teams into co-located vs remote teams. It can seems drastic, but it could help mitigate inequalities between teammates.
Remote work is a privilege
Not everyone has the right environment to work from home effectively. Personally, I need a dedicated room so I can separate home and work. I also need a stable and fast-ish internet connection for meetings and VPN access. While I have everything I need, that’s not the case for everyone. My hometown still can’t get reliable Internet access to this date! (It’s never a good sign when the single cable company is owned by the single telco!)
Not every one wants to work remote.
Yes, we hear from everyone about working from home can be great and all that. But for some, working in offices is preferable. Personally, I didn’t enjoy remote work at all at first, but over time I’ve learned to appreciate it. I’d still like to go back to an office one day, at long as it’s not an open office anyway…
Nothing Earth shattering here, but here’s what I think will happen in the next few years:
- Even more companies will switch to remote or hybrid work, but the vast majority will go back to office works
- Some of the companies who did the switch to remote will re-open offices due to not being able to figure out this remote thing properly
- New tools will come along, such as
- Half of which will be glorified chat rooms with obnoxious notifications
- A quarter will be monitoring tools
- And at least 10% will try to solve problems no one has
- We’ll see a few articles about how this one person in a company of thousands hasn’t worked in X months or years and still got their paycheck
- Bad managers will freak out about this, when in reality we all know someone who has worked in an office and hasn’t done anything in years…
In the end, people will have more options to choose how they want to work. That’s a good thing!