Remote work in IT — Part III — Trust
Some time ago I moved to a place that is somewhat different in customs from the Western world. In the place where I live, thefts are so rare that it can be assumed that they do not exist.
On the scooter in the photo you can see our purchases, we buy quite a lot of fruits for a few days, the cost of such purchases is a quarter of a typical monthly salary in this region. I leave everything on my scooter, the same with helmets. I have friends here who do not have any locks at home, and the standard locks are padlocks on the door that could be opened with a strong kick.
If there is no theft, then there is no security. If everything doesn’t have to be secured, it can be simpler and more focused on action. In this twisted way, we come to what is most important in remote work. If I think that the people I hired can be honest and for the money I pay them, they may want to work for me instead of cheating on me, then I have the first step to make everything work as it should. I know I may exaggerate a bit, but it shows well what the matter is. On the one hand, I want to hire the best specialists, where in the IT project the best is probably not the one who hammers in the nails and efficiency assessment is not so easy, and on the other hand, somewhere by default, control and management are imposed like working with potential thieves or people, who understand nothing. However, if, step by step, by building a team and carrying out tasks in the project, we give the team members a chance to make decisions, what is surprising (fortunately only for some), it may turn out that the man I employed for too much money to work for me actually does it and it does it very well.
Unfortunately, there is no remote work without trust, there are companies that try to somehow control people while working remotely. What exactly do they do on the computer and how much time do they spend in front of it? The data from such monitoring can be very useful when it comes to work efficiency and self-development, but when it comes to control, unfortunately, my opinion is that it is invented by people who are either poor IT specialists or are very presumptuous, probably both. If someone has programmed himself, he knows that there is no unsolvable problem and unbreakable algorithm, and the more complicated it is, the more encouraging it is. So, making it harder for people to work, when they still see that they could work more efficiently and the slowdown is only caused by control and a real lack of trust, just motivates them to work harder to break security and work the way they think they are most effective.
This is a management practice, but from my perspective, I can think that it also comes from programming. It was noticed long ago in the development of software engineering that it doesn’t matter what tools you use to create your code, or how exactly you write it. It is important that every other member of the team runs it with the same commands and all the code is subject to the same standards and undergoes the same quality control. This concept is still developing, now it can be considered that no matter what technology the solution is created, it is important that its way of launching is standardized. This concept is one of the foundations of our DevOpsBox platform.
Many times in the past, people have asked me if I allow TDD or Pair Programming in my projects, both in some environments are still controversial up to now. My answer is always the same. I do not know. I am not interested and I think I shouldn’t be. The resulting code is to meet the requirements that the team agreed on at the beginning of the project. Whether the developers wrote it in tandem, whether someone used the TDD technique, wrote naked or running away from a bear is not my business. If the creation did not take longer than average and the effect was what everyone expected, I am where I should be. As for the pair programming itself, I once did not believe that it could have similar efficiency or even better than the standard technique, but I checked, measured and believed. If you want to use it, it’s a free path. Writing some large algorithms in this way has really satisfactory results.
Up to this point, I wrote like a computer, measuring everything and trying to draw logical conclusions. There is also something more enigmatic in remote work, it can be called “interpersonal contacts”. At first, I did not notice it, but with time it somehow began to sneak upon us and is something that people simply need. Softwaremill has the practice of spending a certain amount of time each day talking about nothing. Not about projects, but chats. As I well remember it is about 30 minutes. Is this inefficient? I don’t think so, if I worked in a corporation, then outdoor cigarette chats with my friends, coffee and lunch breaks would probably take much more. We have a standard daily meeting (DSM) that sometimes lengthens, or talks break down and be completely out of work. This is not regular, sometimes our meeting is 12–15 minutes for several days, and then it will take an hour. People need to talk to each other, that’s how we are.
If someone is stubborn, it can be considered a cost, going to the bathroom is also a cost, even blinking takes some time. You can play with these calculations much further, except that here we are dealing with creative work, sometimes within 5 minutes, you can come across something that may as well take 2 days, or otherwise, when working focused you can do in 3–4 hours as much as in 2 days of continuous work in open space office in a corporation. Once I had the pleasure to be responsible for the production in a project, where I had to measure everything in detail, it taught me a lot and also showed that the continuous collection of such information does not lead to an increased inefficiency. Something that I had to confirm was the demystification of the cost of some practices and I achieved it. Unfortunately, from my other experiences, I know that such incompetent attempts to collect information can again lead to a situation where the team feels so controlled that it ceases to identify with the project, and instead feels again like a cog in the production line.
Who is good for this job?
This can already be deduced from the previous parts. The one who: likes his work, gets involved in what they do, feels co-responsible for what the team produces, does not like to sit back and asks for new tasks if they do not have one. There are also a few less obvious factors that can affect a person’s failure. The first of these factors is the lack of workspace or the lack of ability to focus in difficult conditions. Everyone works differently in conditions where there are a lot of external stimuli. Sometimes it’s running children, sometimes it’s a lack of control to stop browsing the web, sometimes some other noise. When I was in college, I practiced a lot of guitar, sometimes 3–4 hours a day, sometimes even 8 hours and because I lived in a dorm there was no place for it, so I sat in a room or in the hall. All I needed was an electric guitar, not connected to anything and a metronome. People walked, talked, sometimes partied. You can exercise in any condition, just like meditating, you need to just focus properly. Unfortunately, everyone has their own way and some need great conditions. Fortunately, noise-canceling headphones have been invented and it helps a lot.
Another of these factors is the lack of distance to work. Unfortunately, I have always had it, I like this most of the time, sometimes, unfortunately, it wants to kill me. It manifests itself in me in such a way that I constantly check out some concepts of the effective use of time, and I treat myself as the worst employer. On the other hand, I want to have a sense of freedom and use it not to work 8 hours in a row. I think it’s inefficient. In the country where I am now, by default, I work 6 days a week, but rather less than 8 hours. How is it possible that people work like this when there is more and more talk in the world of even limiting the number of days to less than 5. In my opinion, the answer is quite simple. They work with less intensity, probably also with a little less efficiency, they must like what they do a little bit while doing some tasks that give results, and do not allow themselves to stress. If you compare it with 10 corporate meetings, 5 coffees a day and struggling with stress and mess, you can see the difference. I don’t think I really know anyone who would be suitable for such work, it affects everyone in the long term. If not a decrease in efficiency, then health, something always can not stand this pressure.
Sometimes I work up to 7 days a week, but the number of hours is very variable. This approach gives me huge flexibility. If I don’t have to do something very timely, on any day of the week I can say that I am not working today. And so if we divide 40 into 7, it will come out 5:42 a day, which is not so big if we think that we work only 40 hours. If you have to work more, it is easy to work 11–12 hours for about two days a week and then go down to normal again. Unfortunately, too much work fragmentation can have very negative effects. The first is problems with focus and poor efficiency. In reality, people feel that they are at work all the time and there are no results. Another effect may be that you can end up in such a way that you will completely stop getting up from the desk. Everyone who survived several stressful project endings knows that a large number of extra hours also results in a decrease in performance and if you add a lot of stress to it, in the long term even to the loss of health. You just have to monitor and understand the longer-term consequences of overwork. Unfortunately, with age, the body stops regenerating at the age of 20. My solution is simple, you work more => you do more sport, you live healthier. The effects of this approach can surprise anyone. I was surprised that when I woke up without a watch I slept about 5 hours a day. However, this is a topic that you can write for hours, and this is not the purpose of this article.
Can the remote work be effective or even more effective than the local work? Yes, but not everyone is suitable for it. If I were to determine who it suits in one sentence, I would say that it is whoever likes his job and is passionate about what he does. Of course, professional craftsmen can also be good and are needed in such projects. Often their experience and knowledge is a good counter for visionaries, and the combination gives a sensational effect. I can’t imagine working with a total junior in such a team. I admit I haven’t tried it yet. Hiring a new person with zero experience seems to be quite expensive, in the future I will try to verify it.
I have always been interested in such a model and now after returning to this approach, I see even greater benefits. The quality of tools facilitating communication has also changed. Today I can see another effect. The Corona Virus has forced people to change the way we work, shocked us a little and caused our families to be at home with us, but otherwise, we work normally. Nothing has changed. Just like a stateless distributed application, we are immune to such situations.
What am I focusing on now? When I created a company, I was forced to use the remote model by default. Living in Warsaw, at the beginning I employed people from any other cities but not from Warsaw. I currently have 3 people from the western part of Poland, one from the south, one from the north and two from Warsaw. This is changing dynamically. I don’t live in Warsaw anymore, but rather in Indonesia, my colleagues are mainly in Poland, but it also happened that they were in Thailand or Spain for a long time. We have clients in the USA and in the north of Poland. It would be hard to meet. Working in 3 time zones has its big advantages, which allow me to optimize my own time even better. Some time ago I made an unsuccessful attempt to find employees in Asia, now I’m slowly trying the next one. I am convinced that the part of the world in which I live is developing rapidly and I want to be part of it. All these topics you could write a lot about, but maybe in another article.