Last week, we returned to the office — I’m not going back to WFH anytime soon.
It’s been a whirlwind of a year.
Covid left (and continues to leave) a harrowing wake across the globe. Pandemic pressures forced people to bend backwards, relocate, and look for alternate sources of income. Across almost every aspect of life, the world adjusted to a new normal. While we, in the US at least, can see early signs of recovery, there’s still a long road ahead.
When it comes to the world of work, there’s no doubt Covid left its mark. For the luckiest among us — who worked office jobs, where our organizations weathered the storm — we transitioned to remote work.
WFH vs. IRL
I always wondered what it’d be like to work from home, if I’d like the flexibility at home or crave the structure of an office. I glamorized how WFH would look. Sweatpants and work-appropriate shirts to endure morning zoom meetings. Running impromptu errands with ease. Cooking more meals at home. And, of course, immersing myself in new ~hobbies~.
Maybe unsurprisingly, reality didn’t go down like that. The hype of remote work wasn’t real for me. While I was grateful to have a job, I craved serendipity and face-to-face interaction. I missed lunch with the team. I missed the dimensions of interaction beyond audio and video. Recently, I even bought special glasses to help my fatigued eyes, who were upset with me for all the screen time I had thrust upon them. The creativity, spunk, and poetry of work got diluted as interactions filtered through pairs of screens and Slack desktop apps.
And I truly think I’ve been one of the lucky ones. Not only has Flowdash been able to weather the pandemic, but it’s growing at an exhilarating pace. I’m spoiled with exceptional teammates and challenging problems, which make work — albeit remote — a blast. We’ve done our best to bring sparkle and pizzazz into the fold with Friday zoom escape rooms, impromptu pair programming sessions, and virtual team lunches.
All said and done, I think I’ve experienced one of the best possible incarnations (in-virtual-ations?) of remote work… And I still can’t wait to get back to the office.
With much anticipation, we opened our first office in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. Now that the team’s been vaccinated, we had our first full week together working in person.
Here’s why we’re going back to the office.
1. Team bonding
Let’s face it. Zoom happy hours are awkward.
Humans aren’t programmed to maintain eye contact for that long. We can’t go on mute in real life. I always question if my jokes are ultimate fails or if the laughs are just silenced. Remote team bonding is borderline oxymoronic.
While my social cues were rusty at first 😅, our first week back in person felt immediately refreshing. I saw my teammates as fully human — complex creatures with humor and textured personalities. I related to them so much more naturally than I had through The Screen.
Throughout the week, we took walks around the neighborhood, searched for the best burrito spot for lunch, and even barbecued in the park. It’s a no-brainer that trust and rapport among the team is critical to our long-term success. There’s no better way to build those than quality time together.
2. My personal well-being
With the benefit of flexibility, WFH came with the cost of isolation, exacerbated by Covid.
It’s hard to feel cared for, or a sense of belonging, when so many of us dread remote meetings (or meetings, altogether… shoutout Paul Graham). And when the work gets challenging, that’s precisely when we need a sense of camaraderie.
During the past year, it was too easy to stay inside. Work and life fused into a single amoeba — my couch was the office, and the office my couch. My body craved cues for when to enter and exit work-mode. But WFH left it wondering, confused about when to start and stop.
Alas, structure has returned to my life. To get to work, I must walk outside. I must indulge in some vitamin D, fresh air, and curious sounds as I walk to the office, where the cues of morning coffee welcome me to the next phase of my day.
And that is nice.
3. The office is more productive, actually
Okay, hot take. I think the claim that WFH boosted productivity is a bit of rationalization and hoo hah.
To be clear, it’s often felt like my remote output has exceeded my office output. But that’s the thing — output probably isn’t the best measure of productivity. Kent Beck explains the difference between output and outcome succinctly.
Output: “How much are we delivering to customers?”.
Outcome: “How much value are customers realizing?”
We didn’t ship as much code as we normally do our first week back. Instead, as we sat together at our desks, at lunch, or walked to the park, a thesis started to form: While we’ve seen great adoption with our product so far, the world outside our Silicon Valley bubble doesn’t quite know about it yet. The more we talked, the more we aligned, the more we realized our next phase needed to be growth.
So we deprioritized some feature development work in favor of a growth sprint. In the world of outcomes and outputs, we want outcomes: We’re aiming to let teams know that there’s a rich solution for solving their complex business process problems. This is the right focus for us to deliver the highest value to the most people. And we wouldn’t have reached that conclusion without organic, unstructured chats in the office.
4. Faster feedback loops
In startup land, speed is everything.
I thought we moved quickly during WFH. Teammates reviewed my pull requests within a matter of hours, I asked questions on Slack with near real time answers, and zoom was always at our disposal to debug or brainstorm together.
But in person, the feedback loop was even shorter.
A couple examples:
- We upgraded Flowdash.com to run on Rails 6.1. I deployed the changes to our production environment but ended up taking down the site 😬. Thankfully, Nick and I had just paired on the upgrade. As the alerts trickled in, we looked at each other from across our desks and realized we needed to remove a few files. In about a minute, we shipped the fix and the site was back up, humming along.
- We’re working on a refreshed layout for the in-app experience. Turns out, there are a lot of small decisions, whose impact will be significant. Before heading out for lunch, we all huddled around a screen, comparing notes on the new design. Not only was the chat quick, it also swiftly aligned us, shared context, and led to an ever improved version.
5. The office invites creativity
I’ll be honest. Sometimes it’s hard to feel inspired from my living room.
There’s something about exposed brick, sweet wafts of espresso, and multi-color sticky notes abound (sorry to reinforce the Silicon Valley stereotype) that incites my creative juices.
As part of our first office startup starter pack, Omar ordered an obligatory whiteboard, complemented by markers and stickies from every color of the rainbow. The day they arrived coincided with the ~growing~ momentum about growth, so we pivoted our schedules to center on a growth design sprint.
Earlier on, we tried a Google Design Sprint remotely. While tools like Miro are great alternatives to remote creative collaboration, there’s really nothing that compares to sitting on the floor in your office with some stickies and a marker, setting a timer, and scribbling down your ideas.
But for us — an early-stage startup where creativity, collaboration, and agility are the lifeblood of our success — we’ve noticed how the “little things” only found in-person really add up. In the end, we felt our first week in person drove more significant outcomes than a month+ remote. That’s a 4x efficiency gain towards reaching our goals.
Interested in joining us (exposed brick office, sticky notes, and team barbecues included)?
We’re hiring 👉 https://flowdash.com/careers