JCP party online today vs a year ago

Today was the JCP (Java Community Process) party online for the second year in a row due to the pandemic. I found it interesting comparing how I felt about it between the two years. The format was roughly the same – a welcome, a game, chatting.

Engagement

I felt way more engaged this year. Most of that was due to me. Big group things aren’t that easy to participate in. And last year, I got frustrated more easily. So I got talked over the first few times I tried and gave up. This year, there were either less people or quieter people or I was thinking faster. But it didn’t become a negative feedback loop. And last year because of that negative feedback loop, I felt like I was watching others the whole time.

Paying attention

Way better this year. Working from home all day (and every day) sapped my energy. I didn’t have enough to get through an 8 hour work day let alone enough focus for an after work activity.

Convenience

Last year wins on convenience. I was home all day last year so I just had to walk a few steps and turn on my personal computer. This year, I had to leave work at 3pm. (Which worked out well because I got a new computer and setting i up at home does work well. Start downloads/installs and walk away. I don’t need to watch Maven “download the internet.”

And yes, I could have worked from home today. I didn’t want to. I’ve worked from home enough for a long time.

Human Interaction

A year ago, my interactions were limited to four families and one neighbor. This meant there were some weeks where I’d see one or human beings. That wasn’t enough. So interacting with people online was a constant reminder of how frustrated I was of the fact. This year, I’m going to the office every day and getting out of my apartment. I’m going places and seeing people again. So while I wish I could have seen some of the party attendees in person, it wasn’t a big deal. Also, I’ve seen a few of them in the past few months in person. (I went to KCDC and the NYJavaSig leaders did a get together.)

Overall feeling

The difference a year makes. This proves that environmental surroundings matter.

what does “in-person” mean for teams that aren’t all in the same location

I’ve been on a hybrid/distributed team for a long time. Immediately before the pandemic our team worked in the following arrangement (everyone worked 5 days a week regardless of location). Since this team was originally all in NY, I was very conscious of the language I used so NY wasn’t “the center of the universe.”

  • 3 people full time in the NY office
  • 2 people in another office in a different city
  • 1 person in yet a third office in a different city
  • 1 person in the NY office three days a week
  • 1 person in the NY office two days every three weeks
  • 1 person full time in her home office

During the pandemic we all worked from somewhere in our home. Some people had nice home offices. Some people worked from a creative arrangement in the middle of their apartment. I used language about myself like “I’m leaving work now” even though I was moving two feet away.

Right now, the NY office is doing a “back to the office” pilot and my team consists of

  • me physically in the NY office
  • one of my teammates physically in the NY office three days a week on a different floor (we weren’t on the same team when the pandemic started so our seats aren’t currently near each other.) It’s a pain to move so waiting until the department shuffles everyone’s seats for that.
  • everyone else at their home offices (I think everyone except the two of us choosing to be in the pilot has an actual home office)

Last week, I was using a bunch of different conference rooms in the NY office to test the new webcams and such. When I wrote up the experience, I used the phrase “in person.” One of my teammates immediately called me out on that. Which I appreciate. I certainly wasn’t thinking of the NY office as being the center of the universe when it was only myself and one other person from our team there. (at one of the meetings; the others I was the only one in the NY office for.) I was thinking “in-person” with reference to myself.

This got us talking and me thinking about various terms that can be used and various sensitivities that can exist around them. I’m using WFH in the comments column for brevity. If you don’t like that term, substitute another in your head to get to the gist. It’s hard to fully qualify every time. Especially in a discussion about terms and subtleties.

TermComments
in-personEveryone works in person regardless of location.
homeThis doesn’t usually bother people. However, it isn’t always home. I worked for a week from a hotel. In some companies, a person could be working at Starbucks. It varies. I do like that this term is part of the WFH abbreviation. One of my remote teammates said she prefers home office or remote over home.
home officeI like this term when talking about people who actually have a home office. However, it is a term that has sensitivities to me because it includes an assumption that one has a space for a home office. (My WFH area is smaller than a cubical and not anywhere near as conducive to work.
onsiteThis is a location. If there is only one onsite location and everyone is WFH, it could work. However, in my case, there are three “onsite” locations involved so it doesn’t clarify much.
remoteDepending on the context, this could be a good term. In some ways, it has the same problem as “onsite.” However, it could also mean simply that people aren’t all together if not viewed from the lens of a common location.
distributedI like this term because it shows that there are varying locations. And it doesn’t make assumptions about a primary site.
teleworking or telecommutingI like that this is location agnostic. But it also implies that you aren’t at an office. Whereas distributed could mean any location.
virtualThis term assumes that it is replacing an in person thing. It also treats the activity as an alias.If I’m having a meeting, I’m having a meeting. It doesn’t matter if we are in the same room or on Zoom or whatever.

Finally, my teammate brought up this episode from The Big Bang Theory

Sheldon-bot : Can you tell me the specials this evening?

Penny: Sheldon, I’m not waiting on you.

Sheldon-bot: Obviously. I don’t even have water yet.

Penny: Because you’re not here.

Sheldon-bot: That’s discrimination against the otherwise located. I’m going to have to go over your head. Manager, manager. Oh, Lord, look who it is.

our first toastmasters post-pandemic hybrid meeting

Before the pandemic, our club mainly met over a video conference between our NY and NJ office. Everyone was in one of those rooms. (We had a couple other formats, but they were rare.)

Shortly before the pandemic, we talked about adding a phone option for people who would be telecommuting that day. But we shut down too fast for that to grow legs.

Last week, we had our first post-pandemic hybrid meeting. We used the same WebEx link that we’ve been using for the last 16 months. We also had a meeting room in the invite for anyone who happened to be onsite. (We are doing a pilot where a small number of people are onsite.

How it went

  • We had three people in the meeting room. (spread out). We were all visible in the pane of the WebEx representing the room.
  • We had about a dozen people in their homes.
  • Our club mascot (stuffed animal) also attended the meeting in person. He was super excited to be there after spending all that time alone in a file cabinet :).
  • When we were doing pure virtual meetings, we did introductions by having the Toastmaster say each person’s name (based n the participant list) and that person saying their group (we are a corporate club) and a quick fact. With hybrid, the Toastmaster had the people in the room go in a circle to introduce themselves and then did it based on the participant list. This approach is not ideal for a team meeting because it makes the in person participants seem more “central”, but I think it is ok for a Toastmasters meeting.
  • When we did introductions, I brought the mascot right up to the camera and had him wave so everyone could get a good view. (Anyone who joined during the pandemic was seeing the mascot for the first time.)
  • It so happened that one of the speakers (me) was in the physical room along with the Toastmaster. We also had a table topics speaker in the room.
  • We did not shake hands or touch in any way. (We had stopped doing that a little before we went virtual only)

What did I learn about speaking at a hybrid meeting

First, I learned that public speaking is like riding a bike. It came right back to me. Phew.

Additionally, I treated the conference room webcam as if it was a participant in the room. I stood in a place where I was clearly visible to the webcam. (Which was not the head of the table because it is a very long room and we don’t have zoom working yet.) I also made eye contact with the two people and the webcam. So I treated the webcam as if it were an actual person in the room.

What do I think will happen in the future

I think we will have more than three people in the room. But I think we will stay hybrid forever. The odds of everyone who wants to be in Toastmasters being in the office the day we meet seem low. And public speaking at work will involve a mix of in person and remote. So good to practice it.

We used to have Speakouts on Mondays so that people who weren’t in the office on Thursdays had an opportunity to speak. I think we will go back to something similar. Except rather than it always being Monday, have the day rotate. That way members who are only in the office once a week will still get to practice speaking in person.

I also think we will encourage members to meet in small groups at each give a speech. This will introduce more flexibility in speaking in person days they are in the office. It will also accommodate those who don’t feel comfortable being in a room with a lot of people for health reasons. Three people in a room is less risk than “whomever shows up for Toastmasters that day.” Notice I said health reasons. If someone merely doesn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of a group, that’s something to get over in Toastmasters!