Remotely in-person

posted by Jeff | Thursday, August 24, 2023, 6:55 PM | comments: 0

I just got back from Denver, where I spent a few days meeting up with my peers and our corresponding product, design and analyst folks. These 25 people were largely two-dimensional Zoom tiles with obvious talents for what they did, but now many of them are more than that. They have back stories and lives.

I generally do not align with the folks who feel like butts-in-seats are the one true way to work. I have always been at my best and most efficient when I've worked remotely, as have the teams that I have led. Taking a commute out of the equation is literally getting days of your life back every year, and I've been surprised by how much of that time I instead use for work. It ebbs and flows, and it took a lot of practice to find boundaries. You can't be answering email and messages 24/7, because that does not actually result in more or better outcomes. And I can say with certainty that, especially in the world of software, open rooms full of desks are not better for getting work done, and collaboration as a percentage of work is not large. Headphone sales I'm sure are what they are because of this office arrangement.

What we missed though, because of the pandemic, was the periodic in-person meet-ups. I've read some compelling math that saving on square footage makes it possible for remote workers to gather in person several times a year, paying for flights and rooms. What we did the last few days was awesome, not for any work that we did, but because humans, even software engineers, are social animals. It feels good to get to know people. Having not done this since before the pandemic, I was almost surprised that, yes, people share personal stories and experiences in ways that they don't do remotely. I think a few days of this per year is generally enough to feel more connected to your job.

I will also say that, for me, the cognitive and emotional load of something like this, where you spend all day (and evening) with folks, is high. Even today, I feel pretty spent. I'm grateful for the opportunity, but it's a lot. I'll look at folks a little differently now, having had the opportunity to work with them in a room all day, and interact socially in the evening.

Again, I don't think that these interactions are some kind of proof that "together is better," only that it makes the remote work that more meaningful. I hope that we're able to do it two or three times a year.


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