We're not going back to The Office, are you?

There are many reasons why we believe The Office as we know it today is dead, let’s look at our #1 reason.

2 months of social isolation and working from home, and one thing has become crystal clear for a lot of people - The job they were told Cannot Possibly Be Done Remotely, can be!

Perhaps the statement ‘remote working’ is a stretch, as for many people currently, they are at home in a crisis and are trying to do some work - so there is a big difference. But for a lot of them, they have discovered a new way of working, which is somewhat more relaxed and productive than their previous way of working - aka at The Office.

When we started ascode, we wanted a different approach. Part of this different approach is a Remote First mandate. What this means in practice is that all the people who choose to work with us are quite happy and prepared to work remotely for our customers. Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t have an office, because we do. Sometimes it’s great to get together, sometimes it’s necessary to work together on something in person, but this is not the ‘primary’ modus. We also have a global outlook when it comes to finding the right people who want to work with us. Our Slack workplace is our office. We’ve been a ‘pants optional’ operation since Day 1.

What we didn’t see was that this crisis was going to hit and force the majority of office workers to work from home. So an excellent opportunity to validate our strategy, check the pulse, get a feeling about how friends and colleagues are adapting to this ‘new normal.’ So we got on the phones, called our friends in the industry, and wrote some emails to others. And the feedback we received was as expected:

“I’ve never been able to focus on my tasks like I am right now, at home. The interruptions are gone (mostly), and I can set my schedule to work earlier in the morning, later in the evening, when the household is quieter, and I don’t need to help junior with his math homework."

“I’m getting very used to the no-interruption zone at home. Sure, multitasking is part of any developer’s daily life, but when someone plants themselves at my desk and starts talking, or I hear other people around me, it’s just gone. When I am finally able to focus again, I have to start over - where was I? What was I focused on doing? What was I trying to achieve? And this costs me much time."

Even our friends over at Dept in Amsterdam have seen much evidence that the current ‘Work from Home’ regime is creating some unexpected side effects:

None of this is any surprise to us.

We have been trained for many years by employers that Work Happens in the Office. But most days at HQ look something like this: The commute, meetings (and plenty of them), conference calls, interruptions from colleagues, managers, and pretty well everyone else. Tons of impromptu discussions and chats about completely irrelevant subjects. So when exactly is all of this Work happening?

The Office, as we know it today, was born in a completely different time and served an entirely different purpose - the Office was the only place that you could go to access the technology and the people to enable you to do your job successfully. The top reason why the Office even existed. Now we find ourselves in the ridiculous position of commuting to an office to use technology that is available from almost anywhere on the planet.

Adult Daycare

To make the ridiculous another factor worse, the workplace that we show up to every day has morphed into the biggest killer of productivity and focus - the open-plan Office. Now, open-plan has been around a while, but especially in tech companies they have taken on a different character. Open plan seating, break out areas, chill-out zones, game rooms, ping pong tables, slides, restaurants serving breakfast, lunch and dinner (so much for eating with the family), and a weekly schedule of events and meetups. Maybe I’m really naive here, but I thought we were coming here to work?

We went through a financial crisis in 2008, and this was another driver for more companies to embrace remote working. Around this time, co-working spaces grew in popularity. Many companies simply could no longer justify the cost of A) People and B) Office Space for all the People. A mini-boom for startups and entrepreneurs was born. A lot of bright young people, who would have normally defaulted to highly paid corporate careers, we’re more open to considering other options, mainly because of the lack of jobs. And they landed in co-working spaces, building their new amazing startup.

Corporates, however, took a different approach. The ‘open-plan’ became open and compressed. Get more people in the same space. This is where team-work and collaboration would happen. But what happened was Noise Cancelling Headphones. For developers and engineers, it is their only escape from the cacophony that the Office has become. They have even become a perk, something that you get as a gift on your first day at your new job. Welcome - here’s your shiny new laptop, t-shirt, coffee mug and……your headphones - you’re going to love these ;-)

There are many reasons why we believe the Office as we know it today is dead - and the future of Work is remote, but for this post, we’re going to focus on the absolute #1 on the list - which is the simple fact that Work Does Not Happen At Work.

The Interruption Factory

In their book “Rework,” the founders of 37signals came up with this term to define the Office. We think it sums it up perfectly.

So keeping that in mind, where do you go when you need to get some important work done? We’ll bet your answer is not the Office. If it is, chances are you’ve found some secret place, an unused meeting room, or other location where you’re not going to be disturbed - somewhere to hide.

Evening, after dinner and weekend work used to be normal operations for me. Not because I was slow, but because of the never-ending distractions at the Office. I could not find enough productive hours at the Office to accomplish things. And I found myself looking for reasons not to be there, and most times to work from home. And careful with those three words, as for many executives and managers that I know, they assume this is code for ‘doing nothing’ - as their only KPI for productivity is how many people are sitting at their desks. Don’t believe any of that? Well, this post from Splunk on their 1984 style monitoring of their employees who are working remotely might change your mind. Monitoring VPN connectivity from remote employees, applications access, Zoom conference monitoring, it really has it all !

In the current state of the Office, interruptions are the one constant factor. They are the default setting. It’s as if the ‘me’ generation has infected every other generation with the instant gratification bug. How many times per day do you get interrupted, knocked out of your flow, because someone needs to ask a question and receive an answer, immediately.

Someone has a problem, a question, a comment, and they go into automatic interruption mode. It doesn’t matter if you appear busy. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve got your noise-cancelling headphones on and you are killing the keyboard. They will simply walk up, stand next to you, and begin. Of course, it does not matter that their problem is not a priority, for anyone but themselves. It does not matter that an immediate answer is not required 99% of the time. They need instant gratification. The worst culprit is the email visit. You receive an email (which you haven’t even seen yet as you are very busy), asking some vague question about something. But 30 minutes later, your colleague, (or more often, your manager) appears at your desk. “Did you get my email”?

Knocked out of your flow, out of your concentration and focus, it takes 20-30 minutes to get back into it again. Scientific fact. In the IT sector, where I spend my time, it can be worse. Interrupt a developer or engineer in their flow, and you’ve just blown their productivity - for probably the next hour.

When you do go back to the Office, a little homework for you, each day. Take a look back at your daily schedule, and then add in all the times that you were interrupted with things that were not on your schedule for that day. All the impromptu stuff. And don’t cheat! You’ll notice your schedule being chopped up into tiny little pieces. Ten minutes here, twenty minutes there. You’ll also notice those extended periods of focus time have disappeared. So when are you getting your shit done?

Is Remote the Future?

The numbers seem to indicate that this will be the case. And let’s be real honest here. You are probably working remote a considerable amount already, it’s just discounted and not recognized by whomever you’re working for. What am I talking about? The emails, slack messages, phone calls that come to you at all hours. During the evening time with your family, 10pm on the sofa, during the Sunday BBQ. Do realize that employers now EXPECT you to be available at all times, irregardless of whether it is office hours or not.

So what are the numbers saying? Quite a few ‘ask the audience’ survey’s seem to indicate that a large number of office based workers feel the time is now for more or 100% remote.

In the Remote Work Report by GitLab (March 2020), 86% of respondents believe remote Work is the future, and 84% said that they can accomplish all of their tasks remotely right now. 62% responded, stating that they would consider leaving an office role for a remote role, for a diverse array of reasons such as flexible scheduling, lack of commute, cost savings, reduced stress, improved health. Are any of these important to you?

And the list of benefits to employers is just as diverse. Increased productivity and efficiency, improved morale, hiring the best and the brightest, less bureaucracy and politics, and let’s not forget the massive reduction in their carbon footprint.

In the Netherlands specifically, about 44% of Netherlands residents started working from home because of the crisis. According to a survey conducted by the Knowledge Institute for Mobility Policy, a quarter of those expect they will continue to do so in the future.

Our feeling on this is that there will be an immediate rush back to the Office. People, starved for social contact, will rush straight back to their previous routine. Traffic jams and overcrowded public transportation will again appear. But when that initial euphoria wears off, these same people will be yearning for their remote space again - to get shit done. And we think employers everywhere are going to need to accept that remote working is in fact better for the person, and in the long run better for their company.

Being a remote worker, of course, comes with it’s own set of challenges. There is temptation and potential interruption everywhere. But the key to remote working is that you have the ability to choose the space where you decide to work from each day. Maybe it’s your home office, the kitchen table, or maybe it’s the local cafe or park. Maybe it’s a beautiful day, and you’re going to work on the terrace. Wherever it may be, there is the simple fact that you are back in charge of the interruptions - instead of being forced on you.

Interested in knowing more about our Remote First company and our experiences? Drop us an email and we’ll get back to you. Are you a DevOps Engineer looking for a new remote career? We’re hiring, so head on over to our Careers page and see if your expectations and our requirements are similar!