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Generation Zoom: productivity killer

Covid, besides tremendous and obvious harm, has one more that I observe nowadays.

We. People. We got used to the comfort of our apartment as a working place. Everything became remote and as comfortable as you built it. So if you take care of your comfort, food is in the fridge, coffee is the taste you prefer, "the office" is pet friendly, and you can work on the couch or at the table. If you are having a break, no one will judge you for watching an episode of Mandalorian. Shit, no one will see if you forgot to brush your teeth or not wearing pants on Zoom call.

However, the Market says: "no". This is because companies want you back into the fancy offices they built. And with the current crisis and layoffs around, you kinda cannot play the card: I want to work in a remote-first company. I am not here to talk about those decisions; those have quite clear reasoning.

I want to talk about us: engineers. Like any human being, we get very lazy and selfish. It was okay for two years to have a video call from your desk at home, and suddenly, we got back to those awful open spaces and brought this habit with us.

I remember myself a relatively young person reading Bionic Office by Joel Spolsky, where he insists that each engineer must have his room with Aeron and stuff. And I was like: this is my dream.

Please don't read me wrong: I like offices. Talking to other people face to face, especially other engineers, was always the best way for me to grow. But when I do stuff, I need peace. A lot of us feel the same, I believe.

With this Zoom obsession, we got very lazy. To talk through something, we need a call, even if we are just a few floors from each other. It's insane: grab a coffee or sit near each other, use that fucking awesome patio you have in your office or whatever.

But Zoom from the desk, in an open space, or a large room is the worst. Why the fuck all those meeting rooms and call booths and remarkable sofas are at the office for?! Or you think because no one tells you are annoying, you're not? I have bad news for you.

Our brain works in such a funny way: it doesn't like to work and uses any excuse to stop thinking through something even a bit complicated. And your call, which is a distraction, is that excuse. And the brain searches for a thing to switch focus. What if there were a bunch of cool stuff, like social media or news streams, to change the brain's direction just a click away... Oh, wait!

Most of us in the industry aren't complaining, especially engineers. Yet, I see dozens of people sitting in noise-cancelation headphones all day. It's hard in the long run: without understanding why, it makes being in the office a suffering experience. And it shouldn't be.

And we are so protective over our shit. My classic dialog with a person who has constant calls from the desk is like that:

— Please can you put some effort and book a meeting room or use one of those booths
— But I am a manager; I have Zoom all day.
— Maybe you should take those from home then or book a room for the whole day in advance?

— But all rooms are booked!
— I am also a manager and work in the same office; since we returned to the office, I haven't taken any calls from the desk: I could always manage my time; it's basically my work description.

— It's convenient, I prefer to work from home, but the company forces me to be here, so I will keep talking from the desk!
— ...

We keep living as if we are alone: no genuine respect, no thinking about others. We went to self-isolation as socialized people and back as wild animals.

Put aside all emotions I have about the whole situation. Instead, I can stress a few points:

  • People wouldn't complain about you talking from the desk, even if it actually makes them less productive. They like to be less productive, because our brain likes to procrastinate.

  • If you are taking calls from the desk and think it's okay, it is not.

  • People suffer from wearing noise cancelation headphones for the whole day.

And companies. They close their eyes and do not see a problem here. Companies had become obsessed with efficiency when many lost a significant number of people, and it's not over. I believe we will see more disturbance in the Market and more layoffs. This obsession isn't bad: wanting to get more from what you have is natural.

Given that you have enough space for Zoom calls or particular areas where it's okay to sit and call, prohibiting those in the common space would be an excellent step to improve efficiency. Also, the satisfaction and desire to be in the office for people who do stuff with their brains and hands would be much higher.


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