Working fully mobile was not invented while COVID-19. It feels like ages ago, but even before the pandemic, some teams were working partly or fully mobile. It was a matter of our choice to work from office or from home. We knew the exact date when we would meet each other face-to-face next time and it might have made us oversee the potential problems of continuous mobile working.
Alina Hager is a pioneer of working mobile @Interhyp. In 2013 Interhyp opened a second office for software development 560 km away from Berlin. The first 1,5 years the Berlin team consisted of three developers who worked on different projects and so most interactions with the colleagues in Munich happened by phone calls and it felt a lot like mobile working. The first 5 years Alina worked as a software developer and is working as a product owner since 2018.
Inessa Tikhonov is a Nearshore project lead and senior product owner @Interhyp. Her nearshore ambassador role at Interhyp was by nature predestined to be remote either for stakeholders in Germany or for the developers‘ team abroad. She has started her job @Interhyp at the beginning of the pandemic, thus, she was completely remote for both the stakeholders and the team. Before joining Interhyp Inessa worked as a team lead at another big IT company and her role required 100% onsite availability. Therefore, this remote experience has been absolutely new to her and she tells about the nearshore remote start in this blog post.
But let’s move on to the three key learnings from mobile working during pandemic which should have an impact in our after-corona professional life.
Number I – Equal chances for every team member, as everybody became a remote worker
Inessa: In May 2020, almost at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have started to work with our nearshore partner – a company from Eastern Europe providing us with a remote IT workforce. The original plan was to host them in Germany for a couple of onboarding weeks and then to visit our partner in their country. This became impossible due to the pandemic. Initially, we had major concerns about how the cooperation will start and evolve with time because we worked with people whom we have never seen before. Our goal was to get the first team completely integrated into our processes, systems, and company’s culture in these challenging circumstances. But it turned out that the lockdown restrictions e.g. home office have played into our hands. And the reason for this was that everyone becomes equal when the whole company works from the home office.
When you have some team members sitting in the conference room and another part of the team, the remote part, is on the phone, you can hardly avoid the information loss between these two groups, because a conferencing technology cannot match the quality of eye-to-eye dialogues yet. In general, people working from one place tend to non-written communication in discussions as it’s faster and easier. But this communication gets lost for those who were not present there and it has a negative impact on the result.
The COVID situation granted the remote team an opportunity to be „equal“ to the main team as in corona world everybody is a remote member of the team, and everybody gets equal opportunities. During the lockdown, the nearshore team was onboarded fast and became productive without any delay. Until the end of 2020, remote nearshore teams have already accomplished their first major projects, reaching all the milestones. Probably, the full remote working mode of a company is one of the reasons why the nearshore project went so well. Now we are scaling the nearshore project up – and I’m staffing the third team at the moment.
Number II – Value Your Colleagues
Alina: A smile, a hug, a coffee together, a held up door, a laugh … so many little things among colleagues make us feel appreciated. But what if we only communicate via (video) calls?
In 2015 we started a new multimonth project with a colleague newly hired in Munich. We met in person in 2016, and it felt very strange, because the whole relationship was build up via phone calls and the image of the other person differed from reality.
In contrast, starting from 2013 I visited Munich every week at first and later every month. In the last 8 years I worked a lot with people I have seen years before and those working relationships were much easier, because the image of the people was much clearer since we already met.
The first good news for COVID-based mobile working is: It is much easier if you already know the people personally. The second good news is: everybody is sitting in the same boat and is missing the office.
So what can you do? Be kind to your colleagues and take time to ask and to listen. Sometimes 5 min of a nice talk can improve your relationship more than a 10 hour workshop ever can. And there will be days when you really appreciate a nice colleague to ask you how you feel. So take the time and be mindful with your colleagues and with yourself.
You can also make explicit meetings for socializing. At Interhyp we have the cake pause every Thursday at 2 PM, so now we have a 30 minutes digital cake pause with our squad, where the participation is voluntary, but the non-work topics are mandatory. And we highly recommend it 🙂
Number III – Effects of COVID on working environment
Inessa: During the beginning of pandemic many of us were somewhat scared: how will it affect our work, and our working environment in particular? Well, for me and many others that brought exclusively positive changes. I’ve discovered that working from home gives me a lot of flexibility.
Firstly, I can create a working space tailored to my needs. A quiet office room just for me (while still having my colleagues always reachable via Teams for a chat), a large wooden table with natural pine tree smell arranged in the room the way I prefer it to be, everything around ergonomic and comfortable at the same time. I have organized the whiteboard just for me so that I can keep a focus visualized. All together this helps me to concentrate and makes me more productive. This whole setup inspires me to work!
Secondly, I can arrange my day more flexibly. For example, I could do sports or yoga during lunch break to boost my energy! I could only dream of this before… Or I can decide where to invest time usually spent commuting to the office.
Last but not least, now I spend more time with my family. We can have lunch or a coffee break together, discussing things that matter or don’t. And I sometimes have coffee breaks with my colleagues, so that I don’t lose touch with relevant things happening around the company.
Independent of how many or how few days per week we will work mobile later, we should use the mindfulness on remote working we gained during the pandemic times.
If you have partly remote, partly office teams, maybe it makes sense to make home-office days, so the chances for better communication are equal.
If you don’t see some people at all, maybe you need to take some extra time to work on your relationship.
And definitely we should find room in our every (office) day life to adopt practices that make us more productive or happier that we discovered during COVID-19.
We hope this article have brought you some interesting thoughts. Maybe some things were obvious? Or maybe you are surprised by some observations? We appreciate if you let us know 🙂