Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: If you don't permit telecommuting, why?
121 points by ohjeez on July 22, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments
I'm writing a feature story tentatively titled, "Why the Company You Want to Work For Won’t Hire Telecommuters." I'd like your input.

Plenty of businesses are interested in hiring only onsite staff. I want to explain the viewpoints behind such policies – and then, ideally, address what it would take for those organizations to hire telecommuters or remote workers.

So I’d like to hear from two types of respondents:

* Someone who has been in a hiring role at an organization where the job requisitions typically say, “Local candidates only, please.” (Whether or not you’re in agreement with the policy.)

* Someone who’s applied to a job that says, “on site only” and gotten a remote job despite that requirement.

If you applied to an “on-site only” job ad and got the gig anyway, there’s just one question: How’d you make that happen?

My questions are primarily for the people on the hiring side:

* Why does the person who does this job need to be on-site? Please be specific. Give me examples of things that can only be done if she were in the office.

* Have you been in a position where you personally would be okay with an employee being a telecommuter, but a decision-maker deemed otherwise? How did you handle it?

* How has the policy affected your company’s ability to attract candidates?

* Have you hired someone for an in-the-office job, and later given permission for the individual to work from home? What happened to make the change okay?

* What would it take for the company to change the no-telecommuters policy, even if only for one specific position? For example, “If a rock star in my field applied for the job, we’d do anything to get him to say Yes – including letting him work remotely.” But there can be many other answers, and I’d very much like to hear yours.

I am a remote worker and if I ever ran a company I wouldn't allow telecommuting. Here is why:

When I was at the office for a decade, 90% of the insight and productivity came from informal conversations in the hallway, lunches and things I overheard in passing. As a remote worker, nearly all communication is very deliberate so I am not exposed to those ad-hoc conversations. Everything is very deliberate: I receive an email, a text or a meeting. The net result is my personal career becomes very confined and stunted... I become that guy who does that one thing rather than a team-member who has an awareness of everything and the ability to jump in as needed.

Being remote also limits my upward mobility. Most of my promotions and moves were because I would walk back from a meeting with an executive and talk about what was discussed and express interest in taking ownership. These walk-and-talks are the only availability in an execs schedule. I tried to get time with an exec remotely and it was a full two months before I could get any time-- and since it was scheduled it wasn't ad-hoc and overly formal ("What would you like to discuss?").

So, in my judgement, remote workers are fine for very defined single tasks. For dynamic workers that move about the company and immerse themselves in lots of projects and want upward mobility, I can't recommend it.

I feel like my experience of being in office and remote at the same company gives me some unique perspective versus the people who join a company remotely and never fully appreciate what they are missing.

>When I was at the office for a decade, 90% of the insight and productivity came from informal conversations in the hallway, lunches and things I overheard in passing

The issue is not remote working, the very thing you wrote is the issue.

Virtually every time, remote working doesn't create new issues but reveals and - embarassingly - exposes existing ones.

You can no longer take a chance by letting things such as hallway affairs become a norm and an invisible force. You need to plan everything(and know what to plan), track everything relevant (and know what's relevant), be in control of the conditions for career and team progression (and therefore know precisely what these conditions are), you need to know your stuff. You can no longer just wait for magic to happen, put people in rooms and cross your fingers. Or send them to restaurant and expect team communication to have improved to the benefit of your KPIs.

The truth is 60-80% of today's companies are terribly run. Management of these companies is playing games without realizing it.

Remote working simply requires real management for it. Real managers quickly love it as remote working basically is : output-as-a-service : no noise, just efficiency and result. But the manager more tham ever needs to know what he is doing, because remote working accelerate the consequences of managerial weaknesses. What would have tanked a company in 5 years can tank it in 5 weeks.

But the positive is that once a remote setup has been successfully established, there is an organization insanely streamlined, efficient and competitive.

> Virtually every time, remote working doesn't create new issues but reveals and - embarassingly - exposes existing ones.

Indeed remote working exposes poor communication e.g. relying on random water cooler conversations instead of having proper communication channels - and many companies prefer to kill the messenger.

Okay: So how would you advise someone to create that "real management for it"? Any references or suggestions you would recommend a well-meaning manager to gain the wisdom and skills necessary? (Because I also will be writing, separately, about how to do remote work well, and this is exactly the kind of info I want to impart.)

I've both hired and advised people hiring.

This is beginning to look like the blind men and the elephant.

The inside joke on remote/distributed work is "You know, if we just had 1) better managers, 2) better specs, 3) better tools"

We have been trying all of this for 30 years or so. At some point a reasonable person would look around and see that most all startups are colocated, physically in the same room having to deal with each other all day long.

There are plenty of theories as to why this is true. Another observation: people not in the office do best at rote work: fix the bugs, align the images on the website, and so on.

If your job could be done by robots -- if it required minimal interaction over electronic tools to get specs and deliver on them in an over-the-wall manner -- it will be done by robots. Creating technology is about people, not technology. You sitting in a room and getting into flow-state and cranking out code is nowhere near as important as you interacting minute-by-minute with messy humans and trying to determine the nature of the problem you're solving.

Best-case scenario: you work on a tightly-knit team for a few weeks/months on a fixed-length job. Everybody gets into sync on the customer, specs, terminology, and solution. The customer's problem is not changing that much. You deliver some stuff as a team that people like. At that point, and not before, who cares where people are? Just get the work done.

You can scale that out to working in BigCorp on a fixed domain, but only so much. And the scary thing is that there are no alarms that go off if you're doing it wrong.

It's not impossible, or bad. But it works under very limited conditions. Understanding that is critical. I know there are a ton of folks who want to work remotely. I am one of them. But wanting something and looking realistically at what works or not are two different things.

> You sitting in a room and getting into flow-state and cranking out code is nowhere near as important as you interacting minute-by-minute with messy humans and trying to determine the nature of the problem you're solving.

Are you implying that "interacting minute-by-minute with messy humans" requires physical presence?

It doesn't require it, but in my experience is vastly more effective; teleconferencing (even with all the wiz-bang tech aids available) is vastly lower bandwidth and reduced options for interaction, and a lot more opportunity for distraction/interruption, either physically at any of the involved locations or because of tech failures.

Two excellent sources are Moral Mazes [0] and Peopleware [1]. Moral Mazes is a principled and academic study of how managers believe ethics and morality work within systems of bureaucracy, and how this differs from the ethical expectations of subordinates and citizens who then have to develop their own rationalizations for how to fit into bureaucratic apparatuses, which they depend on for their livelihood, while compromising away what they believe to be basic and unalienable humanity-affirming principles in order to conform to business expectations. It uses qualitative data from a longitudinal survey in which the author gathered interviews from employees at all levels of corporate hierarchy over a period of years from several different (anonymized) companies in the 80s.

I really wish Moral Mazes was required reading in college. It would have helped me prepare for the shocking business world dysfunction that awaits virtually every employee, in every field, after graduation.

Peopleware is a classic within specifically software management, and deals with many of the same human-affirming principles that you see in Moral Mazes, but deals with them in formats that are specific to software. There are a lot of connections between the two books, but the connections haven't been well formalized as far as I know.

I love these two books because as you read them the slow feeling of horror comes over you as you see the true diff between how companies operate and how a company should operate if it is to maintain even the tiniest degree of humanity-affirming ethical commitment or even the tiniest degree of genuine concerns for (even from a market competition point of view) how productivity should be marshaled for general human progress.

I find there are more or less two types of reactions. Some people read them and go, "Yep. I've seen all that. No surprises here. Oh well, back to work." and just don't care because they just want to focus on local instrumentally rational actions even if it means participating in what is making the entire concept of employment so shitty. Some other people read them and find that it makes their soul glow again a little and they have a hard time ever fitting back into a company now that they have some formalized tools for recognizing how shittily they are being treated at all times.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_Mazes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peopleware:_Productive_Project...

Also a good popular article drawing on Moral Mazes: < http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/the-banality... >.

I read _Peopleware_ when it first came out, and I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. I've actually bought it three times, because I "loaned" it to someone and never got the book back.

I haven't encountered _Moral Mazes_ before; I'm going to look for it now!

> For dynamic workers that move about the company and immerse themselves in lots of projects and want upward mobility, I can't recommend it.

LOL. I work remotely and this is exactly what I do all day long. The problem lies with the companies communication processes. Thats all. If the majority of team communication is centralized in Slack, if documentation is stored in Google docs, if planning meetings are held on skype/google hangouts, if code reviews happen via github what is left? Given many companies use most of these tools already it seems really weird to me that they cling to this "Butt Seat / water cooler Culture" It is so easy to take ownership remotely if the team is remote, just IM the lead or executive and say so. Again, I think that companies the "Allow telecommuting" are to be avoided. "Remote-first" companies are where it is at.

Yeah, and I sometimes have to close slack because there's too many people ping'ing me on it and asking my opinions of things which is precisely like having people doing fly bys on your desk all day long...

This is the problem. I would never work for a company that "Allowed telecommuting". I try to only work for companies that have a "remote first" mentality. Everyone in the entire company should have the ability to work from home or be traveling and working and be able to remain 100% productive.

This is a culture issue at companies that will evolve over time. The focus needs to shift from "good their butts are in their seats" to "good they just delivered X number of features". The focus should be on the results.

Dude I feel like you completely didn't read the guy's comment. He just highlighted exactly why having 'butts in seats' as you say, is a good thing

Have you ever applied for a gig at a company that started out saying, "No telecommuting" and got the gig anyhow? If so, how did you make it happen?

Happened to me. Was hired as a freelance in a company that had the "no telecommuting" policy. After 1 year and a half there, I got slightly bored and wanted to leave (long-commuting, like 2h, is too long when the job is not that appealing anymore).

As I have been performing above average for all my time there, they insisted to find a compromise so that I wouldn't leave. Told them I would consider staying but with 2 days per week telecommuting, 3 days on-site. I already had their trust, they knew I delivered, so they agreed cheerfully.

Some coworkers who tried to get some telecommuting days before got slightly angry at management for a few days, but not that much, as they liked me staying and understood why management dit it.

I think it worked because I was just not bluffing, and after more than 1 year working there, they fully trusted me. It would have never happened if I had asked for telecommuting at day 1.

Yeah, find out what the company policies are. Those might trump the job posting if they really want you.

> When I was at the office for a decade, 90% of the insight and productivity came from informal conversations in the hallway, lunches and things I overheard in passing. As a remote worker, nearly all communication is very deliberate so I am not exposed to those ad-hoc conversations. Everything is very deliberate: I receive an email, a text or a meeting. The net result is my personal career becomes very confined and stunted... I become that guy who does that one thing rather than a team-member who has an awareness of everything and the ability to jump in as needed.

As a remote worker this is very true. I actually took a trip down to the main office this week (first time in two years since I was hired on), and the amount of insight I gained from wandering the office, talking to managers and just interacting with people on the smoking patio (I've learned this is always the easiest place to get a pulse on what is going on in the company, smokers don't like sitting around with a group of people sucking down nicotine in dead silence, there's always conversation going on). I easily found 10 new projects we could put on the backlog, and that's being conservative.

Actually, after talking with my director about it I think I'm going to start taking trips down there a little more frequently - even so we do have fairly good communication over email, phone and IM to a couple of teams within the company we work closely with, and it has lead to some projects we otherwise wouldn't have done (rolled out Salesforce to a subset of users who were dying without a proper CRM trying to keep track of all of the people we need to contact at our clients when things go awry), but it's still a lot more limited than what I got done in a week of talking with people.

> When I was at the office for a decade, 90% of the insight and productivity came from informal conversations in the hallway, lunches and things I overheard in passing.

I could not agree more: I once bumped into someone in the bathroom on a different floor that I had met briefly years before during a re-org meet-and-greet. In a few moments of catching up, I found out he had worked on an in-house project that was essentially the same category as the products I was on a team to evaluate.

We didn't end up resurrecting his project, but his insight into the ultimate selection and experience with the rollout was extremely valuable.

A similar thing for a casual acquaintance who told me in passing about his private work in app development, and I was able to put him in touch with someone on our app team (it was a big company with a lot of silos).

I ended up later working remotely for a few months with the same company, and lost the serendipity of accidental human interaction when all my communication was low-bandwidth, narrowly focused, topic-at-hand meetings and communication.

I can sympathize with others complaining about the high cost of interruptions, but for the way I work and think, non-directed conversation is invaluable.

I too worked in the office for ~10 years and have been working from home for about 10 years now. The "upward mobility" point I would agree with but imo that is up to the employee to be (or not) comfortable with that. I've been in the same engineer/architect role for the past 10 years or so and don't have an issue doing that for 10 more years. Also there are ways of reaching out to the execs other than hallway conversations.

As for the large chunk of "insight and productivity coming from informal conversations" - that depends on the company culture and "weight distribution" of the technical and industry knowledge among team members.

I've work remotely for a couple of fortune 50 companies as well as small (like 5 ppl small) startups and the only time this sort of thing was an issue was when I was literally the only remote employee on the team, but my technical/industry strength outweighed the concern so they were almost forced to keep me in the loop to provide insight from my end.

So even though you are a remote worker you can't see how to run a company without the old "time on seats as productivity" mentality?

Sad, very sad

"informal conversations" move it to Slack (or your preferred communicator). Yes, people will still talk in the watercooler, but that will reflect there.

There is some need for "there time", of course, but not as much as people think

Ditto. I'm a hiring manager and I have worked remotely for >10 years, managing large teams in offices around the world. It works great as long as the ICs and lower level managers are consolidated, but at a large, multinational corporation with complex bureaucracy & organization structures it is very hard for singleton ICs to be as effective remotely as they would in the office.

That said, I'm extremely flexible with informal WFH arrangements, as long as it doesn't impact individual productivity & team effectiveness.

As a developer who has worked both solely on site for years in some jobs, and solely remotely in other jobs, I can say that hallway conversations, random non-deliberate, unplanned communication has absolutely killed productivity for me and all of the software teammates I've ever worked with. I've never gotten any kind of insight or better informal / intuitive understanding of a business need, a blocking issue, a painpoint I can help a colleague out with. I've only ever experienced my workflow being disrupted at the whim and fancy of other employees looking to vent about something, chat about non-work topics, or address superficial issues that should be handled asynchronously through email or chat applications. And, of course, I have also been the lumbering coworker who has carried out these bad distractions myself on occasions too, sometimes even unwittingly when I overestimate the importance of what I have to say or underestimate the importance of what someone else is engrossed in at the moment.

Lots of people talk about how an open environment, where there is violent, perpetual collaboration thrust upon you, is supposedly good for information sharing, keeping people on the same page, allowing everyone visibility into many other teams.

It's just complete bullshit. I'm sorry to describe it in such terms but there is no other way to put it. It does not ever, not at any time, offer valuable information exchange that would not be equally as effective with deliberate communication -- even deliberate in-person communication like a planned meeting or a planned conversation about a dedicated topic.

I've never seen or heard of any situation where the pan-everything violently un-turn-off-able stream of never ending "collaboration" helps anyone.

What it does do is allow the people who are in charge of schedules -- generally managers whose status in the firm dictates that they are entitled to interrupt others or restructure work priorities in an ad hoc manner without conforming to any policy about it or even having to give any justification for it -- the opportunity to do whatever they want in terms of interrupting and redirecting people.

I've come to believe that this kind of schedule flailing is just a device by which managers (a) try to make it look like they're doing a lot of work because gee whiz look how I had to whip everybody's schedules all around and tell them about That Thing That Just Happened or That Thing Some Business Person Needs Somewhere OMGzzz -- or (b) it assuages their personal insecurity that they aren't relevant enough to the specifics of the workflow beneath them; like, if there was really an efficient meritocracy then the high-performing subordinates would get paid more, like the way basketball players get paid more than the coach generally even when it's a good coach doing a good job. Since business offers less efficient opportunities for rent-seeking and more chances to obfuscate, the manager can use ad hoc interruptions and reprioritizations as a sort of performative gasp for justifying how important they are and how they are deserving of higher compensation.

I do agree with you about remote working being a limit to upward mobility -- mostly because of the sort of status effects I described above. You have to be physically present in an office because it's a display of fealty. You roll over and expose your belly to the bosses every time you smile, nod, and laugh at their completely pointless vocal interruptions that could have been handled asynchronously over chat or email. That fealty is what gets you promoted, and it's way harder to signal fealty when you work remotely. Taking selfies of you laying on your back on the floor at home with your belly exposed is probably not a good substitute.

> if I ever ran a company I wouldn't allow telecommuting.

Are you saying that you would never allow workers to telecommute even if they lived in the area? Or are you saying that you wouldn't allow for 100% remote positions in which the employee is not capable of easily making it into the office if needed? I think there is a difference between "telecommuting" and "remote working".

Do you ever wonder if your own experiences and preferences inform the decisions you make about others? (That sounds confrontative, but I don't mean it to be so.)

For example, there's a difference between, "I struggle when I am not in the ad-hoc conversations" and "Everyone will have the same experience."

I am a hiring manager and the above is why I require my team to come to the office.

Throwaway account.

In order to stay price competitive in our industry, we need to use a mix of junior, intermediate, and senior talent.

We have never found a junior or newly-intermediate candidate successfully work remote. Part of the point in having senior people is for them to be available to guide the less learned staff, so it makes no sense for them to all be remote too.

To be fair, for the right senior staffer, we would be willing to consider 100% remote. For the right intermediate staffer, we would be similarly be willing to consider a split onsite and telecommute arrangement, or other flexible scheduling options.

Have you considered letting your senior people, whom you apparently trust to be remote, mentor your juniors remotely?

This is what we do, we have 3 senior developers, 2 intermediate level developers and 3 juniors on our team. Even before we hired the juniors we ALWAYS had GoToMeeting up and conversed throughout the day and worked together on projects, it's more imperative with the Jr's so we'll usually pair someone up 1:1 with them on a separate call to mentor them on a project. We haven't felt a need for a physical office except as an occasional meeting space (which is why we are working on getting one built-out in the city where the majority of our remote team lives).

So you do remote pair programming?

I have found this to be quite productive.

Real-time communication with voice, but also the visually shared WIP.

Is this your experience?

Yes, everyone on our team has a GoToMeeting license, throughout the day most of our team is pair programming using the screen sharing functionality or talking with our users about issues or doing UAT before deploying a new build.

Personally I'm not a fan of pair programming, I don't like shoulder surfing, but it's an invaluable tool for mentoring the juniors so I still participate when I'm not working on one of my more niche responsibilities I don't share with the rest of the team as much (DevOps, Salesforce developer, DB developer, business analyst, etc.)

Yes. We have found it is very frequently no where near as successful as in-person mentoring.

What is the team size?

How many decision makers are willing to admit that they are subconsciously using "chair time" as a measure of productivity?

It's much worse than that; they're using number of warm chairs as a measure of their own importance. Troops you can't see aren't troops and their general not much of a general.

hilariously, some companies with remote workers have "activity monitors" installed that tell coworkers you aren't doing anything if your mouse/keyboard goes inactive for a few minutes.

Is that for real?

It was, at least.

About 15 years ago I got a demo at a Gartner conference from a company doing just that. The vendor's primary goal, they said, was to measure where the developer was spending his time (coding vs debugger vs editor... I think it was a Visual Studio add-in?). But they admitted employers could use it to track what the developer was/wasn't doing.

...and that was before Facebook.

I see. But it was not necessarily just to target remote people. My wife had to use a time tracker like that a while ago, supposedly for the same reason: understand where people spend their time.

This is a tangent... but I haven't run across such tools recently. I wonder whether they weren't good at what they purported to do, or whether companies quit paying such careful attention to where workers spent their time.

If so i bet someone is spending company type coding a bypass, all the while being tracked as being productive.

I think it's also probably an issue of trust. If someone isn't in front of you banging on their keyboard you have no assurance that they're actually doing work.

The solution is really to use communication tools like Slack and also put the focus on deliverables instead of "work units".

> If someone isn't in front of you banging on their keyboard you have no assurance that they're actually doing work.

If someone is in front of you banging on their keyboard, you need not have any assurance that they're doing work, either.

I will make the opposite statement about telecommuting. I have a rule that my team must telecommute. Everyone on the team with few exceptions must telecommute at least one day a week. Here's why. We have the technology for people to be remote. We've had it for years. I used to do it at larger companies, and honestly it was a pain at times. This is exactly why I make people do it. I don't want to lose people or lose out on ones that would be great, because we don't know how to handle remote employees. I have remote workers now that are vital to the team, and we all need to know the pain points they suffer, so we can fix it. It didn't occur to me we had issues until he brought it up in a weekly meeting to me that he felt left out on side conversations. Now we all do it, so we all experience the problems and we can figure out how to fix it. Really this is our approach to everything. Anything we have issues with we practice until we get it right and anytime we see room for improvement we make it.

Reasons against remote working: 1. Timezone issues - this is, imo, the biggest one. Especially after working with people in China, India, Europe or even eastern USA (with me in SF bay area). People all over the world usually start working around 9-10, and stop working around 6-7. Meetings, code/design discussions are very difficult on those schedules, especially when you want a decision on smaller issues where a quick back n forth would settle the matter in 30 min if everyone was in the same room. And there are plenty of such issues, where unavailability of your coworkers seriously affects the productivity.

2. Rapport / Camaraderie: Knowing someone in-person, having lunch/dinner/coffee with them, having watercooler talks about casual stuff etc builds a rapport, which helps build closer work relationships. I don't think people in remote locations are any different than my colleagues here, but the rapport is simply not there if I am going to meet them on video conf or IM only a few times a week.

3. Impromptu discussions: These are triggered by spontaneous ideas, and ideas do not come according to a fixed schedule of meetings. By not having remote workers in these discussions, both sides lose (by not having more brains, as well as by missing out).

1. is absolutely true. Real time communication has been crucial to my success as a remote developer. I'm in South America so it's easy for me to work at the same time as coworkers in the US. I worked for a some time for a British company and after a while I just decided to wake up 4 hours earlier so I could communicate with my coworkers.

2. and 3. shows your organization has communication problems. One of my favorite ways to combat that is to do some pair programming. You'll get to know people quite rapidly if you are talking to one each other 8 hours a day.

#1 would be true if everyone HAD to be in the same timezone. Some companies specifically look for remote employees in different timezones to cover customer communication/support etc. So that's pretty company-specific.

At a few companies I've worked at, remote wasn't viable due to hardware development. It was difficult and expensive to replicate test setups for remote employees when unit costs for some of these devices range from 10 to 100k USD (e.g., VNAs).

I once set up a remote testing rig for hardware approximately ranging in the $1-10k order of magnitude for my own development. The setup time, cost of remotifying hardware, and convenience were much cheaper than replacing the hardware elsewhere.

VNA=Vector Network Analyzer?

Given the price range, yes. Even though USD 10K sounds a bit too low for a VNA, even a simple one.

I'm definitely not the person you're targetting, but I was interested in remote working for a long time- when I asked why I couldn't I was given a few reasons:

1) Spontaneous meetings become impossible, scribbling something on a whiteboard becomes much more difficult, the barrier to communication is too high.

2) We've had bad experiences with people who work in other studios/HQ. They tend to shirk responsibility, and it's very frustrating to get them to actually acknowledge your issue as high priority. Managers assume this would carry into remote work if it were offered.

3) We work in R&D, all internet access is monitored/blocked and we use internal systems for communications only, so while we can VPN in sometimes it's discouraged because I have liberties at home that I don't have in my offices internal network.

They do their best to make a good office environment, but it's still open plan (much to my dismay, I can't ever focus in that environment for some reason) but try to strongly discourage remote working.

I agree that 1) is a problem, although technical solutions are possible I find them awkward.

I think 2) has to do with people not feeling they are part of the team.

Our solution to 3) is a separate work machine (laptop) set up so that you can not access the internet in any other way than through the VPN to the office. So, to work remotly you need to bring your work computer with you. You can not connect using your private computer.

(1) Is a killer, unless collaborating over distance comes naturally to the team.

It is quite weird that we have all these up-votes (including my own) but no answers.

I think that the real answer might be something quite embarrassing, and politically incorrect.

I'm more prone to believe the answer is dull and not well-defined, on the likes of:

- We really don't know how to deal with the differences, and it is scary to try;

- There are some company process that we are afraid of changing to accommodate telecommuting;

- The risks and costs outweigh the benefits, or the benefits are fuzzy while the risks and costs are clear;

- etc

Those are the excuses. I think the actual reasons are much more sad, visceral and disgusting.

Yep. I bet this covers 95% of cases.

I think it has a lot of up votes from people who want remote jobs but can't find them. They want to see what people say here so that they can better form their objections/arguments for making a job remote.

...which is why I want to write this feature article. I'm sure the same people will read it! ::laughing::

> I think that the real answer might be something quite embarrassing, and politically incorrect.

I'm curious what you think it might be. I would guess here but lack experience to guide my guess.

It is really politically incorrect. I prefer to keep it to myself.

What up-votes? I can barely read the Ask-HN question, it's such a light shade of gray. Someone really doesn't like it it seems.

I gave it an up-vote anyway, because this is an interesting and highly relevant topic in the tech field, though I'm dubious of getting any substantive responses from anyone who's any kind of manager.

All text submissions are the same. HN really should change the styling as even the most upvoted text submission by the HN staff shows up as the same dim text, like this one from 'dang', a moderator: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12073675

Thanks for the clarification. They really should fix that, it's confusing for one (because down-modded posts are also light gray), and secondly because it's just plain hard to read.

The Ask HN text is always gray.

Spot on. Many companies try experimenting with remote working by hiring cheap and not skilled enough labor from countries with low average salaries and then blame remote working itself, or "cultural and language barriers" for the failures.

I admit that I'm not a great manager and more of a technician. I just happen to have the authority to make hiring and firing decisions for my tiny engineering team.

I prefer on-site employees to remote for two reasons:

1 - I find that on-site employees are a bit easier to manage. The bar to communication is lower when they're so accessible. Also, I'm working with legacy hardware and software, and there is so much to understand in order to get started on many projects, and it can be a lot easier to sit side saddle with a junior engineer to help them through the first steps.

2 - I don't have a lot of great confidence in my hiring practices and the owners of the company are a little more conservative. As such, I make the safer choice to hire candidates willing to work on-site instead -- I can see when they come in, I can task and re-task on a whim, and I have a much better sense of when they begin down rabbit holes.

[note: I work at a company that allows telecommuting and I currently manage 5 engineers in two different locations]

I wanted to expound on "The bar to communication is lower when they're so accessible."

I think a lot of communication involves understanding the culture (and by this I mean 'the way someone views the world' and not a more the mainstream sort of 'they are asian' type of definition) of a person. The speed at which you are able to understand a person's culture (what technologies they like and don't like and why, what they're previous jobs were like, what type of family did they grow up in, what jokes do they like, etc, etc, etc) increases drastically when they are working on site, and it's usually small bits of downtime (lunch, coffee break, shooting the shit late night) when you learn a lot of this stuff. Not having this understanding comes with a communication cost, and it's not just for the managers, it's also for the engineers they work with (and it goes both ways, the telecommuter is going to have a tougher time understanding the culture of their coworkers/manger).

Which isn't to say this why my company doesn't allow telecommuting (on the contrary, we do), but I think this nuance is hard to put a tangible dollar amount on but is very real. Additionally this does happen eventually with remotes (I have two great ones that I really think I understand) and there are things you can do to facilitate it, but it is harder.

Please don't consider these questions a criticism.

In instance 1, could you use a remote screen sharing app to sit side saddle with a new junior dev? (and then record the session to allow the dev to replay the session later, come up with follow-up questions)

In instance 2, how often do you check on the progress of a dev? Is it a longer period of time for a remote vs an on-site employee?

just curious -- but if one of your team said, Hey my spouse has a great opportunity in another city/state/country, and I love the job. Would you let her/him work remotely?

Are there any success stories of early stage high growth startups that were started by a remote team? At least in the startup world, most people are concerned that you will miss that zeal and watercooler chat magic that is critical to early stage companies. I don't think anybody cares too much about your 1000th engineer being remote, the organizational DNA has already been set a long time ago.

As someone who is remote about 90%, I contend the watercooler chat magic is overrated and a waste of time. I was previously in office full time. I was one of the first tech hires. I am mostly a programmer, with a good deal of overlapping ops and analysis thrown in. I'm part of a very small engineering staff (under 10) in an overall small company (under 30 people). My work output in our open office drops to around 10% of the output when I work from my house. This is code, documentation, and meetings attended. People spend more time at the office because they are constantly interrupted (both by off-topic conversations as well as for work-related things) and need to stay late (past 40 hours) to finish their tasks. From informal notes, conversations that occur via Skype or In Person are poorly documented and tend to be rehashed more often than written communications via Github or Slack. IMO, if the entire team was remote and utilized more written communications, we'd be spend less time rehashing old topics and more time delivering value. As to the spontaneity and ideation of face to face, I've observed this happening over video chat and slack just as often as in the office. If people are excited about their work, they will talk about it, in person or not.

I agree 100%, this matches my experiences pretty closely. I worked 80% remote for a six months a while back, and it was astonishing how much better productivity was, as well as the quality, if not necessarily the quantity of communication. Now I've basically flipped that ratio, and it is depressing how much of my time is wasted by low-quality communication, interruptions, as well as the low-grade stress and irritation of having to be in the office.

> At least in the startup world, most people are concerned that you will miss that zeal and watercooler chat magic that is critical to early stage companies.

Is there any real evidence showing how much this actually matters, or is it just Valley voodoo? I suppose that is partially tied up in the answer to your question.

> I don't think anybody cares too much about your 1000th engineer being remote, the organizational DNA has already been set a long time ago.

Yet hundreds of companies at this size seem to care shitloads about it.

I worked at a node.js startup Strongloop before it was purchased by IBM (https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/47577.wss)

We were primarily a remote work company as part of the DNA - it was great and productive.

We were small and mostly senior technical folks so the level of trust was pretty high.

People were located in the Czech republic, the Netherlands, Vancouver, Minnesota, China, and Cali.

Best work experience I have had by far.

Scrapinghub is 100% remote from day zero. Nowadays there are ~140 people spread around the world, covering almost all timezones.

I can't find a reference anywhere for this to back it up, but I recall reading that Stephen Wolfram (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Wolfram) started Wolfram Research (Mathematica) with 100% remote employees.

37Signals (now Basecamp)

Were they really remote in the beginning? Remember, they started as a "New Media" agency in the late 90s, and built up their following in their blog before pivoting into SaaS. It's hard to imagine having a creative agency all remote, and everything I've read from them—and I have been reading them since that early Zeldman era where they first rose to prominence—indicates that they started hiring remote to find the best people to work on their core products, not for client work.

Not that I don't think you can start a good startup as all-remote, but I just don't think that's how 37S bootstrapped.

Zapier if I recall correctly.

Stack Exchange (now Stack Overflow) has a lot of remotes. I'm not sure what the exact ratio is, but it's not too far off from 50/50 (in engineering, anyway).

Automattic (creator of wordpress) is fully remote, I believe.

The opposite of what you are asking: As someone who has worked remotely for 5 years, I can say that a big reason that it works for us is the willingness of everyone to make time for collaboration. For our team (mostly writers, consultants, analysts), this means picking up the phone and having conversations with each other constantly. For perspective, I use ~3000 minutes/month on the phone. This is largely made up of 15-30 minute calls.

If your work product doesn't lend itself to spoken discussion too well, or if that kind of collaboration doesn't suit the team, I can easily see why it would be very difficult to make it work. It is easy to collaborate remotely on ideas, but pretty difficult to collaborate on the final product.

If I worked in an field that required a lot of visual collaboration, like design, I don't think it would work nearly as well. The online, webex style tools are still too poor to support good collaboration on those kinds of tasks IMO.

Not exactly what you are asking for, but I'll throw it in here:

I run a fully remote company, and most of the objections I've heard from others we've found workaround for.

The biggest unsolved problem is whiteboarding - there is no good collaborative online whiteboarding solution that doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment to be deployed to everyone.

Why do you need to whiteboard?

If you really must, give everybody a Wacom tablet + Paint + Screen sharing (or just a VNC server over the VPN so everybody can draw)

> The biggest unsolved problem is whiteboarding - there is no good collaborative online whiteboarding solution that doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment to be deployed to everyone.

Maybe my company is just weird, but we don't use whiteboards all that much. At least for code our preferred collaboration method is pairing, which isn't as hard over a network.

We write NLP software, and most of our whiteboard usage is for drawing out linguistic constructs and often involves only one person doing the drawing, which seems like an easy subset of whiteboarding to handle remotely.

We don't either, but it comes up occasionally. Sometimes when figuring out a large architecture, it's just easier to be able to draw it out. So far we've solved the problem by waiting until we see each other in person every few months, so it hasn't been a huge issue, just the main issue we can't seem to solve well.

Discuss.IO has a pretty good whiteboard. (I made it)

Edit: I found another called deekit.com

That deekit looks promising, thanks!

for whiteboarding: onenote on surfaces? (which syncs almost real-time) This is what I use, for those kind of things, as someone working remotely

Not a bad idea, but it means deploying a surface to everyone, and frankly most people want to use Macs, so I'd have to give two devices to everyone, one of which would only get used for whiteboarding, which doesn't happen that often.

Tablets can be slightly cheaper than houses near the office.

What about an equivalent IPad and app? Maybe something like (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/baiboard-collaborative-white...) (I haven't personally used it but ipad's would make more sense in the Apple world ...)

Looks like there are a few other options:



ah yeah, I actually use a macbook and surface pro 2 at the same time as pictured: (http://imgur.com/a/fqf3P) combined specs are actually similar to a new mb pro (combined 512 gb ssd, 16 gb ram, ~4.7 pounds), and cost is less, given that the sp2 was bought used so total ~ $1900.

I have worked for a 100% remote team for 4 years. Most of the concerns I see being posted here, I believe have more to do with the inability to hire well, the inability to efficiently communicate at the inter and intra team level, and the inability to operate as a remote-first company.

Below I document how to successfully run a remote company. I work for a successful startup receiving regular accolades for our product.


Never hire very junior unless the person shows extreme talent combined with superior communication skills. Generally you are looking for people that are: highly efficient, organized, responsible, disciplined and able to stay on task with limited oversight. They should be self-starters with numerous projects they can point to that they delivered on their own.

Product engineering:

Near all communication happens in Slack/Hipchat/etc. Group meetings, when including remote people, happen in skype / Hangouts. We use shared google docs to brainstorm product and document specs. We use Trello to translate those high level specs into actionable stories. Use github to organize code reviews. You need a results-driven mentality. What did a developer deliver this week? This month? Weekly standups on Google Hangouts + monthly 1-on-1's with each developer can give you a good sense of how well a person is performing.


Have in-person meetups 2-4 x a year for beneficial face-time and for people to get to know each other better on a personal level. Have monthly video conf/hangouts on non-work technical topics where people rotate presenting. Have a separate monthly book club to discuss technical or nontechnical topics.

Onboarding new people:

First, never hire very junior people. When a new person is hired, have them do 20 min 1-on-1's with all team members to get to know each other and their job role. Pair them up with a another person to work on a shared project. Have them paired for several projects before releasing them on the own.

I am happy to answer any specific questions if you have any.

That is all great if your HR department is fine hiring senior workers. My previous HR would rather have a $50/hr rate card and I hire 3 inexperienced workers than 1 experienced one at $120/hr

What is your team size?

20 people, but the processes we have in place should be scalable to way higher.

I am not doubting that, I was unsure if this would be too "formal" for a small team of 5 or less.

In that case, I would slowing introduce pieces of this, see how it works etc. If you feel like you need more process or more ways to build team camaraderie act accordingly.

I work at a company that is strict about not allowing developers to work remotely except in rare circumstances (i.e. an employee wanted to spend time in another state to be with their family for a few weeks, and they wanted to work during most of that time rather than take vacation).

For us, it's about keeping the barriers to communication as low as possible. We do pair programming, so we're already very much oriented to frequent communication. While tools like Slack and email get the job done if your team is working remotely, nothing beats being able to turn around in your chair and quickly engage another pair of developers (or the entire dev team if necessary) in a quick discussion about something. This extends to the rest of the team (designers, product managers, relevant business analysts, etc). At any point I can walk 30 steps or less and talk to anyone from the product or business teams about requirements.

Admittedly we keep strict working hours to maximize the amount of time the team is together (8am to 5pm, everyone takes the same lunch hour). The flip side of those strict hours is that we are never asked to work overtime or weekends. We come in, the entire team works for 8 hours together, and then we go home. People never believe me until they see it in person, but our office will be buzzing with work at 4:58, and then be a ghost town at 5:02... unless we decide to play some post-work ping pong or grab a beer!

I'm not saying that I don't think that remote work can be effective, because I've seen it work. But I think it's disingenuous to say that remote work is equivalent to colocation. The best argument I've seen for seeking remote workers is when a company is located in an undesirable city and struggles to attract talent (i.e. a company in Paducah, Kentucky will struggle to attract candidates in a way that a company in Denver, Colorado probably will not).

Our management wants onsite for better control. I think it's all feelings based. We want to hire in Seattle. We had some remote not work out, therefore all remote is "bad".

I think BS. We just got a new remote QA team and they are doing great.

We have two remote devs also who are doing good work.

I interpret the evidence to show that remote does work.

I still get push back on it but the rationale is based on words like "better" and "easier" without quantifiers.

My feelings are that some managers like to interrupt frequently for "urgent fires" and that is easier when someone is a few metres away.

In what way did the remote employees not work out?

(I'm looking for examples to include, so details are helpful!)

We called it a quality issue. IMO we didn't provide a good environment. One remote QA team promised things they didn't deliver. But we found out in two months

Edit: good environment means clear direction, open communication. Which is necessary onsite as well

Answering for the hiring side at an organization where remote work is not allowed.

The reasons given by the founders to only allow local workers are: * we want everybody in the room to build the culture and for people to learn how to work together * whiteboard sessions/intense discussions are difficult to do remotely * for lead positions: face time is important to properly lead the team

I feel like it's a disastrous policy to find candidates. I'm in MA and we compete with a lot of companies over a rather small pool of candidates. The worse is that the "local only" comes with a "please, go easy on the WFH" policy. Recruiters literally laugh at us, and tell us that we will never be able to compete if we don't allow flexible hours/locations.

We did manager to hire a couple developers, but we had to lower our standards (and one could question them, but it's not really the point here).

Interestingly, after a while the "limit the WFH" policy was relaxed. And now people are still local but can take a couple days to stay home every week. I think it's just because the team delivered, worked hard and built trust. It's just sad that it took a long time, and that still has not changed the no full-remote policy.

I think the candidate would have to be extraordinary and, more important, fill a position that had been open for a long time to allow remote workers. Enough time to convince upper management that we had to consider a wider pool or we would never find anybody.

I have a remote member on my team who came to us as part of an acquisition. He travels to our London office once a fortnight. It works well, but I wouldn't hire remote workers for new roles.

The key reason for this is that our culture and processes within the company are not very well equipped to accommodate remote workers. We're spread across two sites (one of which is a factory), and communication is difficult enough as it is.

I could be more productive remote, because it's less chair-time and more working when I'm really concentrated, 1.5h less commute, less distractions (i really love to block out the rest of the world with music and don't like headphones), real food and a bed for a quick nap at home. We are partly remote, but I'm sadly not.

What is nice about non remote though:

- you can see if a college has time for your questions

- you can scribble stuff easier while explaining complex things

- less language barrier. I find it really hard to understand non-native speakers over a bad skype connection (high quality headsets would fix this I believe)

- you can sense how the other feels and act accordingly

- It's easier to guide inexperienced people when they feel more free to ask questions. Probably fixable through good culture, but an effort to be made. It's also easier to see when they really got what you mean. (had trouble with the remote people here, though being forced to write even tighter specifications or more making more detailed mockups is not necessarily bad)

The language barrier thin is very real. I'm not a native English speaker and have very hard time understanding people with heavier accents. It's especially bad over phone/web conference.

Also it's really amazing how crappy many companies' web conferencing setup is. They break down regularly, have poor sound quality and are generally really flaky. I know this is getting better with Hangouts and alike, but still, they are occasionally going to crap out and always, it seems, at the most inopportune time.

> - less language barrier. I find it really hard to understand non-native speakers over a bad skype connection (high quality headsets would fix this I believe)

> The language barrier thin is very real. I'm not a native English speaker and have very hard time understanding people with heavier accents. It's especially bad over phone/web conference.

Solution: Hire only people who speak good English (yes, you should test them / interview them before hiring them!)

Fine english, just with a foreign accent. No problem face to face.

Currently we are an "on-site only" workplace.

There are two reasons for this, firstly and most importantly our primary founder has a law, not a technical, background.

This means he often has to just trust that myself and the other core team member are doing sensible things. With a large chunk of savings invested and the project running late (prototype and limited release 1 done, but 'core' functionality and UI still very much in progress) bums in seats is a very real metric.

Secondly is a combination of bad experience, low funds, and not the right time.

The company has had several other in office developers who were supremely sub par. A lot of my rapid acceptance into the company and (currently thrahing out the details of) gaining equity came from the removal of predecessors crap and providing simple and solid guarantees. This makes us edgey about trusting people to get on and do things without serious oversight.

Its obvious that this can be remedied in two ways- with more funds for the right developers and spending more time managing them. The funds are being remedied with our growing sales (yay!) and the time... well I'm primary developer and learning a hell of a lot about managing people.

Not the right time is a case of everytime we bring someone new in it will distract me for a fortnight or so... especially considering the current compensation we can offer. As we are near a wider release it does seem more sensible just to get on with it and hire with the money and time a wider release brings (or takes away, as I suspect will be the case with time).

Finally we should note I fully intend to bring remote working into the company. At first for new hires then a few years in for myself and the other two (likely rota'ish). This looks like an uphill battle with the founders but I'm sure when their stress can be lowered it will be a lot easier.

Regardless, life ahead shall be good.

As someone who has worked 10+ years remotely (based in South America) I think it's a combination of factors:

Supply and demand. Why hire remote when there's plenty of warm bodies locally? Most companies do not need, and cannot afford, top-tier talent. Labor shortages are a myth.

Managerial incompetence. How many of the managers have any experience managing a remote team? Do they know what to do and what not to do?

Remote is frequently seen as synonym with "cheap, sub-par foreign developer" and there are many good reasons companies avoid that.

IMHO, remote-friendly organizations will prevail. The ability to hire from a much larger pool of talent and save on office costs gives them the upper hand.

> Managerial incompetence. How many of the managers have any experience managing a remote team? Do they know what to do and what not to do?

What are the skills that someone needs to manage a remote team? How could someone measure whether he has them?

Ability to communicate properly and proficiency with collaboration tools rank high on the list. It's also crucial to be able to properly identify and evaluate the contributions of any team member.

Remote is also largely incompatible with micromanaging. If you don't trust the ability of your remote developers to take decisions on their own the team is likely to underperform and fall apart. This is one of the main reasons remote works much better with senior developers.

Broadly, remote workers are only going to be successful in two situations:

1. Remote workers are task-oriented or don't require collaboration. 2. The company is set up to make remote workers equal citizens. ("Remote First")

#1 tend to be the cost play, and leads to outsourcing or offshoring. (Or are things like in-territory sales managers or something.)

#2 is hard unless you're starting from scratch. On top of implementing collaborative technology, improving processes, focusing management practices, and restructuring your organization, you need to change your culture. Employees who sit right next to each other should be chatting in the Slack channel, not face-to-face.

Most companies have other priorities than to tackle this kind of change, and quite frankly, don't need to look outside a 30-mile radius to find qualified candidates.

Hiring remote employees without the organizational foundation to support them is a recipe for disaster.

Having an existing employee "go remote" is easier because they're already ingrained in the culture, and "alternate work schedules" (e.g., not 100% remote) are good in-transition approaches.

Our last hiring round was for a senior system administrator. We currently have 10 student workers "underneath" this position, and something like 30 percent of the employees time is spent mentoring students to do the work. We're okay with occasional work from home days, but a 100 percent remote person is basically a non-starter.

There's a number of tasks that cannot easily be done remotely:

1. Recruiting and Interviewing students. 2. Installing equipment into datacenters. 3. Letting customers into the datacenter after hours. 4. Face-to-face student mentoring.

Hiring a 100% remote employee essentially means a substantial shift in in the other employee's (ie me) duties.

We recruited for this position globally, but a number of prospects were only interested in working remotely. It makes sense for the prospects -- remote work frees up a family to follow one spouse's career. It makes filling positions harder obviously. But the only way we'd be able to accommodate that equitably is by dropping the focus on student employees, and we'd need a lot more cash flow to make that happen.

I live in a rural area in upstate NY. I can't relocate because I live close to my wife's family and she teaches kids to ride horses.

A while back I was in a dead end job and working on a side project that was an image search engine that had nearly perfect relevance in a time when both Google Image Search and Bing Image Search were both embarrassingly bad -- at least at the time I started.

It took about a year to get the product really ready populate the database, and by that time the big guys had come a long way.

This got the attention of a company in LA that had ambitious ideas for an intelligent social media aggregator and they had explored several dead ends in terms of building the brains of the product so they brought me in. They were hoping I would relocate but they had to start getting traction.

It lasted about a year. A prototype of what I built was picked up by the team and developed into a "MVP" that didn't really get product market fit.

I moved on to another company that was based in Rochester, NY that hired remotes, but that is another story.

I want to hear the other story, too! :-)

I find remote collaboration with shared screens and headsets much more productive than sitting next to each other. You can quickly jump back and forth between the shared screen and other activities while collaborating.

We also do this even when being in the same room, just because the screen sharing is so powerful compared to physically sharing a display and a keyboard.

Also, you can quickly and easily call in any number of people and everyone can easily read everything on the screen.

I find this perfect for mentoring, pair programming, demonstrations, meetings, etc.

You don't have to go fetch your coworkers and drag them to your desk to show them something.

Also, you can quickly see if the coworker is busy in another session, or set your own status to busy if you need to work uninterrupted for a while. This is not possible when physically in the same location (unless you have a door you can close). People will still come up to you and interrupt you with a "quick" question, derailing your thoughts. A virtual call can simply be ignored.

for a purely software based company I think the main reason to require on-site employees is lack of trust. management really wants to see the people they pay walk in in the morning and sit at their desks.

personally I am more productive working remotely. I used to work for many years on-site at the same company and the distractions were unbearable, phones ringing, people walking by who always felt the need to interrupt me about anything (work related or not). and many phone calls about unrelated projects which resulted in context switching.

it turns out working remotely is more efficient because you avoid the random chit-chat, and unrelated calls transformed themselves into emails which I can open and respond to at a more convenient time.

I know this isn't exactly what the OP is asking for, but I'd like to share my experiences working remotely for 8 of the last 10 years.

* It's not for everyone. You have to be pretty motivated and driven, and also a good communicator. You additionally need some good non-work relationships. (Although, that's probably true regardless...)

* It's a lot easier when everyone uses phones/email/slack/etc. Being the 1 guy on the phone during a 30-person meeting sucks.

* Those little "water cooler chats" can and do happen on slack and phone calls. It's helped by having met the people in person before, but even that isn't a requirement. I was talking to a co-worker that I've never met in person about pokemon just yesterday...

* I usually shoot for about 10% of my time being spent on-site in 1-2 week chunks, perhaps a little more right after joining a new team. I try to go out for dinner & drinks and whatnot with team members for at least one night on a visit. This can help with those virtual "water cooler chats" later on.

* Mentoring can happen remotely as well. Mentoring and guidance is a large part of my current role, and I've never met the majority of the folks I help out.

* I do occasionally take time out of work for family things. But I also occasionally cut out family time to deal with pressing matters at work. So I think it works out in the company's favor overall.

* I've been told by more than one manager/CTO/CEO that I was fit for a leadership role but wouldn't get it because I worked remote :(

* I joined IBM a year and a half ago partially because of this: I believed that being remote wouldn't hold me back from promotion here but...

* A few months back, the Watson division got a new guy in charge. Everyone was told to either move on-site or find a new job. I managed to get a temporary exception until the end of the year but I'm still not sure which one I'm going to choose when the time comes. Maybe both (I've always wanted to see Europe... ;)

I have worked on remote-only teams which were great because everything was set up for that workflow. In companies where you have a lot of on-site people the remote guys add a lot of overhead because now you need processes for on-site and offsite people.

I am fine if a guy shows up two times a week or so but I am wary of full-time remote workers unless I know I can trust them to not waste time on irrelevant tangents. There needs to be some level of maturity.

Time zones are also an issue.I would not work with somebody 12 hours away.

I once got a remote job with a startup in Dallas, but it was a bit of an unusual circumstance where I had all the bargaining power. A friend was going in as the director of engineering and really wanted me, and I basically made being 80% remote a condition of my employment. It wound up not working out in the end largely because of that (not because of my friend, but because of executives who didn't feel like they were obligated to honor their agreement with me).

Easy - my ex-employer's HR department has an explicit policy of promoting when your staff grows. Part of it is a spreadsheet exercise at the end of the year and part of it is optics. The greater the staff I can show the higher the change of promotion. That was the deciding factor. Period.

I left that place because it was non-sensical, but it was a major employer in Connecticut, so i wonder how many other major employers have a similar policy.

On my team we work from home roughly once a week, but don't hire anyone who's remote full-time. Honestly, I don't have super strong reasons for or against remote. It does seem like your culture needs to be either fully remote or fully colocated (to avoid the informal communication problem) but there's no major reason to pick one or the other. So I go with fully colocated, because it's the default.

In some instances I really believe it to be an ego or optics thing.

I have noticed some business owners emphasize how many people they employ, how they are "job creators".

On the opposite end, I have seen entrepreneurs who strive to be as lean as possible (automate everything), with employing another person seen as a last resort.

Do you think it depends if the org./dept. is results focused versus process focused?

What about open source projects where people mostly collaborate remotely?

Are they harder to manage, or less efficient?

My company generally doesn't hire telecommuters. There are exceptions though.

* Why does the person who does this job need to be on-site? Please be specific. Give me examples of things that can only be done if she were in the office.

Ad hoc meetings are 1000 times easier when everybody is in the office. Standup and other meetings are hindered by teleconferencing at best. Even with high quality video and audio, it is often much harder to hear the remote person, harder to collaborate (I can't just walk to a whiteboard and draw something up quickly and have them easily see it.)

Having them train a new hire or an intern is much harder. Furthermore, interns and new hires much prefer somebody being able to sit with them and collaborate. Sure, you can do screen sharing, but it's not the same at all.

One thing that makes our team 'special' is the culture of the team. We often do team building exercises (paintballing, curling, etc.), have optional happy hours, etc. and all of that is physically impossible without flying somebody out.

It is much harder for the remote person to get support from help-desk. If you are onsite, you walk down to one of a few different help desks and get help right away. If your hardware is faulty, you get a new laptop and are up and running within a few hours. This is not possible with somebody remote, and we've had major headaches dealing with this.

* Have you been in a position where you personally would be okay with an employee being a telecommuter, but a decision-maker deemed otherwise? How did you handle it?


* How has the policy affected your company’s ability to attract candidates?

I think this one is pretty hard to answer. I'd assume many potential employees pass on even applying since we don't really support remote work. I don't think I can give a proper answer here, unfortunately. I can say that we're fine with this tradeoff. We haven't had any problem attracting talent in the past (paying boatloads of money helps.)

* Have you hired someone for an in-the-office job, and later given permission for the individual to work from home? What happened to make the change okay?

Yes, we allow this with extenuating circumstances. We've had team/org members get sick and prefer to work from home for a few months while they recover. We've had employees leave the country to be with their parents due to illness. Employees who wanted to work from home a majority of the time while their child is young, etc. Generally we're pretty okay with short term telecommuting, but we don't really offer full time (forever) telecommuting.

Note that team members regularly WFH for a week or two while visiting home (if they don't want to take vacation), and nobody cares if you WFH once a week or two.

* What would it take for the company to change the no-telecommuters policy, even if only for one specific position? For example, “If a rock star in my field applied for the job, we’d do anything to get him to say Yes – including letting him work remotely.” But there can be many other answers, and I’d very much like to hear yours.

If a known rock-star (guaranteed) applied, we'd let them work remotely. If we had trouble attracting the talent we needed, we'd let them work remotely.

I am someone who got an "on-site only" job and now work full time remote in the same position on the other side of the country (and sometimes the world).

This happened because I worked on-site for a year and I wasn't happy with the lifestyle the city I lived in provided (specifically SF/the bay-area, spent 5mo in SF then 5mo in SJ, still wasn't happy, so I moved to VN for 6 weeks).

I told my boss I needed a change of scene-ary and I really enjoyed working for and doing the things that I do at work, but I really did not like the bay and I wanted to live other places. He agreed to let me work remotely from Vietnam for 6 weeks, then Florida indefinitely. I think a few things that drove that decision were:

1. After working with me for a year, I am a known quantity that they like. With every new hire, there is risk and some people think more risk, since people won't be there.

2. The company is very small (10 people) and I play an important role in our platform. It would be expensive to replace me and they don't really want to, because of 1.

* Why does the person who does this job need to be on-site? Please be specific. Give me examples of things that can only be done if she were in the office.

Having been on site and remote, a couple of things that I feel that I am missing out are:

1. I feel like I have less klout in the office. When it comes to product design and company policy decisions, I am often left sitting on my hands while everyone else chats about it in the office.

2. Sometimes I miss spontaneous product discussions that happen within the office and am not typically told about that. This should be fixable, but it is about building good habits and keeping the team informed.

* Have you been in a position where you personally would be okay with an employee being a telecommuter, but a decision-maker deemed otherwise? How did you handle it?


* How has the policy affected your company’s ability to attract candidates?

Since the office is in the bay, people fly from all over the world to work in our office. Has not been an issue.

* Have you hired someone for an in-the-office job, and later given permission for the individual to work from home? What happened to make the change okay?

me! see above.

* What would it take for the company to change the no-telecommuters policy, even if only for one specific position? When I got hired, there was a no-telecommuters policy and they were letting go both of our remote workers. I think I have been able to work remotely because of the points mentioned above.

It seems in most reason given here, it is because the onus is on the junior developer to seek out the senior developer's help on-site, but it is not encouraged for a senior developer to reach out to a remote junior dev.

I'm not allowed to work offsite, but then again I work in defense, so you can probably put two and two together...

I used to work defense, and with a few exceptions, I always thought most people who worked at the company could have been remote without much problem. It's really not that hard to deal with classified information remotely, and most things aren't classified (yet).

I'd like to know how many people here who refuse to hire remotely are willing and can provide a proper working environment to their engineers: ie-> single, private offices, 4k monitors, adjustable desks chairs, etc. Or are these people forcing people to work onsite in substandard conditions simply so that there can be "spontaneous" conversations, aka pointless distractions like I read in most of the comments?

How can such conditions be 'substandard' if they are the norm, and thus, presumably, 'standard'?

I think its also a lack of examples of companies that managed to scale up a remote dev team.

I've argued both sides of this issue (both for and against) and generally they come down to situational communication.

Before jumping in though I'd like to create some definitions that I use in my mind to keep things differentiated. There are three configurations of remote work that have been called at one time or another, telecommuting.

1) Working from home. This is perhaps the most interesting one and it is specifically an employee in their own home using their own or company equipment to connect back to "the office". They participate in teleconference calls when invited and generally have a VPN type connection to the company network.

2) Working at a 'commuter' desk. These are people who are working away from where they normally would and sitting at a desk in a company owned facility that is not specifically assigned to them but hosted in a company facility.

3) Working at a 'remote site'. These are members of the group who are working at a company facility that is distant from the primary facility that is hosting the group they are associated with. It may or may not include other "remote" members of the group but it is a permanent arrangement unlike #2 above.

I don't think there is a lot of controversy or question around #2. People are traveling, they can stop in a local office and get some work done and have access to things like printers and conference rooms. So for those workers it is a way to work effectively while travelling.

Option 3 (a "local" office for a member of a "remote" group) is generally well supported by most organizations, especially ones with extended sales presence in multiple markets. This arrangement benefits the company by allowing them to hire in places where people don't want to move away, and in my experience, it makes the sales team (if there is one) at that facility more effective as it can cut down on communication time between corporate and sales.

So lets agree when we're talking about "telecommuting" as something which can be argued for or against, we're talking about allowing full time staff to work out of their homes.

There is lots of material on this with many different angles from team building to team communication to legal liability.

Most people don't think about the legal question, just like they don't think about collecting sales tax from people at their garage or yard sale. However, in some jurisdictions it is illegal to work full time out of your home without a business license, fire department inspection, and ADA compliant facilities (for example). In some places you need a zoning allowance. There is a question about injuries you sustain while at home but "working", is that covered by workman's compensation? homeowners insurance? (likely both will refuse to cover it). To the extent that working at home becomes more popular, you will see municipalities crack down on this just like they do on lemonade stands[1] from time to time.

Then there are the team dynamics. If you have an office which some people hate (say a noisy open office plan) but they can't work from home (maybe they are renting one room out of a 3 bedroom apartment which has two families living in the other two rooms). They will have negative feelings about the company and their fellow employees who have the luxury of working from home. If you have a lot of spontaneous brainstorming sessions, few will remember to "dial in" someone who is not in the office. This will make the person off site feel "out of touch" (which can lead to them feeling anger and distrust for the rest of the team).

But lets answer the 'hiring side' questions, that is easy.

-- They have to be on site to avoid negative team dynamics and legal liability.

-- Yes, and I told the employee they had to work on site at least 4 days a week.

-- No.

-- I've seen that happen (I wasn't personally involved in the decision). The change was okay because the person's job was essentially a group of 1 (they had few external dependencies) and they were reliable at meeting the schedule. They essentially became a "remote office with 1 employee" in it.

-- I have been in companies where it was pretty absolute (everyone comes into the office) and companies where it was more flexible. In my experience, groups within the company without work-at-home people had better group dynamics and higher productivity. But to really understand why that was you needed to understand how the company got things done and how groups negotiated deliverables.

[1] From 2011 -- http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/08/03/the-inexplic...

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact