• Jun 22, 2020
This year's COVID-19-induced lockdown has meant that many of my friends have started adjusting to a way of working that we consider to be the standard at Giant Swarm. In other words, they have started working from home.
Conversations with them during this period have revealed something that many companies seem to be unaware of — the rather significant difference between working from home and working remotely. And with that, the difficulties that come with the evolution from a normal office situation to working from home, to finally, being fully remote.
Taking a brief look at it, it appears that working from home is seen as a synonym for working remotely. This, however, is a misconception.
Working remotely is not the same as simply shifting your usual day at the office to your home, and comes with a completely different set of traits.
But what are these differences? Let’s take a look at some real-life examples:
Reporting live from the kitchen...
Let’s start with the obvious. If your regular day at work involves going to some sort of office, this usually implies that said office — whether shared with colleagues or one for yourself — has at least a desk and a chair as well as a computer.
Now being 'forced' to work from home might mean that, worst-case scenario, you have none of these things. You probably have a chair and a kitchen table but you might not even have a laptop. But, for the sake of it, let’s assume you do.
Even so, you might run into difficulties when searching for a quiet place to work. So you work from your kitchen table (including the uncomfy chair) without proper headphones to talk to your colleagues who are also working from their couch or even their bed. 😉 This results in a less-than-ideal workplace, which might have quite a big impact on your productivity.
If your everyday office is remote, you’re already aware that a proper desk and a comfy chair is a huge advantage. Talking to your colleagues online has probably also lead you to invest in a set of headphones. You don’t need to go all the way with a full-on radio presenter setup but a decent microphone is also a clear advantage.
Virtual water cooler conversations FTW!
In a traditional office setting, you usually know who’s in the office as you see many of your colleagues on a daily basis. You probably run into them when going to the kitchen to grab a fresh cup of coffee or when going out for lunch. If you want to go wild, you might even go out to lunch with them. 😉
Now you’re working from home. How do you know that your colleague has already started working or that they're in such a bad mood that you definitely want to avoid running into them on your way to the loo? And how do you quickly ask your colleague for help or have your weekly meeting with your team? How do you make sure you still get all the info you need so you can make good decisions? What if two colleagues had a phone call about a crucial new feature you’ve all been working on but you only find out by chance because there are no defined ways of communicating?
This is a challenge that many companies run into where only parts of the teamwork remotely and a considerable number of colleagues share the same location. Those latter colleagues are often in the know, while those working from home are not. And that’s often not the result of bad intentions, it’s simply caused by the mere physical setup.
Now, if you’re working for a remote company, by default, there have to be means and ways to make sure that everyone gets the information they need to do their job properly. I have no intention of sounding condescending or as if we knew it all, there are many things that we still haven’t figured out and are trying to solve on a daily basis. However, some things have proven to work better than others.
One of them is that we try and copy many good habits from an office setting and move them to the virtual world. As an example, we use Slack as our main means of communication. We have a channel called #random that we use to say a simple “Good morning” the moment we start working. This way, everyone else knows that someone has started their day and can be approached. We aim to be as transparent as possible and try to have 80% of our communication in public channels and only 20% in private ones. You can attend any meeting you want, and at the same time, no meeting is mandatory. We trust that you know best what you need to make good decisions, which leads us to the next aspect.
Challenging the ol' 9-to-5 mindset.
As already mentioned in our article on working with adults, we believe that micromanagement is the wrong way to ensure productivity within the team. Instead, creating a work environment that allows everyone to do their best with the flexibility and freedom to choose what information is needed helps tremendously.
However, if you’re usually working from an office and if your colleagues have only worked in a traditional setting so far, they’re used to seeing you at your desk working (or assuming you that you are 😉). If they are no longer able to see you, they might be confronted with challenge of trusting that you’re still as productive or even more productive compared to working from the office. This can be very hard, even though there will most likely not be any reasons for concern, but this traditional setup is still deeply ingrained in many people’s minds and it often takes a lot of effort to shift from this mindset.
For employees, this means that you need good self-organization skills as well as the ability to take on the full responsibility for your work. And most of all, this transition will take time and effort on both sides with the knowledge that there will be mistakes and that adjustments need to be made frequently. Of course, there are many more aspects that distinguish working remotely from working from home. And also bear in mind, working remotely or from home is just one of many aspects that constitute a company culture and setting.
If you have any comments, questions, or would like to chat about it, drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment. You can also find us on Twitter @giantswarm.
Giant Swarm’s managed microservices infrastructure enables enterprises to run agile, resilient, distributed systems at scale, while removing the tasks related to managing the complex underlying infrastructure.
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