I write software and work with distributed remote teams for a living. So collaborating with people without being next to them is not a new concept to me. The software development culture has long been moving towards the totally remote, asynchronous co-working.
Look at the Open Source Software culture, for instance – big groups of people, who are mostly just GitHub nicknames and silly profile pictures to each other (though some are real life friends, of course). They collaborate across multiple time zones and languages, mostly via electronic messaging and pull requests. And they build amazing software that gets used by millions of grateful people every day.
The corporate world of Those Who Wear Expensive Suits has been slow at adapting this culture. Management still believes that close supervision and making developers dress a certain way will result in better software and produce results faster. Wrong! It results in procrastination and LinkedIn profile update to “Open to opportunities”.
We, as a group, work best in t-shirts and jeans, without face-to-face meetings with management. The best supervision for us is being genuinely excited about what we are building. You see real progress when developers are passionate about what they are building, feel respected by their peers, have good coffee and tea selection.
What changed with COVID-19? Now that working from home is forced, it does not feel quite as sweet. I catch myself missing the office, missing the simple world of just a few weeks ago when people were shaking hands and going to lunch together, squatting at Starbucks with a laptop and a cup of good coffee. I turn on my camera for calls, which I never did before. Special thanks to Microsoft Teams for the “blur background” feature!
What else is new? A keen realization that, unlike software, most of the world’s jobs cannot be done remotely. I now see grocery store cashiers as front-line heroes. Another very tangible realization – most software is not indispensable, so as the businesses close and multimillion lines form at unemployment offices, tons of software projects will be shut down.