Saturday 16 January 2021

Remote Working - together, isolated


As we move into the third week of 2021, the UK is working through the world's worst movie franchise - now showing : Lockdown 3 - Lockdown Harder (but not as hard as Lockdown 1). We're all hopeful that Lockdown 4 - Lockdown without a Vaccine is permanently cancelled, but that remains to be seen.

Everyone that is able to is back working from home and ordering everything they need via the internet. I saw this situation described on twitter recently as "the middle class stay at home while the working class bring them things", which sums it up quite nicely.

The Tech Wars aren't Over

But they have changed.  Back in the day it used to be desktop operating systems - Linux, Windows or Mac. Then came the rise of the mobile device and it was iOS or Android. Sometimes it was programming languages - C++ or Java. In Salesforce we have the UI - Lightning or Classic, and the development paradigm - No, Low, or Pro Code.

In the world of remote work we can now argue about chairs, air purifiers, mechanical versus membrane keyboards, standing desks, microphones and webcams, along with side skirmishes about LED lighting and cable routing. If you aren't engaged in any of these battles, you might want to read some of the billions of blog posts that have been written in the last 10 months about "the perfect home working setup". There's probably been another couple of hundred written while you've been reading this paragraph, so don't delay.

The Great Normalisation (and other upsides)

One upside is the acceptance that working from home doesn't mean your home suddenly becomes a professional office. Children and pets wandering in to video calls is the new normal and not something to be mortified about. In fact, it's not just accepted, but often a welcome break for the hostages desperately waiting for the call to end. A home is a shared resource, and we must all be good multi-tenant citizens and not hog the space.

Community events are mostly virtual, including the Dream'/London's Calling behemoths. While we miss seeing each other in person, this is another upside. When we had to fly all over the world to attend or present, it definitely favoured those earning Western European/US style salaries with passports that gave visa free access to lots of countries. If you were from a wealthy country, you had far more opportunity to raise your profile in the community than someone who needed to wait months for a visa and spend a week's wages on one night in a London hotel. 

What Does the Future Hold

(This is obviously forward looking, and the following is nothing more than my opinion)

There will be no in-person Dreamforce in 2021. The figures in the US are still horrific, and Europe isn't that much better. While it seems likely the vaccine will reduce the death toll by protecting those most at risk, it will take more than a couple months and, as usual, the developed world will take priority. I can't see Salesforce wanting to be the company that brings 100k+ people from anywhere to San Francisco and gets blamed for the next flare up. There will almost certainly be some testing requirements for any in-person events for the rest of the year, and the logistics of that would be overwhelming at that scale - anyone who has been to a World Tour event with metal detectors can attest to that. A gradual return to normal event attendance seems more likely to me, and I can't see a socially distanced Dreamforce with 5k attendees appealing to Marc Benioff and co.

The same goes for the London Salesforce Developers. In the UK right now (16th Jan) we are seeing around 50k+ new cases a day, which is flattening but will take some time to go down. We are likely to stay in a highly restricted environment for a couple of months followed by a gradual easing. It's hard to see any company wanting to open up their offices to bunch of people who could have been mixing with anyone, and speaking as an organiser, I don't want to be remembered as one of the team behind a super spreader event.

Realistically it feels to me like it will be 2022 before we restart the kind of events that aren't vital to an industry, and it will only be when things like football, rugby and the theatre are running at full capacity  that the community-minded events start getting back up to speed. I also think that hybrid events, with a mix of in person and virtual sessions, will be the future. Before then, if we can get back to some kind of normality where I can mix with one or two of my friends and neighbours in my local pub I'll be happy.

Looking a bit further out, I don't think the remote working genie is going back into the bottle. While there will be a return to the office after the pandemic is over, people new to the job market have only known this, will have mostly enjoyed the experience, and will be expecting this to be offered by any company they talk to in the future. They will eventually be the generation of leaders, and will be pushing for more remote when they are in a position of influence. It might take a decade or two, but the days of everyone commuting to an office will seem as quaint as taking your celebration food to the village bakehouse for cooking now does to those of us who live in Europe.

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