“Work from home is not real work”
Last week, a candidate for the software engineer position confessed that his employer had sent him this message and it was the last straw that convinced him to start looking for a new job.
Italy’s small- and medium-sized enterprises, which form the backbone of our economy, have been slow to switch to distance working. In 2018 only 2% of employees were allowed to work from home, against a European average of 11.6% and a UK average of 31%. Last October, right before the pandemic hit, a report on smart-working by Milan’s Politecnico University showed that the share of SMEs that were not interested in offering smart-working had risen to 51%, from 38% a year earlier — we were going backwards!
Flexible working has always been a much sought-after perk in the Italian job market and it is no exaggeration to say that RStor pioneered smart-working in Italy, together with a few other companies. With our success, we proved that a strong, cohesive team can build software, match deadlines and create value for the customer even if we don’t spend all the time together in a pre-defined place.
Don’t get me wrong. No Zoom session or Jira board will ever replace the creativity spur that comes from sitting in the same room in front of a whiteboard with a marker in your hand, explaining, defending and arguing about design decisions. We need that too. However, once the design document is done, it’s all about execution. Execution is more effective when it’s asynchronous rather than being constantly in contact either virtually in Zoom or in person. We use code reviews or tickets to align and coordinate work across the team.
If we need to revisit a design choice, we timebox the Zoom meeting and invite only the people strictly required. For every change to the design, we update our design documents so that everybody can catch up at the end of the day.
These simple rules allow us to carve time out of our days if we need to go “in the zone”, concentrate intently on a challenging task and immerse ourselves in the problem. The human brains take 25 minutes to fully refocus on the original task after an interruption; “shoulder tapping” whether material or virtual is detrimental to productivity and even mental health.
As Cal Newport wrote in his book “Deep work”,
[t]he ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare, and at the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. … the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”