Foursquare's Ulaş Bardak sees a hybrid approach to manage its engineering teams as a possible new normal for itself and possibly other companies. That was the core takeaway from the keynote Bardak, vice president of engineering at Foursquare, gave during this week’s DeveloperWeek Global: Management 2021 conference.
As many organizations hope to return to the office in some capacity as soon as feasible, remote work is expected to remain of the equation. Bardak spoke about where engineers do their work and how that might affect organizations establishing their new operational status quo. Lessons learned from pushing work out to the edge and other remote resources are likely to be part of ongoing operations, he said, for many companies. Foursquare, for example, has considered what engineering leaders can leverage from working from home to build a more efficient organization once a return to work is viable, Bardak said. “Hybrid work could help retain and motivate teams.”
Foursquare refers to hybrid arrangements as FlexWork, he said, and builds upon what the organization learned through the pandemic as well as remote work options discussed prior to COVID-19. “Work-from-home conversations are not new,” Bardak said.
The scale of planning such options had changed though in the face of the pandemic. Bardak was tasked with coming up with plans for what the next new normal might look like for Foursquare, even after some teams returned to offices.
Much like other organizations that sent staff home as the pandemic built up momentum, he said Foursquare has been weighing potential benefits and downsides to continuing such practices at scale.
Benefits personnel gained included greater control over their personal schedule, Bardak said, with improved balance with family life. Naturally, this also saw the elimination of commuting and the avoidance of distraction from coworkers.
Some of the cons to remote work included a blurring of personal and work life. Bardak also pointed out that a sense of isolation could surface. There could be difficultly collaborating with teams, especially if they lived in time zones set drastically apart. Visibility and career growth could also be hampered if coworkers fell out of sight and out of mind, he said.
The weight of Bardak’s keynote seemed to support the idea that remote work, in some form, was a net benefit to the organization. He said a variety of studies showed that even with potential cons, remote and hybrid work produced overall positive results for productivity, retention, and employee satisfaction.
Citing data gathered by companies such as Microsoft and Google on the effect remote work can have on teams, Bardak said teams appreciated the improve balance with family life. Google saw its productivity increase eventually during the pandemic, he said, and even Slack was already looking at a mixed model for work prior to COVID. The option could be used as a differentiator and employee retention tool, Bardak said.
A return to the office, even it is for a minimal amount of time, maybe be a reality for companies and Bardak said Foursquare has already looked inward for feedback from its staff as the landscape changes. He offered some principles and best practices other organizations might consider as they aim to prepare their engineers for their next new normal:
- Offers engineers the right working environment -- at home or at the office -- that suits them.
- Make sure remote team members are not disregarded as second-class citizens by in-person staff.
- Hold yourselves accountable to the results of working remotely or in the office and adjust to better achieve goals.
- Make sure the company culture supports employees regardless of where they are located.
- Provide management training to recognize issues that can arise with work from home situations.
- Make sure onboarding happens in-person whenever possible.
- Update the software development life cycle to better reflect the new cycle that includes remote team members.