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My top 3 Mac OS menu bar apps
miroslav galic •
July 12, 2022 •
MacOS gives us many different tools to keep us productive. You may end up using your Mac very differently from others. In this article, I will share a few apps and ways that help me make the most of it. This is going to be an article series and I will start by sharing what is in my menu bar.
macOS Menu bar
The menu bar sits at the top of the screen and it has two main sections, left and right. The left side shows your current application menus, and it can’t be customized. However, all the remaining space on the right can be customized and used to install additional applications. Keep in mind that the left side has higher priority and if needed, it will cover the right side. What you can see on the right side will depend on screen width and how many menus the current application has.
These are the apps I have installed in the menu bar
I love Stats due to its aesthetics and level of customization. It helps me keep an eye on CPU, Network, and Battery levels. You can configure more metrics in case you need them. I use the Battery metric from Stats as it shows only the percentage vs the built-in battery indicator which shows icon plus percentage and therefore takes double the space. You can use this guide to hide the MacOS default battery indicator.
Sometimes, every second counts, therefore I enable the seconds’ display on the Digital Clock menu bar. However, the built-in date display takes too much space. This is where Itsycal comes in. You can configure it to show Day, Date, or Month and choose a dark/light theme in case you want your Date to stand out. On top of this, once clicked, it shows a calendar month view, which comes in handy when I need to quickly check the dates without opening a calendar app.
This one I love because of its simplicity. I can quickly set a timer or start a stopwatch. Once the timer runs out, there is an audible alert to remind you it’s over. This comes in pretty handy when I’m coding and cooking, a dangerous combo by the way 🙂
Missing piece =)
I wish I could share another app that perfectly fits into the menu bar, and that would be a weather app. There are some great options, but they are not free. This is why I started my own project to make a simple and free Weather app for your menu bar. But, more on that in the upcoming posts.
In this article I shared how I customize my menu bar. In the following articles, I will share further customizations and apps I have in my setup. Things like window manager, Spotlight replacement (not Alfred btw), productivity apps, browser extensions, etc.. So if you find this content interesting, make sure to follow our blog and share it with your friends.
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The importance of being proud
Manuel Wenzel •
June 29, 2022 •
Every year, June comes around and the rainbow is everywhere. Logos, t-shirts, posters, social media, TV, clothes stores, you name it. There are many variations of the Rainbow Flag, with the most popular being the six-color version designed by Gilbert Baker in the 70s and a plethora of others representing different sexual and gender identities. For someone outside of the LGBTQIA+ community (and even for some within it), it can be a bit overwhelming. For many, Pride month is just a celebration, with pretty parades and maybe some protests, lots of colors and happy people, rainbows everywhere, political speeches, LinkedIn posts, and some logo changes. But for those that are part of the community, it’s more than that. It’s a celebration of who we are. It’s an affirmation that we are proud of who we are. And it’s a way to show the world why that is important. That’s why our Data Anlayts’ Pedro and Inês took the opportunity to give us an idea of their experiences in their professional life so far.
Pride in the Workplace – Pedro
My first internship was at a multinational telecommunications company here in Lisbon (too little did I know about how important this internship would be later, but we’ll get to that). This is a company that, like many others, does a lot of things during Pride month, like handing out rainbow-colored merch, social media posts, etc.
I never felt that the company culture there was discriminatory or close-minded; however, I worked closely with a colleague who would often explain to me why he thought gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed, why transgender people shouldn’t be allowed to transition, or why he didn’t think children should learn about the LGBTQIA+ community. Mind you, he didn’t know I was gay, we would just be talking about something and these topics would come up. He also told me he thought a guy who worked on the same floor as we had only gotten far in his career because he was gay, and the company wanted to “use him” as a token of progressiveness.
My internship ended and I left the company. I never told anyone I was gay.
My second internship was at an established, large Portuguese company. This company doesn’t tout its progressive culture to the seven winds, so I wasn’t expecting much. When I got there, almost every day some of my colleagues would make jokes about women, comment on women’s bodies, joke about gay people, etc. They would also often tell me that the new generations didn’t know how to take jokes and that if some gay guy entered the team, they would probably get in trouble. As a young worker desperate to start my career, I stayed silent and never said anything.
My internship ended and I left the company. I never told anyone I was gay.
My first real job was at a consulting firm. Again, this company changes its logo for Pride month, and… that’s it. On my very first day there, one of my new colleagues made a transphobic joke.
After 6 months, I quit the company. I never told anyone I was gay.
Finally, I came to MB.io. To be honest, I didn’t know much about MB.io’s stance on Pride and the LGBTQIA+ community, but from my previous experiences, I knew I should probably stay quiet and silently nod if someone started talking about romantic partners, give an awkward laugh if someone made a homophobic joke and, all in all, just stay quietly on my corner and do my job.
However, one of the first people I met here was Inês. She had worked at the same telecom company I had been an intern at. There, she befriended one of my closest friends and eventually referred her to MB.io, and then my friend referred me. See, I told you the internship would be important.
Inês was not only incredibly nice and welcoming, but she was also openly lesbian. I still remember feeling my heart skip a beat when she casually mentioned having a girlfriend. It was a true “ah!” moment that made me realize it was okay for me to be openly gay at my job. I could finally participate in conversations about romantic partners without having to hide the fact that I have a boyfriend. I could finally befriend people at my workplace without the fear of hearing a homophobic or transphobic joke. I could finally talk to my colleagues without having to debate my right to marry the person I love.
The difference was astounding. I remember getting nervous afterward about casually mentioning I had a boyfriend, wondering if the others wouldn’t be as welcoming as Inês. But every time I said it to someone else, no one made any comments on it. They just kept talking to me without a problem. It was like a weight had been taken off my shoulders, and I could finally breathe again.
Pride in the Workplace – inês
As Pedro, my first work experience was not the most welcoming one. I worked for a consulting company where I casually heard homophobic and racist jokes every day. Where the thought of being out of the closet at work was never ever something I considered. If you are not part of the community, it might be hard for you to understand how hurtful it can be to hear people talking about their weekend plans with their romantic partners, or about dates, whatever, and just quietly keep your mouth shut and hope no one asks you directly.
I left that company after 9 months and no one there knew I was gay.
My second job was at the telecommunications company where Pedro also did his internship. The difference from my previous job was huge. This was a company that actually commemorated Pride every year, and I never heard any specifically homophobic comment. It was a fairly open and progressive culture. However, I didn’t know anyone there that was openly LGBTQIA+. I’m sure there were plenty, in such a large company, statistically, there had to be. But not in my work circle.
I made some close friends there, so in the final months of working there I did come out to those friends and was not actively hiding my sexuality from anyone at work, but I wasn’t fully comfortable, since I was still, to my knowledge, “the only gay in the village”.
Fast forward to MB.io – during the recruitment process I met many people that gave me the impression of an open, innovative and progressive company culture, and I had decided that in my next job I would be fully out, as a matter of principle and honestly because I felt comfortable enough in my career to know that if I encountered homophobia or an environment that didn’t align with my principles I could just leave and find a job elsewhere.
MB.io has a rite of passage for new joiners. In your first week, you need to select three objects that represent yourself and present them to the entire company, so that everyone can learn a bit more about the person, beyond a name and work title. I felt this was a great initiative, and it also made my life much easier, because I simply mentioned my girlfriend during my presentation and immediately came out to 150+ people. I didn’t know at the time if MB.io was truly an accepting and open workplace, but since then I can say that I’ve met more openly LGBTQIA+ here, than in almost any other place in my life. For me, this really shows the positive environment that exists in MB.io, where all these people feel comfortable enough to be themselves openly, and so that when a new joiner, like Pedro, was at the time, joins the company, they can see themselves represented in their colleagues, and be emboldened to be their true selves openly at work.
pride at Mb.io
These are the true markers of open and welcoming company culture. Not rainbow logos, vapid LinkedIn posts, empty statements. It’s the people that make the culture, not these facades. And, most importantly, it’s the people who aren’t afraid to be who they are, who are willing to step up and set an example, and who are brave enough to forge the path for others. Without Inês, I probably would have never “come out” at work. It’s because of her and so many others who were brave enough to show their colors that we are now writing this article.
So, if you are not a part of the community and struggle to understand why June is so colorful, we hope you understand a bit better now. At MB.io, we organized meetups in each of our office locations for people to get together and attend the Pride parades. We also prepared internal pages with songs, books, movies, TV shows, and short videos with LGBTQIA+ themes, as well as external resources for those looking to donate to organizations or just get information about the topic. We are also preparing internal trainings to better educate people and a joint donation between employees and organizations.
Thankfully, we are now at a place where we can write this article and have it published for all to see. A few years ago, we would’ve never even dreamt about it, and all it took was one person and a company culture that is truly open and welcome to all. So, if you are reading this and you’re wondering how you can truly celebrate Pride in your company, know that, beyond whatever initiative you might be planning, it’s the people who make a difference.
More articles about Diversity Diaries will be released soon. Keep an eye out to find out more!
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3 easy remote team building techniques
Jan Paulus •
June 20, 2022 •
In this article, our frontend engineer Jan Philipp Paulus introduces 3 simple methods to help your team build up or strengthen their bond. You can pick up the techniques without further requirements. (Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash).
Why a good team spirit is important
🤩 Motivation: colleagues will be more motivated when there is an overall better spirit in the team.
🤝 Trust: colleagues will start to gain and foster trust in each other
💬 Communication: with more trust, colleagues will start communicating and interacting more with each other.
💡 Knowledge: the more communication occurs, the more knowledge will be shared within your team.
📈 Performance: in the end, everything mentioned above can potentially lead to overall better team performance.
Remote team building is not a replacement for in person team building and will most likely not be as effective as it is face-to-face.
Pro tip 💪 Try to incorporate a mix of in-person and remote team building techniques into your team building strategy.
👩🏻💻 Create an off-topic channel
Create a channel for your team in which everyone can post random memes, images (especially of dogs or cats), recipes, and music. This channel can be an alternative to the chats that would usually happen at the coffee machine. You can even start small competitions in which everyone posts a picture of their desk and then votes for the cleanest and messiest. These are some ideas, but the options are endless. Be creative!
👾 Host virtual game nights
You might be skeptical if you’ve never attended a virtual game night, but they are a fun way of getting to know your colleagues. Depending on the game, you will be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues. Understanding these will help you to get a better picture of the person you’re working with.
Pro tip 💪 To get everyone into the right mood, try to kick off the evening with an ice breaker. tscheck.in is a good starting point if you are looking for ice breakers.
Among the many options, here are some games I can recommend:
Remote Work Bingo
Never Have I Ever (SFW)
☕️ Have virtual lunch or coffee dates
A wonderful way of getting to know your colleagues is to set up virtual lunch or coffee dates. Plus they usually don’t take much time to plan and execute. You could even install apps on Teams or Slack that will randomly pair up team members every week.
Pro tip 💪 Try to avoid starting the conversation with work-related topics. Instead, try to find out what the other person likes to do in their spare time. Finding common ground makes it easier to get a conversation started.
We hope these three techniques gave you a rough overview on how to start remote team building. Give them a try and feel free to experiment with more promising methods.
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TRENDING TOPICS IN MAY FROM TECH PRACTICE
Ronny Schreiber •
June 8, 2022 •
Our developers have been discussing interesting topics again and we have picked out a few topics for you. Among them, are articles that we recommend to each other about new trends in web development in the world. The Frontend Circle was once again particularly active. (Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash).
Cypress 10 is out!
Cypress app was completely redesigned to better integrate with the overall development. Including some new features such as:
View the latest Git status in the spec list
Ability to change browsers from within the Cypress app
and what can not be missing: Automatic migration from previous Cypress versions
In addition, component testing in this version is a great innovation. It is made available to the general public for the first time and the team has many plans for it.
Thinking tools and frameworks
Untools is a collection of thinking tools and frameworks to help you solve problems, make decisions, and understand systems. Such as the Minto Pyramid, Eisenhower Matrix, or Issue trees.
The definition of each tool and framework is provided. Step by step it is explained how to use them and practical examples are given. In addition, there are further sources to go even deeper. Very inspiring for all who want to deal with problems in a structured way.
Mercedes-Benz is now a bronze sponsor of Vue
contribution to this great FOSS project we all use every day. At Mercedes-Benz.io we’ve adopted Vue.js as the company’s main frontend framework. It is being used in tons of products from us. Mercedes Benz AG sponsors many open source projects and this sponsorship was fortunately initiated by our colleague Claudio.
SAP Commerce 2205 release
Of strong interest to our SAP Commerce Engineers are the updates to the SAP Commerce 2205 release. Which introduces the following new features and enhancements:
Intelligent Selling Services for SAP Commerce Cloud
UI Themes, Branding, and Profiles
Headless Commerce and B2B PunchOut
Articles by MB.ioneers
You don’t need a JS Library for your components
Helmut has posted his first article on Medium. This one is about developing native Web Components. Take 10 minutes and you will learn how to create and integrate a web component including links to examples. You will also be able to read about experiences, caveats, and solutions to the most common problems in native web component development.
Thanks to all of you who share your knowledge within our company and expand our horizons.
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How our Software engineers exchange ideas and have fun
Gonçalo Marques •
June 7, 2022 •
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed a lot in our lives. When it comes to working at Mercedes-Benz.io we have adopted a flexible collaboration model. This brings more freedom, better work-life balance, and so much more. With remote, it has been more difficult to know our fellow MB.ioneers on a deeper level. It made me miss the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. I think nothing beats getting everyone together.
So, in the backend circle, self-organized as we are, we just went for it and organized an offsite with the goals to exchange knowledge and experience, getting to know one another, and connecting.
And what better place to do this than Nazaré, the capital of the biggest waves in the world (well, don´t get spooked by it, there are also calm waves to enjoy a beach day), a place where Garrett McNamara in 2011 set, at the time, a world record on the biggest wave surfed and, home of the Mercedes-EQ Lounge.
WHY THE MERCEDES-EQ LOUNGE?
As you might have heard Mercedes-Benz is committed to a sustainable future and the Lounge is a perfect example of that. The Mercedes-EQ Lounge is a 100% sustainable place, designed using recycled and reused materials. It includes an electric circuit that comes from the reuse of four battery modules from one of the first units of the 100% electric Mercedes-Benz B-Class. The modules now store the energy captured by photovoltaic panels and power the whole building. The Lounge additionally has four charging stations for electric cars and offers the perfect environment for us to debate about our future, drive conversations and share our experiences.
So, to us, it is a match made in heaven.
We gathered in our Lisbon office and set course to Nazaré. Lucky us, we were able to get our hands on two Mercedes-Benz EQVs for our travel. During the morning at the hotel, we had our “Product Roulette” in which everyone presented not only themselves but also their product teams:
Who was part of the team and stakeholder.
What is the product and its purpose.
How does the product work (tech stack and the business concerns it focuses on).
Did I mention the activities? Does a high-speed voyage, drifting in the water, and doing water-force defying maneuvers sound exciting? How about the opportunity to go by boat to the Nazaré Canyon and hear how those giant waves are formed?
We had the opportunity to do it all. This would not be an offsite without some cool activities. All powered by Mercedes-EQ Lounge together with Nazaré Water Fun. It was an afternoon packed with water, sand, fun, and adventure. After dinner, we enjoyed a walk by the beach for a fruitful chance to not focus on work but get to know our colleagues.
THE FOLLOWING DAY, WE SURFED THE KNOWLEDGE SHARING WAVE.
We went to the Lounge for our well-known Exchange.io format where everyone can casually share knowledge or just open a discussion on certain topics. It could be a training to introduce a new framework, technique, or any other topic which is interesting for us. We do this regularly at the Backend circle and the Architecture and Technology circle. For this session we had a wide array of topics:
Internal marketplace to share ideas and find collaborators for projects, that can be suitable in an Inner Sourcing approach.
Custom alerting system that warns tenants when having misconfigured settings. Helping them reduce a lot of errors.
HTTP library for Common Backends aimed at addressing repetitive concerns across all our products and re-use code.
Brainstorm on cross-cutting topics and issues in our current software landscape followed by how we want to address them
With our Backend Offsite we were able to do a lot.
Firstly, the opportunity to take a unique test drive, in a spacious, comfortable, quiet and with excellent autonomy Mercedes EQV. Secondly, to visit the amazing town of Nazaré. Thirdly, to get to know the Mercedes-EQ Lounge and feel its purpose. In the same way Mercedes-EQ was designed with reusable materials, we took our learning of our common technical issues to re-utilize solution across our teams. Finally, all of us got to know one another better. We look forward to having another event like this and, who knows, next time it could be you going with us…
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Software engineer, with an interest in DevSecOps, FOSS, and Agile methodologies. Trying to live by the Kaizen philosophy and always keep improving!
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TOP 5 NEWS IN APRIL FROM TECH PRACTICE
Ronny Schreiber •
May 9, 2022 •
This month, once again there was a lot of exchange in our internal chats on a wide variety of topics. We touched on upcoming conferences, micro frontends, color themes, and sorting algorithms plus some articles on Well Being topics from our colleagues.
The author of the article The Future of Micro-Frontends gives an overview of the techniques you can use when building your micro frontend system and touches on the topics: Mirco frontend communication, server-side rendering, partial hydration, secure and risk-free deployment. Definitely, an article that can inspire you to actively think through your micro frontend system in advance.
Lerna is a tool that optimizes the workflow around managing multi-package repositories with git and npm, which we used as well as many others for our micro frontends approach. Unfortunately, the open-source project is no longer actively pursued and is currently struggling with some problems. Therefore we are looking for alternatives. What do you use for managing your multi-package repositories?
It has been possible for ages to determine a user’s preferred color theme. It is easy to change a website to a different color theme. The pure implementation with CSS should be enough to react to the preferences of the user and adapt the application to his preferences. Do you use a dark or light theme?
Thanks for sharing, discussing, and inspiring each other. Stay curious!
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Physical Well-Being & How important it is
Christian Diener •
May 3, 2022 •
In this personal story, our Program Lead Christian Diener gives us interesting food for thought on how to focus on ourselves and the time in which we are physically active.
Staying physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy is not hard, but it is nothing that simply falls into your chest. In the end, it is absolutely worth it.
Before we start, we should better qualify what this “Physical well-being” is. Presumably, you are reading this post while sitting on your office chair. Probably you will, just for short walks to the bathroom or a break during lunch, not leave this place for a while. Maybe not for the next eight hours. Most likely you sit there, in a not healthy body position even if you have a table that is easily changeable in its height. But let us be honest. That is our new normal. Not every apartment, flat, or house that you are living in provides all the necessities that would be required to live an ergonomically-perfect life. Even though our beloved MB.io provides us with so many assets, perks, and benefits that support us.
for at least a bit of activation every day. But don’t be scared. Activation absolutely doesn’t mean that you have to run a marathon or ride one stage of the Tour de France day after day. Nobody, especially if you are having a family or tough times at work, has that much time. As well it is nothing that is, for non-professionals, very healthy.
When we talk about well-being, I usually start with a small story about two people talking about their latest exercises: “Today I ran 10km in only one hour today. Isn’t that great?”, said the one person. “10km? Wow, that is impressive!”, said the other person. “But, it took me just 6km to run one hour!”. Did you spot the difference? Well, people tend to see the factor “distance” as their constant variable in doing sports. But running, hiking, or walking a certain distance is not easy. Therefore first change your way of thinking and let distance become a flexible variable and focus on yourself as well as the time you spend being active.
This could be easily achieved, by implementing regular walks into your day. You could either simply do a slight morning walk before starting the working day, or have regular walks and talks (also remotely) with your colleagues when a laptop, whiteboard, or table is not necessarily needed. This kind of activity is already enough and it must not be long.
Maybe 30 minutes?
what’s in for in me?
Well, daily activation of your body helps you to get fit in an overall manner. It is good for your heart because your heart rate increases slightly and it probably reduces your blood pressure. It is good for your lungs. Because these buddies need to work more than usual as well. You will feel it immediately when walking up stairs. As well your muscles, especially in the legs, will thank you as well. At the end more important than the physical is mental fitness. Getting outdoors day by day is good for your brain. It helps you concentrate better, focus more and let you memorize things easier. The fresh air, the different perspective, and pure movement make you relax which helps you get yourself away from everything you’ve been doing before. Last but not least it reduces stress. The stress hormone cortisol is reduced massively which is as well a very important factor. For your mental fitness but then also your physical health. That is how the circle is closed in the end.
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3 personal development “mobile” apps you need but can’t buy
Paulo Canas •
April 14, 2022 •
April 2022 is official Well-Being Month here at Mercedes-Benz.io. With that, we hope to inspire our MB.ioneers to focus on themselves and their mental and physical well-being by preparing some initiatives around this subject. In this article, our People & Culture expert Paulo has been thinking about how often we stop to reflect on how we deal internally with our experiences. As well as how regularly we observe the sensations and emotions that are circulating within us and how often we consider the ways we interact with the people around us.
What if you had a mobile app that could sort this all out for you? Here’s what those three “mobile apps” would look like if you could search them in your app store
1. Emotion in action
It enables us to invest focus and energy on results and it offers us the choice to opt out of the mental paralysis which is the result of destructive self-judgement. To observe, without judging, our own minefield. With this tool, we can build a plan for life in which we act proactively, and align with our own goals. We can even share with family and close friends; put our emotions in motion.
2. Self-Discipline 3.0
Ideal for procrastinators, this app is the final call in the evaluation of our day-to-day habits. It assesses the respective qualities of our activity and using a database of the finest teachings from the world’s most famous thinkers and philosophers provides us with tips on how to achieve our goals. Its main feature is something special: when so much as the thought of a destructive habit is detected, it places the user into a “reflection bubble.” The reflection bubble insulates us from all external stimuli and immediately triggers an email, listing the consequences of carrying out the habit in question. The only drawback of this app is that it quickly drains the battery, especially in cases such as those where multiple destructive habits can cause the reflection bubble to remain permanently active.
In addition to helping us to reflect on the image we have of ourselves in our minds, this application identifies beliefs and behavior patterns that are boycotting the release of potential. On selecting a variety of dramas from your past, Self-Reflection immediately provides three different perspectives of each situation that we can learn from, so we can choose to move forward in our lives.
The cherry on top is this app’s Airplane Mode function. Any time we begin to feel distressed we can simply click this button. Routine observation and investigation are activated immediately by any mental anguish or physical pain. At the end of this process, the following message is displayed: “Do you accept and truly embrace the suffering within you?”
If the answer is yes, the process is finalized. Should the answer be no, we have the option to continue in Airplane Mode as necessary. This application can be used simultaneously with Self-Discipline 3.0.
It does not benefit us to subdue the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. We need to listen to the messages we receive from our bodies when we decide to stop and reflect. To sit back and share what we’re feeling. The emotions and feelings that we experience can and should be shared with a safe inner circle of family and friends; or even with strangers, depending on the situation. We all have the courage within us to allow vulnerability, to observe the impact it has on the reality surrounding us, and above all, the impact our feelings have on ourselves, and in our lives.
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Tech Practice Top 5 news in March
Ronny Schreiber •
April 5, 2022 •
Some exciting topics were shared by our developers in our MS Teams chats this month. Among them are topics like alternative interviews, the fragility of open source, CSS functions, learning by playing, ES2022, and an interesting automation tool.
In this short video Tutorial you get an insight into a new tool called KEPTN to Automate your Multi-Stage Continuous Delivery and Operations. Exciting if you want to have a look at new tools and their capabilities to compare them against your current tools and their features. In this case with included Lighthouse test and Quality Gates. Furthermore, it is open source and easy to try out.
Remote working will more likely stay in long term. If not hundred percent, it will definitely push many companies to adopt a hybrid model. With the COVID hit, tens of millions of people had to move their workplaces to their living places, to their homes. In multiple studies (mostly by management consulting companies) it is estimated that more than 20 to 25 percent of the workforce could work three to five days a week remotely. Obviously, remote work at the moment is only possible the people whose work does not require physical output. There are many dimensions impacted by the workforce going remote, such as counter-urbanization, “to-go” delivery vs. restaurants, commercial real estate, and so on. These are all business-side changes, however, there is as well a direct impact of remote working on human psychology.
Onsite vs. remote
Obviously working onsite has quite a few benefits. When working in an office, social interaction is inevitable. We meet a lot of colleagues, we talk to them, we go to lunch or we do coffee breaks with them. If we have ad-hoc and urgent questions, you can simply go to your colleague’s desk and ask, namely, the information flow is fast. Moreover, the office is a dedicated place for working, which means that our work-life split is pretty explicit, when leaving office work ends, when coming to office work starts. Another benefit of the office is its infrastructure setup. Usually the office desks, chairs are quite comfortable, there are rooms for social hangout, kitchen with always filled fridge, sometimes you can even find beer tap in the office (the reason I love our Berlin office).
On the other hand, remote working is as well quite attractive. When working from home, we don’t have to wake up 3 hours in advance to get ready and go to the office. I cannot believe how much time we’re losing for commuting and how remote working saves that time for other activities. Another side-advantage of not commuting is that you can choose when to start working since there is no location/logistics dependence of starting to work. The location independence also means that you can travel anywhere, anytime you want, and continue working from there. I do not like Berlin weather in winter, thus I prefer to move to Algarve, Portugal, and work from there for the next few months. This type of independence is extraordinarily beautiful. Another benefit of the home office (HO) is the cost-saving on both employees as well as on the employer side. If I can work from home, then I do not need to pay a ridiculous amount of money for rent just because I live in Berlin city. Instead, I can find an apartment a little bit outside the city or maybe even move back to beautiful Freiburg city and pay half the amount for rent. On the other side, there is no need for companies to offer a 24 hours alive office space anymore that costs a lot not just monetarily but also environmentally.
However, the biggest benefit is our flexibility in shaping our work-life balance, if done correctly. Otherwise, the psychological debt of remote working can be a deal-breaker. Let’s have a look at it from a neuroscience perspective.
how does remote affect our psychology?
Some neuroscience studies suggest that our brain, besides being a central command center, is as well of a logistic center. The largest nerve in our body, the Vagus nerve carries information from our guts, through our hearts, our face, our ear canal to our brain. This nerve brings sensations from the body to the brain and carries the command feedback back to the organs. It regulates the facial muscles, influences our breathing heart rate, and is involved in how we perceive, react to and recover from stress. Neuroscientist Steven W. Porges Ph.D., in his Polyvagal Theory of Emotion, suggests that when we enhance our connection with other people, we trigger neural circuits in our bodies that calm the heart, relax the gut, and turn off the fear response. Every time we interact with people, the vagus nerve, also called our social engagement system, is in active mode. Like other muscles in our body, when activated it exercises.
When we are working remotely, we heavily decrease our human-to-human interactions, at least in the real world. Without this interaction, our vagus nerve, as it does not exercise anymore and becomes passive, starts to atrophy. When we are lonely, our brain alarms us, saying “help, we are losing our ability to connect with other humans which is very necessary to survive. Please interact with others”. Since we have not practiced solitude, the next reaction to the presence of loneliness is fear. With this fear, we become more conservative to any threats and become more self-isolated. So starts the evil cycle that starts to weaken our connection to others, accelerates the atrophy, and pulls us into depression, anxiety, and further loneliness. Physiologically as well, it’s experimented that after some period of isolation and environmental monotony, our brain mas shrinks.
More specifically remote working, there are a few psychological issues that arise, such as Placelessness, nowhereness, non-visibility, reduced creativity. As mentioned above, when we work onsite, we have a dedicated physical workplace, which is perceived and influenced by our Global Positioning System (GPS) neurons that code our navigation behavior. Bringing the workspace interaction to remote video conferencing virtual interaction, our GPS neurons, mirror neurons, self-attention networks, spindle cells, and interbrain neural oscillations get affected. This in return affects our identity and cognitive processes, such as social and professional identity, leadership, intuition, mentoring, and creativity.
Another famous phenomenon is Zoom fatigue, which is basically having the sense of tiredness, anxiety, and fatigue like discomforts. The reasons for the Zoom fatigue are non-optimal functioning of technology (“sorry, my internet cut out”, “we cannot hear you”, etc.), and a significant increase of cognitive resources to understand the meaning of others’ verbal communication since there are very reduced nonverbal cues.
how to start remote and async collaboration
So, remote working can be dangerous in long term, right?! So given that we will stay mostly remote, what should we do about it? Metaverse, VR based virtual workplace concepts could help, but we are still quite far from there. What we can do is to mitigate the psychological damage by integrating interaction and perception of having a place into our remote setups. For every new change, idea, or challenge there is a simple process that should work:
Continuously monitor and identify what doesn’t work anymore or can be improved
Make adjustments by doing small experiments
If the adjustment advances the situation, keep it and move to the next issue. If the change won’t be successful, come up with another experiment.
TIPS FOR REMOTE & ASYNC WORK
This is a list of mixed practical tips that I could come up with. It could be more structured, but enough cognitive workload for this post.
Get rid of most non-value-adding meetings – Since we already saw that meetings over videoconferencing tools is brain consuming, we do not want to overload people with random updates, non-relevant meetings. How? use your intuition. Do you need their input? Is this urgent? Should everyone be involved? Could your question be answered via email or chat? If you could answer these questions, then you have your answer to the question of if you should invite them to a meeting. There is a nice guiding post from doist on this.
Set up minimal explicit expectations about sync communications – when inviting people to meetings, make sure you have the purpose, agenda, and the expected outcome of the meeting explicitly written. and do decline the meetings where this information is missing. When writing people in chat, make sure you provide the purpose of your message: Keyword FYI for just update post or the keyword INPUT/ACTION REQUIRED for input-requesting messages can be helpful to understand the intention of your message.
Have a structured messaging ecosystem – your messaging tool should have a structure for an efficient communication flow. Work-related stuff should be clustered into topics channels. In order not to disturb everyone for every reply, write the comments and thoughts inside threads, which people can turn off the notifications for if they are not interested. Have a hangout/random/fun channel for non-work related stuff. Think twice before @mention’ing the whole channel, if it is not a relevant post for everyone. Have profiles tagged with their roles and other necessary information (location, product/project, contact preference).
Communicate updates mostly async – If it is just an update that does not require any input from people, make it async. Create weekly digest practice where the week’s main goals are documented as well as what people focus on individually. Have a diary-like daily standups instead of meetings. For the daily standup, we tweaked the practice a bit by making it asynchronish, namely, we pre-fill the stand-up for the day and if there are discussion items, then we meet up. The time we save from sync stand-up meetings, we use for virtual hang out to talk about our day.
Log all important information & decisions in a single, easy to find place – All official communications about important updates and decisions should be easy to find by both internal and external stakeholders.
Pair-Programming Practice – to stimulate the human-to-human interactions, encourage pair-programming, sparring sessions among team members. it should not be just limited to the developer team, but rather extend it to other units as well.
Provide remote setup support – in order to ensure the physical well-being of the employees, companies should provide remote setup support. Subsidizing internet connection, providing ergonomic desks and chairs, having a holistic communication tech stack are a few practical supports organizations give to their employees. Obviously, regular IT support is a must as well.
Dedicated roles & accountabilities within an organization to foster remote & async – as for every other initiative, a DRRIver (direct responsible role or individual) with specific accountabilities should steer the implementation of the remote & async.
Some meetings should stay in sync mode – One-on-Ones, important decisions, kick-offs, brainstorming events should stay sync. Sync meetings create human-to-human connections and foster engagement, brainstorming, and creativity.
Organize quarterly onsite team retreat – As mentioned already, remote working may potentially create a disconnected feeling. Moreover, when new people join the team, they cannot create personal bonds virtually, due to the lack of visibility of body language, eye contact, physical interaction space, and more. Therefore, investing in regular retreats should connect the team and create a long term bond among team players.
Weekly Sync Hangout Meetings – Another meeting series you want to set up in sync modus are weekly virtual hangout. It could be an after-work drink&chat session or a midday coffee break with the whole team. This type of social activity contributes to the connection among team members.
Prepare templates for every communication type – to create efficient async communication and well-written documentation, it’s important to enable everyone in the organization to write better and more structured. One important means to enable people is giving them the training to improve their writing skills. Another simpler, faster, and more efficient method is to provide templates for every type of documentation, such as decision making templates, post-mortem templates, sprint planning/review/retro templates, conflict analysis templates, etc.
Start as soon as possible – Only way to be successful is to start experimenting as soon as possible. Instead of creating a perfect framework, come up with the earliest testable version, implement it and get feedback, and iterate further. You can start with the direct team and make it as simple as replacing some recurring meetings with an async substitute.
Have a KPI for tracking the success of every experiment – know what to measure and measure it. You need to first understand what the successful outcome looks like at the end, choose a metric that will show your progress towards that success target. It could be burndown, OKR, employee satisfaction, or something else. Make sure to have a metric that is aligned with your outcome success defined.
Don’t respond to messages or emails instantly & suggest others not to do it either – Put it as a status in your messaging tool, send it as an auto-reply to all emails or make it your profile picture. Communicate to people that you’re at the moment busy doing “deep work”. Responding instantly to any communication requests shows that you’re available to be requested on ad-hoc. Dedicate yourself to a time block every day for “focused productive work”. If people request feedback as soon as possible, just reply back saying “I am currently focused on X task, thus I’d need to get back to you after X days.” Just tell them that you’re busy, that’s it.
Focus on outcome oriented performance evaluation – Evaluate the individual performance based on outcomes, not on the number of hours worked. Each person should have a specific outcome they steer or a goal they’ve set up to achieve and they should be evaluated on the success rate of their outcome/goal.
One of the main values of the Agile Manifesto suggests we should value “individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Going remote is confirmed to benefit employers and employees to be more efficient. To ensure the long-term robustness of the remote working, we should pro-actively experiment with new ideas and, based on the feedback loop, iterate further or move on. When doing these experiments, our top priority should be the satisfaction of individuals, including employees, customers, and stakeholders in general.