Home office and office weeks make the perfect match
Ute is responsible for design and layout at bevuta and has been part of the team since 2020. Her husband Lars had already been working at bevuta before her – they live together just under two hours' drive from the Cologne office. How does that work out?
In our interview series Ute answered my questions on how she feels about working from home, what her experiences with remote teamwork are and what her perfect work rhythm looks like.
She talks about the perks of being able to work from virtually anywhere, the challenges of remote communication and how building trust is the best motivator.
You live far away from the Cologne office. How do you build up good working relationships with your colleagues?
Initially, I would come into contact with my colleagues more or less by chance during daily stand-up meetings or when working on projects together. Of course there were also colleagues I met regularly anyway because we were collaborating closely. Later on, it became a regular practice for some of us to simply take a few minutes to chat once all the work-related matters had been discussed. I value this a lot.
One downside of remote work, from my perspective, is that you come across new names and faces on your screen and don't always have a clear understanding of who they are and what their role is.
I like that it's part of the routine to introduce yourself when you meet for the ﬁrst time in stand-up. Hearing two or three sentences about the other person makes it easier and nicer to work together. But sometimes there are new colleagues you don't really get to know for quite some time. I think in the future we will ﬁnd ways to tweak and optimise these ﬁrst encounters and to learn more about each other.
As you live so far away: Have you ever been to the office?
Yes, I had my ﬁrst office week in the autumn of 2020 before we closed the office due to the upcoming Covid wave. It was nice to return to the home office with an image of the company in my head – not only of the colleagues, but also of the office space. It created a connection.
These days, we occasionally take trips to Cologne for a week at a time and we spend our days working in the office
I ﬁnd these 'Cologne weeks' with their in-person interactions, rather than just meeting on-screen, extremely valuable, including the casual gatherings and the unique atmosphere only Cologne can create.
What benefits of remote work do you enjoy the most?
One of the huge benefits is that we've gained the freedom to work from anywhere. This has allowed us to pick and choose where we want to live and I believe that's an enormous luxury and privilege.
Another unbeatable advantage is that we no longer have to commute. Spending hours on the road that were neither productive nor enjoyable was a major source of stress for me, especially in my previous job. By working from home, I am able to make the most of my day, both in terms of work and leisure. For instance, I really love that one hour in the morning before I start working, where I can enjoy a cup of coffee on my couch – it's my time to prepare for the day. This relaxed start into the day wouldn't be possible if I had to commute.
Of course, it's also great to be able to do little things in between – turn on the washing machine, accept parcels. And you don't have to think about whether you've packed everything you need for the office.
And what do you see as the biggest challenges for remote teamwork?
The thing I certainly miss the most is direct, personal communication. First of all, there's the casual chat at the office coffee machine, where you tend to exchange more information than you ever realise.
In addition, remote communication can be more draining – even though video calls and messaging work ﬁne – because compared to a face-to-face conversation, there is more room for misunderstandings and you have to put in more effort for interpretation. If you compare oral and written communication, many nuances are lost in writing that would otherwise indicate the mood, the current common ground, and the true meaning of what is being said.
You have to schedule specific times to talk to each other, otherwise it doesn’t work. On days without any video calls with colleagues, I quickly feel quite disconnected, even though we have our daily stand-up. A certain dynamic is missing.
Do you have a favourite software that you couldn't live (well, work) without?
That would definitely be Figma, the prototyping and design software we use for UI and website designs. The fact that it's web-based means that I can quickly and easily show everything I’ve created to others without having to share my screen in a video call (which often leads to them seeing the screen’s content in poor quality only). It's a great tool for working on something together, going through layouts and ideas in real time and then implementing them immediately. If you can't ﬁnd the time to work together, everyone on the project can also leave written comments at the exact spot they’re referring to – without having to write a complex description of the matter they are discussing.
I wouldn't want to do without our video conferencing software Jitsi either. It's a huge advantage to really see your colleagues face-to-face, even if it's only once a day.
When you compare our way of working with previous jobs: What are the advantages and disadvantages? And what kind of work do you like better?
I like that the kind of harsh control that still prevails in many medium-sized companies does not exist here. When the pandemic started, you could clearly see how opposed some people were to the idea of home office: "I won't know what my employees are up to and whether they are putting in enough hours." In general, this mistrust still seems to be deeply embedded in the DNA of certain companies. If you want to enable working from home on a large scale, you simply cannot have that. I really appreciate the trust that comes with the home office option. It is hugely motivating.
The biggest disadvantage is the lack of feeling part of a corporate identity, which is why I think the Cologne weeks are important. As far as the actual work is concerned there is not much difference for me between the office in Cologne and my home office; both lead to the same work results. But meeting each other and having a feeling of togetherness is simply more intense when you see each other face to face and have a common workspace.
For me, the advantages of working from home outweigh the disadvantages, but I would never want to do without the office weeks. The combination of the two makes it perfect.
Would you work at bevuta even without the possibility of remote work?
It would be difficult to work on site every day due to the physical distance. The entire job was designed right from the start in a way that enabled me to work from home because it was out of the question for us to move to Cologne. So no, I probably wouldn't have been able to take the job if it hadn't been offered to me in this specific format.
In that case we are all the more glad that we were able to make this offer! :-)
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