Let’s get physical

Two recent announcements have been made about how it’s viewed that people should interact with each other. Both, in my opinion, are misguided.

Firstly, Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer has announced that she’s banning staff from remote working.  The idea behind this announcement is simple – that “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings“. This is absolutely spot on, but the next sentence in the leaked internal memo is more problematic:  ”Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home“.
Don’t get me wrong, working remotely has some special challenges, but they are by no means insurmountable. There’s lots of tips for people working remotely which will turn into a future blog post at some point (I’m running an internal training about how to do it in a couple of weeks), but three simple rules are stay connected, set a routine and take care of yourself.

The second decision is one by Ubuntu to move Ubuntu Developer Summits to a purely online meeting, ditching the physical meeting. This misses the point of conferences. If we simply wanted to listen to talks and presentations, why meet up at all? Webcasts have been around for the last 20 years, and yet conferences still exist. The most important part of a conference isn’t the talks, it’s the “hallway track” – it’s the ability for people to meet up, chat and socialise. Be this an impromptu meeting in the corridor, or over a few nice beers. Without this component, why schedule a time at all? Simply publish a list of talks over the coming 3 months, and anyone can pick the best time for them to attend.

At Collabora, many of our engineers work remotely. One of the perks we offer is the ability to attend conferences, and to “touch base” and visit and work from one of the offices. It is important to recognise the importance of collaboration physically  and it shouldn’t be discounted the way Ubuntu has done. But it should not be seen as a silver bullet to an organisation, like Yahoo seem to be implying. Both extremes are wrong, and a balance must be struck to ensure the best outcome for productivity and innovation.

(Title from an iconic 80s song)

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4 Responses

  1. Elessar says:

    About Ubuntu’s decision, to me it roughly translates to: “ditching the UDS”.

  2. Benjamin Lau says:

    I found Zach Holman‘s “How GitHub Works” talk to be pretty interesting in this regard and have been interested in seeing if more of these ideas could be adopted. And apparently Zach wrote a more recent article specifically about Chat which was also enlightening.

  3. Colin Watson says:

    You shouldn’t read Canonical’s decision about specifically UDS to exclude the things you contrast about Collabora; we still send engineers to other conferences, still expect to run mini-sprints, and some engineers still find it useful to meet up in one of our offices. Does Collabora run its own conferences? :-)

    • Neil McGovern says:

      It’s more a contrast with DebConf for example. Collabora does also run internal sprints and ‘Collabora University’, but it’s more for me about major distribution changing the relationship and immediacy of a defacto community conference.

      This is something I’m worried that Ubuntu will miss out on.

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