In this series I’ll be covering how to be a more empathetic software engineering teammate. These are from my personal experiences with some advice/anecdotes that have been shared to me. Please take it, as you do everything on the internet, with a grain of salt and some adjustment if you want to apply them to your own life/team.
With working from home (WFH) continuing, and remote work ramping up, it feels harder to be connected to your software engineering teammates. This can be especially if you are a more junior engineer or a more ‘social’ person who prefers to work with others around them. In this inaugural edition of “empathy engineering” I’ll discuss about how I’ve managed to build these up for myself, a person who enjoyed the office lifestyle. I’ll cover three things, work hours/schedule, office or work station, and remote collaboration.
Ideal work schedule
If you are working at a tech company, you may also be blessed with a flexible work schedule. While this is fantastic in most senses, without the rigidity and regularity of a commute and going into the office, it can be pretty difficult to find yourself in the groove of working especially if you’re just rolling out of bed for your first meeting of the day. In 2020Q2 I struggled to get into a routine of focused working that worked for me. I tried different hours of the day, waking up extremely early (6–10am is awful focus hours for me, a self identified non-morning person) and even very late night (midnight to 4 am worked better but was awful on the sleep cycle). Eventually I carved out chunks of time when I’m most productive that I block out for core solo work. These are 3-6pm for me. I hold my meetings earlier than that and if I have other tasks or personal endeavours, I either do them before work or after 6pm.
Ideal work station and environment
In March 2020, I struggled to find a place where I felt as comfortable working as I did in the office. In the office I had what I needed, a nice desk with 2 large screens and an ergonomic chair in a quiet private location. I started the WFH with a laptop on my vanity which had a backless stool to sit on. As time passed obviously this didn’t work, my back ached and coding slowed without my monitors and adequate body support. I was fortunate to have the finances, and eventually office reimbursement to upgrade to my desk and chair. I also added a monitor I received from work, recreating a more productive environment.
Despite that, as the months went on and frustration of my never changing scenery built, I kept encouraging myself to try working in other areas of my house to get excitement or feel more social working with my roommates, foregoing my desk. I quickly realised that I was lying to myself and was not productive on the couch, or the dining table, or no matter how often I tried it. Now I dedicate myself to taking my focused time on my desk, and trying to spend little of my relaxed time on it so it can feel like an office that I’m “micro-commuting” to.
Ideal remote collaboration
One of best reasons for in-office work is the opportunity for collaboration. Being able to walk over to your coworker’s desk and tap them on the shoulder for a chat, or overhear a conversation where you can gain or contribute a solution, can really help unblock you. As I transitioned to WFH, I struggled to figure out how to collaborate with coworkers again, especially with new projects with folks I’d never met.
What helped was first reaching out to them casually and socially to put a face to the name and introduce ourselves. I’d bring up the project we’re working on and get their thoughts and share my own which helped establish both rapport and also a mutual knowledge base. I’d also ask them questions about their working style, their schedule, best ways to interrupt, cadence for project related meetings, timelines and milestones etc. I tried to make sure to be vulnerable and frank by sharing my own thoughts and working styles as well. Thankfully this worked to figure out how to move forward and also made future meetings, both project and social easier.