What We Lost

After wrapping up my last meeting of the day, I walk back into the open space. Somewhat disoriented I’m trying to recall at which desk I dropped my bag at the beginning of the day.

As I sit down, I glance over on the large external monitor to my right. One of my managers is scrolling through a long list of peer feedback forms that he’s been requested to fill in. His facial expression is borderline desperate.

“How’s it goin’?” I ask.

As we talk through things in the open space, at a volume only mildly inappropriately loud, somebody behind us turns their chair and chimes in on the conversation as well. Apparently, more are facing the death-by-peer-feedback-request issue. I’m lucky. Having only worked at this company for little over two months, very few people care what I think.

Three colleagues walk over to us from another corner of the office. They’re already wearing their jackets.

“We’re done, are you ready to go for that beer?”

“No sorry I can’t today, I have a mango delivery” the person on my right says.

“Is that a euphemism for something?”

“No no, it’s an actual thing. I have to be home for it.”


“For real. They’re imported from India, kind of illegally. We’re coordinating the whole thing through a WhatsApp group. If you’d taste the mangos, you’d understand.”

The beer place is not far from the office.

“The first time I came here was when I just arrived in this country. It was cold and dark. A colleague took me. I didn’t like him very much. ‘What is this dodgy place, are you going to kill me?’ I asked him. ‘Not here,’ he answered, ‘let’s go inside.’ He’s no longer with us. Ah, memories.”

While it was sunny now, I could imagine that under different weather conditions this beer place would feel pretty dodgy. Just in case, we decide to sit outside in the sun.

“Slack AI told me that in the #office channel that I added you to 5 minutes ago, you promised to pay for the first round, Zef.”

That didn’t sound like something I would commit to, but I can appreciate an AI-hallucination inspired mind game.

“Sure. As my grandmother used to say: ‘when an AI tells you something, it’s true.’ She’s no longer with us. Anybody got any funny stories?”

“Well, speaking of dodgy places,”

What follows is a “funny story” from the home country. You listen, and laugh at the funny details. You almost miss the casual mention of “and then they beat me up for 15 minutes” and realize this funny story is far less funny than it aspires to be. It’s clearly one of a series of traumatic experiences that would make them leave their country, and ultimately lead them to the dodgy beer place we’re sitting in now.

It’s funny to think that it’s only about four years ago that I got the call from my boss.

“Zef, you’ve been following the news. I just got confirmation from our head quarters: we will all need to leave the office and go remote for now. Tell your people that if they came by car, they can take a monitor, a desk chair or whatever else they need, and take it home. We don’t know when we’re coming back. This may take a while.”

I walked into the open space, and in the rarest of occasions raised my voice.

“Alright people. It’s time pack your things and run this show from our homes. I hope to see you here again soon.”

I never returned.

I always felt that opportunity thinking is one of my strengths. We don’t have problems, we have opportunities. And the pandemic must be another one.

Working remote did indeed open up opportunities. I had discovered the first local company I joined literally by walking down the street. “A Python company? Is that the snake, or the programming language?”

However, there were only so many streets in my town, and many weren’t all that interesting. Living close to the zoo doesn’t typically mean you live near a tech hot spot.

But now, with everybody (or at least me) working with their laptop on their lap (as Mr. Top had originally intended), sitting on their kid’s bed in a tiny apartment, this was no longer a constraint. This was an opportunity!

This was progress.

I think this is what they refer to as Stockholm Syndrome.

Don’t get me wrong. I like remote work. It works. It’s not pure win, though. Every time I do meet people in person I’m reminded of what we lost.

It’s worth meeting people in person from time to time. It doesn’t need to be daily or even weekly. But even every few months can give a lot.

This week we onboarded two new people on site. The whole team came into the office. They set up their development environments with their colleagues looking over their shoulders in hours. They talked through the business, the product, architecture, code base, and did planning. The rest of the time was spent mob programming, admiring the batshit crazy NeoVim setup with 30,000 plug-ins in the AI-powered Warp terminal of one of our new colleagues. “I’m just so productive in vim” he said, as he completely trashed the source code after he had accidentally hit caps-lock.

Occasionally, the Head of Engineering would walk in, way too late, with a smug look on his face. “I finally mastered the Espresso machine” he’d say holding an oversized mug filled to the brim with freshly squeezed coffee. He’d glance at the screen and say “yeah, it looks like you’re missing a .bind(this) call there, you do know how this binding works in JavaScript, right?”

Eye roll galore.

But seriously. Replicate that online. It can’t be done.

Let alone the mango delivery. I mean, have you tasted those mangos?

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