This isn’t going to be a sales pitch for a specific way of working. I believe it makes much more sense for individuals, teams and companies to figure this out for themselves. I’m not even sure if I have a firm preference yet. Instead I wanted to write about how I’ve found the last year or so working in a hybrid remote environment.
What kind of hybrid have I been doing?
My last contract was working at a company that had tuesdays and thursdays as “office first” days. You were also welcome at the office every day of the week. It’s also quite important that I mention that I’m very lucky to live on the edge of a city centre with great bike paths. This means visiting the office is only a 15 minute bike ride for me (or 20 minute boat or bus ride if the weather is really bad). I suspect my experience would be very different if instead I had an hour long commute.
The pros of the in-office days
It’s very easy for me to have casual conversations with people in real life. I find being in person lowers the bar for starting small talk. I found a little more of my time in the office was spent in “coffee breaks” than before switching to hybrid. This really helped me to get to know the team and the wider company. I also used being in the city centre as an opportunity to meet friends at other companies for lunch.
This is a little bit of an extension of the above. Meeting new people not connected to my team directly requires a lot more effort over zoom (or whatever). With being in the same physical space I bump into people moving around the office. There’s something intangible here about getting a sense of the wider company (although this might be a bit misleading for larger companies with many offices).
Change of scenery
It’s nice to leave my desk at home for an amount of time. It helps me approach problems in a different way. As my commute is short but physically active this also helps me break up my day and thinking. For a remote only/first company I could achieve something similar by visiting cafes or coworking spaces but it’s definitely a lower bar for entry when there’s a company provided, dedicated space for this.
The pros of the remote days
Access to nature
I live by a lot of nature so I can take my breaks in a really pleasant environment. Going for a short walk in a forest is a really nice way to clear my head. I also happen to live near a very nice lake so can go for lunch time swims.
Jobs around the house can be done
Being flexible with my time means I can get various tasks done around the house. I like to take short breaks in between blocks of work. Being at home has meant I can do really useful things in this time. Put the washing on. Sweep the floors. Make some pizza dough for dinner and leave it to rise. These small things really improve my quality of life.
The school run
Picking up my son from school takes way less time as I live next door to the school. The office isn’t far away but it’s still much easier not having to worry about the journey time at all. This actually means I can get a little more work done without feeling rushed.
Things I didn’t expect
During the office shutdowns caused by covid the teams I’ve worked with adopted remote pairing and mobbing quite well. We found ways of working with temporary “WIP” commits, changing drivers, talking over zoom and various other things. I was expecting this to stop when in the office and go back to more in person pairing. But we didn’t really. The remote pairing stayed.
Challenges with hybrid
One of the main challenges I’ve experienced with hybrid is around meetings when some people are in the office but not all. I’ve noticed there’s a desire to want to run these meetings as in person meetings with a zoom call running on a large screen. At the moment my experience of this style of meeting is that those who are remote are getting a second class experience. It’s harder to contribute and this encourages stepping back and leaving things to the people in the office. It’s a loss for a team when we can’t get contributions and thoughts from everyone. I think this is an issue that teams need to be really explicit about addressing. Whether they address it with cultural changes, better audio equipment or stopping mixed meetings isn’t important to me. But it needs some thought.
I also have a concern that follows on from the previous point. Some teams have a setup where most people are hybrid but some are fully remote. If the fully remote people are in the minority I think it’s dangerously easy for the team to start doing more and more things in person and therefore start unintentionally excluding the remote members of the team. Again, how this is addressed really depends on the company and team but I think it’s another issue that should not be ignored.
How do I want to work in the future
For future contracts, given all the reasons above, I would absolutely work hybrid again. I would also consider entirely remote work. Though I think it would be important for me (and the company) to spend some effort trying to make up for the missing benefits of in-office work. I’m very hesitant, however, to go for work that would be entirely in the office. I’m not convinced there’s anything that could make up for what I’d lose on the remote days. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind on this but I don’t think that’s likely at the moment.