There have been plenty of articles and comments about the (dis)advantages of home office vs in-office scenarios over the past two years. One critical aspect of home-office is definitely about creating a personal relationship with people that you never meet in person.
One situation where a personal relationship is quite important is an interview with candidates (be it internal or external). Besides the technical expertise you also want to know whether or not the candidate is a fit for the team. In the past 2+ years, we interviewed dozens of people for positions in the team. I say “we” because we usually are 2-3 internals holding different positions in the team (dev, ops, product owner, …) interviewing the new candidate. And in the past 2+ years we did all those interviews remotely via video-conferencing.
It took me 2 years until I realized remote interviews have another advantage.just me
For me, it was never a question whether we do the interviews remotely or not as the situation didn’t offer any alternative. I also never complained about not meeting the person well … in-person. Of course, it would have been very nice to meet new people directly – just to feel the personal vibes. But the obvious advantage to easily interview people independent from their physical location is not the only one. It took me two years until I realized remote interviews have another advantage: There is no seating order / seating arrangement!
Imagine the last interview-situation with one candidate and 2+ interviewers. As soon as it is not a 1 to 1 interview anymore it quickly feels like a tribunal. Worst situation: a rectangular table with the interviewers on one side and the candidate on the other. Multiple 1-to-1-interiews might be more comfortable. But it is also interesting for the candidate to see the way how the interviewers interact with each other. And sometimes someone from HR just wants to attend.
So, what is the advantage of doing an Interview remotely via video conferencing? Well – it totally removes the seating / placement! What does that mean? Now all members in the situation are equally distributed. An “observer” (HR) can / should(!) turn off the camera and hide from the conversation. Depending on the software (s)he can also focus on certain people during the conversation. Last but not least – and maybe most important: The interviewer is in his/her own chosen safe place and has control over the situation. Ways more control than in a classical interview situation.
And – from my experience – it helps the candidate relax. And you want to experience a relaxed candidate in order to be able to meaningfully assess whether he or she fits into the team or not. Also, a relaxed candidate will surely perform more authentic and honest.
In the end I’m glad I realized this advantage of remote interviews!
Do you know these horrible status meetings? Every week, every two weeks or – when it is critical – 2x a week? Especially with multiple members? And you never know whether it’s important to go there or not? But you need to go there because there might be a relevant information?
The myth: “If there’s nothing to say, we can quickly close the meeting after 5min”. Seriously – I’ve not seen this happen very often. It quickly drifts into a common chitchat or Q&A. Don’t get me wrong: socializing is important – but a status meeting isn’t a socializing event.
I had a couple of such meetings in the past. When it was just one it was okay – but as I got involved into multiple projects, my schedule started filling up with such kind of meetings. And this became very unsatisfying as it sucked a lot of my time – and even worse: It sucked a lot of overall team-time!
My advice: GET RID OF THOSE MEETINGS / OF THIS MEETING STYLE!
By applying some simple rules such meetings can become ways more effective. but beware … discipline is required.
- NO STATUS!
A Status should be transparent in another system (like any Issue tracker / Todo / something – no need to go through that separately)
- The agenda is in a shared document (Confluence, Wiki, OneNote, Word, Textfile, …) where every member can edit – not just the host – everyone! We don’t want no bottleneck!
- If a member has a topic do discuss or an information to distribute: This person writes it into the agenda by him/herself in self-responsibility (example: “@name: my topic”).
- You can also make this document available in a larger audience for transparency.
Reason: This is raising trust; it allows others to follow and react upon a decision or information without additional post-meeting emails. Also, no fear of missing out (FOMO) in case of not attending.
Before the meeting:
- No topic, no meeting! If there is no topic – CANCEL the meeting! REALLY!
Everyone is thankful for the time that was freed.
- Everyone quickly checks the agenda. May be a bullet point can already be clarified or discussed beforehand / bilaterally and doesn’t even need to go into the meeting. The result can be added directly into the agenda and is thus being distributed already.
During the meeting:
- If there are multiple points: start with the clarification if there are topics that only a part of the members is interested in and move those topics to the end.
Reason: some people can leave earlier!
- The meeting is ONLY about topics in the agenda. ONLY. Everything else goes to the next meeting. This must be rigorously enforced! This is crucial!
Reason: No fear of missing out (FOMO)! The agenda must be trustworthy and enables the next two (important) points:
- Members only join the meeting if at least one topic of the agenda is relevant for the individual.
- Everyone is allowed and encouraged to leave the meeting if the remaining bullet points are irrelevant (drop a quick “thanks, rest is irrelevant for me – I’m leaving” in the chat, so everyone knows that you were leaving intentionally and not just disconnected)
We do this since a couple of months. We follow these rules and have saved numerous hours of working time in the past! But it needs discipline – for sure.
I have been repeating this sentence more often than I’d like recently. But if the COID-19 time has taught me one thing very impressively, it is:
Rule 1: Forget rules which you cannot control or enforce
(Alternatively: “Do not hope for the sanity of your colleagues / fellows / …”)
Many of the COVID measures would certainly not have been necessary if “we all” had behaved reasonably. One could discuss the term “reasonable” right away. But “reasonable” unfortunately depends on personal goals. If the personal goals diverge, the opinion about “reasonable behavior” diverges as well. And suddenly “we all” do not have a common sense of what “reasonable behaviour” is. This discrepancy is then what is called a “conflict.”
So, if you are responsible for a system (the system does not even have to be technical – the “health care system” e.g.), you can hope for the sanity of the involved participants (users) and not impose any constraints / rules … This will most likely lead to a conflict. If the conflict has to be solved, you will generally be confronted with utmost gratitude and boundless cooperation (this was ironic, by the way).
No problem: just set up some rules … But rules only do make sense if you can control and enforce compliance with the rules. Because … honestly whenever we discover an inconvenient rule, we want to circumvent it. And we are creative 🙂
Rule 2: Only make rules whose compliance you can enforce and control.
If you find yourself in a position where you can detect a violation of a rule but cannot (anymore) react (or only with enormous effort). You are on lost ground and can do nothing but watch.
Rule 3: It should be clear to everyone how the enforcement will be done.
Rule 2.5: This is transparency.
The 3 rules sound trivial … but can also be very unpleasant if you have to write them down and communicate them. On the other side, you will have certain displeasure right away, but not later (or at least less because the rules were clear from the beginning). A user, on the other hand knows what (s)he is (not) allowed to do. And if there is the transparency about the consequences, the user can also decide for him-/herself whether to break a rule or not – but one cannot complain.
Many companies and executives thought COVID-19 and 100% HomeOffice would be a real challenge. Phew seems a lot of companies survived the Home-Office challenge! Companies have learnt that the business can continue. Employees have learnt that HomeOffice can work.
This was challenge 1: the technical challenge.
But now as companies slowly do not have to do HomeOffice anymore … now we will see what our bosses, executives and companies really think. How much they have really learned. How much trust there really is.
Now comes challenge 2: the people challenge.
The challenge might now be to keep people when a leader (or worse: a company culture) values presence (a.k.a counting sheep) over results – but employees don’t …
I’ll just stay at home and stay productive.
“Every employee should feel encouraged to give feedback and contribute ideas for improvement!” Who has heard this before? Probably everyone!
My (slightly provocative) opinion: “The effect was probably close to zero. So Forget it and don’t do such a shout out!”. Unless you want nothing or barely anything to change. Then do a big shout-out and send people back to work! Great show – with no effect! Of course, I made the mistake myself and didn’t notice for quite a while (years, actually). Every now and then an idea or suggestion came along (or I had one myself) and we were proud of the improvement. At some point between Retros and PostMortems I got the point: “It needs the right framework!”
Why are there retros for projects / sprints / teams / …? Why are there PostMortems? What’s the justification to do them? Not because of the “new fancy agile stuff” where you “just do it that way”, but because it pays off – it works. Because it provides a framework for discussion. Because time is explicitly reserved for the questions: “What can we do better?”, “Why did […] happen?”, “How can we prevent […] from happening again?”
And within this “frame” – that reserved time – people really find the time and opportunity to express ideas. Or just explain some tedious tasks that should be improved because they are … tedious. In this reserved time, there might come more ideas than in the days and weeks before. Than in the time where people are permanently confronted with the problems – where one actually could already come to the conclusion that there is potential for improvement. And maybe also more complex ideas, which people just can’t “simply do” besides regular work. Complex ideas which need a little time to be explained, discussed and understood.
If you want something to run better, the call for improvement is a step. But only one step. So the next step is: Okay, get all people together that are concerned and willing to contribute. Let’s have a look at the bugs/whatever… of the last weeks. Where are do issues pile up? Where do we ALWAYS do the same thing over and over again (“Toil” in SRE Speak)? What’s annoying? Do we have data with which to raise an assumption to a fact (that makes prioritization ways easier)?
And then the essential points: Derive actions, evaluate and implement! And do it on time! Otherwise, any motivation is not only gone, but it is immediately learned that nothing happens anyway.
All this is time-consuming, tedious, inconvenient and also annoying when you have to prioritize the actions against other tasks … But … it brings value. – So if you want to improv: Don’t just ask for feedback.