ICSE2022 Birds of a Feather Session
BoF 8: Brainstorming Ways to Make Remote Work on Software Less Onerous
at the face-to-face ICSE 2022 in Pittsburgh
Wednesday May 25, 4:30-5:30pm
Remote work often feels like a death march. Why does this happen and what can we do about it? In this session, the goal is to have participants build up a list of questions/issues/pitfalls/tentative approaches.
About this session
This is a Brainstorming Session - an opportunity to
put ideas on the table, learn from the experience of others,
discover some experiments that researchers might try to feed into a future ICSE paper,
or come up with a new killer practice that development teams
can start using next Monday.
The structure of the session is simple: the participants will add ideas to 2 lists:
- What are the characteristics of the “problem” of remote work.
That is, how is remote work causing problems?
- What kinds of small or large actions and tools can we use to make remote work
Where is this going?
We desperately need ideas.
And sometimes it is a good thing to be desperate.
The best ideas come from a “need” and a bunch of smart people who
are ready to try anything.
We need to remember that remote work on software doesn”t need to be a death march.
We can treat our fellow team members with patience and respect.
We can adapt our processes and try some simple technologies to improve
Initial brainstorming results
The participants brainstormed two “lists” of experiences and ideas.
The first list was a set of issues... the problems that we have all encountered
with remote working and remote meetings (including the number of “votes” for each issue):
- Remote meetings reduce the amount of post-meeting conversation, discussions that can be very valuable - 10 votes
- Assessment of emotions is hard in remote interactions - 8 votes
- Remote working reduce opportunities for "observation" of what team members are doing - 7 votes
- Back-to-back meetings trigger people to not pay attention -- they try to do activities on the side without paying attention to the meeting -- partly because people need breaks - 5 votes
- In remote interaction, there is less "back and forth" dialog, more "people taking turns" - 4 votes
- Sensory overload -- seeing everyone on the screen at the same time in Zoom - 4 votes
- In remote working, it is too hard to draw, diagram, and discuss - 4 votes - 4 votes
- I want to be able to complain (people in the office can immediately hear about my problems) - 3 votes
- In remote working, 5-minute discussions could take an hour to schedule - 3 votes
- For virtual meetings, there can be trouble with ending a meeting on time - 3 votes
- "Friction" in communication makes it harder to ask for a favor or ask for information - 2 votes
- Side channel -- fewer opportunities for non-verbal communication, but remote interaction does have "chat" - 1 vote
- There are never enough meeting rooms - 0 votes
The second list was a set of possible solutions to the issues... many of them are approaches that participants have been using in their own work environment (including the number of “votes” for each solution):
- Scheduled unavailability -- various options: block out one hour immediately after lunch or after running a class, block out a 30-minute prep period before running a class (even if you don't really need it), add "padding" to every meeting (so people aren't dashing to the next meeting, always finish a meeting 10 minutes early - 11 votes
- Leaders need to make sure to spend time chatting with individual staff members about personal things [family, occupation, recreation, and motivation] - 10 votes
- When scheduling a meeting, always ask "do we need a meeting to do this?" - 10 votes
- Set up a continuous Slack channel for a team - and sometimes team members just share information about "who to ask about something" - 7 votes
- Schedule "no meeting days" (one or two days every week where developers can focus on their work without having any scheduled meetings) - 7 votes
- Set up an informal coffee meeting in the morning (including all online folks) - 7 votes
- Do more in-person activities (especially the things that are hard to do with virtual) - 7 votes
- Encourage collegues to turn on their video in online meetings - 4 votes
- Try to use a shared screen when you want to do an "active observation session" - 3 votes
- End meetings on time (block further questions when everyone is tired) - 3 votes
- Set up "hangout Zoom calls" - an opportunity to bond and chat - make sure they are purely optional, it should not be a forum for management complaints - 3 votes
- Set aside time to bring up challenges and problems - 2 votes
- For a group of two or three people, keep a Zoom call open full-time while team members are coding - 1 vote
- End of month social event - 0 votes
Images from the discussion
Lessons learned from the brainstorming discussion
Still thinking about the conclusions... I will post the final results of the brainstorming (and some
followup questions) on this webpage:
Some recent articles about remote working
The workers quitting over return-to-office policies,
BBC News, May 24, 2022
The death of 'mandatory fun' in the office,
BBC News, May 19, 2022
Why hybrid work is emotionally exhausting,
BBC News, Jan. 20, 2022
What bosses really think about remote work,
BBC News, Sept. 13, 2021
Last modified: May 26, 2022