Getting Apps Done

Assets In Seats

March 14, 2019

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Episode

18

Joshua and Kellen are solo again and talking about remote working culture and failures in respecting and promoting the benefits of remote working.

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  • 00:02 Joshua

    Welcome to getting apps done, a mostly non technical podcast with the goal of helping you deliver software. Because if you didn't ship it, it didn't happen.

  • 00:16 Joshua

    Alright. So today I wanted to talk about a particular aspect of remote working culture and the lack of, in some cases, particularly when it's coming to what businesses want and what they think remote culture is. But before we get to that, I actually just want to say that I'm actually really looking forward to spring because it was over 50 degrees out today and the sun was shining and blaring and wonderful and beautiful and yeah, I'm looking forward to spring. It's almost here.

  • 00:48 Kellen

    You're looking forward to spring and I'm still slushing around in Seattle, you know, snow and rain and ice and you know, all the things that aren't supposed to be here in Seattle.

  • 00:57 Joshua

    I thought you might have an opinion on that, that was slightly different than mine.

  • 01:03 Kellen

    Yeah. I'm looking forward to the drizzle again. That would be great.

  • 01:07 Joshua

    No, I think we're coming close to the end of our, uh, winter. Feels like it's been really long, but actually this year has not been a really harsh winter at all for us. And by harsh, I mean it didn't snow.

  • 01:21 Kellen

    Yeah. I think this is the most snow I've seen since moving to Seattle, so it's been a little wild. Buses are on snow routes. People, have chains on their tires. There's ice everywhere. Actually I got a good workout walking like three miles back and forth on this slushed out sidewalk. So it's great fun. Yeah.

  • 01:38 Joshua

    I broke a sweat walking today. It was great.

  • 01:44 Kellen

    Yeah. So remote working

  • 01:45 Joshua

    You don't have to see the weather.

  • 01:51 Kellen

    Actually that was the purpose of the walking though, is I wanted to walk to the coworking space because I did not want to be locked into my, you know, apartment snowd in. After an entire weekend of that, it's like, I'd like to see people again. This would be great.

  • 02:02 Joshua

    Yeah. And actually that's kind of where I'm going with this. Um, there's a backstory here so I will tell the story first and then I'll rant about it. Basically I was listening into this interview, uh, it was a remote working developer going for a remote working position and the interview seemed to be going pretty well from what I could tell and they were ticking boxes, everybody was on board with having the right skills and everything else. And then they started to talk about the remote working aspect and the person being interviewed started to ask some questions. I actually, this is a really important point because it took me a long time to figure this out and I wish I had figured it out much sooner in my career that an interview isn't just for the company to interview you. You should be interviewing them as well.

  • 02:55 Joshua

    And this person was doing exactly that. They started to ask some questions about the remote working because this is a remote working position. And they had some ideas about what they thought remote working actually meant and why it was valuable to them. So they were asking to make sure that those things were going to be still the case with this company

  • 03:12 Kellen

    In alignment

  • 03:14 Joshua

    In alignment, yes, because when it comes down to it, that's what we're trying to figure out is that in an interview, whether or not you are a good fit for the company and whether or not the company and its culture are good for you. And that's why it's a two side of thing is not just one side interviewing the other side. And to be fair there are cases where you don't really have much of an option, but there are cases where they don't have much of an option either.

  • 03:37 Joshua

    But in this case the person was asking the right sorts of questions based on what it sounds like was important to them. And actually those are the things that are very much in line with what I believe and why I like to work remotely. And they were asking questions like, you know, I like to go into a coworking space. Kellen was just saying, he goes into the coworking space because he likes to do that as part of his routine, and it's a very different atmosphere than going into an office and it affords some things that you can't just get working at home. And that was one of the first questions this guy asked. He said, because I was over here at a coworking center. So obviously that was something important to him. And uh, he asked, okay, so I go into a coworking center a couple times a week, is that okay?

  • 04:20 Joshua

    And the answer was no, no, no, we don't do that sort of thing at all. And the guy, kind of has this, look on his face like, hey, and I'll get this look on my face like, Huh. You know, what, and those

  • 04:40 Kellen

    So what was their reasoning and what's wrong with a coworking space?

  • 04:43 Joshua

    Uh, from what I got from their little discussion back and forth, basically they had had some people previously who, you know, wanted to work in coffee shops and things like that and they just didn't understand that concept or why that would be okay or how that would work or how the person would work efficiently or anything else. Therefore it was just a no and it carried on with much the same with other things. The person wanted to know if they could go do grocery shopping in the day and work after six o'clock or whatever to make up for the time or whatever it was the normal flexibility that a remote worker can have can afford because you're working at home, you can start early, you can finish late, you can work different hours.

  • 05:29 Joshua

    And in general, I don't think there's going to hurt most companies as long as you're generally accessible by the phone during core working hours. Because yeah, we are running businesses. You've got to be available. And again, the answer was no, we don't do any of that. You start at eight 30 and you work until five. Uh, but if you want to have an hour lunch, you were really flexible and you can start at eight and work until five.

  • 05:54 Joshua

    I'm thinking, flexible that's, that's your version of flexible so it was clear they just didn't understand remote working culture in any way whatsoever. They were trying to fit remote workers in with the same sort of things that they fit office workers in because that's basically what they wanted. It sounded like in their situation they really wanted all the people in the office but they didn't have enough resource to do that so they were forced to go get people remotely

  • 06:20 Kellen

    And that's kind of a terrible reason to be looking for remote workers is just because he can't find them to stack into chairs at the office. That's not a really a good reason to switch to a remote working culture. No, not buying into it really.

  • 06:36 Joshua

    That's the thing, because there is a culture around it, there's a process around it. There are levels of flexibility around it and sometimes, yeah, you do need to be tied to your seat more often than not. But in general, there are very few cases where that's really true, particularly within the development profession because the reality is we don't work like that. I don't sit down for eight hours a day. Code, Code, come, Code, Code, Code. Code never happens. If I try, it's not going to happen. I'm not, I'll correct that. Some days I do sit down for eight hours, Code, Code, Code because I'm in the flow. It's happening. It's going, but that's not normal. Normally it's kind of drips and drabs. I will for an hour, maybe two, maybe three hours code code code because it's really, I'm in the zone and I'm really getting through it. Right, and then it stops

  • 07:31 Kellen

    Any developer listening is probably thinking code eight hours straight. Are you insane?

  • 07:36 Joshua

    Yeah, no. It's very rare that anything like that happens. The reality is you have moments where everything kind of goes nicely and then you either hit a wall and you had to think about it or you finish that bit and you're moving on to the next and your context switching and right.

  • 07:50 Joshua

    The context switches are always the derailing aspect. And of course that's part of, you know that's part of you been working in an office too, is that they don't really think about that, but your code code code code and then somebody walks by and ask you some questions and then you get totally derailed and then you go back to code code, code code. So like even in an office environment that never actually happens.

  • 08:09 Joshua

    Oh, what I find happens in office environments is people are pretending to code code code, code code while they're actually trying to think about the problem when actually they'd be much better off just going for a run or playing guitar for an hour or whatever it takes for them to come up with the answers.

  • 08:24 Kellen

    We've definitely talked about that before too.

  • 08:26 Joshua

    We have, yeah, and it's just mind boggling to me that people just don't get it. They just want butts in seats and that's all they're looking for. They're not thinking of these people as people. They're just thinking of them as assets,

  • 08:40 Kellen

    Assets in seats.

  • 08:42 Kellen

    The title of this particular episode. Really appreciate it. And to give you a kind of a similar story, when I first, when I worked at my last company, the, uh, my boss was actually a remote worker. He worked on a mountain top somewhere in Colorado. I have no idea where this place was, but it was like absolutely in the sticks yet, he had a microwave dish that connected to a microwave dish slightly down the mountain that he had like kind of bribed a friend into putting up so he could get internet, like extreme remote working, but he couldn't understand how I even got anything done in the office. Like it was the complete opposite viewpoint of, of this, of how could you possibly get any work done in the office. But then you would look at, you know, my boss is in the office who were, no, no, no, you can't work from home then we can't watch you then we can't help you then we can't, you know, we're, we're, we can't, and you ran into these two, like just totally different disconnects. And that's how I started working remotely though is because you know my actual, you know my immediate boss was, yeah, work from home. You will get, you will actually get stuff done then and so you know I could split half and half, but that's not an option in a lot of places. You don't always have someone there promoting that quite as strongly as my old boss and that was really problematic.

  • 09:51 Joshua

    I think it's getting better. I started working from home almost 10 years ago and at the time it was very rare. There weren't many people who are allowing for that and I was quite keen to take advantage of that because I had young children. I had been in an office and certainly with my eldest son I missed a lot of the first things like taking his first steps and things like that because I was sitting in an office and most of the time I was sitting in the office. I was just trying to avoid distractions because there was always somebody stopping at my desk, Hey Josh, how do you do this? Google it. Just go Google it.

  • 10:30 Kellen

    Let me google that for you.

  • 10:34 Joshua

    Uh, but, but uh, yeah, it's just for me, remote working has become a part of the way I think, but it's very clear that certainly in this case that wasn't the way they think. They didn't understand that concept and they couldn't understand giving people that sort of freedom to have a little bit of autonomy and dictate how their own day flows and how they manage their own time.

  • 11:00 Kellen

    And I think so when we were kind of planning for this episode I did a lot of thought on the other aspect, like the manager, because I've been, you know, I've been in that spot of where I think, oh yeah, it'd be so much easier if they were right in front of me where I could kind of keep prodding them to keep them working rather than them slacking at home. So, you know, like I kind of have been in that mindset before and I thought, well, why is this, why is that my expectation? And that's we had this big long series on motivation and we didn't actually talk about one of the more basic types of motivation, the kind of bare minimum type of motivation that you see in office places, which is the, the meeting the expectations of your boss or your customers or whatever they told you you have to do something.

  • 11:39 Kellen

    And so you know, you have to get it done eventually. And the more they prod you, eventually you complete it, you get it done, you get it out of the way it's over with. You don't put a lot of effort into that though. You just kind of get the bare minimum. But that's a lot what you see in office places. That's what you see, you know, the boss coming by to prod you and tell you to do a little bit more, you know, I need this by the end of the week or whatever and you get just enough of it to get it done and then you go home and that's kind of the default that you see a lot of companies. That's almost the expectation is that you're only going to do this bare minimum. And so when you work, switch to remote work, that's no longer, you don't know, you no longer have your boss sitting over your shoulder forcing you to do to the bare minimum. You have to do something different. You have to motivate in a different way.

  • 12:22 Joshua

    I've worked in a lot of big corporations and it is absolutely that. There's this sort of baseline that you're meant to meet and if you exceed that, that's great, but that's just kind of what everybody expects. And the moment you take yourself out of that situation, it is different. You do have to motivate differently. But I think in most cases, I might be wrong and there may be certain cases where it's not true, but in a lot of cases, by respecting people and showing them that you think they are people and you understand that they have needs and they're different and everything else that gives them their own level of respect for you and what you need and they're going to make sure that they comply with that. And if they don't, maybe it won't work out. Certainly as a company that hires remote workers and only remote workers, we do go through a fairly intensive interviewing process to make sure that, not that we think this person is going to sit there between eight and five every single day, but that it's going to work for them. That they are the sort of person who can self motivate, who can manage their own time or are close enough that we can help them with that and that they're going to enjoy that because some people can't do that.

  • 13:34 Kellen

    Yeah, those you run into, I run into folks like that occasionally, but most of them are just honestly I think they just get bored sitting at home. So coworking might be a better option in general. Um, but there's definitely a skill set involved with remote working. I think we've mentioned this before, but just, you know, when you first start out, especially being able to focus, being able to sit down without, without having your boss's expectation to get something done, you do have to kind of self motivate to at least some extent. And there is, there is a skill it takes practice and if your company's not prepared, uh, help train somebody to do that, then you can definitely have trouble.

  • 14:05 Joshua

    Yeah, I and certainly it's much better if you can find somebody who has been working from home beforehand, but even if you can't just finding somebody who, first off we'll get some value out of it. In my case, because they knew very well that I had children at home and I wanted to be around my family more and that aligned with our company goals because, again, the people who were hiring me both have families and they wanted to be at home and that's why the company initially started being a remote working only company because they all wanted to be home with families and that was promoting that sort of an environment, which again, we've mentioned this before, but there's this whole work life balance thing and remote working I think is a really, really good way to help with that because we spend so much time doing work and that's fair enough.

  • 14:54 Joshua

    You got to work to get pay in all these other things that our society has set us up for and that's fine. I think everybody should be participating and contributing their bit to society, but if you can do it from home, it makes it much easier to balance that out with helping do the dishes or pick up the kids from school or just be there with the kids. My kids are shocked when their friends tell them that they're not going to be able to see their father or mother until six o'clock at night or seven o'clock at night. You know, guys, that's normal. That's the way it usually is. You're very lucky that your father's home all day long and here to badger you until you to clean your rooms and all those sorts of things and then they grow.

  • 15:42 Kellen

    Are they lucky?

  • 15:45 Joshua

    I think they are though because, and they recognize that they have hard because anytime they can drop into my office with some Lego and say, what do I do with this? I don't know how this works. Or my oldest just got himself a guitar and he's already finding, he's already excited about bringing it in. Am I doing this chord right dad? And he can do that. We've got that flexibility and it doesn't, it's still context switching. So there is some measure of that. But I've got a door, I closed my door.

  • 16:16 Kellen

    Exactly and that kind of brings in that component pulls back to this being a skill. There are, there are tricks of the trade on how to manage your time to avoid distractions, to avoid those context swhich is like you said, just closing the door and the coworking space here it's, you put on headphones and that's a, like just kind of a cultural thing that means, hey, you know, don't bug me, I'm busy and if you want to talk you take off your headphones and go on about your day.

  • 16:39 Kellen

    So like there, there's all these different tricks that you can use to keep yourself focused and keep yourself on task from, from at home. But they're, they're very much a personal thing too. So it is, it does require the company to have trust in the person. But that trust itself is really motivating. Like if when people trust you to do something, they, they believe that you can get it done. Well you feel the need to like kind of move up your own expectations for this event. It's not just the bare minimum anymore. It's like, Ooh, I want to impress them. They trust me. And so you push a little bit harder. And that's, you know, that was the whole, that was the whole topic of our little motivational spirit series, but also very relevant to remote working because that's part of why people push it is because of that extra trust. It also helps motivate folks.

  • 17:22 Joshua

    And it's something that keeps coming up because it is so important in so many people and companies are getting it completely wrong. They're trying to motivate people for the wrong things in the wrong ways. They're trying to get them to hit that baseline, which just has not a challenge for anybody. It just contributes to that sort of thing. What causes them to think that they can't trust employees because they see their employees as assets, their employees see the company as an asset. Because when it comes down to it, and I remember early in my career, I was much the same. I was getting paid a certain amount of money and I felt I needed to put in enough effort to not feel bad about collecting that amount of money. And that was it. And that wasn't a good way to go about doing things.

  • 18:06 Joshua

    But at the time, the company seemed to be happy with that because I was meeting my goals and my metrics and whatever else, and they were kind of actively encouraging that, which is just not good. It wasn't good for me. It wasn't good for them, and it was, nobody was winning.

  • 18:21 Kellen

    That's kind of an example of like the hiring for the young person and you're going to give them a huge salary and they do kind of feel that pressure of, Oh, I have all this money. I need to just show up to that money. I need to prove that I'm worth it. But over time they're going to realize that's not really what the company's viewing it as. They're not really seeing that as you need to prove that you're worth it. You need to show up, sit down work, or I'll yell at you. Like that's the motivation really isn't quite right for that only works for a little while.

  • 18:46 Joshua

    It's not a motivation for me to be a better person or to contribute or anything else. It's just for me to fill in the blanks and tick some boxes. Which corporations are often accused of doing exactly that. And this is why, because everybody is just trying to tick the boxes to get their paycheck. Why wouldn't they? I mean, why should they put in more if you're not asking them to or giving them enough respect that they feel like they want to.

  • 19:14 Kellen

    Yeah, and that we can already completely looped back to motivation. But it's all about that. It's so much about that. Having the autonomy to do whatever, to grow, to push those boundaries out to, to make it a better thing.

  • 19:28 Joshua

    Yeah. And I think probably the fact that we weren't going through this motivational series when I heard all of this was what really irks me. I'll be honest with you, I was a little bit ticked off for this person because that's just wrong.

  • 19:44 Kellen

    Yeah, it's such a, yeah, the, the entire like mindset around it is wrong. Not just, we talked about the motivation, but there's all the other aspects of the things the remote worker can't do that you're in office person can do. Um, you know, you can't have a manager that's out of the office. That would be horrible. And that's not true at all. Like it's all about communication and communication is easier in person. I agree with that and it's definitely a true thing that it's a lot easier to have a team all in one room talking to each other. The communications faster, you know, there's all those bonuses to that, but I don't think that those bonuses outweigh all of the things that we're talking about or the flexibility of remote working.

  • 20:21 Joshua

    Especially when you start talking about, like I mentioned before, that a hiring outside of the bubble is not really the best reason to to do a remote working culture, but it is a reason to hire a remote working culture is that you do increase the size of the, the size of the pool of people to pick from and that can work for you when you have remote working culture.

  • 20:43 Joshua

    It's a very valid bonus to doing that and you're exactly right. Then particularly when you're talking about leadership roles, nobody wants to hire remote workers for that. And the reason they're saying isn't actually true. The reason why it doesn't work for them is they're not set up for that and that's part of remote working culture. Your business needs to be set up to work with a remote working team and you need things like slack. You need things like video chats and maybe 10 years ago when video chats were hard and you had to pay tens of thousands of pounds to get a decent setup that still look pixelated and horrible. Things were a little bit different, but now I can pick up the phone to just about anybody. In fact, I was at the coworking center today and a client calls up on Skype with video going and right then and there and we had a little conversation then. It wasn't really that different than the guy next to me. Technology has caught up with that capability and it's given us the ability to be much more in touch with other human beings remotely.

  • 21:47 Kellen

    And as long as you're, you're planning for that, just like you used to plan for your office space, having conference rooms for people to talk. As long as you plan for those types of digital meeting spaces for people to to to collaborate, then it'll work. It'll be fine. Yeah, It will be fine.

  • 22:03 Joshua

    And things like slack are great for that because people can banter and chat and do all the normal things they do while they're collecting coffee. In fact, I do that sometimes I'll chat with other coworkers and clients and things like that while I'm making my coffee downstairs in my own kitchen. They have no clue. That's where I am, but there's still value in there, I'm still communicating with them. I'm talking to them and because it's coffee time, I tried to make it a little bit more personal and just ask how their weekend was or did they get any of that snow or is it beautiful outside there, too, or whatever it may be.

  • 22:33 Kellen

    Yeah, you definitely do have to, when you do switch to a remote working thing that you do have to have, uh, places to have those types of interactions because a lot of in office interactions are very personal. They're getting to know your coworkers, learning about their personalities, their interests in learning to trust them more if that's, you know, kind of that's the point of all of that banter back and forth is really getting to know people and learning to trust them. And so you do have to replace that. You can't have folks just communicating through emails once a week. You're not gonna, you're not gonna have much of a team if you do that. Like you said, slack and the Skype and the tech. There's plenty of technologies to allow for that sort of thing now.

  • 23:08 Joshua

    Yeah, and without those then you are back to, they are just assets. They're not humans because it's just somebody who writes emails somewhere. I don't know who that guy is and...

  • 23:18 Kellen

    They did not pass the Turing test sometimes.

  • 23:22 Joshua

    To be fair some of my emails probably wouldn't either.

  • 23:25 Kellen

    Oh, I know some of mine wouldn't.

  • 23:27 Joshua

    But that's kind of what they were missing here. Everything they were talking about, and this guy, he was clearly picking up on all these red flags as well because the look on his face was just priceless. But when it comes down to it, all those things that humanize him and make his remote working experience a more human experience they were trying to take away. And that while it made me angry, it was also just kind of disappointing because we have so many opportunities and so many new things that companies could be using to make those remote workers more human so that the not just assets in seats, they're actually other people who have weekends and have kids and have hobbies and interests outside of work that you would catch up on in an office. There's no reason not to have those things remotely as well.

  • 24:18 Kellen

    As we've talked many times that those things have so much value in your day to day. Did they add value to your company with these people having diverse interests and doing all these different things that can come back and help your, the ideas of your company, you know, and obviously things like photography or whatever. But I mean just going for a jog always rattled something loose for me. So, they're missing out on a lot of opportunity. And I, I kind of agree. Like you said, it's, it's frustrating almost, especially the more I'm used to this and the more benefits I've seen from remote working and, and seen from those types of cultures, the, the benefits way outweigh any of the negatives of the effort of setting it up, setting up a remote culture or not having everybody in the same space takes a little bit more coordination, for meetings and such. But it's still better. It's frustrating that people don't, don't see that they're not onboard yet.

  • 25:11 Joshua

    No. And I can certainly get why they don't see it, but they're not putting in the effort they need to to start to understand or to see the different ways that coworkers can get the same things they get in offices and that the company can get the same things from those remote workers.

  • 25:28 Kellen

    And they could get so much more. I mean, as we said the type of management style that they're focused on is kind of the bare minimum. You're going to get the bare minimum effort out of everybody. You're only going to get the effort that you, you poke and prod at them and you know, kick them awake to do because that's all they're all they're really motivated to do. They don't have any reason to push beyond that. And sometimes when they push beyond that and companies like that, they probably are going to get yelled at because they did something they weren't told to do and that's not going to help.

  • 25:57 Joshua

    So the moral of the story today, remotely working is good. Treating people like assets instead of humans bad. Yes. And the next time you're interviewing a remote worker, try to think about it a little bit ahead of time and not just go with the party line of remote working bad. Please act like you're in the office at all times because that's not good for anybody. It's not helping you, it's not helping them. And it's really not remote working. You're just taking the commute out of it. But still sticking them in the office.

  • 26:29 Kellen

    Yeah. You're locking them in an office that happens to be in their house rather than in your building.

  • 26:34 Joshua

    Yeah, exactly. On the bright side, you're not paying their electricity bills.

  • 26:39 Kellen

    I guess that's a bright side.

  • 26:42 Joshua

    No... Not really. Alright. That's it for today. I will toss up some transcripts on gettingappsdone.com please check out my website at joshuagraham.info and Kellen's website at piffner.com And if you do have a really great remote working culture, we'd love to hear about that because we both obviously think it's very important. Until next time, thanks for listening.

  • 27:05 Kellen

    Cheers.