In just a year and a half, work life has been turned on its head. Remote collaboration is now the norm, spontaneous water cooler conversations have taken a digital form, and workers are increasingly living in cities far from their company’s office.
As we head into the home stretch of the pandemic, these types of changes raise the question: What will the workplace look like in the post-pandemic world, and how can a software developer expect to navigate it?
In our latest Tech Talk, we caught up with Fandom CTO Adil Ajmal to understand how to negotiate the post-pandemic workplace while still maintaining pre-pandemic levels of engagement and productivity. Here’s what we found out.
In the ‘before-times,’ most people worked with their colleagues face to face every day, and this model was considered a must for any productive work environment. Over the last year, however, the pandemic has proven that remote teams can work just as productively, even when everyone is distributed.
According to Ajmal, this new paradigm is a massive improvement over the pre-pandemic work model. “A lot has changed over the last year and a half,” he says. “From an opportunity perspective, as individuals, we have access to way more interesting jobs outside of our local area, which is a huge plus. Hiring folks from different cities or even countries by utilizing companies like Terminal – having access to that channel of talent – has become much easier.”
But what does this new paradigm mean for engineers? Finding commonalities with your coworkers will look a little different in the future. With remote work breaking down the geographical constraints of hiring, both leaders and employees will need to consider how to connect with people who don’t share the same routines as you.
Empathy can go a long way here, and curiosity can too. Slack channels, remote coffees, and more intentional outreach overall will be the key to building new habits around socializing with coworkers, and it may come more naturally to some than others.
Whether or not engineers enjoy working from home might have something to do with how long they’ve been in the workforce. According to Ajmal, engineers who are more advanced in their careers might have a better sense of team dynamics than more junior employees and are probably better equipped to do their jobs without an office structure.
Those younger engineers are also likely to miss the social aspects of office life more than their older counterparts. When an engineer is first starting out in their career, it’s common to make friends at work. That becomes harder when there are no social activities and the only interaction with your colleagues is over Zoom.
To help connect with coworkers, Ajmal recommends that employees advocate for the company to bring people together in person once in a while, even if the company is planning to stay remote. “Companies shouldn’t be afraid to spend money on bringing people together from time to time so that they can still establish bonds, have fun, and build those long-lasting relationships that many of us keep for years to come,” he says. “It’s best not to think of travel as something that’s completely gone away.”
As global hiring and multicultural workforces become more commonplace, it’s important to recognize that reference points for things like “success” and “work ethic” may not be constant across cultures. It may be necessary to reframe your thinking and put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes.
“Folks in the USA and Canada, when they’re going up in the education system here they are encouraged to ask questions and be more inquisitive,” Ajmal says. “There are other cultures where asking questions is actually frowned upon, and, in fact, when people in those cultures are growing up in their academic systems, they’re actually given negative reinforcement when they are asking a lot of questions. So they end up not asking them. So now when you start mixing a team together without knowing those cultural differences, it is harder for you to solve.”
Simply expecting international coworkers to have the same instincts as you will hinder collaboration. Instead, if you notice a colleague being steamrolled by more free-wheeling team mates, try to bring them into the fold by asking them to question the status quo.
Simple questions like, “What do you think?” and “Are there any issues I’m not seeing?” can help encourage quieter colleagues to poke holes in accepted answers.
If you have experience working with startups, a rapidly growing team roster will be familiar. Sometimes it can feel like the team you joined is completely different compared to only a few months later. As companies embrace a culture of remote hiring, it may become even harder to navigate high-growth periods. Ajmal recommends staying in tune with what you want when your company enters a hockey stick growth period.
“When you are growing an organization, and you’re trying to find people for the right stage, you have to be very cognizant of what you need at that particular point,” Ajmal says. “You have to continue to revisit those needs as a team, as you continue to scale through those different stages. The same applies for individuals as well.”
Ajmal suggests that you know your sweet spot, and try to find companies that are in the life phase you specialize in.
All signs point to the pandemic drawing to a close in the near or medium term. But just because most stay-at-home guidelines are now lifted, it doesn’t mean that pre-pandemic habits will come roaring back. Instead, it’ll be important to understand how remote work impacts everyday work, and how to best position yourself as new standards take hold.