As a Frontend Developer, I had the pleasure of working for a Nordic company from a Legal Tech Field. As I value face to face contact and got used to working in a traditional in-house way, I was rather skeptical of fully remote work. Shortly before I joined the project, remote work turned involuntary due to the pandemic and that’s the experience I feel is relatable for many of you, thus worth sharing.
Remote work has its must-haves. Comfortable workplace, including desk and chair allowing you to keep your health while working long hours. Stable internet connection, good microphone and hardware allowing you to make quality presentations as well as take daily calls, are another point of the ‘remote work basics’. You also need lot’s of patience and indulgence especially if you or some of your team members are parents. Remember that you, working from home might be as big of an obstacle for the family, as the playing children might be a distraction for you.
In case of potential downtime, you’ll also need an alternative way of communication. Both as an employer and a developer, you cannot afford to spend hours without any form of communication with the rest of the team. For example, slack had a minor failure this year which I’m sure some of you may be aware of. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Full remote culture:
Switching to fully remote mode, demands everything to be written down and documented even more scrupulously than before for the project to develop continuously. At the start, the company tried to avoid going fully remote, yet they’ve offered everyone who was interested in going back to their home countries, the opportunity to do so. Regular calls, constant communication, and pursuit of improvement as well as focus on tightening the human relations, were what I knew before but not at this scale.
Another aspect that I found pleasantly shocking was the freedom of delivering the work within flexible timesheets. We were working in Scrum with the Scrum Master being a part of the client’s in-house team. As long as we delivered the work on time and attended the obligatory meetings, there was no problem with working in non-standard/late hours.
The team that I had the pleasure of working with, had basically no staff rotation during the project. There was a high focus on creating a very inclusive environment where every issue has to be addressed by the entire team. “Leave no one behind” is the kind of approach I would say.
I’d say the company was well prepared for the pandemic scenario, yet they were learning on the way. Hypothetically, if your team needs hardware (laptops for example) that need to be secured and shipped to the other side of the globe, you need to make sure everything is done right to not waste weeks of time if they need to be shipped back. Some waste of time was inevitable, yet that’s the lesson that could not be prevented.
Is it here to stay?:
Remote work has its good and bad sides. The office maintenance costs are lower for the employers, on the other hand, the electricity bill will go up for the employee (not everyone got the bonus for working from home). Remote work also might need some new laws, let’s say you had an accident when walking your dog during work hours- who do you think should be held accountable for such an occurrence? What I’m sure of, is that most companies will go back to their old ways as soon as the COVID situation gets better. I think that it is way too early to judge if remote work is here to stay.
Lack of trust is one of the main reasons holding home office from becoming a new standard. We seem to lack the belief that people can work as well on their own as they do when supervised at the office. The trust issue won’t change unless the way we think changes. For now, it seems that the mindset stays the same, we’re just forced to adapt and reduce the damage done by the pandemic. A Nine-to-five versus task-oriented workday is another dilemma that has to be addressed as soon as possible. Working in tech is knowledge-based work, demanding high focus and mental loads. Overworking and lack of proper mental hygiene can quickly lead to burnout resulting in lower (down to zero) productivity. The company I worked for seemed to be fully aware of the risk, as they put a lot of effort into caring for their teams well being. Purely human approach and honest, mutual care was present and felt every day of the project. To put it in perspective, such an approach might be a little harder to stumble upon in Central Europe.
Old vs. new ways:
COVID has opened the gate (by force) which otherwise would have been closed for years. Remote work needs mutual trust to function properly and efficiently. Micromanaging has to step down and make room to task-oriented work. Another thing we should focus on is efficiency. Proper documentation, cybersecurity and well-prepared procedures, as well as a comfortable workspace, are a must that keep things going. Low-value calls, home distractions and lack of constructive feedback lowers the morale, leading to a permanent decrease in performance.
My personal experience shows that remote work can work with the minimum amount of understanding and human approach implemented. Although I wasn’t a fan of the home office, I changed that mind after I tried fully remote work. Also, I think that the possibility of working remotely, or even just partially from home is a nice addition to somehow restricting 9-to-5, 5 days a week office job, and can be a valuable benefit, both in terms of employer branding and personal comfort.