5 min read

Drawn Together

Drawn Together
Classic shock-comedy. Definitely not safe for work. All credit to Comedy Central

I've said it enough that I feel like something of a broken record, but it still bears repeating: I am very much a remote work convert.

I have absolutely zero interest in moving back to a position that requires me to go into an office on a regular basis. I've chosen my hill and I'll die on it if I have to.

Rant aside, I'm not so stubborn as to overlook the value that can be had by getting people together in the same pocket of reality for a little while. There is a hell of a lot of good that can come out of sharing the same air as your colleagues.

With that context firmly in mind, I can assure you that there is very little hypocrisy in the following words explaining how I got my entire team together in Sydney for a week.

I Went Looking For Quotes

Last time we had a full team get together we got about two days in before we had to scatter to the winds as a result of an unexpected case of the covids.

That particular get together was planned to be ~three days long, so while we had to cut it short, we did mostly get everything done that we planned to do. In the time we had, we managed to squeeze in a couple of workshops, a team dinner and a hike.

That was six months ago and memories fade quickly, so it made sense to do another one, only this time, to do it better.

Since then, Atlassian has invested into the idea of Intentional Togetherness, so there is now a team who can help you organise your get together.

One of the things we struggled with last time was just making sure that we were all actually co-located, because it put a lot of individual responsibility on people to book the right desks in the office. In answer to this, the intentional togetherness team carved out a corner of the Sydney office for us and us alone, which was pretty great.

In terms of activities, this time we played things a little bit slower, extending the total trip length out to five nights and not packing everything in quite so tight. One of the points of feedback out of the last one was that there wasn't much time to just work together so I took that to heart.

We planned to split out time 50/50: mornings would be reserved for normal work, whatever form it might take, and afternoons would be more casual with a general theme of social connection.

In order to keep scheduled activities light, we only planned two of them in total: a hike and a harbour cruise w. lunch package.

We had some softer plans as well, like having a Nintendo Switch and a copy of Mario Kart handy, along with the general expectation that we'd probably start the day with breakfast in the cafeteria each morning.

Pretty good plans all things considered and I'm sure you're wondering how it went.

Like I Normally Do For Headings

Well, full disclosure, someone got covid again. That's two-for-two now, which is not a pattern that I'm interested in maintaining.

The good thing was that it happened on the very last day as everyone was gearing up to go home anyway, so it didn't really affect our plans all that much. Times are different now too, and while I know covid can be very serious, in this particular case it was like finding out that someone got the flue.

Other than that, everything went well, and the team really enjoyed the time together.

In fact, some of the early feedback that I got was that the thing the team appreciated the most was just having a shared space in which to work. While we might think we're pretty well-adapted to remote-work these days, it was clear that just having everyone within shouting distance of each other allowed for a lot of high-bandwidth communication and discussion.

One of the things that we planned on doing was a group discussion about our Ways of Working. As a team that's been under a lot of load and also growing pretty consistently for the last year and a bit, it's still something we're trying to figure out.

The engagement in the conversation when everyone was arranged around a whiteboard vs clustered into a Zoom room was like night and day. People spoke up more, shared their own experiences and critiqued ideas respectfully. That sort of good stuff is much harder to get when you try to have the same conversations online.

I wouldn't say we solved all of our problems, but it felt a lot more productive than previous online sessions and the feedback I got from the team reinforced that.

The social activities (i.e. the hike and the cruise) were nice and appreciated, but I suspect the team would have been happy to skip those in favour of just spending more time working together, with casual contact happening over breakfast, lunch and afternoon drinks/games.

Nothing Even Remotely Appropriate

From my point of view, while I very much enjoyed the experience of having all of my people clustered around me for a week, it was definitely not enough to convert me to someone who wants to go back to the office permanently.

For one thing, I felt vastly less effective. It just felt like I got less things done. As an Engineering Manager, my role involves swapping contexts and chasing different threads for hours on end, with the occasional (and very rare) deep dive into a subject.

Working in an office surrounded by people doesn't feel like it lends itself to that sort of stuff.

It might be that I was focused on facilitating the get together as opposed to just working, and were I to do it more often I'd get better at it. It might also be that I've adapted my style to work more effectively in a remote and asynchronous environment, I don't know.

It could also be that I did barely any of the sort of work that is more effective face-to-face, like one-on-ones and whatnot. This was a conscious decision, because I didn't want to overload everyone by trying to jam those sessions in between the social activities and the other workshops that the team was interested in running.

Also, like I ruminated on last time, our primary mode of operation is remote, and I'd rather do those sorts of things in that environment so that I can get better at it, rather than waiting once every six months to have a really good one.

I also found the experience exhausting. It seemed to just take a truckload more energy than working from home does, and I ended every day well and truly tired.

Again, it might be that I'm just more well adapted to work from home and that I'd adjust over time if I returned to the office, but I'm not sure.

I honestly don't know how I used to function when I was working from an office every single day.

This Show Was Pretty Bad

You might think that I didn't enjoy the team get together, but that is definitely not the case. It was great meeting people in the flesh again, talking without using a piece of software, connecting casually and schooling all of the overconfident upstarts in Mario Kart.

To me, it just really reinforced that it was an exception and a sort of holiday, rather than something I'd be comfortable with as a new norm.

It also reminded me that different people need different things in order to be effective and happy. As a manager, it's important to be aware of those things. You're here to serve and lead, not to pander exclusively to your own desires.

I'll continue to organise these opportunities to get together, budget willing, and will make the best of them from my point of view. I might even try to organise them more frequently, though for a shorter duration, as a couple of people requested during this last one.

But my heart is definitely where my home is.