S2E12 – Stories of Remote Work (Remote Work Series – Part 1 of 3)

Show Notes

In part one of this three part series, Andy and Mon-Chaio tell stories of remote work, both from their own experiences as well as those they’ve heard from their colleagues and the public at large. From those stories, they try to find themes to help answer a burning question: four years in, how are engineering organizations and their people adapting to remote work?



Mon-Chaio: We’re here for another episode of The TTL Podcast a remote episode, as it were. Well. That’s false because all of our episodes are remote.

Andy: We’re always remote. We live halfway across the world from each other.

Mon-Chaio: So for those that are maybe new to the podcast, I sit in the Pacific Northwest in the city of Seattle. Andy, you sit in Lancaster.

Andy: I sit in the English Northwest in Lancaster, although right now I’m sitting in Penrith, in the North Lakes, if that means anything to anyone.

Mon-Chaio: That will certainly not to me. In any case, we are remote for those that don’t know. And that’s my terrible segue into our first series of season two , which I think we’ve decided is probably gonna be three episodes long.

And the theme of the series is going to be remote work. Now this is something we’ve talked a lot about doing on the podcast and we’ve been a little hesitant for multiple reasons, but now we’re jumping into it both feet first. So today we’re going to be talking about the anecdotes of remote work, both ourselves as well as others that we’ve seen online or have spoken to.

This is going to be less research based, just how are people feeling about it? What have been their experiences around it, both positive and negative? And how have they seen this transition from in office work to remote work go for themselves, their peers, their companies?

The next episode we thought we would tackle the science of remote work. What do the studies say? We love studies, we just did a very paper-heavy episode before this. But can we look to the science to talk about why people’s experiences have been the way that they are. Is there something in human psychology? Is there something in human biology? Is there something in the way that teams work together that can tell us why we’re experiencing the anecdotal evidence that we’re experiencing? And then lastly, we want to touch on what does this mean for remote work going forward, in our opinion? Which, Andy, is of course the right opinion.

We are the most informed podcast, so take it as truth.

Andy: We reference papers, which means that anything we say is correct.

Mon-Chaio: Absolutely. And don’t tell us we’re not, we don’t want to hear, we only want to read comments about how we’re correct. Obviously incorrect. We love conversation. But the last part will be around, what does this mean, in our opinion, for the future of remote work going forward? How do we marry the science, the anecdotes, the real world experiences, and give some real tactics on if you’re experiencing remote work as an individual, if you’re a company or a leader of a company implementing remote work, what does this mean for you and how do you do it the best way that you can?

Andy: All right, story time.

Mon-Chaio: I think story time.

Andy: So let me start with a story of a frustration I had with remote work. It’ll be a very vague story because this was years ago and I have a terrible memory.

The vague story is I was working at Puppet. This was the first time I, myself, had worked remotely. I had worked on a team before where we had remote people, but this is the first time I was remote. The remoteness for this team had multiple dimensions because … so I was on the west coast of the U.S. Several members of my team were on the west coast of the U.S., but another member of my team was in Stockholm. So he shifted his day, which as like the team lead, I found it personally fairly uncomfortable that he was shifting his entire day to match ours.

And it was great because it meant that we could do all sorts of things synchronously. But that also presented a bit of a problem because we, as a team on Puppet, for those don’t know, Puppet is an open source project for configuration management. And being an open source tool, it meant that we had this asynchronous collaboration with people all over the world. They would comment on our mailing list. They would send us pull requests. They would send us bug reports. We would be interacting with them in all sorts of different ways.

And, maybe this is a theme of the mixture of synchronous and asynchronous. How do you get that right? Because as a team, especially with this one guy who had shifted his day, we were very comfortable just doing everything synchronously. But we had to interrupt our patterns, regularly, for the asynchronous stuff. We had to figure out how does this asynchronous stuff fit in. This was difficult because we would have conversations internal to the company, but they would affect conversations going on external to the company in the open source community.

And so we would need to take these kind of synchronous conversations and make sure that they made it out for the asynchronous world. I remember conversations around the scoping of variables and how we wanted to fix up some particularly weird cases in how variable scoping worked in the puppet language. And we’d have that conversation internally. And then basically, I’d have to have that entire conversation again externally. And I can tell you I found that frustrating. Because I wasn’t having the conversation once, I was having the conversation like three times.

Because the community around the tool is really its greatest asset. It’s almost like the tool is incidental, the value of it is the entire community and the modules that people have built around it. And so we realized we had to work in a way that kept including them. But that also meant that we had to work in a way that wasn’t the way that everything around us told us we should be working.

Mon-Chaio: Mmhmm. Interesting, interesting.

Andy: And back on to the thing about time zones, a more managerial thing, I felt very uncomfortable that I was having someone work at a different time from his daytime. He made it much easier for me when he told me he’d been working for Silicon Valley companies for several decades by that point, and he actually preferred this. And then it actually became really real for me because I spent two weeks at his house? And I got to live that time schedule and I was like, oh, I can see how this is great for you. Okay. I don’t feel like I’m putting you out to be working this schedule. This is the schedule that works for you. This is what you’ve built your life around and you seem to really like it.

Mon-Chaio: And I’ve had that experience as well, before remote work was probably the default way that software engineers work, which I think it basically is now, I don’t know how it will be into the future. And I think I’ll talk a little bit more about that. I don’t know if I want to dive into my experiences there, quite yet.

I think the first story that I want to mention is the shift from immediately everybody was on site to immediately everybody was remote. And hint, hint, I’m sure you all didn’t know, this happened in March of 2020. For a while, my in person teams have had what I call Friday Wind Down. It occurs from 4:00 to 4:30 every single Friday. Now, between different teams, there are different goals there, but to use the language we use in the podcast, it was a cultural communication meeting.

I have this free program that we use for reinforcing learning at schools. And it’s a polling program where it displays a question. And it gives a countdown and the people on their mobile phones vote A, B, C, or D. And then it assigns points for who got it right the fastest and at the end it gives you a point total. Schools use it with their students. It’s fun. It’s competitive.

I used to use that at the beginning of the meeting to communicate ideas that I wanted to communicate. Sometimes it was something as silly as how many people are going to be at the office on Monday? And the answer was zero because it was a holiday, right? It was just a fun way to communicate “Monday is a holiday, don’t come in.” Or, you’re supposed to have completed your training by this day. But of course there were also other things that we would communicate. Things around, how often should you ship code? And it wasn’t a question about how often it was. It was an opportunity to reinforce the cultural value that we value shipping code all the time.

It was just an excuse to talk about that sort of thing and reinforce and repeat it. It was very well attended in person. In fact, I would say very, very rarely was there somebody who was not at that meeting, at their desk working. And even when there was, somebody would often leave the room to go get them. And it wasn’t like I was saying, hey, please leave the room. Or I was saying to my managers, hey, somebody on your team isn’t here. Manager, go get them. The people that they worked with would be like, oh, I don’t know where this person is. They were in the office, let me bring them by. Also, it was a little bit early enough that people felt uncomfortable saying, well, I’m done for the day, even if it was Friday. And I’m out, so I’m not attending this meeting. Pretty well attended.

And then, of course, afterwards, then we would gather together for drinks and board games in the cafeteria. And that was a much, much smaller group. I would say it’s about half or maybe 30 to 40 percent of the original size, but it was still a reasonable size group of folks that would gather there. And of course then we would have other types of personal conversations and as we were playing games

Almost immediately as we switched to remote, the attendance of that meeting dropped almost 80 percent. And I wouldn’t say that it dropped 80 percent the way that you would think where people stopped coming. The first Iteration of that meeting when we went remote, it was a bunch of people there, half of them with their camera off. And already I could feel, whoa, where are these people? And then it started being like more and more people would have their cameras off. And then it would be fewer and fewer people actually joining the meeting. Until it got to a point where there was a small set of people that would be there regularly. And the meeting was exactly the same. We did not change a single thing.

I didn’t really understand it until I started hiring people that had not been part of the team when they were on site. And those people actually would feel more comfortable and they would ping me and they would say, Is this meeting necessary? And I kind of would give it back to them, I’m like, well, what do you mean is it necessary? Tell me what you mean by that. And what they would say is I have a lot of work to do. It feels like I’d be more productive if I just did this work. Is there anything here that I need to know that I don’t? And sometimes when I would talk to them about the things we’d go through in the meeting, they’re like, okay, will you make a post about that after the meeting and I can just read it on the post?

So, that is my anecdote about how a ritual that was very, very well attended in person, became almost unattended overnight when we switched to remote.

Andy: I have a question about the team. When they were in the office together, what was their teamwork, what was their collaborative effort like? Was it this, you mentioned it earlier, like, kind of like the split up onto individual things and come back together? Or were they pairing all the time? Or was it some sort of combination?

Mon-Chaio: So it was some sort of combination. A big cultural aspect that I communicated down through my leadership chain was that I wanted all of their teams to have multiple people assigned to tasks.

And I would push it every now and again, depending on the seniority of the manager and how well they understood that. There were a lot of managers that didn’t really understand that and I didn’t really want to give them an edict like, no, don’t do this, do that, have them pair. But generally what I would push them around is one, there needs to be multiple people working on a task. And two, those sets of people, it wasn’t just the most expedient way to get it done. They had to think about other things around training and around information sharing and around siloing. So, we’re going to bring this person from over here because they don’t know anything about it and that’s going to slow it down.

The other thing I often caution as I was doing briefing with my managers about this and hearing their back briefing is looking at the division of tasks. And some of my managers would say these two people are working together here, look, they have this set of tasks, this person has this set of tasks and they’ve divided it up And there would be coaching around, well, that’s not the intent. It’s not around the division of tasks that’s the intent, it’s about that conversation and how often do they get back together? So a question I used to ask a lot in skip-level 1:1s, which would happen once every month or six weeks with my ICs would be something like how often do you talk deeply with somebody about a problem you’re having? And I wanted to see that multiple times a week, which sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t.

Andy: And when they were all remote suddenly? It sounds like in the office even, they had this drift towards independent tasks, independent work. And I’m guessing that became accentuated when they became remote.

Is that right?

Mon-Chaio: Absolutely. Absolutely. And in fact, this was what I was getting into a little bit earlier, both this team as well as my next team at Meta had the same thing where, as we leaned more and more into remote work, we leaned more and more into individual work.

Andy: Mhmm.

Mon-Chaio: Managers found it very difficult to track joint work. In fact, I remember my manager asking me at performance review, so you’re saying these three people worked on it, how do I divide up credit? Which we can talk about whether that’s the right or the wrong question, but it’s a very cultural question.

Andy: It is!

Mon-Chaio: It is definitely a question that is central to the culture of your organization when your organization asks those cultural questions, I have found that I was able to counter it much easier when teams were on site than when teams were not.

Andy: So the thing I’m seeing in that is that by going remote, people probably noticed that, one, they didn’t have kind of like the physical presence as a reminder of joining with others on something. And, they had the affordances of a lot of the remote work, which is, I’ve got other things around me taking my attention. I’m going to work on those. Independent tasks make that easier. You have this move towards asynchronous work, basically.

And when you get into that, now that schedule, that, timeline for your day, is no longer dictated by that pattern around you in the office. It’s dictated by other patterns around you. And so you’re going to drift towards that. And so, that question that you were getting about, “is this really necessary? I’ve got other things …” is basically, my schedule doesn’t fit this anymore. This feels like now a synchronizing burden because I can do my other work, I can do what I consider my actual work, independent of all of this. And that is something that I’ve seen happen in teams.

So, where I was when the pandemic started, I think a fairly similar thing happened. A few of the groups that I was working with did pair programming and so that just continued. But other teams, they kind of started drifting apart and had a harder time planning what they’re gonna be working on or getting people to show up and say what kind of progress that they’ve made. People started to feel it was more of a burden because, I think one of the reasons was because in that remote setup, you lose a lot of the serendipitous interactions that happen when everyone comes into the room for that thing that Mon-Chaio you’re presenting.

But they have that little side conversation with people sitting next to them. They have the conversation as they walk in, as they’re walking through the hallway. They have that realization that, hey, Johnny’s not here, I’m going to go grab him. They have all those little interactions that add value to it, add pleasure to it. But now you’re on a Zoom call. And the only thing that can happen is they can sit there and watch you, Mon-Chaio.

Mon-Chaio: Yep! Or they can have little conversations in Slack or whatever, but the fact of the matter is they are not.

Andy: Yeah. So, I think those are some of the things that change from synchronous to asynchronous, and in the asynchronous, some things get lost. But now I’m going to tell a story about how in asynchronous some things get gained.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm.

Andy: So at TIM Group where we were working, we did a fair amount of pair programming, we were in office, we did that for a long time. But when we first started working remote, we had all these struggles about how do we keep this person engaged, informed?

We tried all sorts of things with, there’s one person remote, and so we’ll walk around with a laptop at our standup. That person not remote will be on the laptop. And we realized that doesn’t work so well, and eventually moved to this rule that once one person’s remote, everyone’s remote. There is no halfway house here.

Mon-Chaio: Right.

Andy: And it had several implications. One being that we used many fewer meeting rooms. Suddenly the constriction of meeting rooms, or that bottleneck of meeting rooms that a lot of people face when they’re working in an office, stops existing.

But another thing happens: the written word becomes much more important. So in an office, you can get really far, and a lot of Agile stuff is actually based on this idea, you can get really far through just a couple simple notes and almost people’s memory tied to location and events. That just really doesn’t work very well when you’re remote. I’m in the same location, the events aren’t all that memorable necessarily. So I need much more written. And so we had much more focus on written forms of communication.

Which meant that we had some really good write ups about outages. Meeting notes became a much bigger thing. And this was to allow for, when you’re remote, things are naturally going to drift towards that asynchronous much more. And so the written form is much more valuable. And out of that, you get all sorts of advantages. So I think that’s something that I learned, is once you do that kind of remote first, written communication becomes a much bigger thing, and you get the advantages of that.

Now, a guy I used to work with, he and I were commenting on the Troubleshooting Agile Podcast, one of their episodes, they were actually interviewing someone else about async work. And in that, they also brought up the value of documenting things and just writing things down. And the thing that happened in that episode, that I listened as it was going on, was synchronous communication can be a way where you can quickly check what does someone mean. Asynchronous communication, that becomes much more difficult. How many times, Mon-Chaio, have you gotten an email and you’re just like, what does this mean? This is terrible. And then you go and talk to the person and you find out that is not what it meant at all.

And, yeah, so misunderstandings happen with written communication pretty often, but it’s slower to correct. Now, that was the assertion, although in this episode I was listening to a misunderstanding of a word happened as the episode was going on, as they were talking in real time to each other. And this guy I used to work with, he brought up that in synchronous communication – in spoken communication – you have to be on top of it at that point in time to notice that it’s going wrong. And you might not do that and you don’t notice that you’re having a different interpretation of it than the other person. Even though there may be clues, maybe you’re just not picking up on it. Now, in written communication, you have space to sit and think, but you have a different problem, which is that you now have to make the decision to engage in starting that conversation again.

Mon-Chaio: Right.

Andy: So there’s this trade off of asynchronous, much more written, longer lasting, but harder to ensure that you have a common understanding. Synchronous, much more ephemeral, technically easier to get that common understanding, but you have to be much more on your feet to notice those things.

Mon-Chaio: I think that’s an interesting way to think about the trade offs. And when we get into the science episode, I think it’ll be interesting for us to discuss what the science says about human communication, both synchronous and asynchronous.

Andy: Mmm hmm..

Mon-Chaio: I’ll offer an anecdote from my side around both again the positives and negatives, the trade offs around written communication.

When I joined Meta after leaving Uber, I joined as a fully remote person because the pandemic was in swing by then, right? People were used to working remotely. And on the one hand, Meta was always a very documentation-based company. They have their Workplace thing that was very similar to Slack where people write posts and they’re long lived. But I did find it very easy to get ramped up with the amount of asynchronous documentation that was created.

Andy: Mm.

Mon-Chaio: I did notice a very insidious challenge with written communication, though, and one can say some of this is positive as well or negative, but I think the way that leaders use written communication from their teams, in my opinion, is generally more problematic than good.

So I’ll give you two anecdotes. One is in performance review, which we just talked about in our last episode. In performance reviews, we used to be able to have a conversation around how things went for a particular person And their manager could generally speak towards that event. “Well, this is an example of when they collaborated really well. They were at this meeting and they talked to this person and this person had this feeling and so that they went out and gathered data …” Now, all of a sudden, you could point to documentation. “Well, look at this comment that they had. It seems overly terse. And it seems to be bringing people down. And, so you said they collaborated on this thing, but I pulled up the strategy document, and I don’t see them commenting in here at all.”

Andy: Missing that, well, maybe they were talking as a group in Slack, or they’d had a synchronous meeting and they hadn’t bothered commenting because they’d passed along all of their feedback there. Yeah, there’s now this bias towards, well, since so much is written, everything must be written.

Mon-Chaio: If you don’t have proof it didn’t happen, right? I think there’s good and bad. There’s always been this concept of bias as a manager tries to get someone promoted. So it’s nice to have concrete evidence around what that person is saying. But it’s also kind of a terrible way to go about things, in my opinion . And that brings up the second way I think that leaders use written communication poorly is they feel like they can be more productive because they can drive by comment.

And this is so insidious in my mind that I think we might even have a whole tactic around this. But it used to be that as a leader, you couldn’t attend every single meeting that everybody was doing. And so they would make decisions, And you would brief and they would back brief you on the decisions at whatever timeline you briefed them. And you would kind of have to give this sense of okay, how is this overall operation proceeding? What are the signals that I can get around whether it’s working well, or it’s not working well? And where are the areas that I actually have to pay attention to?

But as more and more things moved to written, I found my managers who were less comfortable with that now found it very easy to involve themselves in every single part of their entire team’s operations. And I’m talking about managers that had 40 people, so multiple managers and ICs in their organization. They would read all sorts of documents, all sorts of posts, and you can imagine the fidelity at which they could read this.

First of all, information is not context, right? It’s very difficult to document context. So what you end up documenting are decisions.

Andy: Hmm.

Mon-Chaio: And you get these drive by, ” I don’t agree with this specific part of your decision, you said that you were going to move to two day releases, I think it should be four.” Or, you know, if they’re a good manager, they don’t say that. But they’ll say something along the lines of: “tell me more about these two day releases and how we’re going to X, Y, or Z.” It was just very, very randomizing to have all these after-the-fact input into things that you used to have autonomy for, from people that were missing context.

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: And so I think that’s also a very challenging part as you move to more and more written communication.

Andy: And I should say my experience in that is that I’m a very hands off manager. You can probably imagine that, Mon-Chaio. I’m very laid back. I’m very hands off. I have certain things that I want to see, but I normally go at it by having conversations with people at opportune moments to talk about the way I think about things or the way they are thinking about things. And so I very rarely concern myself with the exact day-to-day decisions that are being made.

And then I found myself in an organization where suddenly it seemed like the expectation was is that I was on top of every decision being made. And in this high document, like, it’s either a written document in terms of a Google Doc or a Confluence page or something else, or it was in, I think in this case, it would have been Microsoft Teams conversations, there seemed to be this expectation that at any moment I could be asked, what is this thing? And there was at least an implicit assumption that I would be able to answer it at that time. And I had to get comfortable saying, I don’t know, I’ll go find out. At least I had the assumption that that’s what they were expecting of me. But just that question, because the information was available, I started having this assumption that because it was also available, their expectation is that I do know it all.

Mon-Chaio: Right. Yeah, there’s a lot more to unpack here around, how much of the information should you know from your team? The speed of sort of information exchange, and the expected speed of information exchange. But yeah, I do think that it’s very challenging.

And I think just like how remote work tends to move us more asynchronous, which tends to move people towards more individualized silo tasks.

I think similarly, this documentation part of remote work starts to incentivize quicker access to knowledge and this expectation that all knowledge can be accessed very quickly, as well as this concept of activity as leverage or activity as performance.

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: So if you are not actively knowing all of these things or if you’re not actively commenting all these documents, and this goes into the speed of change, you can’t let things progress anymore. You can’t say, well, I’m going to give my team three weeks to work through this.

Andy: And you also start getting into, I think, some of the really troubling things that we’ve heard about, cropping up around remote work, where people would get essentially spyware placed on their computers, and it’s checking how often are they looking at their browser, and how often are they doing this or doing that. Are they moving their mouse?

And even if you don’t even actually have it, if you work in a large enough organization where you don’t know if you have it, you might start assuming that that’s being done, and behaving differently because of that, because you believe that people are watching.

Mon-Chaio: Or in this world where everybody’s getting laid off, especially with these very opaque communication and ideas of why people are getting laid off – why X, but not Y – people start to assume that it’s not spyware on your computer, but large organizations, I know for certain track. Now they may not track your mouse clicks, but they’re definitely tracking things like how your repository size growing over time.

Andy: Mmm.. How many commits have you made?

Mon-Chaio: Or what is your meeting room usage? Or how many meetings are you scheduling? And again, it might not be an individual. Oftentimes it is, but it might be around a specific team.

And then they’ll ask the manager, well, you have a lower performing team. Now we’re going to cut six people out of it.

Andy: Yeah. So I want to take it from that fairly sad thing to an uplifting side of remote work, and the flexibility in work that starts coming from that asynchronous, time shifting, more individual tasks. Which is the ability for people to continue engaging in that work life when they have other responsibilities.

So in particular, I know some people who, they have chronically sick children. And this gives them the ability to take care of those children at home, to handle getting them to school, or to doctor’s appointments, or handle when their spouse is unavailable to take care of them. Because without that, basically they wouldn’t be able to work.

Mon-Chaio: Mmm hmm.

Andy: They can’t, they just would not be able to come into an office where it’s going to take an hour to get back home, to take their child to that doctor’s appointment that came up at two hours notice, because that morning the child had some heartburn or something, and it turned into, oh, that is a big thing.

That kind of stuff, that person wouldn’t be able to steadily hold a job if it wasn’t for that flexibility.

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, I agree! I have anecdotes around that too. When I was at Meta, I had an employee who, remember at my time at Meta, it was already all remote. And so I didn’t know this for a long time, but this employee ended up having to take medical leave, extended medical leave, and I don’t think they’ve really been back to work for maybe four years or something.

They have a problematic degenerative medical issue. So it got so bad that they couldn’t even work remote. But I can imagine that remote work allowed them to work for much longer than they would have if they had to show up in the office all the time and attend all these functions at the office and attend all the meetings at the office.

And we already talked about how different it is when most of your people are on site and one person is remote. Versus when everybody is remote and I imagine allowed this person to have much more impact than they would have had If everybody else was at the office and they were the only ones on the call.

Andy: And because, being able to take part in that part of society is important for many of us. It is important. This isn’t just like a capitalistic, oh, they have to work to live. This is also a psychological need to have that connection, to have that sense of purpose.

Mon-Chaio: I do agree that it’s important for that And for myself right now, I’m running a little startup and having an app developed. And it’s just me and my designer, my engineer, and both of them are remote. And it’s been great in terms of being able to access a larger group of talent. And I think for both of those people, they have decided that remote work works for them.

Andy: Mmm hmm..

Mon-Chaio: And especially with this small group, we haven’t really felt any of the problems maybe that we’ve discussed in our anecdotes here in that small setting.

And it’s been very productive. And I’ve learned a lot about Greece, where my engineer lives, and it’s been fascinating for me. So I’ve enjoyed that as well.

Andy: Yeah, and just the connections that I got to other people. So I’ve worked with people in Romania, in Hungary, in Sweden, in Cyprus, in France, in Italy, in the U. S., just all over the place. Oh, in India, in Singapore. Just the ability to have interactions with so many different people. You get something from learning about the way that works.

And I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned. I’m a fairly introverted person, but I also find it important to be open to people about what’s going on in my life. And that openness means that I also get openness from others about what’s going on in their life, and so I get to learn about what’s going on with this person who lives in Romania, and how the world is going there, and the elections that are coming up, and their thoughts on it. Which, hey, I never would have gotten otherwise.

Mon-Chaio: And introvertedness works different for many different people. I was reading this anecdote from an engineer who said, ” I am probably the most introverted person that I can imagine. And yet, working remotely made me so lonely.”

Andy: Mmmm, mmm hmm..

Mon-Chaio: So there’s both sides of that I think, the theme being that connection is important, even for the most introverted people.

Andy: So I work remote and I’ve worked remote a couple times, and I go to coworking spaces because I need to get out of the house and I need to have that interaction with people. Otherwise, I know I get lonely and spiral.

Mon-Chaio: All right, Andy, should we talk a little bit about … not spiraling, let’s not talk about spiraling. But should we talk about themes perhaps?

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: Next episode, we do want to talk about the science, but it’ll help us to have some themes that we can dive into on the science. So what are some of the themes that, from our anecdotes, and from some of the anecdotes that we’ve heard, would be interesting themes to investigate around remote work?

Andy: Well, I think this last one actually, mental health outcomes from remote work, is an interesting one.

Mon-Chaio: And so that would be the science of mental health for people, and perhaps why some people are happier in remote work. And why some people are not, and maybe we can find out some attributes, which would help us make people happier in remote work. Okay, I like that!

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: I like that. For me, I think performance is a big one. It’s talked about a lot. Do we really perform better when we’re remote? There’s a lot of studies around employees feeling more productive when they’re away from the office, this idea of quiet space, this idea of not having to attend useless meetings, which is a big one. And of course, this concept of leaders and managers wanting to force people back into the office. And one of the big reasons is sometimes unsaid, this idea that performance isn’t as good at home. So, what does the science say around that? Can we really find is there a performance gap between being on site and in office? And if there is, what does the science say about why? And perhaps help us find a way to mitigate that gap so that remote work can be more effective and efficient.

Andy: And I think there’s another part of that as well, which is that there’s the individual contributor performance, but then there’s also the leadership and management performance. And I know for me personally, I think I know how to do it. I think I know how to manage remote. But I don’t feel like I’m as effective. And I find it much more draining.

Mon-Chaio: Mm hmm. Yeah I agree. It would be interesting to see whether there’s tactics that we can talk about for leaders. Not for their ICs but for themselves and being better leaders remote. I think it’s challenging because, as you know, if you’ve listened to this podcast, there’s very little study on measuring leadership effectiveness, and that’s actually one of the reasons why we think most people default to other things because it’s difficult to measure leadership effectiveness. So I like that. I like that. Any other themes from you, Andy?

Andy: I think there’s something about this synchronous versus asynchronous. I don’t know what the research is. So I’d probably just start exploring, like, is there any research on the question of synchronous and asynchronous communication, or work.

Mon-Chaio: Right. I think it’s more than just communication. I like that you added work because I think we probably could dive into the research of is there a difference between when people are together versus when they’re apart?

Andy: And that actually gets to this whole thing of, if you are a remote team, do you ever come together in person? Historically when I managed teams that were remote, I asked that we came together every six to eight weeks. Not necessarily that everyone was there at the same time, but that we had kind of like a critical mass coming all together at once.

And then at least two to three times a year, everyone would come together. And that was really important for keeping the culture going, kind of keeping those relationships going, and building up relationships that maybe hadn’t been built yet because the person had started remote and had never been in the office with others for an extended amount of time. It seemed to be the thing that really brought the group together.

But I know it’s not always accepted. I had someone who I was going to hire who I ended up not hiring because they refused to commit to ever coming in. And they didn’t see the point in doing it. They said, well, it’d be just as effective if I don’t.

So why would I do this? And I had to say, oh, well, I disagree. So we’re not continuing.

Mon-Chaio: Yeah, I think there’s always this concept of what it means to be effective. I think there’s a lot of validity to this concept that work and the power that work and managers hold in terms of forcing us to do certain rituals or certain meetings or making certain relationships.

And I think that can be problematic, but. I don’t think also that it’s right to say, well, I just get to choose every single relationship I want to build. And if I don’t want to build that relationship, well, tough, see ya.

Andy: Mm hmm.

Mon-Chaio: And maybe the science can talk to us about that. We can see.

Andy: Yeah, we can take a look into that.

All right. So it sounds like we’ve got four possible themes. I can’t guarantee that we’re gonna look into all four of these or be able to discuss all four of them, but we’ve got four possible themes. One is on mental health outcomes. One is about performance, individual team, ICs, and leaders or managers. We’ve got one on sync versus asynchronous work and communication. And then we’ve got one about group cohesion and group get togethers.

Mon-Chaio: That sounds right, Andy, and it does sound like a lot, so it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to get to all of them. But some of them, I think, are probably related, and so as we do research it’ll probably touch on multiple of these.

Andy: Yeah.

Mon-Chaio: All right, that sounds like a full slate for next time. It’s a ton of reading. As we mentioned, it’s the science behind it, so we’re going to try to bring in a bunch of papers and try to be as evidence based as possible, which we love.

Hopefully you will join us for that, even though we’re not anecdotally speaking, which is something we do very rarely. But please let us know what you think about this episode, what you are hoping for, for the remote work series, as we progress to the next two episodes, and generally what you think about this podcast. Give us a like or comment on any of your favorite podcatching platforms, or you can write to us at hosts@thettlpodcast.com.

Until next time, be kind and stay curious.


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