I've come out of Covid with the general feeling that I wouldn't mind never having a regular in-office presence again. Even with backdrop of a global pandemic, I've found myself generally happier, more productive, and more excited about work than I had been in the year prior. According to research published by Microsoft, I'm not exactly alone, but I'm also not the majority.
The difference is similar to the distinction that Paul Graham's made between the schedules of makers and managers. Being an effective programmer requires an environment conducive to focused work (aka flow-state). Most offices just aren't that, especially with the trend towards open-layouts and higher density.
There are plenty of micro-distractions that an effect flow-state, such as colleagues chatting, bad lighting, temperature, and people moving in and out of view. There are also more opportunities to get context-switched out. At home, I can keep thinking about a particularly thorny problem on the way to a bio-break or to refill water. In an office, this is a prime opportunity for a quick question that disrupts my train of thought.
Impromptu meetings with colleagues are actually easier in this environment. We can screen share code and have a private conversation without the need to trudge around the office looking for an empty room or doing the reconnecting-the-monitor dance once returning to our desks.
Therefore my remote office is a better maker space. I am able and willing to customize every detail to get the most productivity for my time. The home office is an inspiring place that I enjoy working in.
This rugged individualism comes at the detriment to managers, who sit on the other end of the pendulum. Their primary responsibilities are communication and interaction, rather than deep work. The office environment brings passive communication opportunities. The brief hello on the way to a meeting, the five minute status update at someone's desk, or even a few quick glances around the office can provide invaluable information with little cost.
These passive signals require proactive communication in remote environments. There are no hallways for an offhand, passing conversation. Instead there must be a direct conversation and extra care needs to be taken to differentiate between a question and a question with intent, a difference that would have contextual clues in person.
Both types of work are critical for a company's success which leads to an internal tension. A top-down mandate is the simplest solution but likely a counter-productive and draconian step. Rather there seems to be a growing consensus that the future is hybrid (Microsoft, CapGemini); a model that is better positioned to make the best use of each individuals talents and strengths to find the right overall balance. Personally I bet that the companies and teams that manage this transition well are going to be the hot places to work in the future.
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