Thoughts on Work from home. Vol 2.

More or less about a month the world is on quarantine. I’m strictly following all of the government recommendations – we are self-isolated, no random walks outside, only for supplies, all our interactions with outer world are online.. or with my walkie talkie radio for short distance talks (great fun by the way, a strange warm “analog” feeling). I’m a lucky owner of a balcony looking to the south, so I even made some tan on my skin.

I have filled my day with tons of activities like learning new stuff, flat repair and upgrades, lots of reading and movies/concerts watching. 24 hours are not enough for me to complete all the tasks I’ve planned. But.. this is quite usual for me.

In my previous post I’ve shared the idea that, working from home is a skill that should be trained. It does not come by default to the most of us. It became part of our culture that every morning except weekends we get up early, dress up and go to work. We go there, because we need to interact with our teams to do our job. For IT these days, this may be the only reason for us to go to work. So, I’ve decided to try to understand why most of us are still doing this and not interacting from home, although we have all the technical tools to do this.

Let us for now not take into consideration this quite typical excuse – at home people can’t concentrate because of the family and children issues. Let us take the case that the worker can stay calm at home and has the same setup as at the office. Thus, we isolate only the interaction difference cases.

I’ve recently read an interested post somewhere in the social networks, that with this isolation the author of this post is missing live communication which include not only chat, voice and the information delivered via this voice, but also the body language, the partners look, his/her habits, even the smells. Yes, usual live interaction is a much more complex activity than just delivering some information. And of course, any remote interaction cuts off some of our senses, blocking these non-obvious information channels described above. As many people heavily rely on those perceptions, they feel disorientated. They can’t elaborate the trust to the partner. This my point was confirmed by one phycologist I have the honor to know for many years.

But as we continued this discussion, mainly discussing my case, when I’m stuck at home most of the time, and chats, voice and video calls are my only ways of interactions, why it is comfortable for me and so uncomfortable for the others. We have tried to search for some other jobs, where “being remote” is natural.

The first thing that came to my mind: pilot and ATC (air traffic controller) communication. It is always remote, it is over voice, and it is extremely effective. There is no need the pilot first to drink some beers with the ARC, find out if he/she can trust him/her and then fly. He doesn’t have to build trust, friendship etc. They just work with each other using common domain specific language. In some very rare cases they will be ever able to see each other.

If we take another aviation case – there is no more such thing as a permanent crew. For every flight, the captain and flight officers, as well as the cabin crew are randomly selected. Thus “human factor” mistakes and “unofficial hierarchies” are eliminated. Everybody in the crew knows his/her role and does it professionally. They don’t need to go get drunk together to be able to work effectively. The captain sure, that if his first flight officer is sitting by him, he is able to apply the commands and do the job.

I’ve come to realize, that somewhere deep inside, I try to use these techniques in my developer job. I have a limited perception communication channel (mail, chat, voice, video) and I’m focused not on my partners personality, but on their professional qualities (their code and the terms of the delivery). I sincerely do not care who’s on the other side – a girl or a boy, Russian or American, Christian or Muslim etc. I start my interaction with the full trust and expect the opposite side to be mutually sincere. And I can only judge and expect to be judged for the work done and tasks completed, not for how I like the way the partner is dressed. After all we are here to do job, not politics. If I see from the metrics we establish together, that the job is not done, I say – Bye! Sorry, nothing personal!

Still there are many activities requiring this full perception via all sensor channels like theatres, performances, conferences and concerts, politics – I’ve mentioned before, sports etc. Webinars will never replace conferences, movies will never replace theatres. Watching TV will never replace travel. They use different set of sense and perception mechanisms.

But does our IT job require all of these perception levels to be completed in the most effective way? I strongly believe that no. Even now we have all the necessary tools to interact. Moreover, we can even shrink this toolset to some async chats, and with some adjustments to our interaction “protocol” we can become even more effective and expand the geography of our workers to any place of the Globe.

Is it only IT? I would say no as well. Here my father is a good example, I learned a lot from him. He is an extremely qualified nuclear engineer. And his main instrument is his brain. He has organized his work to be almost totally from home, unless he is required to go onsite for maintenance activities. You may ask how is it possible? The communication channels and the tools he has are simply enough for him to do the job. The level of perception is just ok. So why lose time in transport and go to the office, when he can save this time for some more perception intensive activities, like theatre for example (hopefully soon again)?

The ability to fully utilize the communication channels with their level of perception is one of the keys to digital transformation happening now and accelerated in an unfortunate way by this COVID-19 situation. Many global players have understood this in the right time and that actually helped them to survive.

Yesterday evening I’ve performed several virtual flights on a sophisticated simulator. I didn’t know with whom I was actually playing with. Just their nicknames. I’ve declared that on this type of aircraft I am a rookie, and I’ve received a lot of support and we’ve completed our mission. We were using same domain specific subset of English with full trust and respect to each other. I’m very grateful to those guys and gals. So flightsim or an IDE? I don’t see difference. And this is the awesome future we’re living in!