Like so many of us, I've been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic. I was basically sent home from the office on 16th March 2020. I remember that there were probably 3 of us left in the office: two of us didn't want to work from home and the floor manager. The vast majority had been working from home for weeks. The night before, President Macron told on TV that from then on it's strongly recommended to work from home.
I'm a software engineer. Supposed to be a logical creature. I interpreted "strongly recommended" as "not mandatory". I still think I was right.
Nevertheless, we disagreed with the floor manager and I was kicked out of the office.
Since then my remote journey hasn't stopped and I can split it into 4 distinct parts.
- Working remotely for the remote team I already knew
- Working remotely for the hybrid team I already knew
- Working remotely for a new (hybrid) team in the company I knew
- Working remotely for a mostly distributed team in a completely different company
As I already explained, in the beginning, we were all sent home, so we can say we were a fully remote team. There were no new hires and everyone who was not let go in the coming months was happy to have a job. There were no new faces, we knew each other.
Working together was easy despite that due to the network bandwidth we were even asked to only rarely turn on our cameras. Because a big chunk of the team was based in Bangalore and later in Ukraine, working remotely was not completely new to us.
For non-strictly-work-related interactions, we used chatrooms and direct messages, and when we had calls with 2-3 participants we often talked for a few minutes about life, about each other. As we already knew each other, it was completely natural.
Probably the only thing I missed was the whiteboard from the office. We tried different tools, but none of them was really good.
Overall, while it was difficult on a personal level to stuck in our flats - outdoor exercise was limited to an hour per day! - especially for those living alone, workwise it was relatively easy. No interruptions at our "desks", which felt like heaven. Also not having hybrid meetings was great, I often felt that the few who sometimes worked from home were disconnected from our meetings - not their fault! I was also happy that I was not asked to turn on my camera during bigger meetings.
Due to the lack of cookies brought to the office by everyone, I even started to lose weight.
By the time, people started to go back to the office slowly. Not me. I enjoyed the lack of commuting and also the lack of interruptions at my desk.
Returning to the office became mandatory in 2021 and I applied for participating in a full remote pilot program.
I had 2 logical reasons to support my application. One is the French public worker's inherent love of and desire for strikes which is quite problematic for parents. I understand that parents - including us - somehow managed this before, but it's still a reason. And the other reason was that I already had quite a transversal role and often I met people remotely even from the office.
"Manage somehow" is relative. We saw a single mom crying because she had to leave her job because she simply couldn't continue working with strikes every random Thursday...
My employer used to own and rent various offices a few kilometers from each other. Once I remember that person who I reported to in my side role was surprised saying that "oh, we thought you'd come physically". Why on Earth would I have done that? Obviously, I wouldn't have taken my own car for a work meeting (and also lose the scarce parking spot). If I took the company shuttle back and forth then my one-hour meeting would have become more like 1 hour and 40 minutes. The way I work clearly does not give me so much time to waste.
So no. Working remotely from my home was a better choice and I didn't lose so many interactions.
My reasons were accepted, at least I could continue working from the corner of our living room which I occupied - not always to the satisfaction of my wife. But the extra help I could provide with the kids and the extra time we could spend together was worth it - most of the time.
On the professional side, I felt no challenges. Meetings were very rarely hybrid anymore. Even if people were at the office, in the vast majority of cases they called in from their desks respecting the others who were not there.
We continued discussing personal matters too at the beginning of calls not involving many people. And while some changes happened to the team, people came and went, most of us knew each other and it was not that difficult getting to know a few new people. In addition, as the office was close to my place and that was the deal, I went in about once a month.
Being among the longer-tenured people in the department, I had no difficulties with finding my place in this new situation.
At the beginning of 2022, I changed teams. The company was the same, so tools and company culture, company-wide know-how were not a problem for me. But I got to know different people, and fit into another team. To fit into a team who already knew each other.
My reputation within the company helped me, there were some people who actively looked for contact and even mentorship from the beginning.
In the new team, I changed a bit my attitude, and I also tried to join at least a part of the virtual coffees. Only a part of them, because I felt that they were holding me back timewise. But I already felt that more one-on-ones with teammates, and being active in meetings were more necessary than before. I had to make myself part of an already functioning team.
I mentioned that I was held back by these activities time-wise. Why did I say so? Because I joined as an experimented developer. I had a lot to do, I was already expected to deliver - and rightly so. But I also brought my own baggage as a principal engineer. I didn't start with a clean sheet. I had some stuff to continue doing and to start new things not related to my new team, but to my new department or higher organization.
At the same time, I had the slightest intention to work a single minute of overtime. So time management became even more important than before.
The team itself was very international in two different senses. We had people from 6-7 nationalities and we were based in 3-4 different countries - our Australian colleague left us soon after I joined. Some people used to call in from a meeting room regularly, but as they were not the majority, we didn't feel left out.
I soon left and that didn't have anything to do with me not fitting in. I had a good time there.
If you are a regular reader of this blog. you probably know that after Amadeus, I joined Spotify. It was a completely new situation for me. First of all, this is a totally remote position without any expectation to go to the office every once a month, every once in a while.
But even if I wanted to, it would not be possible as the closest office is 600 kilometres away, and the only office within my country is about 900 kilometers away.
And by the way, I don't work with anyone from these offices. The folks I worked with are based in the UK, far from the London office and in Stockholm.
It means that I joined an organization whose culture, and values I didn't know (more than it's possible from some external HR pages) and where I couldn't count on occasional office trips to learn more about each other.
The first thing I noticed is that dailies are relatively long and there are a lot of unofficial group calls - mostly about work.
I was always trying to avoid long dailies in my life. Such a time wasters. In this case, I had the feeling that it makes sense to sacrifice that half an hour and include such parts as "word of the day" and a "stress check". In other words, we don't only talk about the three eternal questions of a daily standup, but we also have some fun or show that we care about each other.
The 3 eternal questions
What did you achieve yesterday that helps us to meet our Sprint Commitment?
What will you do today to help us meet the Sprint Commitment?
Do you have any impediment/blocking point that is preventing us from meeting our Sprint Commitment?
The reason behind my change of heart is that I saw it as a good way to fit in, to sync up with people, to learn a bit more about them. It's still a time-boxed way of socializing.
Unscheduled group calls - huddling in Slack terms - is a different case. It's often about group work, collective code reviews, mob programming. That was something I was advocating for in my previous teams - even before going remote.
So for me, the concept is not related to remote work. It's only the implementation of this technique that is remote. What I do find important is that people understand what these - often ad-hoc - group calls are about so that they can decide whether they want to join or not. Without that understanding people will be either reluctant to join or they will be afraid to drop out and they waste their time in sessions where they don't contribute.
I always sympathized with the idea of eXtremely Distributed Software Development. But I also admit that if you join a company where XDSD is not the main idea behind organizing development tasks, you must pay attention to become part of the team. You don't only have to deliver your tasks, but you also have to make sure that you help others achieve their own goals, you have to make that you're available and contribute to team decisions. First by asking good questions and expressing your opinion, later by proposing solutions.
This might be uncomfortable, especially if you are an introvert. But I still think it's essential in order to succeed. This is probably easier in person, remotely you have to be more proactive.
In this post, I shared with you the four different stages of my remote working journey. It started like for most of us, everyone in my whole team suddenly found themselves at home, then little by little everything changed around me and I found myself in a new company where you can work from - almost - anywhere.
While in this setting, I have to be a bit more mindful about spending enough time socializing with my remote teammates, I still think it's totally worth it. Today's technologies make online collaboration easy, almost as if we were in the same place. At the same time, the money I gain by not having to commute to the office is not negligible and the time I gain makes it possible to have a better work-life balance.
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