213. Benefits of Colocation

July 6, 2021

On a whole, the pandemic has made us, as a society, more anxious about a lot of things, including working in offices with other people where our risk of being exposed to the coronavirus is heightened. Although there are a lot of great tools which have been developed to try to make home offices mirror actual offices, there are various benefits which come from working in the same space as other people which cannot be replicated online. Nevertheless, working from home, at least some of the time, may continue to be part of our reality well into the future.

Key Points From This Episode:

  • The article which sparked the topic of today’s conversation.
  • Feelings that many people, including Dave and Michael, have about returning to work the office.
  • Value that lies in spontaneous collaboration.
  • An app which encourages spontaneous conversations when people are working remotely.
  • One of the things that Michael really misses about the office, and his thoughts about the online version of this tool.
  • Why Dave and Michael disagree with the video-on culture.
  • The benefits of commuting. 
  • Ways that you can signal the end of your work day when you are working from home. 
  • Possible future scenarios for work spaces. 

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Transcript for Episode 213. Benefits of Colocation

[INTRODUCTION]

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast, living large in New York. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today.

[0:00:09.3] DA: Dave Anderson. 

[0:00:09.9] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about the benefits of collocation. What is the point?

[0:00:15.4] DA: Yeah, why did we do that? We were just all getting together in a room and breathing on each other.

[0:00:21.0] MN: Exactly, sneezing and coughing and I didn’t share coffee with people, like my same cup, but I don’t think that was it, just you know, elbow room, you got to have elbow room.

[0:00:34.8] DA: Elbow, right, yeah, exactly. I mean, it was all about the collaboration, right? Now we have a new focus on the breathing but I think that’s why we did it, we did it for the collaboration.

[0:00:48.1] MN: I think that and many more, we ran into a link from inc.com where they mentioned the five benefits of working in an office and how to reclaim it with the remote team, right?

[0:01:01.7] DA: Yeah, I like that framing of it, it was a good article and we’re doing a lot of thinking about, what does it look like to restart teams when we’ve experienced some benefits from working remotely but we really do believe in the power of colocation?

[0:01:20.6] MN: I got to say, Dave, I’ll be honest. I’m terrified. I don’t know if I can bring myself back into a colocating space but this article definitely solidified, it definitely solidified reasons why going into the office was a good idea. We could start off probably right from the top.

[0:01:40.3] DA: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting point though, it is like – there’s like an organizational decision that goes into it where yeah, there are benefits to that organization to bring people in but then, everyone’s been through a pretty traumatic experience over the past year. That’s not invalid to feel anxiety about going back in when we’ve been so lucky to have this option to work remotely at this time.

But, something that I’ve been doing is I’ve been trying to set little goals for myself to push myself because I’m planning like a wedding celebration because they already had all my money and I have to reschedule it, even though I’m already married now.

[0:02:24.2] MN: Yeah.

[0:02:27.6] DA: Okay, end of personal rant. I’m planning this big party and I’m like, “Okay, that seems insane.” If we trust the science, it’s not insane, it will be great, it will be a good time, but I just have to get used to the idea about being in the same place with people. I’m like, “Okay, like, let me go hang out with a colleague,” and so I hung out with a colleague in a park, took the ferry into the city and hung out and it was like, “Oh, wait, this is great.” We’re talking so openly about things and freely and yeah, I think that’s the first point, spontaneous collaboration.

[0:03:05.5] MN: Right, I imagine that. There is something that I didn’t miss about the good old-fashioned walk and talk, right? The idea that you’re working on a client problem on your computer, it’s 3:30, you’re bashing your head a little bit too hard against the wall and you’re like, “You know what? I’m going to go get a coffee to wake up. Who wants to come with me?” Right? I say that out loud to myself in my room and it’s just sad, no one’s here to come with me to go and grab coffee.

[0:03:38.0] DA: Gio always wants to go with you, right?

[0:03:39.8] MN: Gio’s like, “Yay, coffee”.

[0:03:42.0] DA: He’ll reach an age where he doesn’t want to go get coffee with you.

[0:03:44.7] MN: Exactly, but the idea that you get to chop it up, walk and talk with the colleague to talk about that particular bug, you can bring someone who you're not pairing with with you to talk about this issue or anything outside of work, you could literally talk about anything spontaneous.

[0:04:02.0] DA: Yeah, right. It’s like, that was the thing that kind of struck me because I had no intent or that topic with going to meet up with my colleague. When he’s said a Zoom meeting, it’s like the mission is to do the thing and then get out as quickly as possible.

[0:04:19.1] MN: Yes.

[0:04:20.8] DA: We were walking together, we were talking, we were having conversations about life or observations of things in our environment and maybe not talking. Even in Zoom where you’re not talking, that’s weird.

[0:04:37.3] MN: Yeah, you’re just looking at each other in the camera.

[0:04:40.7] DA: Feels really tense.

[0:04:42.4] MN: Right. I agree with that, maybe silence is more appreciated in person because the context of where you are and where you’re walking is important.

[0:04:52.4] DA: Yeah. We did talk about things too, like work things that we weren’t thinking about I think and it’s like okay, things just kind of come up and spontaneous.

[0:05:06.2] MN: Yeah, I think you know, for those who are still remote, we currently use the app Donut, right? That allows you to meet people spontaneously over Zoom, that’s always a good thing. I’ve enjoyed using that tool. I think it uses Slack to determine how many messages you send to people and if you don’t send messages to a person as often, you're more likely to get paired with that person.

[0:05:30.1] DA: Really? I didn’t know it was that smart, I thought it was just like literally pulling a roulette.

[0:05:35.1] MN: Yeah, no because there are some people who I like, I would have normally talked to them in the office, because they would be in the office but I’m going to roulette with them, it’s like yeah, this is probably, we barely chat about work things because we always chat about other things, like the idea of knowing how that person is doing and whatnot.

[0:05:56.7] DA: Yeah, I agree. I’ve had like interactions with that where it’s just all casual and fun stuff and other ones where it’s like, kind of, like a less structured work conversation and just kind of like just an opportunity to be curious about somebody else’s experience in an unprompted way is kind of great because we don’t often get that opportunity in our 30-minute zoom calls or what have you.

I think we talked about this before but our team has like tried to empower people to join meetings early and have kind of that unstructured time but that’s still not exactly the same because you don’t get that entering and leaving because after the standup is done, you walk back or you go to coffee or I don’t know, there’s little things.[0:06:47.5] MN: Yeah. I think speaking of using Zoom to communicate, communication is very different when you’re in a collocating space and brainstorming on an idea. I find it very difficult to use Miro for this kind of stuff and I really wish sometimes that I could just get on a whiteboard and just use the actual physical marker and do things. Miro, my computer goes crazy anytime I open up a Miro like sheet. Because it’s just – 

[0:07:19.3] DA: Are you a fan?

[0:07:20.2] MN: No, I’m not. Yeah, my fan looks like my laptop is ready to lift off to the moon. It just cannot take it, and some Miro boards that I’ve joined are very extensive. Some people are incredible in using Miro but I really wish of using just Post-It notes and dry erasable markers. That's like the dream, I love, I really miss doing that.

[0:07:46.8] DA: Right, simple tools. There are things that you’ve been using since kindergarten basically. The teacher used it for your project or whatever. Everyone’s pretty good at it and in fact, there are techniques I guess, for using those tools and ways to structure how you’re doing the collaboration that still maybe applies to Miro but we haven’t been using Miro since kindergarten so it’s a big hamper.

[0:08:16.4] MN: Yeah, definitely.

[0:08:17.4] DA: For collaboration. 

[0:08:18.3] MN: Definitely.

[0:08:20.0] DA: I guess there’s like two aspects of it. If you want to have more fluid conversation or communication and brainstorming and things like that, you can try to find the right tool. Maybe there’s something that’s easier to use than Miro for your specific thing or you just use Google docs and have some real-time collaboration going there.

I guess you could also practice Miro. I actually was thinking about this earlier today, I was like, “Oh, I never really sat down and tried to learn Miro,” and see if there are like some keyboard shortcuts that I would use, you would use for an editor. I did that for our mock-up software, Figma, and it was a huge boon.

I was enjoying using the software even more and that’s like a similar kind of thing where before you do paper mock-ups and manipulate things like that but if you are using a tool, it just requires more investment, I think, to get that smooth collaboration.

[0:09:25.2] MN: I got to spend some time and just open a blank Miro board and give that a go, or open up an existing Miro board, make a copy of it and then see what I can do because I’m telling you man, I find myself super distracted with the cursors moving everywhere, my laptop’s about to explode, I need to zoom out, go to some other part of the Miro page, zoom back in, I just like – the white board is the thing that I miss most about colocating.

[0:09:52.9] DA: Yeah, there is a point in this article too, which I think both of us got to it and we’re like, “Wait, no, that doesn’t sound right.” It’s like, yeah, consider introducing always on video culture. Anyway, I kind of hate that. I don’t really know why.

[0:10:12.0] MN: I mean, I think I got a couple – I know in the past, a lot of times, my camera is off. I don’t think that it has to do with bad hair day or I’m in a meeting in bed, I don’t think it’s anything like that but in the morning, I got to prep Gio for breakfast. There are often times where, if I’m cooking, Gio loves oatmeal, if I’m making oatmeal and I can put the camera upright, I don’t mind having the camera on to do that, just make sure, “Hey, I’m making oatmeal, you guys see my hands are full.”

But if I have to carry him, move him over left and right, if I had to have my camera on, it’s just going to be looking at the ceiling because I’m listening to what’s going on but I’m getting Gio prepped in his chair or I’m picking up things that he has on the floor, that kind of stuff.

[0:10:58.2] DA: Yeah, I mean, even – I’m not really looking at the video, I think we have it on. It is on, yes but I’m not really looking at it and I think I kind of often just look away when I’m thinking anyway but I guess that outcome that they’re trying to meet with having a video-on culture is engagement and kind of fully committing to the meeting.

I guess if you can fully commit to the meeting at why you’re making oatmeal then that’s dope, or if you can fully commit to the meeting while being under your covers then that’s cool too.

[0:11:33.4] MN: I mean, I think it’s like – the life calls for 100% commitment is really difficult at home, that’s the harsh reality and, you know, I don’t want us to come out and say, “We need to be colocated,” because there are companies that are using that to use micromanage-y tactics.

[0:11:53.0] DA: “Too many of our employees are making oatmeal during meetings.” 

[0:11:57.9] MN: }Too many are taking care of their children when they should be focused on their meeting,” right? We don’t want that and I would say, you know, if there is one thing, one of the few things that we have that I disagree with most is definitely the video on, having this video-on culture all the time. Do what feels comfortable for you. If you are not comfortable having the camera on for whatever reason, don’t have it on. 

Just expect that your colleagues are doing the best and as focused as possible and you know, if you need to reiterate the question, then do so. I think another thing that this article points out just in the realm of communication is the technical difficulties that come up and you know, having the camera is one of them I guess but the famous phrase of 2020 is, “Can you see my screen?” I’m sure that we don’t have to do that anymore if you’re colocating and doing a presentation in front of people and you eliminate all that tech stuff out the window. 

[0:12:54.0] DA: Yeah, I mean that is kind of like something that I do miss as well from being in an office like having an environment where like everything is focused and there is kind of like a buzz around you of people getting things done. Sometimes, that can be a detriment, like if you’re near a sales team and they’re like blasting a SONOs, their EDM playlist or whatever to get amped up for the sales call. 

[0:13:21.3] MN: Yeah, turning up. Yeah, turning up, oh man. 

[0:13:25.7] DA: In moderation, I really do feed off of that and I kind of miss, even when I would work from home by choice in past jobs, like before working on a place that valued being onsite first, like going to a coffee shop and being around people who are like focused and amped up on caffeine with a little bit of music in the background was pretty nice because it just provides that kind of blinder. I get a little bit distracted sometimes and I haven’t worked at my desk for a while because it’s been kind of messy. I am just trying to find a clean spot that I can work without cleaning my desk. 

[0:14:07.1] MN: I mean that previous episode that we recorded about that friendly reminder. If I have a desk at a collocated space like in an office, it will probably be much more tidier than what I have right now. I think that is the benefit. 

[0:14:22.6] DA: You have that social pressure. People are like, “Oh, okay.” 

[0:14:26.4] MN: “Yo, Bobby is disgusting bro, you seen his desk?” I mean, there have been times where I have been for sure but you know, it’s possible for individuals who may not have the luxury of a big office space at home where they could benefit from having a more decent setup at their workplace and I know that I would keep it much more tidier than I do right now. I have index cards all over the place right now. I am still trying to rip them from the last time we did the recording. It’s still happening bro, still going down. 

[0:14:59.9] DA: Yeah, but on the flipside, being at home you do have the opportunity to create your dream workstation that can be your ideal happy place but it’s just on you to do that like so. You don’t have to struggle with, “Oh I don’t have enough room for a monitor,” or if you need a monitor then you can try to find a solution to get it in there and get the things that you need. Like I have all my podcast stuff right here, so this is great like you know? 

I loved our little podcast setup in person, that was wonderful too. We built our environment that we needed and it worked really good but this is even less friction. 

[0:15:41.3] MN: Yeah, it’s like the podcast setup is also my meeting setup, which is great. People are like, “Oh man, the sound quality sounds great.” Thank you, I’d spent a lot of time to ensure that the podcast setup was good and then I get to use it across all my meetings too, which is nice. 

[0:16:01.1] DA: Right, yeah. Here is a controversial one.

[0:16:04.9] MN: Uh-oh, hit it. 

[0:16:06.4] DA: The benefit of colocating in an office was the commute.

[0:16:13.9] MN: Oh boy, not that. Oh man, this person who wrote this article, you know, definitely biased. I think they mentioned that they live 15 minutes away from the office and also mentions that the average commute time in America is 26 minutes but understand that my commute time before I was commuting in the Bronx was an hour and a half, which is insane. 

[0:16:42.6] DA: Yeah, oh man that’s way too high. That is more commute, more problems, more stress, like, all that.

[0:16:50.8] MN: Three hours a day for commuting, 15 hours a week of just commuting time. 

[0:16:57.8] DA: You could complete several college lectures during the time period. 

[0:17:03.0] MN: I mean that’s the thing, the benefit that this person talks about is like, “Oh you can listen to podcasts and audiobooks,” and believe me, I had a whole lot of things to listen to. I was listening to all sorts of podcasts. 

[0:17:15.5] DA: So informed. 

[0:17:16.4] MN: Now, I just listen to maybe two, right? The idea of using your commute time to ramp up and ramp down work is a really, really interesting thing for sure. I mean an hour and a half is long so let’s not even use that out as an example, right? You use 26 minutes and as you’re entering into the workplace, right, his is going to be a mindset shift. You are thinking about okay, on your commute and like, “Oh, I have to work on X, Y and Z,” and you prep for that. You get to the office and then you start to work and then when you leave, you have those 26 minutes to say, “Okay, I’m going home now. I’m resting. I need to leave.” 

[0:17:55.5] DA: Yeah, “What am I going to eat for dinner?” Yeah, it’s a forcing function for having a routine and a space, a buffer that you can kind of like meditate on what’s coming up or unpack or clear your head, get amped up. 

[0:18:14.8] MN: Yeah, or wind down, right? If you’re on your way home, you know you’re about to – I used to have to do my commute in and like right in front of my door jump five times really high because I needed to have energy for my two-year-old. I can’t come in and just be like, “Hey, ‘sup little guy? Get away from me.” I had to get ready to do that and – 

[0:18:39.3] DA: Yeah, you’re just getting amped up all day.

[0:18:42.5] MN: Yeah, all day and the whole time, I mean right now though with no commute I just step out the door and it just happens immediately, which is like just, “Whoa, okay we’re home now,” like I have to do it. I don’t get a chance to mentally think of ramping up and stuff like that. 

[0:18:59.0] DA: Yeah, maybe if you climb out the window and then you get one of those fire ladders to climb out the window, go for a walk around the block and then open the door and then be like, “Okay.” 

[0:19:10.5] MN: Ready to go, let’s tackle the world kid, let’s do it. I mean, one of the things I’ve been doing to emulate commute time is like to I guess, I don’t want to call it nail in the coffin, but like to close the book on the workday is going out for a walk and I think you mentioned that before Dave about like commute was like a routine that was forced upon you rather and it’s just like, “Okay, I am done with work, let’s go outside,” and that is something that we’ve been doing. 

It’s nice out or it’s been nice, it’s really hot as of late but whatever temperature that you may have, like as long as you are comfortable walking in that temperature, that weather, then you should just go out and have some kind of routine to help you separate what is working and what is home because all of this has been bleeding in and out and sometimes Gio is in my meetings and there’s things that just happen but you know, when you’re colocating I’m not expected to bring Gio to the workplace, although people will have a lot of fun, I think, if I did that. 

[0:20:12.4] DA: Yeah, I feel like it would be good for Gio’s resume too. 

[0:20:15.4] MN: Yeah, that kid needs to start working. 

[0:20:17.9] DA: Maybe against some laws I guess but maybe good for Gio. 

[0:20:21.5] MN: Oh man, yeah I think, you know, there are some benefits to coming into the office. I mean I am interested in seeing what the industry does. There might be this hybrid two days a week thing. I know that’s been a discussion with my team or just coming in on major related events like brainstorming or like major meetings if you will, to have the organization over would be cool but for our team, we were thinking two days a week or just big events. We would call it an event so we could schedule and make sure whether people can make it or not. 

[0:21:00.1] DA: Yeah, I like the idea of kind of having like a retreat kind of mentality to it on a periodic basis. I feel like building the relationships and getting that frictionless communication and getting to know people on a level like Zoom and Donut are a little bit more challenging with. Just doing that on a periodic basis even if it is like just once a month for a couple of days in a row, just to get a feel for everything and renew those bonds so that way, you have that onsite energy like renewing all of your remote collaboration that you’re doing. 

[0:21:48.5] MN: Right and I think whatever your team decides to do should be done in a working agreement where everyone agrees to the times that people should come in and agree to what events would call people to jump on that commute, that ride down. 

[0:22:05.6] DA: Yeah, that’s a good point. I guess the benefit of coming into work every day as a working agreement is that it’s really simple. You don’t really think about it, it’s good but it kind of sucks but you know, it’s simple. You don’t really got to think about it too much, there is not a lot of wiggle room in it, but if you’re being intentional about deciding like a way to be hybrid and balance these things, then it becomes complex to kind of balance like every single aspect of other people’s lives and blah-blah-blah.

[0:22:41.9] MN: Yeah, I mean who knows? In three months, you may hear everyone is just working remotely for the rest of their lives. It is just so crazy, everything is up in the air right now, trying to figure this out and I hope that people who are listening will come to the agreement that best fits their lifestyle right now given this pretty traumatic experience of having us locked in our room for some time. 

[END OF INTERVIEW]

[0:23:06.0] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.

[END]

Links and Resources:

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