Oct 13, 2020

Reaching Remote Acceptance

For millions of people, the past months have radically changed their lives. In my case, one of the most impactful changes was the gradual transition into working fully remotely, or to working from home.

I've always cherished the office as a hub to meet my colleagues, communicate and socialize, so switching to less physical interaction was challenging at first. Quickly, though, the benefits of this new arrangement became apparent.

🏡 The Remote Present

Working from home stripped two hours of commuting off my day, time which I could now put to use for sports, working on side projects, or any other meaningful task, compared to listening to podcasts, which was the most productive I would get after a full day of work.

A very industry-specific privilege I'm grateful for is, that being an engineer in a tech startup today most likely means you're able to work from anywhere, anytime, as all of your tools are available to you without any strings attached.

At Hygraph, we've always been a distributed team, which made the transition and focusing on building a remote culture a company-wide effort everyone eagerly pushed forward.

This means that when there are no fixed meetings, which I try to keep as minimal as possible, my daily schedule is completely up to myself.

It almost feels weird to spell it out, but this sense of control and flexibility is something I would never trade back. It's true freedom leading to higher satisfaction and improved productivity.

Going for a walk at noon when the sun is out? Grabbing some groceries before the workday? Hopping on the bike for a couple of hours and continuing a feature in the evening? It's all possible.

🏃 Getting the most out of remote work

The extent to which working from home can work for people is very specific to their individual circumstances. Before anything else, it requires buy-in from leadership and your team, when you're the only person working remotely, you'll most likely have a hard time.

Communication is the most important thing to get right about remote work and can be the most challenging part too.

Getting rid of office habits like the physical watercooler chat that can feel exclusive to people who can't be there, setting up unnecessary meetings to feel like making progress, or other sins we committed against productivity, also becomes important to boost inclusivity and team spirit.

Most companies embracing remote work quickly shift to asynchronous communication, as writing things down early and making progress available to the whole team, regardless of timezones and availability, removes friction quite easily.

In the end, you'll find that the biggest factor in getting systems for remote work put in place is the commitment your team puts into it.

⏭ It's here to stay

The gradual shift to remote work in compatible industries has been observable throughout the past years, but it seemingly never reached the threshold where it was considered a mature alternative.

In large, this stems from the artificial sense of control employers have with employees fixed at their desks, the feeling of observability. I think we can do better than this, and many companies come to embrace it, with happier employees and more flexibility.

I'm also not saying that we shouldn't have offices at all, but it feels seemingly out of place to spend large amounts of time either commuting or being at work and not really working.

For the manager of today, it should be an insane thought to require people to waste time, productivity, and satisfaction, for gathering in an office space that you might not even need. Or ignoring the global talent market and instead only hiring where your offices are located.

Out of the eight to nine hours of office time each day, I would top out at three to four hours of focused work, spending the rest of my time distracted by external factors, scheduling lunch plans, and other office pastimes.

And when it comes to the adoption of remote work, big tech is playing along. Microsoft along with Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify recently announced they would continue to allow their employees to work from home. Apple employees won't be returning to their Vitra Pacific chairs until early next year either, so we might have finally reached the remote acceptance threshold.

It's like the silent revolution that everyone knew we needed but we never embraced, simply because we convinced ourselves the office was a better alternative.