BC (Before Covid-19)
I worked mostly remote for the last 13 years. Work not only by being part of teams as a project manager, but being a stay-home dad and starting my own SaaS platform (asengana.com).
- Thoughts about working full-time BC
Every time I worked on location / full-time / in the office allowed me to see things from the outside and objectively analyze how companies work.
The framework for all this is that everything about business became politics. Remember that the main characteristic of politics is short-term gain by sacrificing everything else. You vilify everything: family life, personal preferences, time management for growth and “the good of the company”.
Unfortunately, most times, it’s easy to identify the representatives of scaling down this behavior: managers. It’s easier to use your soft skills to morally abuse your team, which is your responsibility, than being a decent leader. Anybody who stayed at work overtime just to look good or because the manager guilt-trip him into it, anybody spending the day in endless meetings that could have been solved with a Slack group message or an email, knows what I’m talking about. This is not about including all people that have managerial positions in one undefined group. It’s about understanding that, despite a manager’s good intentions, we perceive the way most corporations scale down their interests as inhuman and wrapping in soft skills an iron fist of limitations and putting the company first.
You know what full-time employees did when they wanted to finish their work for the week? They took a fracking day off and worked from home!
- Thoughts about project management and daily stand-up BC
My favorite persons to work with are developers, UX / UI and graphic designers, and creative directors (only those borderline genius and crazy).
Do you know how I spent a lot of time during the week? Firefighting exacerbated crises created by managers instead of taking care of my team. I’m not the greatest project manager, but I like to think I’m a good person. At least I put my team first and, if it’s not possible, I don’t lie to them. I also try to keep the understanding I have about Agile project management separate from the deformed version managers and companies pretend to use just because it’s trendy.
A simple example. One of the four foundational values of the Agile Manifesto is “Individual and Interactions over Processes and Tools”. Show me one company that implemented Agile, even one as big as G or F and I’ll show the many articles about the way they treat their employees and all the wrong things that happen.
Although is obvious that people working remote or even in the office might work according to their circadian rhythm (modified by artificial light), forcing people to submit to a 9 to 5 schedule is inhuman and an abuse at best. It’s done only to maintain the necessity of managers and an entire bureaucratic machine, which has no meaning in its actual form. More on this on the DC part.
Of course, people will work after they get home. Many developers work at night because they can concentrate better. Keeping them in daily stand-ups until 10 am, having meetings for the rest of the day, it will mess with your mojo for sure.
This is one of the reasons for which, in an Agile manner, I started using online EOD stand-up. Anybody can answer to the three questions (What have you done today? What are you going to do tomorrow? How can I help you?) until midnight (my midnight, if working on different time zones). In the morning, I work on analyzing answers, asking questions, and finding solutions while my team can go on uninterrupted with their tasks.
Of course, some of my managers didn’t like this. Who am I to take away their satisfaction in abusing people every morning and their guilty pleasure of hearing themselves talk for hours in meetings?
If you’re a manager reading this and telling yourself “I’m not like this” or even worse “We don’t do things like this in our company”… think again.
- Thoughts about personal life BC
I never had what you call a personal life per se. Meaning periods of time when I wasn’t working on something. Always in need of a 48 hours day and a cure for the sickness of needing sleep.
The failure rate in the growing kids department is low because I’m not alone in this. In addition, I never accepted more than three sarcastic observation from any of my clients since my kids are always on camera or as audio background in all of my calls. If you hired me after I told you my kids are around all day and I always deliver, making a third comment about them even as “just a joke” it qualifies you for an end of contract and a big frack you. I am one of those people that thinks family first and accepts the risks.
The entrepreneurial part of my personal life is a list of 90% failures. You can call them a learning experience as much as you want. No matter the learning, the bitter taste of failure is always there.
There are also good things that worked and I’m proud of, Asengana being one of them. Of course, I didn’t build it alone. I use a business model that went against all the best practices I learned. It works. More details here.
Self-promotion image with link next:
DC (During Covid-19)
- Thoughts about working remote’s evolution
BC, working remote had that romantic allure of being free. Implicitly working remote was associated with being a contractor or freelancer. You could work from a coffee shop, set your own hours. Life was good. Even for me it was good. I would take my son to school and squeeze on a bench in a dark corner of the Ripley Aquarium, on the last floor of the Toronto Library watching over Don Valley, at a small table in the Distillery District, on a bench in the hallway at AGO, or any place with good coffee. I mean excellent coffee, not S***B****.
Compared with the 9-5s, it was worth it. With all the risks involved: no stability, different cost structure, do your own taxes, working hours that could take you in the early morning hours.
Now almost everybody is working remote… from their own homes. Except a few famous people I saw given interviews from their lavish kitchen or home offices, all of us had to scramble with adapting our limited living space to… work. Now we need separate desks. Many people still spend time in endless meetings. More than an hour long. What companies need to understand is that people are not on the hamster wheel anymore. Two of the developers I worked with quit their jobs after a day with five hours of meetings. The useless people that were cannibalizing everybody’s time in real life are still doing it on Zoom calls. Only that the threshold for taking crap is lower every day.
- Thoughts about project management and daily stand-up DC
Everything is a project. In uncertain times, with a virus that might or not get a vaccine next year, with most people not willing to be test subjects for herd immunity, the only certitude is something that needs to be delivered in the shortest time with a minimum of resources.
Those who adapt will survive. And I’m not talking about companies. I’m talking about understanding that the mantra with “everyone is replaceable” is not true. Companies will realize that they have a hard time creating trust relationships with valuable people. If in an office the lack of privacy is a given, people will not accept monitoring tools on the computers they work with at home. It will be a conflict and the most valuable workers will demand you to trust them they deliver on deadline without you registering every keystroke… or they will leave.
You can’t replace people. You never could. But BC you could accept that a new employee will do worse because you could accept some sunk cost as long as the manager was happy with the little hamster running on his wheel. Not anymore. You can’t afford unjustified losses now.
For people like me who have kids and have to manage the unsatisfactory level of online education provided for now, things are even harder. All the “one hour a day screen time” is out the window. There is no way to go through the daily online meetings and be a substitute teacher in the same time. Moreover, if you try to reign in the internet use, you might get someone like my son who will unleash the full regalia of Greek tragedy in the house and ruin any chance to get work done.
The real work is moved at night or as soon as the kids are asleep. If you can afford to have a full-time stay home parent, things might be better or not, because the other parent needs the same attention as a kid or more. The psychological pressure created by the quarantine is not to be taken lightly.
As for all the stand-up daily meetings and many other corporate rituals, they will have to change or you will find yourself alone in a Zoom meeting with all your employees ghosting you.
- Thoughts about personal life DC
You don’t get many chances like this to get your personal life together. There are opportunities in this. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner together most days. We have more time to do things because not going to work gives you back two hours every day.
We’re speakers of a Latin language, which comes with a certain pattern. When we whisper, you can hear us from across the street. When we talk, we only have loud mode. The neighbors of our neighbors either are ready to move out as soon as the quarantine is over or they starting to enjoy the daily telenovela.
There are bad things that come from the outside, mostly. I heard people say that they are lucky and privileged for living in countries that have healthcare and better government than others do. Canada is like this.
As long as somebody dies anywhere in this world, I don’t feel lucky. I’m citizen of planet Earth first and as a civilization we’re failing in a horrible way. We’ve been failing for the last two hundred years at the most basic task: taking care of our people.
We’re letting the craziest of us to run the asylum. We’re allowing huge corporations to get free money from our taxes while they could borrow money with literary 0% interest rate. We still put on a pedestal people that benefit from a highly uncorrelated relationship between value-added through work and profit sharing.
If you hear people saying that we should get back to normal, be afraid. The normal we had was bad. We should look forward to a better system, to building different relationships. It should start with remembering which companies helped and which took advantage of this crisis. It should start with buying locally. It should continue with making the hero status the essential workers have now permanent and paid accordingly. It should continue with putting politicians in their place as public servants and never allow them to become health experts or any kind of experts just because they feel like it.
We have a chance to be better. I look forward to follow and support those people that will explain me how to do this.