"The increase in value of the world of things is directly proportional to the decrease in value of the human world."
Karl Marx said this, while he witnessed humans becoming a means-to-an-end. The example of the same in current times can be seen in metro cities where people travel under extreme conditions, just to reach the workplace. While we accepted it as non-negotiable of life, the COVID pandemic provided an escape as well alternative. For whosoever possible, resorted to remote working style.
After two years of working from home, a lot of people have developed inertia for travelling to the workplace. Though working remotely saves effort, it is at the cost of losing office environment, which has its own benefits.
I recently experienced this tension at the offsite of one of the Frappe Partners, and would like to share how Frappe struck the equilibrium between remote and office.
I recently had the privilege of joining the New Indictrans team on their offsite. It was great to see their keenness to align with Frappe values like freedom, transparency and agility.
They crowd sourced several agenda points to be discussed from the team. While I was around, I saw them discussing, ”should we become a complete remote organisation, or have a hybrid model?”. This was their concern, as a good amount of their working hours were spent on calls.
At Frappe, we adopted values “hybrid” and “write-first-approach”, which helped in reducing calls.
Ever since we entered the pandemic, the frequency and lengths of online meetings have taken a toll. What was once a convenience, suddenly became a cause for despair. We hopped onto calls-after-calls-after-calls, only to realise that the “real work” remained untouched. This vicious cycle led to extended working hours, anxiety, and even caused mental health problems.
Clunky calendars like the one above were a normal affair we all imposed on ourselves. If we dig deeper, we find that online calls and their duration is not the only problem. Just see the actions required to set up a meeting.
- Check calendar and propose multiple slots for the call
- Agree on the availability over email / call
- Send calendar invites
- Handle calendar reminders
- Reschedule events, and repeat all of the above
And then comes the meeting itself. And what happens on the call? My god. A discussion which perhaps needed two people, now has 5-10 people talking, arguing and stretching and eating up hours. At the end of the day, we are exhausted, tired and believe “we did lots of work”. Maybe we did not do “real work”, we just ended up doing “busy work”!
Consider a day in the office at Frappe, on a normal day at work, we have interesting and thought provoking discussions. And ideas can come anytime. One might have an amazing idea after talking to a customer, or solving a ticket. That’s the moment we need to discuss it with colleagues around, and build on it.
Thanks to such spontaneous thoughts, we end up improving a process, or iterating a product which makes it better. At times, even new products take birth as an outcome. That’s how our products and services at Frappe have evolved, through spontaneous discussions.
Compare it with remote working. The moment you think of an awesome idea, your urge is to share it. But your colleagues are busy on another call. How likely is it that you will set up a call to discuss it, while you have a pile of unresolved issues and ongoing projects? The more time you sleep-over an idea, the more its intensity deteriorates, and dies sooner. You end up doing agenda and operations driven calls, which are monotonous in nature. It doesn’t even assist in building the personal and human connection with colleagues.
The whole feeling of doing monotonous and remote work with colleagues you don’t have an emotional connection with, makes the entire experience at a workplace too transactional. The point of being able to align with the bigger goals of a company becomes a far-off thing. Sometimes, you also see teammates with exceptional skills leaving the organisation.
Frappe adopted the idea of “hybrid” work culture much before the pandemic struck. We adopted it out of respect for honouring individuals' time and effort which they wanted to invest on creative stuff, rather than in travelling. But also we encourage teammates to visit the office for a day or two, so that they experience that “spontaneity” element, and bond well with other teammates.
Post pandemic, there was a phase when we observed ourselves getting too involved in calls. On one of the friday forums (FF*), it was suggested that we should first WRITE the topic, along with the proposal and share it in the internal forum.
Friday Forums (FF): It’s when the Frappe Team catches up to have open discussions on non-operational topics like state of the union, politics, religion (yes), social issues, current affairs and so on.
So, if I wanted to introduce new benefits for the partner, I should first make a detailed proposal justifying that proposal and try to get buy-in from the team. The ones who are directly impacted can raise their objections. All of this happens asynchronously. I can revert on these objections as per my availability and try to take it towards closure. If at all you need to get on a call, the proposal and objections are already known to everyone.
Writing it down
But here is the thing. Writing requires a lot more effort than talking and good writing is not that prevalent. It’s expected only from certain profiles like content writers, marketers and authors. If we look at mental effort, speaking requires lesser effort. We do lots of talking subconsciously. Talking is like an open-box, with stuff falling in and out of it at the same time. Whereas, putting your thoughts in a sentence is like pulling a thread out. It’s a linear process, which requires additional effort.
However, since you are making a conscious effort, it gives clarity to your very thought. This is a vital element of writing, which helps in reducing the unwanted discussions on group calls.
The approach of written proposals before calls has been very beneficial for us. It’s not just for reducing calls, but also inculcating the habit of writing, especially in the times of reels and YouTube where the world has pivoted to newer forms of consuming data.
Spoken words are an expense. Written words are an asset.
Conclusively, it’s all about maintaining equilibrium. Remote environment offers convenience like prevents daily commute and enjoy flexi hours. Whereas, office environment allows us to make emotional connections with colleagues and the organisation itself. Hybrid work culture strikes the perfect balance, and allows us to enjoy best of both worlds.