I did not want to write this post. I did not want to be the privileged engineer talking about things I know nothing about. I’m going to write this anyway, but I will only concentrate on two of the issues: firstly conferences, the lifeblood of our industry and finally the concept of working from home during the corona pandemic.
Conferences will never be the same
The present crisis is causing chaos with the conference season. Many IT events have been moved or canceled. This will create a massive knock-on effect. There are only so many times a person can spend a week in Las Vegas, San Francisco or any of the other major conference locations. But conferences are of massive value, and I am not just talking about booth swag.
From my perspective conferences are less about the keynote speeches and more about the technical sessions that are in the break-out rooms, and the booths on the floors to find out all about the latest and greatest technologies and getting a hint of potential directions and meeting with like-minded professionals to discuss new products and their potential uses. Gaining new insight into technologies from those that have already taken that journey.
It will be interesting to see how virtual events will function without physical interaction. Conference keynotes are shows that need audiences for them to be successful: jokes need to be laughed at, the reveals need to be oohed and aahed at, and the story of how one company changed their lives for the betterment of the world needs their hurhars. Keynotes are a way of adding credibility to the tech company’s direction. A way to by proxy, validate their messaging.
This is the reason that sitcoms are still filmed in front of live audiences: it is the instant feedback switch: you know instantly whether your message is on point. The same is true for break-out sessions. Yes, the major conferences have been recording them and releasing them for later consumption, but I do not know about you, but I love the interaction between the audience and the player. Watching a recording just isn’t the same, and I learn and remember less from a play-at-home recording of a technical deep-dive.
AV advancements are not enough
It is true that we have made massive inroads into audio-visual marketing over the last decade or so. Whiteboarding, light boarding, green screens, the ability to have virtual conference rooms with almost real-time interaction between the audience and the presenter. However, I miss the intimacy of a session. This is both as an attendee and as a presenter. The immersive part is just missing if you’re sitting in the same-old office chair, couch or dinner table chair at home.
The biggest downside of a virtual conference, however, is the lack of social interaction, we as a species are social: we gather together, we herd, we are Dutch, British, European, American, Texan. At the conference we are attendees, we interact with the others in our profession, but we go not just to learn about the latest and greatest product of your favorite technology vendor. We go for the interaction with our peers and the chance to ask questions directly to those that have already fought the battle you are about to face. To speak to the bloggers who have pulled your backside out of the fire so many times with their sage from the trenches tomes. Perhaps quaff a few beverages with them by way of thanks, and see the surprise when they buy one back and you find out they are human too.
For me, conference season is the only way that I catch up face to face with friends across the globe, when for just four days a year vast majority of us are all gathered together to worship at the temple of our mutually adored tech vendor.
This is a crisis, not a standard work from home scenario
Which brings me on to my next set of thoughts, working from home during the pandemic. This crisis currently has the majority of European countries and large parts of the rest of the world either in self-imposed or state-enforced lockdown. Many working people are having to deal with Working from home for the first time.
Those of us that work in the technology sector are lucky, we are used to using technology to keep in touch, we understand that what is the fun of a conference call, the problems of keeping control of your work/home balance. We understand the need to stay in touch with team members and our supervisors, we have in place the systems to keep the wheels turning. We also understand that there are sometimes, we need face-to-face interactions. At this time of crisis, interaction is the most important commodity we have. Working at home for those not used to it will be hard. Reach out to them. Let them know that they are not alone. There is a great tweet written by Duncan Davidson that highlights the crisis to a tee.
|For all of you working at home for the first time, it’s usually not like this. This isn’t working from home (WFH). This is “working during pandemic”. (WDP). Totally different experience. Be kind to yourselves.|
These are uncertain times for those that are finding themselves working at home for the first time. This includes those managers, who are of the school of management that if you are in the office you are working. Several concepts will need to change, for example
- What is work?
- What are the results?
- How do we measure them?
- Keeping a team coherent
What is work?
Work is something done for pay that is valuable to the person paying you. It is not being in the office, it is about focusing on value to the company. What this means that you need to work smarter, not harder, when working from home during the pandemic. This is NOT a standard situation. Pre-crisis home-workers have not had to deal with the issue of having to home-school their kids too. Work may not be a 9-5 thing for the next few weeks and months, as we will also have the added issues of managing our children’s education.
How can we conduct our business life to accommodate this? Firstly, we can cut down on meaningless meetings. It is surprising how effective email and IM are – rather than having 25 people together in a room for 3 hours in a planning meeting that only spawns out other meetings. Perhaps getting up earlier in the day and working a split shift (this is one of the things I have introduced into my work life) This is to be fair easier for me having worked with Global teams.
This does implicate, for many, that the way results are measured needs to change. Because meetings aren’t results. Lots of face time with your boss aren’t results. They are ways to make sure results are produced, impediments removed and mutual directions set.
What are Results?
Results are the end-product of work, how will this change? With the added distance between the worker and their manager, setting a definition of ‘Done’ helps to define the desired result, and let people do the work in whatever way (and time) most suitable to the unique situation. How you move towards those targets may change but the result should be the same.
And not unimportantly, setting a clear Definition of Done embarks trust in the employee, valuing their creativity, autonomy and expertise, instead of their butt (which is usually used to warm up the office chair during strictly defined work hours).
How do we measure success?
This is a key issue, and one for the supervisors and Managers, attendance is NOT a valid metric for assessing the capability of your workforce. This was true before the crisis, but it is even more so now. Micro-managers will need to learn to trust their employees to do the right thing. Do not in the early stages of WFH expect productivity to remain at 100%. There will be a dip as people get used to the crisis. This will be more prevalent with those that have never WFH before. Remember we’re not in a regular Work-from-Home situation.
DO NOT set in place systems to spy on your staff. Taking a picture of your remote workers every 10 minutes to check they are at their desk is NOT a measure of productivity – just a validation of your lack of trust in your workforce and it is very likely unlawful in the vast majority of jurisdictions.
Set up an online method of visualizing progress for example a Jira Kanban board that the team and leadership can follow and comment on. Set up a common time for the daily standup and keep it short.
Use email or Slack and do not expect instantaneous responses. Be aware of other problems, especially if you do not have children. Which leads onto my final thought, that of team coherency.
Keeping your team coherent
Remember you are not just at home, but you are working from home. It is important to talk, it is important to keep the communication paths flowing. Consider the number of times you twist around in your chair to talk to the person behind you to “just ask for a point of clarification” or take a trip to the drink-fountain and just have a chat.
Realize that social interaction is a valid part of work and set aside a period in your working day just to talk to your colleagues about common issues or roadblocks people run into, as well as non-work-related topics. It is important to keep some normality.
You need to get into the zone for work. Get up, shower, break your fast, drink your coffee/tea, and dress: it sets the mind. Create a dedicated work-space in your home, make sure all in your family understand when you are at your desk, you are working.
It will be interesting to see how this dynamic changes as we move further into this period of uncertainty of enforced lockdown and limited interaction with others outside of your immediate family. It’s certainly very different from the 2020 predictions we made only three short months ago.