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Do we really want to go back?

Observations about remote work and what’s next for our empty office.

The following points came up in an internal discussion we had about the role of our office and I found them to be worth sharing. They have been lightly edited. We haven’t made any decisions yet, but I imagine other companies are having similar discussions.

Some observations after almost two months as a distributed team

  1. The current form of remote work is not representative of “normal” remote work, as not only have we lost personal contact to coworkers, but also to most friends, parents and social gatherings. Remote work right now feels EXTRA isolating … in a more normal situation one wouldn’t necessarily need to work from home (e.g. be able to go to coworking spaces) and one could still go out with friends and see other people for the social needs. I think that’s important to keep in mind when judging whether remote work is working for oneself at the moment. The current circumstances are simply not normal.
  2. A lot of “remote-fluencers” are hailing a paradigm shift in how we work and that remote will be the new standard. I do not think that will be the case anytime soon … I assume most companies will go back to their offices after covid19. However, there is a shift happening which will take a bit longer to take form: First of all more potential employees will look for remote jobs in the future, not willing to move for a job or to give up flexibility. And secondly a lot of new companies will be remote. Covid19 has shown that having an office is entirely optional for our industry and I would assume that a large percentage of new tech/media startups will be entirely remote.
  3. Covid19 will result in a slight, but apparent mindset shift which will make some of our earlier rituals seem anachronistic: I don’t think that we’ll have the same success with big workshops, pinning lots of sticky notes, having big meetings in one place, flying to a client with five people … these old-world rituals will start to feel out of place and a bit of a waste of money, time and materials. This is not going to happen immediately, but the shift into digital collaboration will be happening, even if it’s just to save budget. As a client I would take a Zoom call + Miro whiteboard any time over flying with five colleagues to visit an agency and spend a day in a room, being late at home and paying extra for the documentation.
  4. I do think that distributed companies are inherently more robust, effective, scalable and future-proof than co-located companies. This has to do with saved office costs, but mainly because more communication happens in written form … the company self-documents every day and is generally more conscious about all interactions. I don’t think there is anything a co-located company can do that a remote company cannot in our industry (except maybe for our diesdas.unplugged office parties). However, the reverse is not true … remote companies can tap a vastly bigger hiring pool, therefore higher better people, who work more consciously together, compose a more diverse and therefore more creative team and, as the cherry on top, can work effectively across timezones. The quality of the work simply has to be higher.
  5. Combining all these observations I would guess that over the next 5–10 years a new breed of remote company will emerge that is vastly more innovative, distributed, diverse and productive than companies of the old co-located paradigm. These companies will have it dramatically easier to attract talent, which again makes them more effective, creating a positive feedback loop. These are the companies we might want as clients. These companies will want to team up with remote partners who understand their way of working.
  6. Yes, remote work also has its obvious downsides: I also don’t enjoy looking at a screen all day and working from home is not super comfortable for me either. I can only second what some of you said about not taking breaks and generally working longer. I would assume that over time one finds a better rhythm though. I always think back to a tweet in which somebody made the analogy of remote work being like moving out of your parents’ house … suddenly you have to define your own routines, get to know yourself better and structure the day on your own. More independence comes with more responsibility and you have to grow up + into that new freedom. It takes time to establish these new patterns.

Future scenarios for our office and team setup

Let’s now look at the three scenarios we can choose from going forward:

a) full-remote company, no office
Ditching all the offices, all-in for remote. Potentially with a coworking space flatrate for everyone.

b) remote-first company + social space
No fixed desks for anyone, the office is remodeled into a social/meeting space with a few hot desks. Everyone works remotely except for special occasions, larger workshops or team events.

c) office-first company + remote employees
We go back to the old ways, most people have a desk in the office, while a few employees work fully remote or regularly do home office.

What is important to note: the mixed setup (scenario c) is the most complex one, organisationally speaking. Both, a fully co-located or a fully remote company are simpler options, because there aren’t two competing paradigms for communication.

We’re discussing this right now and haven’t made any decisions. How is your team dealing with remote work right now? Will you simply go back to your office? If so, which changes from the current corona times would you like to keep? Let us know!

Oh, and it feels a bit wrong to ask for that, but a clap or two would be really appreciated if you enjoyed these words! Thank you! 🙏

diesdas.digital is a studio for strategy, design and code in Berlin, featuring a multidisciplinary team of designers, developers and strategists. We create tailor-made digital solutions with an agile mindset and a smile on our faces. Let’s work together!

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Thoughts, observations and learnings from Berlin-based digital studio diesdas.digital.

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Harry Keller

Harry Keller

Grand millennial with a teenage mind: always curious, mostly optimistic, annoyingly idealistic. Developer and partner at @diesdasdigital.

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