Will You Go Back Onsite “After the Pandemic?”
“Remote” and “work from home,” WFH, all mean the same thing and refer to working almost exclusively from a home computer. Or pandemic permitting in a coffee shop, library … anywhere.
It specifically does not mean working mostly onsite with the option of working from home one day a week or in inclement weather.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
I get them all the time. Letters from recruiters stating that the position is amenable to remote but “after the pandemic” you will be expected to work onsite.
First of all, a lot of these are 12-month or shorter contracts and the chances of the coronavirus pandemic being anywhere near over in that time are zero. Even if a vaccine is developed in a quarter of the minimum time, there’s a lot of evidence that its immunity may be short lived. COVID is not going away anytime soon, whatever Trump has to say.
Second, the transition from months — or years — of working from home to spending two hours of your day in rush hour traffic so you can again attend pointless recurring meetings and work with incompetent managers and toxic coworkers … isn’t very compelling.
The State of Things
But let’s pretend that a time does come when it’s safe to end social distancing and possible to work onsite without bringing a potentially fatal virus home to the family. Would you go back to working onsite?
Maybe you lost your job when your company’s business dropped to nothing. Maybe you still work onsite because you have a control freak manager who loses sleep thinking about offsite workers taking breaks, and you are dreading that first cough. Maybe you’ve been working from home but keep being told that you are required to return to the office just as soon as infection rates begin to drop. Maybe you feel isolated and without the social stimulus of listening to office chatter you just can’t get into the mood. Maybe you wear a suit at home because without a tie cutting off your oxygen you think too much.
What You’ve Been Missing
Back in 1989 onsite meant a single-occupancy office with a door and a workplace that sounded more like a library than a football audience, where minimizing interruptions was the top management priority and software development was regarded as collaborative, not as a team sport. Meetings were weekly, status updates were in email, and we spent most of our time on our work, not on process. All this is gone.
Just imagine having to awaken two hours earlier so you can drive at walking speed for an hour behind the same car with the same bumpersticker, barely arriving in time for a “daily scrum” that’s really just a renamed status update (like we did in email before this methodology nonsense came along) and, weary already from the drive, listen to each other member of your team repeat that they’re working on the same thing as yesterday and have made a day of progress. Then comes your turn to say the exact same thing.
And within a few scant hours of work you have to go to another meeting that is only happening because it’s a recurring calendar entry, and it never lets out early just because there is nothing to discuss.
Offsite Is Better
Working at home is for most of us in IT much more productive than coming to the office. Starting with not losing time and having your mind dulled by a glacial commute, continuing with not having two or three interruptions — meetings — every single day, topped off by not being constantly interrupted because you work in a noisy hallway and people who want to concentrate are regarded as antisocial if not mentally ill.
We knew well before the PC revolution that developers who can concentrate uninterrupted get into “the zone,” a condition called flow, and do more and better work.
Recognition of this advantage seems to have left the building. WFH brings it back.
Why Isn’t WFH the Norm?
When you work in an office there is a wire connecting your computer to the corporate network. When you work from home the wire is longer. So what.
Why do managers so resist offsite work? With the greater productivity and little loss of communication it makes sense to let people work from home, get more done, and everyone happier.
Some people just can’t conceive of a workplace where people are not in plain sight, you do office work in an office, how could it be any other way? And these same people believe that a meeting is a productive use of time, not an interruption.
And there’s what is likely the most common reason: distrust. The manager or executive tosses and turns awakening repeatedly, worrying that people are taking breaks. Maybe they’re working six hours a day, not twel-, uh, eight. Never mind that their work is getting done.
And, of course, a lot of people are just control freaks.
This is a silver lining of the pandemic; with offsite workers getting significantly more and better work done it will no longer be possible to claim that butts-in-seats is the only way to produce. A lot of people, ordered to return to the commute and the meetings and the work-jerks will simply look for other jobs where management’s heads are above their shoulders.
Every employer I have had since 2010 was thousands of miles away; I have worked for companies from GMT-0700 to GMT+0900 and gotten tons of work done. I keep my own hours, I leave for the gym anytime I want, I listen to music and have a cat in my lap. I love it.
And given all the methodologies and layers of process going on now, it is most unlikely I will ever work onsite again. I can travel to meet managers and coworkers (so I’m not just a name in email) but work onsite?