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Minding the Observer Effect as We Transition Together

Published 4/8/2021

As we transition together through strange periods (whether at large scale like the present moment, or at a smaller scale within your organization or culture), the way we look at each other changes. This observation shift brings behavior change - that's what we're talking about in today's episode.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
We have gotten used to so much change. And there's more change coming. This was always true, but perhaps more in the past year. The normal experiences that we have in our day to day lives are normal routines have been upended. And once again, more change is coming. Whether you're going back to an office or if your company has decided to move to a hybrid model, maybe you are actually in the job search again for the first time, looking for a remote opportunity where previously you thought you were going to have to work in an office environment. And the world has kind of shifted that a little bit. Most companies now are considering remote to be a more viable option and possibly give them more flexibility. And some companies are excited about the changes that happened as a result of moving to remote for that temporary period. They may have recognized some value in that setup that they had previously recognized. Regardless of the situation that you're in, and you could be on the opposite end of the spectrum, by the way, where everybody in your company is returning to the office, there is a transition that is getting ready to happen for most people. The different transitions that you might experience if your company is kind of keeping things the way they have been throughout the pandemic, then it's likely that the company is having to accept something new. Right? It's something that was previously thought of as a transition or a temporary measure that's becoming a permanent measure. If your company went entirely remote for COVID for that period of time for the last year or so. And now you're going to a hybrid scenario. That's a change as well. And of course, if you're going back to the office, then this is another change. So I want to talk about some things, two specific things in today's episode and in the next episode of Developer Teathat you should be aware of during this transition. No matter where you are on that spectrum of change, there is going to be change. Then I want to talk about two things that I believe you should be aware of. All right? As we go through change, as we move from one place to another, our brain experiences a lot of things. First of all, we experience some kind of adaptation across over period. Right? We don't immediately, for example, if you're returning to work, we don't immediately jump back in to exactly where we were when we left off last March. That's unreasonable to expect our brains to be able to turn that switch back on. But I want to talk about two things that you may not be aware of. All right? We may not be aware of during this transition period. The first idea that I want to talk about is especially relevant to managers. We'll talk about this one today. It certainly is relevant to everyone who's listening to this episode. But it brings along with it some extra responsibility for managers during transition periods, transition phases, big changes for your teams. This is something that has been studied and has some parallels to the physics world. It's called the observer effect. Another name for this is the Hawthorne effect. And the basic idea here is that if somebody or something is observed, that thing may change. And this doesn't just happen to the physical world, it certainly happens to people as well. This is particularly true for humans, particularly true if the person is aware of that observation. You can see why this is important for managers. Let's play out the change that's about to happen for a lot of people. We went from being in an office for a lot of people, being in an office, to being remote, or from being remote to being remote again. Maybe if you're like me, you have some hybrid in your company. Some people are remote, some people are not. And you went from being the only person who was remote to everyone in the company working remotely. So it's necessary for us to think about the observer effect because the observations have changed. You can recognize that in some ways we've experienced an elevated type of observation during the pandemic. How is that possible? We're in our homes, right? Well, if you are like most companies, you have some kind of online presence that people can observe or they can see when you're available. And that presence seems to be monitored more closely. It seems to be monitored more closely if you had an in office presence previously and you had to transition to some kind of remote environment. In other words, if you're used to being in person, then when you're not in person, there is a pressure to recreate that in person experience of knowing someone is there. This is why if you're on Slack, for example, and so many people do this, the only way for people to know that you're not available is either your green light is turned off or you've added some kind of emoji, like a vacation emoji to your Slack, to your name, right? Next to your name. And this is important to understand because the observations that we're doing of ourselves and of our coworkers, they're getting ready to change. We may have felt certain types of freedom at home that we don't necessarily feel in the office and interestingly vice versa. When we go back to the office, we no longer have the observation effect of the people in our family. So we know that our observing relationships are going to change the way that we observe each other, the way our family is observing us, the way that we are observing our family, the way we are observing our communities and our co-workers. All of that is going to change and along with it, our behaviors are going to change as well. But what do we do about it? We'll talk about that after we talk about today's sponsor. With Lin-O, you can simplify your infrastructure and cut your cobbills in half with their Linux virtual machines. You can develop deploying scale, your modern applications faster and easier. Of course, they have data centers, sorry, not load balancers, data centers around the world, but the same simple and consistent pricing, regardless of location. Yes, you can also do load balancers, of course. You can do anything that you can do with Linux. You can also do things like S3 compatible, object storage, managed Kubernetes, and a very important feature here that has nothing to do specifically with Linux is that you can receive 24-7, 365 human support. In other words, they're going to always be available. Regardless of how much money you're spending with Lin-O, they're going to be available. By the way, speaking of money, Lin-O is going to give you $100 worth of free credit. If you head over to Lin-O.com slash Developer Tea, that's Lin-O.com slash Developer Tea, all one word. If it runs on Linux, it will run on Lin-O. To get that $100 worth of free credit, head over to Lin-O.com slash Developer Tea, click on the Create Free Account button. Thank you to Lin-O for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. And so we can expect, and this is the important part. This is a very heart, you're not going to work out some equation to understand exactly what the behavior changes will be. But instead, we should expect that our behaviors are going to change, ours and our coworkers. And so if people seem different, there are plenty of reasons why that might be the case. And if people begin to act differently suddenly as we go through this transition period, as a group of people around the world, as we go through this transition period together, we might experience some interesting jarring feelings of change in other people's behaviors. If you are a manager and you're suddenly seeing the people that you manage your direct reports again in person, that may feel imposing to them initially. So some of the things that you might consider, for example, might be easing back in to that observation that you previously had. Or if you're going full-time remote, understanding that the observation of your digital presence should probably be moderated. One of the biggest problems with this, to be very clear, is the feeling that you're always on, that you're always available, that there is no walking out the door from the office. This is another reason why we get the feeling of, for example, Zoom fatigue. Why people really would like to turn off their cameras very often when they're on a Zoom meeting. Because the simply knowing that someone else is looking at you, that they are observing you, they're looking at your behaviors, maybe they're looking at your face up close, they're looking at all of your facial expressions, they're trying to glean all of these social cues from you. This can feel uncomfortable. Sometimes we don't want to give that observability to everyone around us. And in other ways, the observer effect actually has a positive outcome. This is something that we very likely miss because there are a lot of horror stories and negative kind of connotations around the idea that somebody is watching me. But it turns out that if you are a manager, then being present and observing the work that your direct reports are doing, and them knowing that you're observing is going to improve their performance. And this is not in a deleterious way. It's not going to hurt them. It's not going to stress them out necessarily. But by knowing that someone is watching, they begin to pay more attention, or they begin to perform whatever the work is that they're doing because they know that they are being observed. Now of course, there are limits, and that's why we introduced this topic with the big disclaimer of, hey, you know what, let's be careful with our observation, especially as we transition from one extreme of observation to another extreme of observation. But we should recognize that there is some positive to this. And as a software engineer, it makes sense to me that other people seeing my code, for example, knowing that someone else is going to review my PR. This has an effect on the way that I'm going to write it. It's a natural phenomenon, it's a social phenomenon, when we are operating with someone's eyes on us, we're going to change our behaviors, and we're going to do so in a way that likely will improve our relationship with the observer. Right, that's our natural drive. So this is something to be mindful of as we transition, you know, during this period of coming out of a global pandemic, whatever that transition looks like for you, your observation environment is going to change, and therefore, behaviors are going to change as well. So that's the first thing. The first thing I want you to be aware of, the important piece of the puzzle for you, as you begin to transition back into a work environment, or maybe you're going through some kind of transition. But it's going through a different one, possibly, but you're going through some kind of transition. So we will talk about another one of these. A very important one, it's going to be about the availability heuristic in the next episode of Developer Tea. Make sure you subscribe if you don't want to miss out on that episode. This will be a special take on the availability heuristic. We're going to talk about it from that perspective. It's also called the availability bias. We're going to talk about it from that perspective, but we're also going to talk about how that bias plays into our associations with our environment. Thanks so much for listening to this episode. Thank you again to Lenoad for sponsoring today's episode. Head over to Lenoad.com slash Developer Tea to get $100 worth of free credit on Lenoad's incredible platform. If you can build it on Linux, you can build it on Lenoad. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.