A Working Library: “Official Myths”
I’ve always appreciated Mandy’s specificity when talking about work culture, especially when it comes to how different workers give/receive support. Reading her latest post—“Official Myths”—Mandy argues that the terms “office” and “remote” flatten/obfuscate concrete scenarios that demand care and attention.
On the assumption that IRL office environments are inherently better for supporting junior staff:
Supporting junior staff is work. It’s work whether you’re in an office some or all of the time, and it’s work if Slack is the only office you know. Hauling staff back to the office doesn’t make supporting junior staff easier or even more likely. The only way to make sure that junior staff get the support they need is to hold managers accountable for their growth. Managers should be able to speak to how their junior staff want to grow, and how they and the rest of the organization are working to support that growth. Support needs to come in the form of humane and useful feedback, access to training and opportunties to learn, abundant peer support, and committed sponsorship. Whether that support is delivered IRL or via Slack or Zoom or subspace is neither here nor there—it’s the support that matters. Until or if a company comes to terms with that, junior staff are unlikely to get what they need, regardless of whether they commute to an office or stay on their couch.
Noting that IRL cultures will have to adjust to pandemic and climate-change effects:
Even the most diehard IRL culture will find that people won’t commute in on days when the forecast warns of flash floods, or the air quality has plummeted because of nearby wildfires, or the local energy utility is warning of brownouts after the seventh straight day of triple-digit temperatures. The most anti-remote employee isn’t going to be welcome in the office when they have a cold or when their kid just tested positive for COVID. Millions of immunocompromised people are still at risk from COVID, while millions of others are suffering from the effects of long COVID. And we’re years if not decades away from repairing our broken childcare and elder care systems, which will require that many caretakers, like it or not, will have to work from home, at least some of the time.
My own view on remote/IRL scenarios is always evolving, but I have a few quick observations given that Bluecadet went very quickly from IRL-first to remote-first:
- Remote work spurred some better team habits in terms of documentation and repeating important messages in different places (docs/chat/email)
- Onboarding rituals took more attention (lots of more specific activities in checklists and documents and scheduled meetings). I would wager that it also gave newer staff some relief that they didn’t have to perform productivity in those first few days/weeks when their project work was still ramping up.
- I still find IRL office time has advantages for workshop-type activities, or planning meetings where synchronous communication is plentiful. I would much prefer orienting my IRL schedule around those activities as opposed to arbitrary days of the week.
- I miss interstitial moments with my teammates, and it’s hard to replicate these in remote situations because the medium feels so official—a video chat coffee break feels very similar to a work meeting in process (especially scheduling) and in medium. There are fewer ambient indicators in remote scenarios for when a coworker might be open to just hang out for a minute.