No Perfect Solution

Sat, Feb 25, 2023 4-minute read

There’s a whole lot of fuss out there over getting employees to return to the office after a long break during the COVID-19 pandemic. I get it. There’s a sense of community when you are in a group live and in person. You feel connected to your co-workers, and it’s easier to get quick feedback when you need it if you’re in the same room. But I’m not sure that is why some companies are pulling their employees back in.

They want productivity.

I think I take some issue with this argument. “We want to make sure our employees can be as productive as possible and that only really works when they are in the same room.” You know you’ve heard something along those lines in the last couple of years, but I don’t know that people who say that really know whatt hey are asking for.

In my experience, there are quite a few tradeoffs when it comes to bringing everyone together in the office. Sure, you get instant feedback when you need it, but you also get social pressures, random non-work chit chat, and in a lot of cases LESS productivity. That’s the opposite of what these companies want, as far as I can tell.

My company has had remote work as an option for years. We’ve been wildly successful with it
as it allows us to hire whoever we want wherever we want and get the best talent we can because that’s always an option. There’s no pressure for an employee to move to a central office. I’ve found when they do pull us all together for events or weeklong working sessions, we do spend a good deal of that chit chatting and catching up. I’m not sure if the sheer amount of non-work chat would be the same if we were always together, but I definitely know that it would exist. Meanwhile, at home, I’m pretty much buried in my work most of the day and focused on a single goal at a time. only interrupted when it comes to meetings or face-to-face calls.

The real upside to having time together is whiteboarding. My word, the possibilities that are there when people are in a room drawing together. I learned a ton this week in particular just by finally getting someone to draw some stuff that I only had a loose understanding of. There was real magic in that.

I guess what I’ve come to find is that there is no perfect solution to remote work vs in office. I do think that there is no reason for everyone to return to the office, and I have a suspicion that the issue related to managers wanting their people in is less about the people and more about the manager feeling like they don’t have anything to manage if they can’t see their people. That’s a work culture issue and maybe something that is a symptom of a larger problem. Sounds to me like the managers need to reframe what they are trying to accomplish rather than worrying over what their employees are trying to accomplish. Our managers stay very busy and it has little to do with watching each engineer to make sure they are typing at a decent pace.

I took away some good stuff from a recent all hands where we were gathered in the office, but I also took away the fact that we don’t need to be there all the time to accomplish great things. I’m not sure where other companies are going to go with their remote policies as the future comes barreling toward them, but I’m hoping they begin to realize that people can do great work even when they aren’t sitting at a desk in some office building. I love the office as an option, but I think I’m done pretending I’m going to be so much more productive just because I’m sitting there.