I hate that sometimes I agree with non–remote work practices

I am pro-remote working. It gives tremendous flexibility for the workers, but occasionally I recognise the business has needs for in-person work.

A group of people sitting around the table having a conversation in an office kitchen or recreation area.

I’ve been a software engineer for more than a decade now. Of those, I spent the last 8 years working remotely for various companies both close and far away from me with regard to timezones. I’ve become incredibly good at this type of working. I overcommunicate, document everything, I have everything ready at hand in case there’s a question whether something was or wasn’t said or written down.

I’m also very protective of this privilege I have. Thankfully in my full time job I happen to live far enough away that I’m not mandated to attend an office 30 days every quarter. That would be super inconvenient, expensive, and I just don’t want to do that.

And this is where I am sad about realising the following:

In order for the whole remote working model to work at a company, the people need to be able to make it work. This means both the folks who are remote, and the folks who are in the office.

In reality this doesn’t happen unless your company is a greenfield where you hire people from day 1 who know how to do this. If it’s one of the old guard companies with many many offices dotted all around the planet, like the one I’m working for, then you have employees who have been in the office, then were forced to go remote without having learned what makes this work. It’s 2024, and most of the world has already forgotten why we went remote in the first case, which means office life is coming back! Yay! I guess...

This office life is now causing tensions between folks who know how to remote work, and those who have challenges in this regard. All of this can be alleviated by being in the same office at the same time having sync meetings, or having cameras–on meetings to make sure that folks are paying attention.

My visceral reaction to all of this is to shout “MICROMANAGEMENT!!”, but I’ve also caught myself thinking “gosh, I wish I could have made sure that Bob* paid attention, so I don’t need to repeat something I said 2 minutes ago.”

I also have to concede that the random in–person meetings do give space and chance for random watercooler conversations to sprout up simply because we’re in the same space at the same time. Can this happen with remote employees? Yes, however we have to be intentional about it and put in the effort, whereas in–person, this just happens to happen naturally.

We take away the cost of intention and effort in bubbling up spontaneous conversations remotely and move that cost into commuting so they happen more naturally.

The cost stays the same, roughly. Maybe.

I guess you, as the business, need to figure out which cost you want to take on on behalf of your employees. Both of those have benefits and drawbacks.

*Bob is a figment of my imagination

Photo by Redd F on Unsplash