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My Take on Remote Work
A response to the idea that companies should be one way or the other.
The smell of vomit filled my nostrils. I pulled my jumper up over my nose as others started doing the same. People started gagging. A handful stood up and did a awkward shuffle through the isle, pushing past those who hadn't managed to find a seat, who were all desperately trying to avoid the smell too. A child sat up in the luggage shelf had been sick, and it had gone over everyones bags. His mum was trying in vain to wipe up the chunky streams of chunder that was pooling at the back of the train.
This was late February/early March time in 2020. I was doing the weekly commute out of London to my home in Wiltshire on a jam packed train. I remember vividly how crowded, stifling and claustrophobic that train journey home was. I couldn't get off that train quick enough, the smell of sick was deep in my clothes even when I got home.
I vowed that I never wanted to be in that situation again and that was the last time I went into the office. I have never loved London and it has always made me feel uncomfortable, claustrophobic and anxious being there, but this was next level. My desire not to go back into the city coincided with the arrival of COVID and the nationwide lockdowns, so I never did get back on a train again.
DHH argued that "hybrid combines the worst of office and remote work" in his latest article I see doing the rounds. The argument is essentially commit to one or the other, because combining both means you get the worst of both styles of working.
As a remote-work advocate, I have reached my own conclusions as to how I like to work best. I need a quiet space free from distractions. The times I had spent in the office, even with noise-cancelling headphones on and a quiet secluded bean bag to lounge on away from the crowds, I got distracted. Whether it was thinking about the long commute home, or making use of the free snacks & drinks - there was always something that stopped me from finding focus as I can do quite easily at home.
Working from home also means that I can spend time with my loved ones. Being able to eat lunch with my wife and chat about how her day is going if she is in the house is a blessing. The chance to go outside and touch some grass at the end of the day in the late afternoon sunshine is something that genuinely makes me happy.
But for others, they flourish in the office environment. They like the buzz of other people to make them feel more productive/motivated. Drawing on a whiteboard with the team around you and having open and collaborative conversations is enjoyable. The commute provides a opportunity to enjoy a book or a podcast, something they might not have done at home. Going out with colleagues for drinks after work is something that isn't doable if you live far away from anyone else.
The fact of the matter is, that we are all adults. We have gotten to these conclusions off our own back.
We know how we like to work, and we know what environment allows us to work to our best. For a company to commit to one way or the other diminishes that flexibility to allow people to decide and make their own choices. Being strict on one side of the argument or the other shrinks the amount of talent you can bring into the organisation, because you are only ever going to be selecting from the pool of people - the ones who work best in your chosen way of doing things.
Of course, allowing both fully remote and fully office work to suit peoples tastes provides a new set of challenges, but it isn't impossible. Being intentional about each is something that a lot of companies have been doing for a large amount of time.
At the end of the day, having this debate in the first place is only trying to solve company productivity, but it seems fairly in vain when the happiness of people accounts for a large amount of that efficiency.
As people, we change and our needs change to. And flexibility makes people happy.
I have spoken to more than a few engineers who have had enough of being in the city and are at the point in life where they want to move to the countryside, maybe to start a family, or maybe to have a better quality of life with a bigger (or more affordable) house. Surely creating an environment where that is supported and encouraged if that is where people are right now with their lives is better than enforcing a routine that doesn’t allow that to happen. That only breeds resentment.
Why as companies would we not advocate for flexibility and autonomy in allowing people to decide what way of working best suits their personal work style and needs at the time?
Rant over, now go enjoy your weekends in the sun 💚 ☀️ 🌳
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