Remote working as a norm

Remote working as a norm

A few weeks ago, I was around the coffee machine at work, looking through the window the usual traffic jam of downtown  Lyon in the morning.  I was asking myself do people really do this every fucking morning? I mean, I understand we need to go to work every morning, but how many people stuck in the traffic jam every morning have really no other choice?

And by choice I don’t necessarily assert everybody should use a bicycle. What about a scooter? What about public transport?

And what if you just don’t need any commute at all because you can work from home? What would be the global impact if remote working was actually a norm, and not an exception?

traffic

Disclaimer

This is my personal experience, feel free to challenge me at any point. For a little context, I’m a software developer with 7 years of experience. I had worked remotely during 2 years (2013-2015).

This blog post happens because I was astonished with feedback about this simple tweet. So I believe it deserves a little more explanation than 140 characters.

tweet

“What do you mean by remote working?”

I mean, normally not working in your company’s building.

In my personal experience, we worked at home but met together for a full day at least once a week. Also if some of us met a pretty hard issue, we worked together for a full day, either just on hangout, or physically in the same office.

I hope you notice ”not working in your company’s building”, working at home is certainly not an obligation. There are plenty of great co-working spaces out there.

Also we know some great companies like Github (ok it might not be great anymore) who were able to run distributed teams across different countries. A common mistake about remote working is: we assume you won’t be able to communicate with your co-workers.

Communication does not necessarily require two people to be physically in the same room. It’s a matter of tools and culture.

Even if I agree that remote communication may be harder than physical synchronous communication, I believe it’s a question of practice.

Good code requires good practices, the same is true for communication. Distance forces your team to improve its communication skills, to be more efficient.

Now let’s imagine the different impacts if globally, we all try to work remotely (I know you already want to scream: “But every jobs do not fit for remote working!” don’t worry, we’ll speak about that in the limits section)

remoteEnvironmental impact

First of all, imagine the impact on traffic if most people work from home or in co-working spaces nearby. Less traffic Jam, less fossil energy used. Of course it’s really hard to estimate what the impact would exactly be, but a quick search on google confirms that traffic is responsible for more than 25% of the global atmosphere pollution.

Because cars are mostly used to commute to work, It’s easy to imagine how big the impact would be if we avoid using them. And I haven’t even mentioned car accidents and related tragedies we could avoid as well.

It would definitely be great for our planet if we stop using our cars for unnecessary commute.

environnement

Social impact

Some people react to my tweet thinking I’m an introvert. Funnily enough, I think my remote working period was one of the most social I ever had in my professional life. Let me explain why.

When working remotely, when people ask you to come out for a drink or a restaurant after work, you’re pretty happy to go because you are not tired. You are happy to see people and you know you could wake up a little later next morning if you come back home a bit late.

Currently, I work 1 hour from home, I wake up at 7:30am and come back at 7:00pm. I feel pretty tired when I come back, and certainly don’t want to go out. Even when I do, I can’t come back too late or I will be really tired the next day.

Also you know all these places you can never go because they are open when you are at work? Yep, post office, bank etc. Well it’s no longer a problem, you can enjoy going anywhere without the crowd, and without the stress of losing your weekend in endless queues at some administration.

The consequences are: you are less stressed, have more fun and are rarely tired during the day.

Another interesting aspect is that it would also allow to spread population density and revive some rural or semi-rural areas. If we no longer need to commute in the big city where all the offices are, we might have a better population repartition. It would definitely benefit to little local businesses.

social

Professional impact

Simple personal observation: I’m globally more productive when working remotely by a factor of 1/3. No rocket science here, I use Pomodoro to track my productivity in a day. At work (classic open space) I perform 6 to 7 Pomodoros per day (around 3.5 hours of focus work), unless I’m working in pair or in mob programming.

At home I perform 9 to 10 Pomodoros per day (around 5 hours of focus work). For several reasons I guess. But as I explained, one of the main is that you have to communicate efficiently when working remotely. The rest of the time you can easily focus without being interrupted.

In an open space, communication is often chaotic, unorganized, and inefficient.  People walk around, and in the space of one minute you can hear about a birthday, a joke, and a critical bug in production.

Being less tired is probably very important as well, I have more energy which could explain my increased productivity.

Another great point, like explain here  is that you are judged with the work you actually do, not by the work you appear to do.
We all know workalcoolhics working very long hours in a very inefficient way and still being often congrats by the management.
In remote, nobody in your team is here to see “how hard” you work. Your only value is the quality and relevance of the code you produce. Maybe a “remote management” would actually lead to better result, at least in the IT industry for this exact reason.

efficiencyLimits

Here we are, I hear you thinking: “But how can a school teacher or a physician work remotely?”

Yes, I agree, not all jobs  are a good fit for remote working. Jobs around software (building or using it) are the most suitable for this model I guess. But remember software is eating the world, right? So we could probably find a lot of jobs that actually fit this model.

Even for those who basically don’t fit, we could imagine different models. I agree, some jobs cannot be done remotely, but remember traffic generates 25% of atmosphere pollution. Even if we could find remote alternatives for 10% of all the existing jobs, it would definitely have a visible effect.

limits

Let’s recap

If we would consider remote working as a norm, we could look how any job could be performed remotely. I understand it’s not possible for all the jobs, but I’m also sure that our everyday commute to our company’s offices is in part due to unchallenged and useless habits.

If we consider remote alternatives when possible, my feeling is that we could have less pollution,  more happy people  and more productive companies.

What’s your feeling?

 

Great thanks to Haikel GuemarLaurent Caron and  Nieve for the review.

 

Ouarzy

 

3 thoughts on “Remote working as a norm

  1. You ask me, what my feeling is about this subject?
    => exciting, disruptive, positive destruction, very positive.

    Virtual teams, virtual companies, every single task is assigned to and organized within its project. Join & unjoin your teams of experts – no matter “where” the single excellence is located.

    100% market.
    Reorganization of established societies.

    No frontiers, no borders.
    Huge chances.

  2. Great insights, I agree with most of this. Some points are obviously universally true – not commuting saves energy and decreases pollution – and some at least in a local way in your context – e.g. the extra pomodoros achieved.

    However, it’s the idea of “remote as a norm” that bugs me. There are still a lot of activities that in my experience are much more valuable, or even only feasible, when performed in situ. Modelling sessions at the drawing board. Mob programming. Retrospectives. Event storming. Pretty much anything that requires a wide visual space for participants to express themselves, and we have seen plenty of this showing up over the last years with movements like Agile, DDD, visual management and so on.

    Also, we shouldn’t forget that studies (https://t.co/6yDdBFOpcL, https://t.co/gqqqkXct9S) have established causality between face-to-face communication and better collaboration. It is very true in my experience. While open spaces, as you rightly pointed out, can destroy signal and cause interruptions, it remains true that when a team is together and focused on a same activity, physical presence (through non verbal communication, etc.) makes for a much more human biology-friendly setting that boosts mutual understanding and consensus. Even – perhaps all the more so ? – in a knowledge industry.

    I like the disclaimer where you tell us to take this with a grain of salt because it is just your personal experience. Not all remote work proponents are that cautious. Some advocate “remote-first” (https://zachholman.com/posts/remote-first/, really it should be called “remote or nothing”) as the ultimate approach that will triumph over the others. Under that work style, no face-to-face or synchronous activities whatsoever are allowed and even coworkers who would happen to be in the office at the same time can’t have a conversation because the others would miss out on it.

    I don’t believe this is the absolute best approach. It might be in extremely rare cases where remote location of team members is an unsurmountable constraint, but making it a norm seems dangerous to me. Something is a norm either because it has become a de facto standard over time, or because you impose it. With remote-first, we’ll see if the former proves out to be true but I doubt it, and the latter is simply shooting yourself in the foot by arbitrarily rejecting all the benefits of colocated collective problem solving.

    As much as I enjoy being able to work remotely from time to time, I’m not sure I could work for an organization that forces remote-first on me and on itself as a stone-set rule. It is just as pointless as banning remote work entirely. Do whatever works for the business and team members. No need for norms – virtuous practices will emerge by themselves.

    1. 100% agree, my titles are vonluntary a bit contraversive, but I don’t believe the world is black or white. It’s obviously gray and as you point out, some methods like Event Storming cannot be perform remotely.
      My goal was more to challenge the habits. Do we go in our company’s building because we’re used to, or because we need to share knowledge with business people? And if the goal is to share knowledge with business, is an office the best place anyway?
      I see too often that we have to go in the office just to pass the entire day with headphone on our head, that’s where we could improve I believe.

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