The spread of the SARS-CoV-19 virus brought in a new reality to our lives. Offices closed, air travel has been reduced or even grounded to a halt and Zoom stock value, along with daily active users, went through the roof.
Companies such as Twitter, Google, Amazon and other West Coast Tech giants have all announced that they will allow their staff to work remotely until the end of the year or permanently. Even large European companies are following the trend. Siemens just announced that they will let all their employees, all over the world, work remotely 2-3 days a week. Siemens’ CEO Roland Busch stated that “these changes will also be associated with a different leadership style, one that focuses on outcomes rather than on time spent at the office.”
As someone who has been working remotely for the better part of the last 5 years, there are a few tips and tricks to help you keep your sanity.
1. Be selective with your camera use. It is sometimes funny to see the whole team on camera. It’s nice but there is little value in having pages and pages of Zoom panels with your entire BU on video. You can not see everyone’s faces anyway so why bother? Use video for 1:1s religiously or for a small brain storming session, but be careful when trying to use video with a big crowd. Speakers should always use video.
In recent months, you had a glimpse of many colleagues bed rooms. While it is a nice way to increase the team’s trust and cohesion, it is also perhaps one step too far. Tools such as Zoom and Teams have a way to add a virtual background. Use it. Your colleagues do not need to see what your bedroom looks like.
2. Keep a routine. Let’s face it – you used to travel non stop and was jet lagged for large parts of each month. Now, you are at workin from one timezone, you get to sleep in the same bed every night, you can easily build yourself a routine. Morning routines are especially important as they set the tone for the day and typically (hopefully) the morning time is the quieter time. Scott Young has an excellent short article explaining the idea here.
3. Make sure your colleagues know your timezone. In a distributed workforce, knowing one’s timezone is essential. Make sure you let your colleagues know your location. You can just add this information to your email signature, providing some examples: “I work in Central Europe which is 9 hours ahead of California. Your 8AM is my 5PM.”
4. Keep your calendar updated. Let’s face it, many people have a hard time keeping their calendars up to date. A great best practice is actually to block the time you plan for family activities, meals, sleep and sport. Help your colleagues trying to find time to discuss something with you by making your availability obvious and easy to schedule. Most team calendars have a function that searches for a good time to meet. Keeping on top of your calendar will help you connect with your colleagues.
5. Focus on outcomes. Yes, Mr Busch from Siemens (this is funny for a German) just discovered that management should focus on outcomes. But this has been a best practice for a really long time. It just works. If you deliver, consistently and repeatedly, the location from which you work will make no difference to your manager.
6. Call it working remotely. Stating that one is working from home cheapens the work. The location from where one works should make no difference, so call it what it is “working remotely.” You may work from home one day and the next day from a co-working space and later in the week from a coffee shop. No one needs to get a location update every time you make a change, but your colleagues still need to know that you are working remotely. So keep it simple.
Many of us are not going to see the inside of the office in 2020. Some of us will very rarely see the inside of an office in the future. In 2013, Marissa Mayer, then CEO of Yahoo!, announced that “to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side, that is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.” That did not help Yahoo! improve productivity (it was eventually sold to Verizon), innovate or collaborate. These days, where there is no alternative to working remotely, we can all use the opportunity to find more productive ways to communicate, collaborate and to work side-by-side…virtually of course.
If one was born in 1971, when Intel released the 4004 microprocessor, it is likely to be pure luck if one has seen a computer at 13.
If one was born in 1983, the year in which the Mototola DynaTAC 8000X was first sold, it will be pure luck or privilege if at 13 years old one had a GSM phone.
If one was born in 1991, chances are that at 13 one had access to the Internet. It’s not a given though.
If you were born in 2007, the year the iPhone was introduced, you are 13 years old now and have never lived without a super fast network connection from your mobile computer.
As you log into an internal company-wide engineering event at 3AM, barely able to keep your eyelids open and mistyping your password about 5 times, you can’t help but consider the tyranny of timezones. With some countries still under heavy lockdown and a widely distributed Covid vaccine still months away, being physically closed to an office is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Just in the past few weeks, Amazon announced that their workforce can work remotely until the end of 2020, Google and Facebook have already made such announcements, and your own office, in beautiful Palo Alto, California, seems to remain closed for a very long time. Even offices that are starting to open, like the local office in Munich, is operating under reduced capacity allowing only a small portion of the workforce to come in.
So being close to an office is loosing its importance. However, an office is simply an indication of geographical connection. Employees that go to the “German Office” are likely to be working together, serving customers in Germany (or DACH) and are bound less by the office, but by their timezone and customer base.
And this is where the tyranny of timezones comes into play. A company-wide event can never work on a planet with 37 time zones (explanation to this strange data point is here). Typically in the corporate world, the timezone of the person setting the agenda serves as the baseline, It is natural that an individual looking to set a meeting is starting from her own calendar and then considering other people.
Companies could consider organizing around timezones rather than locations and let employees choose their timezone. A night owl living in Ireland might enjoy working in the East Coast timezone whereas an early morning bird in Poland might enjoy the quirky, half an hour off, Indian timezone. Companies can also define transitional timezones where employees in roles that require bridging very conflicting timezones (like India and Pacific Time Zone), are dipping into a good portion of one time zone and another good portion of another timezone.
There is no reason why an employee working in a PST tribe is unable to effectively work from Baja, California. There is also absolutely no reason why an employee bridging between IST and PST, living in London, is unable to spend the afternoon with the team in Chennai and the evening with the team in Seattle. These are personal decisions that a job seeker can make. In fact, advertising timezones in job listings might be much more effective than locations. “Must be able to spend at least 4 hours a day in IST and 2 hours in PST” will be a much more precise description of a desired capability than “live in the U.K.”.
The digital revolution is changing the way we live and work. It is time to reconsider timezones.
There used to be a time that in order to call someone, while on the street, one had to walk into one of these booths to make a call. One had to have change or in some countries, special tokens and for some reason, so the story goes, one never had enough coins to make a call. Long distance used to eat coins in unimaginable rate and on top of the calling experience, there were people staring at the person using the booth. Back when only one, nationalized, Telco operator existed, these phone booths were often the only mean of long distance communications for entire neighborhoods.
There is an episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine makes a call phone call, using an old GSM Motorola brick, to a friend to inquire about her father’s health. Both George and Seinfeld lecture Elaine about the etiquettes of using a mobile phone to make a health inquiry from the middle of the street.
When was the last time anyone opened a yellow pages? When did one memorize phone numbers? Addresses? Everything, pretty much all information that was ever created, is available at one’s finger tips. We no longer need to queue or have change in our pockets to make a call. In fact, most of us are no longer making calls at all. We FaceTime, we zoom, we WhatsApp, we certainly do not pay for call waiting or for voice mail.
You don’t own a laptop or a desktop or any such device that could be considered a personal computer. This blog is written on an 11 inch iPad Pro. The 30,000 (give or take) photos you produced since your first digital camera (a Fujifilm just for the record) are all stored in an Apple cloud somewhere and are accessible from iOS on any device. These pictures have backups on Flickr (unlimited storage). For more recent photos, Adobe is keeping copies. The chances of the Photos library disappearing are slim to none.
You do have a large collection of MP3s that you started converting 25 years ago. Probably one of the first heavy duty CPU usage on your Machintosh Performa was converting and sorting through mountains of CDs to MP3s. They all sound like rubbish these days. Instead, you spend your days connected to bluetooth headphones listening to the same music you have been interested in only using Spotify. Often you are reminded of a tune and have only, on a few occasions, have not been able to find them (Spotify is missing on some early Virgin Prunes albums for example).
The move to the cloud and the fact that most large companies now support their employees with a choice between a Windows and Apple laptop means that you have been living with a laptop, owned by your employer, but without the need to buy your own device. Strangely, Given that Apple’s market evaluation as of today is at 1.68 Trillion dollars, it seems that you do not symbolize a trend. In fact, according to this market analysis, Apple’s Laptop market share has grown in recent years.
How did we get here? You have no insight into the Apple boardroom, but the smart money is on the fact that large corporations buying Apple laptops for their employees is a much larger market than individual consumers. Corporations offering a choice to their employees also mean that people that did not use to buy Apple laptops are now using them.
It is fascinating how the move to the cloud freed this user from a laptop. Apple took the opportunity to sell an iPad Pro making up their lost revenue and your employer picked up the extra tab. Brilliance.