Remote working is the future
People have talked about remote working in the technology industry for many years. Some companies, such as Basecamp, GitHub, and GitLab have embraced it for years whilst others have pushed back, expecting most teams to co-locate in office spaces. Some have had a mix of remote-friendly teams who may have some split of the two.
And then 2020 and Coronavirus COVID-19 changed everything.
Many countries introduced lockdowns to stop the movement of people and the spread of the disease. Companies had to quickly switch their working practices to allow people to work from away from their offices. For those that had already embraced remote-first working practices, the transition was easier. For those that had not started to look at remote working, I'm sure it was much more difficult.
After almost a year of remote working, I hope that most technology companies will move towards remote-first thinking. I believe it's the future of work.
It won't be easy but it'll be worth it
I became very ill in 2014 and almost died. It took 5 months for me to return to work and thankfully the BBC were great in allowing me to work remotely to a team which was mostly based in London.
However, being the only remote working to a co-located team wasn't easy.
Being an individual on the end of a Skype or Zoom call was tough. A room full of people all talking to each other with a single laptop in front of one person often meant that I couldn't communicate effectively. Trying to be heard over a meeting room of people who can easily interject and take visual cues from each other was tough. It took some conversations with my team, and a long time, to help to drive a change towards "remote-first". This is when you build your team's culture around the idea that everyone should be considered remote, even if co-located in the same office. I helped to drive this change in culture in our team and for the past 3 or 4 years, we've definitely become remote-first.
Remote working doesn't mean attempting to replicate what you do in the office but from home. It shouldn't mean a day of Zoom calls which mirror office meetings.
Companies and teams need to get better at changing what remote working looks like. Companies like GitLab have been running 100% remotely and have built their practices around their teams and how they collaborate. Communication and the discoverability and visibility of that information can become more difficult in the remote world. Defining what information is required and where it should live will make your team's life easier.
As technology teams, we have to become better at writing instead of communicating face-to-face. Starting to think about remote ways of working like asynchronous meetings will help us embrace remote-friendly ways of working. Being clear and concise in our written communication will allow us to work together but apart.
We'll have to get better at building software remotely too.
I've always liked pair programming as a process which helps to write better software. While it's a great way to share code, enable a mentoring relationship, and spot issues earlier, it can be more challenging in the remote environment. The expectations of having the same schedule and for pairing over Zoom for 5 hours idea can be tiring. We potentially need to look at new ways of working collaborating more effectively. If we look to the open source communities, who have been building great software in public but by distributed software engineers, we can think about new ways to build applications.
Thinking about the way we work will be necessary to avoid bringing old office ways of working to the remote world. Being more communicative, organised, and intentional in what we do will be great for everyone.
Companies will adapt
There will have to be big changes to the way that companies build their teams.
Having remote-first teams will mean we can start to hire people from anywhere. Having flexibility around how we work will allow us to look more deeply at diversity and inclusion in our teams. Being able to work asynchronously can help us to encourage people who wouldn't normally feel that technology is for them to join our teams. Talented people no longer have to be within commuting distance of an office space. We'll have to ensure that we can support new members of the team with better remote on-boarding, mentoring, and coaching. People like me, in engineering management, need to make this better.
If we no longer need teams to be in offices, companies might consider cutting their commercial office spaces. These may become more like tech hubs where teams can come together and collaborate from time-to-time instead of all of the time. Some companies may decide to get rid of the office spaces all together. I hope that companies will look to spend some of the money they save by not needing office spaces on enabling great remote setups for their employees. For example, we all need good chairs if we're not in an office space. Or allowing people to work from shared spaces should they wish too and perhaps don't have the ability to work from home as easily.
Companies need to adapt to the new normal of many people not wanting to return to the 9 am to 5 pm, 5-days per week in an office. They want to save their commuting time for time with their families, to exercise, or to just get up later!
Remote working is the future for those companies that can embrace it. While there may be a mix of teams coming together in real life, and also working remotely, I can't see a future where companies will bring teams back into the office for 5-days a week. I think we're being naive if we believe that their teams want to do that even after the pandemic. Most of the larger technology companies are now publicly stating that they will be building remote-friendly teams. And this is a great step forward from the past few years.
The future is remote-first working. The pendulum won't swing back now.