Microsoft Analyzed Data on Its Newly Remote Workforce

From Harvard Business Review:

Is work today permanently different from what it was before Covid-19 and the work-from-home shift? We don’t know yet, but the data can give us ongoing, real-time information that we can use to influence what happens next. We believe that what we learn about these changes will be key to organizational resiliency in the months and years to come

Lots of great insights in this breakdown. I’ve definitely seen the demise of the lunch hour first-hand. People try their best to protect it from meetings but I find most people are using it to eat and catch up on things that don’t quite need a meeting but need some follow-up. It’s fascinating to see tons of workplace norms fall so quickly when everyone that can is working remotely and using the tools at our disposal.

 

 

Revenge of the Suburbs

From Ian Bogost at The Atlantic:

But after the anxious spring of 2020, these defects seem like new luxuries. There was always comfort to be found in a big house on a plot of land that’s your own. The relief is even more soothing with a pandemic bearing down on you. And as the novel coronavirus graduates from acute terror to long-term malaise, urbanites are trapped in small apartments with little or no outdoor space, reliant on mass transit that now seems less like a public service and more like a rolling petri dish.
The pandemic will improve suburban life, perhaps in lasting ways. Take the automobile commute: The exodus from the office has dramatically decreased traffic and pollution, a trend that will continue in some form if even a fraction of the people who abandoned their commutes continue to work from home. Dunham-Jones, who is also my colleague in Georgia Tech’s college of design, thinks that even a modest rise in telecommuting could also increase the appeal of local walking and bike trips. Families have two cars, but nowhere to go. They are rediscovering the pleasures of pedestrianism.
[…]
Multigenerational households represent a modest increase in density, and they can make quarantine more tolerable on top of it. The summer is upon us, but camps are largely closed and ordinary family activities have been substantially disrupted. The spring lockdowns also proved that working from home while facilitating children’s remote schoolwork is extremely challenging. Intergenerational households offer more hands and eyes to watch the kids or manage mealtimes made incompatible by overlapping schedules. Schools have always been a huge driver of residential real-estate sales, and even a modest increase in online learning could shock the market. Economic pressure may encourage consolidation of some families into bigger but more populous single-family homes, while decoupling home values from school districts even somewhat could make them more affordable.

Living in the suburbs is a mixed bag as it’s always been – you trade things like culture, collectivism, walkability and energy efficiency for a longer commute, more space (but more isolation) and (often) better schools. However, I’m hopeful that this pandemic has shown us there’s possibility to find a middle ground now that more folks are working from their homes and helping educate from the comfort of our house. If we’re lucky, residents in suburban areas will look to invest more in their local communities and build them into places that might make those longer commutes less necessary. If we can move to a world where remote work is accessible for more folks, suburban and exurban communities can be more sustainable.

I try to remind myself daily how lucky we are to have a setup like we do – we have an office that I can work remotely out of, (mostly) uninterrupted during the day. Our kids can complete their schoolwork in the basement. We have a fenced in back yard that the kids can play in as well. So generally speaking the quarantine has been “easier” for our family than the average apartment dweller.

Welcome to the 21st Century

From Tim O’Reilly:

Our failure to make deep, systemic changes after the financial collapse of 2009, and our choice instead to spend the last decade cutting taxes and spending profusely to prop up financial markets while ignoring deep, underlying problems has only made responding to the current crisis that much more difficult. Our failure to build back creatively and productively from the global financial crisis is necessary context for the challenge to do so now.

I enjoyed this article so much. O’Reilly talks a lot about how the future won’t be be just like the past, and we should be thinking about what changes this new world we’ve living in will require of us so that we don’t just revert back to our old habits. What will be gone or changed forever? Travel, large-scale events, privacy, health care and work-from-home are all certain to be transformed. But how? And what new things will emerge?

My fear is that this article assumes we’ll handle the Covid crisis and learn from that experience. Instead, it’s looking more and more like a preview of how America and much of the western world might handle coming climate crises. We won’t – can’t? – work collectively on big problems as a nation any more and that’s a huge danger to both our political system and our planet. But it’s not all doom and gloom. I am hopeful that changes to attitudes and tools for working remotely will create a more equitable job market. That will in turn allow communities across the nation to be destinations for remote workers.

For us to emerge as strongly as possible from Covid and not be left behind by the rest of the world as they recover, we’ll need to see more planning and strategic thinking from our local and national leaders, however. Businesses are doing their part, but our nation is rudderless.

Tweaking my Daily Routine

Working from home for me has been an interesting test of some of my beliefs about how I like to get things done, how much of an introvert I am (very much), and what an optimal schedule stripped of things like a commute, errands and activities might look like. Obviously this won’t be “normal” forever, […]

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Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive

From The Doist blog:

The trend toward near-constant communication means that the average knowledge worker must organize their workday around multiple meetings, with the time in between spent doing their work half-distractedly with one eye on email and Slack.

I love working remotely because I get to spend more time with family, avoid nasty commute times, get more rest and in a non-pandemic world, spend more time with friends. In addition, I can optimize my day around the rest of my life for the most part to run errands or do things around the house when it makes the most sense to do so.

What I don’t love is being on video calls from 8-5 every day. It leaves no room for any meaningful work outside of business hours, which slowly robs myself and others of their newly-gained additional free time. I think most companies are still trying to recreate all of the ceremonies, processes and expectations of the physical office. What this fails to do is take advantage of the massive productivity gains teams can get from working more asynchronously. If trust levels are high and you work in an environment that’s focused more on results than punching the clock, teams can really crank through work and still maintain a high level of communication.

I recently heard a really interesting episode of Sam Harris’ podcast where he spoke with the founder of Automattic about their history as remote first. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits in there about how companies transition from first trying to replicate their office environment and eventually move towards “enlightenment” – where almost all communication is async and open.

The main tips are to lean into note-taking when you are in meetings to ensure high levels of alignment, handle what you can in slack or email and in higher quality communication than standups in Zoom. On the teams that I work with that have leaned into these practices, I’ve found way more time to focus on making my team better instead of running on the meeting treadmill.

Square announces permanent work-from-home policy

From The Verge:

“We want employees to be able to work where they feel most creative and productive,” a company spokesperson told The Verge. “Moving forward, Squares will be able to work from home permanently, even once offices begin to reopen. Over the past several weeks, we’ve learned a lot about what it takes for people to effectively perform roles outside of an office, and we will continue to learn as we go.”

Another one.

More and more tech companies seem to be moving in this direction. Very interested to see what it means for commercial real estate, tech company salaries and the future of Silicon Valley as the “hub” for a lot of these companies.