// The Comment #15: Remotely Retrospecting

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra, Ghana

The Comment is a weekly digest of the stuff that grabbed my attention or occupied some part my mind during the past week. Normally, it’ll be one thing that’s really been on my mind, followed by a handful of things that I found interesting. The Comment will be published each Monday at 10:30AM EST.

Thanks for reading.

// A Retrospection on Remote Work

I’ve been working remotely, full-time, for the past 18 months after having spent a decade working in a traditional office setting. It’s been a wonderful experience that, like all things in life, comes with tradeoffs. Martin De Wulf writes about the “Stresses of Remote Work” and for the first time, I’m able to articulate some thoughts and feelings I’ve had.  Most of this applies to the interesting collaboration dynamic remote work injects into collaborative software products.  Read the full article first.  I’m going to highlight sections that resonated with me the most.

Also, written exchanges are more prone to misinterpretation, even with people you know very well. Not to mention that, if you already spend your day typing on a keyboard to accomplish your technical programming tasks, it might become annoying to have your communication done in written form too: you might end up feeling like a text processing machine.

Written exchanges aren’t just prone to misinterpretation but sometimes its just easier to explain things (especially those technical in nature) in person with the assistance of body language and a whiteboard.  These things are more accessible in a physical office environment.

So, after some time working remotely, it happened multiple times to me to miss the coffee chats, previously felt as unproductive wastes of time. I felt detached from the team, especially when the teams I worked with were made of multiple people working in the same office/place, and seeming to have fun.

I’ve been on both sides of this (in an office of a company with remote workers and as a full-time remote worker). Inevitably, in person communication and problem solving are just more efficient and decisions get made more quickly. Sometimes that decision comes with less communication and documentation so the context of the decision and the decision itself aren’t communicated with the rest of the company. I also find that just running into people in the office, you can get a better feel for the things they work on and needs they have (or the audience they serve has). A place where different people are working on a solution in the same physical space can lead to more serendipity and micro-innovation.

Working at home can mean a lot of loneliness. I do enjoy being alone quite a lot, but even for me, after two weeks of only seeing colleagues through my screen, and then my family at night, I end up feeling quite sad. I miss feeling integrated in a community of pairs.

I never didn’t end up feeling sad, just a weird feeling of isolation.  Isolation from the audience being impacted, but also isolation from some of the company culture.  It’s similar to the feeling I’d get when I did remote freelancing, remote consulting, and remote client work.

Also, working at home does not leave you time to cool off while coming back home from work. For me, the ideal duration of a commute is 15 to 20 minutes. That leaves you some time to walk, and so, do at least a bit of physical exercise, and to change your thoughts a little bit.

The concept of context switching, going from “work” mode to “family” mode, is something I discovered working remotely. If I’m working on something at a high-intensity, like testing a crazy SQL query in Android, it’s difficult to quickly “come down” and switch “family” mode, especially if I haven’t come to a stopping point with my work. As much as I don’t enjoy long commutes, short ones are useful for wrapping up your thoughts and “debriefing” before arriving at home.

An important part of taking on new experiences is knowing your strengths and weaknesses.  A weakness I slowly identified, it’s really awkward for me to work in physical isolation for long stretches and collaborate primarily through technology.  As savvy as I am with technology, I’m not a savvy technology communicator.  This is ironic as I grew up in the AOL / AOL Instant Messenger / invention of Facebook / Skype era.  An important distinction is that those platforms were in support of real-life relationships and interactions.  My remote work experience flips this on its head, whereas, the technology becomes the conduit for work relationships and collaboration.  Furthermore, I believe there’s some type ambient communication that doesn’t translate well through technology.  This helps, because I prioritize chemistry and a professional bond with the company, teammates, and work simultaneously and I think remote work introduces a few roadblocks to this process.  So, I have something to work on for the rest of 2018.

P.S. Remote work isn’t all bad.  In fact, there are some significant advantages like:

  • You can work from anywhere, home, co-working space, coffee shop, a different country
  • No commute
  • You can work in pajamas or a tuxedo
  • Ultimate choice in the comfort of your work environment
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Drink your own coffee and listen to your music as loud as you want

# How Pennsylvania Rigged it’s Voting Districts

# 50 years and no progress for African-Americans

Some depressing news from an Economic Policy Institute via The Washington Post:

Fifty years after the historic Kerner Commission identified “white racism” as the key cause of “pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing,” there has been no progress in how African Americans fare in comparison to whites when it comes to homeownership, unemployment and incarceration, according to a report released Monday by the Economic Policy Institute.

In some cases, African Americans are worse off today than they were before the civil rights movement culminated in laws barring housing and voter discrimination, as well as racial segregation.

  • 7.5 percent of African Americans were unemployed in 2017, compared with 6.7 percent in 1968 — still roughly twice the white unemployment rate.
  • The rate of homeownership, one of the most important ways for working- and middle-class families to build wealth, has remained virtually unchanged for African Americans in the past 50 years. Black homeownership remains just over 40 percent, trailing 30 points behind the rate for whites, who have seen modest gains during that time.
  • The share of incarcerated African Americans has nearly tripled between 1968 and 2016 — one of the largest and most depressing developments in the past 50 years, especially for black men, researchers said. African Americans are 6.4 times as likely than whites to be jailed or imprisoned, compared with 5.4 times as likely in 1968.

# In Heavy Rotation: New Tigallo, New Tigallo, New Tigallo

Phonte, formerly of Little Brother and 1/2 of Foreign Exchange, drops another solo project “No News is Good News”.  Little Brother and now Phonte is one of those artists I “grew up” (starting in college) listening to.  As I’ve grown and matured so has he and you can hear it in the music.

Dope beats, dope rhymes, hip hop ain’t really that hard man

/* fini */