I learned a very important lesson in software development recently. I’ve been on the same team for nearly a year, but for almost that entire time I was not sitting with them. I sat in other parts of the office for various reasons. I was never very far from my team - maybe a 45 second walk. I believed that IM, email, and a multitude of other digital tools would make the distance irrelevant. To be honest, I preferred the distance because it resulted in fewer random flyby interruptions. My logic was, if I always have my headphones on anyways, it shouldn’t matter if I sit with the team, 50 feet away, or at home.
I was wrong.
I recently decided to start sitting in my team’s area. Since doing so, my productivity and overall level of happiness has increased dramatically. All due to a simple change! My teammates are respectful of my need to independently focus with my headphones on, and I of theirs. So what’s different from being across the office? Simply, I can talk to my team now. All I need to do is turn around. The 45 second walk from before encouraged me to not talk to my team and to IM or email them instead, or simply go incommunicado. This led to less collaboration, which led to less fun and less effective problem solving.
This was not something I thought about because the distance seemed trivial. But it wasn’t. Knowing what I do now, I don’t see how working remotely on a regular basis can be effective. All of the best communication tools in the world cannot rival a face-to-face conversation when you are trying to solve a problem. And this is coming from the most introverted person you’re likely to meet.