Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Technology was meant to herald a new way of working, but that’s not the case (bbc.com)
248 points by pogbywg8 on Aug 18, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 182 comments

Orwell made some interesting observations in one of his essays in how the increase of technology doesn't lead to greater freedom, but greater scale, bureaucracy, and increased governance at a distance: with the invention of the telegraph, decisions were now made by ministers in whitehall vs english army officers reliant upon a shared belief/culture system and taking the initiative in the field.

That being said, while there is an interesting and at least plausible reason to believe there is some connection between such phenomenon and technology, i think the article is a bit too quick to proclaim that its things like "technology", "emailing" and things that have lead to a lack of empathy in the modern workplace.

On the contrary, i think organisational size and governance lines (which is in some ways connected to technology, admittedly), globalisation, outsourcing, and just the general economic and social realities of the modern workforce lead to a necessary degeneration of trust and respect between workmates and the organisation.

My company, for all its "values", will throw me under the bus to save itself, or for a quick buck. I cannot rely on it to support me into the future: even if it wanted to put money into a pension, i can't rely on that actually remaining solvent. I don't even know if my field/expertise is going to be around for the next 5 years. It is always looking to screw me over, outsource my labour, etc, etc. Its not "too much emails" that does it: its that I know I'm essentially working for a short-term psychopath that couldn't keep its promises to me even if it wanted to (and it doesn't want to).

If you raise people in harsh cutthroat conditions, don't be surprised if empathy falls by the wayside, or expect the lamb to lie down with the lion.

My company, for all its "values", will throw me under the bus to save itself, or for a quick buck. I cannot rely on it to support me into the future: even if it wanted to put money into a pension, i can't rely on that actually remaining solvent. I don't even know if my field/expertise is going to be around for the next 5 years. It is always looking to screw me over, outsource my labour, etc, etc. Its not "too much emails" that does it: its that I know I'm essentially working for a short-term psychopath that couldn't keep its promises to me even if it wanted to (and it doesn't want to).

Reid Hoffman makes a great point about how companies truly aren't like families. https://hbr.org/2014/06/your-company-is-not-a-family quote:

In a real family, parents can’t fire their children. Try to imagine disowning your child for poor performance: “We’re sorry Susie, but your mom and I have decided you’re just not a good fit. Your table-setting effort has been deteriorating for the past 6 months, and your obsession with ponies just isn’t adding any value. We’re going to have to let you go. But don’t take it the wrong way; it’s just family.”

I'll take it to another extreme. Loving families (I won't say real families, because there are clearly examples of families that don't do this) will stick with you through thick and thin during your substance abuse, put you through rehab, and still do their best to help you when you fall off the wagon again and again.

I agree that companies are not like families. In GitLab we try to never refer to it as family because families don't have performance improvement plans, underperformers, and offboarding processes. I just made this official in https://gitlab.com/gitlab-com/www-gitlab-com/commit/95964433...

I do this that technology will give more flexible work hours. I think it is just that changing a social process is hard and is unlikely to happen in an existing structure.

At GitLab we've embraced remote work and work hours are truly flexible. The only exceptions I can think of is that our team call (attendence optional) is at a fixed time. And that we expect service engineers to work 5 days a week on normal weeks to make sure we meet our next business day SLA without bouncing a ticket between many people.

I think remote only http://www.remoteonly.org/ will become more popular but it will take new companies to get there.

s/close nit group/close-knit group/

Re that quote: the author apparently has forgotten the existence of royal/noble families. When there are titles at stake, children certainly do get "disowned" for all sorts of reasons. (This doesn't mean they're kicked onto the street, though—they're not disowned by the parents, but rather by the family. Which just means they're no longer expected/allowed to inherit whatever they were going to inherit, and so they stop being groomed for it, which usually means the parents redirect their attention elsewhere and the child ends up raised by a nanny.)

Do you have any references / sources / examples / stories of this? Sounds like an interesting area.

Thought there's a difference in being disowned / disinherited, and in simply not being the primo genitur -- the offspring who will inherit the title.

I'm thinking of Ludwig von Wittgenstein, born to one of the wealthiest families of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the late 19th century. In his case, he chose to leave the family, or at least its wealth, though AFAIR it remained reasonably supportive of him. I'm not sufficiently versed in nobility/royalty to think of other instances offhand.

Do they have the equivalent of 401ks in the UK?

It seems like that's the solution to the pension issue. If the company goes bust you still have your retirement savings.

But it's "psychopaths" all the way down. I like very much that you chose "to save itself". My resume is full of firms that did exactly that. The ones that are still open are muddling along, about where they were before I worked for 'em. They are firms that are "retired".

There is little that is "psychopathic" about it; it's just mildly complex mathematics, the sort used in accounting.

It's just a reflection of "space does not care".

I think it's much, much simpler. The defacto standard for a firm is everyone underfoot, whirring away. Those who deviate from this are blamed when tightening occurs. This is reported as "remote work is on the wane." That becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Likewise, one failure in coordination and remote work is blamed.

Wanna know what's worse? Shorting the ability of many, many people to remotely work is probably the right bet.

In some industries where "the labor force" has more negotiating power, you do get a choice to avoid "working for a short-term psychopath that couldn't keep its promises to me even if it wanted to".

I've seen and also participated in an employment model that's a bit "feudal" in nature - where the prime loyalty is between the worker and the team + team leader, not the larger megacorp. This allows the manager to get stuff done well and thus often but not always avoid excessive pressure from outside/above and thus keep any promises made even if they're not legally binding; and if they are thrown under a bus (which happens, sometimes for various unavoidable circumstances e.g. change in ownership) then this simply results in most of the team re-assembling in a company that treats them appropriately.

I love how this article (and the hundreds of others like it) points out that companies perform better when workers are happy, and workers are happy when (fill in the blank). There will never, ever, ever come a day when the owners of the companies care if the workers are happy. Even if you can convince them that they make more money when the workers are happy. The people in charge exist for the sole purpose of making people unhappy, even if it leads to non-productivity, even if it leads to loss of revenue, even if it leads to shareholder decline, even if it leads to workplace violence, even if it leads to suicide, even if it leads to armed revolution. The people who rise to the top do not care about any outcome except spreading misery "below" them as a means of asserting their dominance.

I'm not sure how to respond but I feel compelled to do so. I've never seen your assertions in practice anywhere I've worked in the past 15 years. Sure, at some places people who rise to the top only care about the outcome of the bottom line but never have I seen executive leadership or even middle management who only cares about spreading misery. I could see this being the case at entry level jobs where you're 16 and have an immature 18-20 year old manager but not in the adult world. Maybe you've had a bad experience or two but I don't think your characterization is accurate here.

What he's saying is that some people derive happiness from being high status. Thus, their goal is not for everyone to be happy. Their goal is to be above others, even if they have to push others down.

I'm not sure I completely agree, but it does seem to be at least a part of human nature.

> The people in charge exist for the sole purpose of making people unhappy

Are you saying that all business owners (including small businesses) are sadists? Either you have worked in only really bad workplaces or you have a really distorted view on reality.

Every business owner I know would prefer for their employees to be enjoying their work. What possible motivation could their be for them to desire the opposite?

My company, for all its "values", will throw me under the bus to save itself, or for a quick buck.

Will you also throw the company under the bus to save yourself, or to make a quick buck? Can the company rely on you for your support through thick and thin in the future, even if they have to, say, quit paying you for a while until finances improve?

Perfectly valid and interesting points. Obviously (or not so obviously) that depends on the company.

If it was my own company, my local or town company, my community, or my family's, I would actually want to support it or fight for it. I'm also at a point of life where I've afforded to buy a house and am actually willing to sacrifice or put in effort to make things better in my community. I'm actually looking for a job nearby that I can sit in for the next few years. Does such a job exist anymore at any scale? I realise that many people can't afford to even buy where I live or into their local community any more.

But my current employer is a giant organisation. Some of my bosses aren't from the same nation, let alone the same community, they have an off-shoring agenda. I've been through 2 restructures recently and lost two bosses and several workmates.

I'm not looking to apportion blame, I know who I'm working for and why.

But I do think it's more of a logical outcome of our modern society and economics, even though I have a strong urge to contribute locally, and I actually want to settle down somewhere long term...that's really hard/risky...

> i think the article is a bit too quick to proclaim that its things like "technology", "emailing" and things that have lead to a lack of empathy in the modern workplace

No, it's actually quoting "Sherry Turkle, director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology", and maybe you're a bit too quick to dismiss the amount of thought she put into such claims.


This is irrelevant and an appeal to authority.

It's exactly relevant to the claim that "the article" is "quick to proclaim" anything. The article is quoting the claim of someone who isn't rash at all.

We don't know that. The article didn't back up these quotations with reasoning, it just assumed that they were fact. This is pretty much the definition of an appeal to authority. A superior article would lay out how and why such disconnects exist; I have no reason to believe they do other than one person I'm never going to meet having said so.

No, an appeal to authority is when you say that because someone is an authority in one area, they should be listened to in another. In this case, this is her focus of study. I'm sorry if you think it's fallacious, but I'm gonna give the person who has studied the subject a little more weight than some rando on the internet.

> No, an appeal to authority is when you say that because someone is an authority in one area, they should be listened to in another.

It's really not.

You're not only mis-using appeal to authority, but you're now using argumentum ad nauseum to boot. You're wrong, and you're not advancing the discussion.

It also helps to keep in mind the distinction between logical fallacies, used in a strict logical sense, and strength of argument. The case here is one of "what is the evidence to support a belief?", not "are the argument's predicates and conclusions logically valid in a strict sense?".

The original argument was that the article was "too quick to proclaim". The rejoinder was that this wasn't the article's conclusion, but that of an expert on the subject.

The discussion has been advanced, the initial claim invalidated, and additional relevant information provided.

To reject the conclusions of the article simply because of an appeal to authority, without also presenting a stronger claim that the authority is invalid, doesn't advance the argument.

To persist in that is tiresome.

A key question is whether or not the authority in question is credible. I've engaged in any number of discussions where showing credibility is at issue, and showing a particular source's good faith or record of admitting error (or not relitigating falsehoods) is crucial to qualifying or impeaching a witness. Again, you've not done this.

Paul Graham's "How to Disagree" is popular around here for various reasons. The derived graphic on hierarchy of disagreement is also strongly recommended.



You might also want to catch up on your logical fallacies and how/when they're appropriate or not.

http://www.fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html http://www.skepdic.com/authorty.html http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority...

Note that key to these is the question of expertise.

You know I'm not whoever you were arguing with, right? I'm just here to point out that you might want to double-check a definition.

(Oh, and it's "ad nauseam", not "ad nauseum." HTH!)

Wrong. Appeal to authority (argumentum ad vericundiam) says that: because Ms. X is an expert on Y, this statement she made about Y must be true.

There's no condition requiring the subject matter to be outside her area of expertise, in fact it wouldn't make sense there - since she's not an authority on areas not her expertise, it can't be an appeal to authority in that instance.

It's still not relevant to the point, as this is her field of study. I would trust her to know what's going on before any random doofus on the internet.

If by "I trust her to know what's going on" you mean you would put faith in a proposition she makes based solely on her domain knowledge, that's literally the fallacy.

Sure - trust her to know the data in the space better than some random doofus. That's sensible, and why we have experts.

That doesn't mean you can grant her extra consideration when evaluating the soundness of the argument she makes with that data as support - the logic contained in that argument does NOT depend on her being a domain expert, but on being a good logician. That's what the fallacy points out.

I don't think we're disagreeing, but I wanted to clarify the distinction between her being a field expert and her being an argumentative expert.

Argument to authority and argument to expertise are two different things.

I am not sure what to make of Orwell's essay. I think it is a fight between people v/s government and who is a winner is not clear. In USA government has massively expanded in last 100 year under so many pretexts, Americans are significantly less free and most of it seems to be achieved by government using sheer propaganda and fear mongering.

But when I look at my home country technology has helped us escape the government propaganda, understand our own history better, realize the scam of the ruling party that virtually rules all the years post independence and feel far more hopeful about future.

Indians are better informed, more free and are able to exercise their choices because of technology.

decisions were now made by ministers in whitehall vs english army officers reliant upon a shared belief/culture system and taking the initiative in the field.

The temptation to micromanage every aspect in the field from afar would lead to defeat in this day and age.

Incidentally, this is the reason that Companies in the British Army are commanded by Majors rather than mere Captains in the US Army - because the British Army had a longer history of operating in very remote places so you needed a more senior, experienced commander on the ground.

"On the contrary, i think organisational size and governance lines (which is in some ways connected to technology, admittedly), globalisation, outsourcing, and just the general economic and social realities of the modern workforce lead to a necessary degeneration of trust and respect between workmates and the organisation."

your arguments support the article. its very hard to argue that globalization and outsourcing isnt fueled by tech (Voice over IP for example). your skills becoming obsolete also point to the fast pace tech. not sure about the general economy and social realities, although i feel facebook does more to separate people than to connect them.

The point is that it doesn't have to do with technology itself. The technology is what enables us to have large organizations, and large organizations are almost inevitably alienating.

I'm sure you could tell when the East India company got to a certain size.

> doesn't lead to greater freedom, but greater scale, bureaucracy, and increased governance at a distance

Interesting point given the parent comment (quoted). I'd assume the East India Company, regardless of size, still operated in a fairly federated/independent manner. You can't very well micromanage across 4-6 months travel time.

Interesting remark, and it in a way can be observed in our daily lives around the world when you compare to what older generations said.

Could you point me to some of these essays? I would like to have a look at them.

I'm curious if you think this is new, or companies have always been that way. Is there any evidence that government bureaucracies are any better?

Forgive the random comment here, but I just ran into an ancient comment of yours[0] mentioning you searching for a Leader LBO-514a Oscilloscope. Was your search ever successful? I just got my hands on the same model and have been searching for a manual without much luck.


I managed to get one for a nice price on Ebay, and have been very pleased with it.

Seems like youre working in a very toxic environment there. What stops you from changing or starting something yourself?

I think the toxic environment the writer is describing is modern capitalism itself.

I have managed remote employees for years and while I still think it's a good tool in the box for providing a healthy and happy workplace, as well as recruiting/retaining talent in situations where you couldn't otherwise, I've grown increasingly jaded about the idea of functional, fully-remote organizations.

The trust issue referenced in this article is one element but there are many others:

- Many people don't handle the level of autonomy well, or don't stay motivated in isolation - Harder to engage a remote employee in company culture and values - There is a big difference between remote in the same time zone/country and remote on the other side of the world - Management invariably has less control over a remote employee and less ability to command their immediate attention

I think comparing "remote work" with "not remote work" is a massive oversimplification of the issue that does everyone a disservice. There is the group of remote contractors you've never met, there's the team of fulltime employees that live within a few hours' flight of each other and meet several times a year, there's the guy who works in the office 3 days a week and at home from 2. So what are we really talking about? Generalities are not productive.

The dark spectres hovering over the head of remote work are that remote employees often end up being less productive and less available when you really need them.

For certain types of work and certain types of people these issues are more or less pronounced... this is not a black and white thing. But I am pretty sure we will never see a future where everyone is a fully remote worker.

I have worked remote for years at a time, and managed people remotely. Both situations ended up the most productive periods for everyone involved. The key is a good process. Daily stand ups (video/voice/email), regular communication, and must be available time windows help to keep everyone engaged and accountable.

I may be the exception though since I was 'trained' in remote work starting with my very first job out of school. Even though I had to go into an office, many people I worked with were somewhere else in the US. The majority of them I never met in person and mostly either emailed or spoke on the phone.

I will say though, the hardest remote work situation to manage is an extreme time difference. Managing people in Asia while living in the US was tough.

Going to have to +1 this. I worked remotely/from home for 6 years, and was extremely productive, and also much less stressed. If I needed to take an hour or two and go to my apartment's pool, then I'd do it...

Now I'm back in an office doing 9-5, and everything is a chore. My stress levels are significantly higher than previously, etc...

With tools like group video calling, conference calls, email, Slack/chat, etc... It's incredibly easy to stay "close" with your team while being remote.

The tools to work remotely can be nice as you put it...

But if you can work remotely from home/desk, so can people who are willing to work for 10% of your salary. In person means "Im on the radar, im there to consider, and there to help". Someone over a chat client doesnt have the same presence.

Now, this might/probably change with the advent of AR and VR workspaces.

> But if you can work remotely from home/desk, so can people who are willing to work for 10% of your salary.

That's just capitalism. Choose a profession where you're not so easily replaced by someone who will take 10% of your salary.

>if you can work remotely from home/desk, so can people who are willing to work for 10% of your salary

If you're so unskilled as to be that replaceable, there's no reason to feel comfortable in a non-remote job, either.

If an employer chooses someone at 10% of your salary, your employer is chooosing someone too stupid to demand 90% of your salary. Do you really want to work for the idiot who's OK with that?

Productive according to what measurement? The problem is that the tech industry is still failing to measure productivity, even when people are onsite. So the lazy fall back is "butts in seats". If I can see you sitting in you're chair, I think you're productive. If I can't, then you are not. So, while you say you were productive while working remotely, there was some manager who thought you were doing nothing at all.

What's an objective measurement for jobs as diverse as software engineer, system administrator, computer technician, and first-tier support? The Tech Industry is made up of these roles and many more.

Just take a software engineer for example. LOC is fallible in too many ways to take seriously. Number of function points coded? Number of bugs fixed? They are all very fallible.

How about mentoring? How about reviewing code? How about documentation? How about professional development?

Depending on the situation, reading a technical article can weigh higher than a support issue. How do you develop the weighting for the different factors? Can it be applied across organizations?

To confound it further, people tend to take on work that doesn't fit their title. The smaller the organization, the larger the diversity of responsibilities.

Then there are soft factors like knowing which issues to address immediately in order to keep them from percolating up to your manager, working well within a team, communicating effectively, etc.

My opinion is that we are unlikely to see objective, effective measurements of productivity for the Tech Industry anytime within my employment life. It's not a failure. The number of factors involved, not to mention the ability to gather the measurements, is staggeringly complex. After all, we're not factory line workers producing pre-defined widgets.

Right, you are speaking from the employee side though. You seemed to have gloss over the "difficulty getting in touch with someone" and "times when you must be available" part.

Depending when you were out at the pool, I can imagine you got a few instant messages from your boss that you didn't reply to.

that could happen in the office as well

> Even though I had to go into an office, many people I worked with were somewhere else in the US.

That's the thing. Over the last 10 years the vast majority of my colleague, client and bosses were in remote countries. I worked with a guy that was the only one in the office for his team. His whole management hierarchy, all his colleagues where in other countries. Still management insisted he needed to come to work, wearing a suit as it was the standard in that office. (note that there were not even anybody to "see" that he was there, I guess the only reason is that remote working for permanent employee is quite difficult in the UK: you need a home office assessment, the company need to provide specific stuff, ...)

I've worked from home in the uk for the past ten years and no one assessed my office and in one company I didn't even get a laptop.

I'm curious what sort of company insisted on that.

None, I have colleagues that received that and that led me to believe companies needed to do that. Not quite sure why they would request a guy to go mindlessly to an office where there is nobody of his management line and no colleague.

To be fair, I worked for a company previously that didn't provide facilities for remote working as a general rule (i.e. access VPN that existed for sales), but I still had 1 colleague in my team that was working from home full time (i.e. using the VPN).

So I guess it must be random.

> Harder to engage a remote employee in company culture and values

I might sound a bit cynical here, but company culture and values (and everything surrounding it) is essentially the glue that sticks the suckers together. Employment is, in the simplest sense, nothing more than an all eggs in one basket business relationship.

You can make friends with certain people while employed, but companies (the entities as a whole) have, almost always, zero loyalty towards their employees. How many companies are touting "we're all in this together, guys!" only to turn around and fire 10% of their staff for whatever reason?

Also, why would one have to share the values/culture of the company you're employed at, if you're getting the work done professionally + at a high standard? Almost always these "values" are used an excuse to abuse the relationship (i.e. free overtime, "cause we're all doing it!", "can't give you a raise, because no one is making more than $XXX,000 per year at this company!")

> companies have, almost always, zero loyalty towards their employees

I think this belief is wrong. There are very few successful companies that don't go to great lengths to minimize employee turnover because it's economically beneficial. Hiring and training new staff is almost always more expensive than retaining someone who delivers good performance.

For a manager one of the biggest benefits of a person who is a "culture fit" is that they tend to be less likely to quit.

Sure people get laid off and fired in the world of business. I have yet to see the mustache-twirling villain who relishes doing this. It's basically the worst part of the job.

The relationship between employee and employer is economic. When either party decides it no longer makes economic sense they can end it. No one should get confused about that, and getting engaged in the company's culture and values doesn't have to contradict that. The ideal is that it equates to having some other reasons for sticking around and enjoying yourself while you're there. If you're a good employee then trust me they want you to stick around (many employees, including myself at past points in my career, think they're good employees but they're not). All this abuse stuff you're talking about certainly happens in some places but I don't think it's the typical case.

>I think this belief is wrong. There are very few successful companies that don't go to great lengths to minimize employee turnover because it's economically beneficial.

That's not loyalty, it's a cost-benefit analysis. If you applied the same logic to your personal relationships, you'd rightly be seen as a psychopath.

> There are very few successful companies that don't go to great lengths to minimize employee turnover because it's economically beneficial.

Loyalty is not minimizing turnover when the times are good. Loyalty is going out of one's way to protect the other side even when something bad happens to either side of the relationship.

> many employees, including myself at past points in my career, think they're good employees but they're not

Any clues on how to test if I'm in that position, or am I actually a good employee? Is there a chart somewhere I could fill and see my actual "employee desirability" score?

My problem is I finally, after many years of battling impostor syndrome, believed that I'm not that bad a programmer. So now I started worrying about this thing you mention...

> My problem is I finally, after many years of battling impostor syndrome, believed that I'm not that bad a programmer. So now I started worrying about this thing you mention...

You mean you've started to get impostor syndrome again?

Well, I'm not sure, but I don't think so. It's probably my normal depression reinforced by a naturally pessimistic outlook on life this time.

Having realized that you're not bad, you overcorrect and start thinking you're good. But when you think you're good, you're not as good as you think you are. And if you really are that good, it's best not to think so (or at least to act like you don't think so).

> Many people don't handle the level of autonomy well, or don't stay motivated in isolation

As I've started being 'in charge' of more people this has been the hardest thing for me to adapt to. I've always operated with a high degree of autonomy. Now that I'm in the position of assigning work to other people it's been a shock to me how much handholding most people need to get something done.

Hence you realise why most companies don't like having remote workers

That's because they are letting people work remote who shouldn't be working remote, either through ignorance or some attempt at "equality".

this is the most insightful comment on remote working that i've read on HN

> Many people don't handle the level of autonomy well, or don't stay motivated in isolation

But just because that is true for a number of people doesn't mean it is true for all.

I don't work from home anymore, but, personally, I always felt happiest when working from home.

I did have a remote job which sucked, and part of it was because it was remote and I didn't have as much familiarity with the code or the company and part of it was that the job just really sucked.

I think though that if you are already familiar with the code, know the people you are working with well, don't have significant problems interpreting what others say via IM/email and need to speak with them in person to get context, and just get a total morale boost when working from home because you are in your own world and can concentrate better, then- please!- work from home!

  Harder to engage a remote employee in company culture and values 
You know, I am not sure it is such a bad idea. A diversity of cultures can make the work a better place. Besides, what is the "company culture and values" anyway? I am, frankly, more suspicious than curious.

Sorry, having one of those "Beavis and Butthead" snicker moments:

    We don't pretend we're gay.
    We always feel that way,
    Because we're filling the world with sunshine.
    With I.B.M. machines,
    We've got the finest means,
    For brightly painting the clouds with sunshine.
—from "Painting the Clouds with Sunshine"

I believe the proper posture for reciting these is "face down, 9 edge first", but I could be wrong :-)

I do think you raise a good point which is remote work is not for everyone. Some people need others around them to stay motivated and focused, while for others it is the lack of distractions that makes the difference. The only real problem is that many people don’t know which category they fall into.

My problem is I do best with a mix of both: I need to engage with real people, both for empathy and info exchange, but I also need time to be apart and just crank stuff out, whether it is code, documentation or training materials.

Is the dark truth here that "Coordination is Hard"?

I've noticed that when I have worked remotely, that I spent more time anticipating the care and feeding of the management ... interface, where when I'm onsite, I'd just allow normal Brownian motion of humans in the office to take care of it.

Have you given any thought to a "results only" workplace? I have never worked in one but I think I'd thrive in such an environment. Would that solve your concerns about remote work?

The problem is that, unlike exams and stuff, where lots of effort went into studying how long each question should take a 'typical' person, in actual work, the problem hasn't actually been solved before, at least not by the current team, and no-one really knows how long it would take. There's no obvious theoretical objective way of measuring. So, you can waste two thirds of your time on estimating and negotiating times and pays for little micro-projects (which is doable, though at a huge overhead), or simply work normal hours, and check that everyone is approximately working to the best of their ability.

This latter method is by far the easier method, for everyone. I have worked remotely quite a lot, using both methods, and the second method is far more sustainable, in my opinion. (I mean, you just sync your hours with your workmates, and just make sure you're always online in the online chat application; if the company doesnt chat in your absence on online chat, well, it might not be the right company for you; but many do. A lot).

I wonder why time spent is a concern at all. Lets say you hire me to build you a dashboard for your company. You tell me what data you want where and ask me how long I think it would take. I give you that number and you do wage * time to get at the cost of that stage of the project. From time to time we video chat and I demonstrate what I have thus far. If you feel my work is unacceptable you terminate our relationship. Where does hours worked come into play? In the modern workplace I often feel punished for efficiency and relegated to sitting at a desk twiddling my thumbs for that crime.

But you've created a pretty simple project and outcome here where the outcome is measurable and clear. I say build a widget, you build a widget. You're basically a factory worker. (As an aside here, if you've ever worked with a consultant or freelancer, you know that objectives that seem simple and clear to both sides end up not being so clear when the product is delivered and then disagreements ensure).

What if, however, I'm an engineer that's working on a new piece of machinery? This is a project that requires the involvement of many highly skilled workers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, computer programmers, etc. I might be responsible for a single system or even component, but my work directly relies on several other's work, and it may change depending on the circumstances (say the mechanical engineer has designed an arm that would damage a critical electrical system). Now you've got a moving target. One day your work was x, now the circumstances shifted and it's y. With potentially hundreds of people involved it would be very difficult to asses what any one person's contribution was based on your standard above. Indeed, if you could asses that from the beginning, you wouldn't need all those engineers to design your machine since you had already done that work.

I see how that can be a problem in that context, NASA might never be a candidate for much remote work beacuse they are working on some of humanity's most complex projects for example. I just dont think a lot of work is that complex. Accounting, sales, insurance adjusters, data entry and many other office tasks are easy to quantify. My point is at the end of the day both parties need to be happy enough to continue the relationship tomorrow, I simply dont think i'd care how many hours you put in only if you generate more value then you consume.

Become a consultant, and you'll be rewarded for results instead of time spent.

That's not necessarily true, though. Consultants often work hourly on contracts, which means that you're typically punished for being efficient as you won't have as many billable hours.

This generally means that you're better off being less efficient while still meeting the deadlines/goals.

Of course, there's a tradeoff since proving yourself to be more efficient than expected could result in more work etc, but it's not as clear cut as being rewarded for efficiency.

I haven't tried it. I think the idea is really interesting but it always seemed to me like it was somewhat in contradiction with why people become employees in the first place. My perception is that people ultimately sort themselves into different roles in the workforce and those who are employees are doing it mostly because they want a consistent income every month, perhaps a social environment to participate in and a fair amount of direction. If you don't want those things you go freelance or become an entrepreneur.

When I look at past and current people I've managed my feeling is maybe 1 in 4 would respond really well to the "results only" workplace and the other 3 might quit.

I think the whole discussion of remote work is colored by the fact that there is a particular personality type - smart, introverted, self-motivated, results-oriented - which operates very well remotely. A lot of these people gravitate toward the tech industry. Some of them get a taste of remote and then they talk it up like it's the future of work for everyone because it is so great for them. I totally get it, I prefer remote myself, and if those people produce then I'm happy to let them be as remote as they want to be forever.

It's just that those people aren't 100% of the workforce (probably not even 30%).

I think what you are describing is exactly that cause of remote work being a hot topic of discussion. It was really aggravated in the 00's with ads like "Mother of 4 makes $5,000 a Day Working from Home!". Now enough of those people found that it was a relative scam, or a niche field that they couldn't cope in.

I believe this has already been done extensively. It is called "outsourcing". For many companies this didn't end well. One of the reasons may be the following:

It is more expensive to control the results than to control the process.

Especially in software development, you need quality assurance throughout the whole process, because checking the results or result modules in a blackbox-fashion may lead to catastrophic results.

I know some programmers who were always able to produce code that fulfils the spec, after a few corrections. But any small change in the spec, and the whole thing falls apart. Show them their own code a few weeks later, and they won't be able to maintain it. Leave them alone a few months with their code, and they will refuse to work on it anymore, because they literally can't make any sense of it anymore.

Amen. E.g. - I had to pick up a project after these 2 guys in the place I was at in the late 90s that solely survived on the skills of the (rather good) QA in the project.

Alas, it was a C program, and any significant change in the (batch) input data would cause the thing to dump core. I'm not blaming the QA for failing to provide all possible variations of the client data (spec???), just the chumps who couldn't do "defensive programming" (e.g. - I/O error or null pointer checks)

Leaving these guys unattended for any length of time would be a disaster.

Very very insightful, can't upvote this enough.

Same experience as an employer. In my experience very few people know how to work remotely, autonomously, and communicate efficiently. So remote working requires a higher than average trust. On the other hand, managers should be conscious about the differences on the work styles.

I also think that remote work practices should be taught and we can't assume because you know how to use Slack, GitHub, Google Docs, and Skype you know how to work remotely.

Yeah, generally speaking most people are not motivated in their jobs and put the minimum effort needed. Many/most people need to be micromanaged. So doing remote where people work the same hours more-or-less lets you haggle people on Slack that aren't getting shit done.

Some types of work that are particularly well suited to remote work. It takes away the friction of a workplace, and instead people live with written messages and deadlines. Provided of course that the people taking part are responsible.

Am I alone here in actually wanting a place of work with a desk and co-workers.

I worked from home for a year and found it very stressful. There was a lack of human interaction and no clear line between home and work.

My current employer gives me a good balance. I usually spend 3 days in the office and 2 days at home. This is mostly because of the 2 hour commute into London. I'd love to work close to home and visit the office every day.

Looking at some of the comments here (for example: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12311632) it seems that the new work culture is being based around the approach adopted by a proportion of the population whose need's are different. These people thrive in this environment.

There is an assumption that the way that this group works is the future, and that it is just a matter of time before everybody else follows (See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12311689).

There are others, like myself, who find this way of working to be unpleasant. We would like to continue working the old way, but that doesn't seem to be an option anymore.

I used to enjoy having my own desk. I had a shelf of reference books and my personal belongings were locked away in the draw.

This is no longer allowed. Every job I've had for the last decade has been 'hot desking' and I have to carry everything with me every day.

Is a desk of my own where I can do a little nesting really too much to ask for?

Please allow me to affirm you're not alone in craving structure and a sense of professionalism in the modern workplace. Personally I genuinely dislike the "casual-ification" of work, if that made-up phrase makes any sense. At a prior job, I genuinely enjoyed wearing nice slacks, a nice button down, and a nice tie...which was the standard for back-office employees. Reason being if a client ever came in, they should see consistency and the effort (very relationship oriented firm).

I have poor personal discipline at times so working from home is distasteful to me. My wants and desires for fun / chores / etc don't mesh well with "being by computer or phone waiting for contact" - I get edgy. Then how can I unwind, I'm already home?!

I'm aiming to one day be self-employed, preferably in screenwriting. Should the financial compensation reach the point of the luxury of quitting my full-time employment with benefits, my first order of business will be to sign a lease at some type of office. I want to work 8-12 and then, as my brain shuts off, go home and spend time on personal things, chores, amusements, cooking, etc. I crave structure and therefore feel empowered by recognizing this characteristic in myself.

Casualization or proletarianization are the word you're looking for, when formerly/currently professional jobs are turned more and more and more into the precarious and interchangeable position of, say, a day laborer at the factories of yore. Adjuncts at universities are a good example. It's a natural part of the development of market economies. This is how you notice when your being prepared for automation. See Taylorism, scientific management, etc.

Interesting! Thanks for the context. I agree with the Adjuncts example very much.

I would like both of those things, but I would also like to stay living in a country that is not the US, while being employed by a US company. If, instead of remote work, they had a branch-office in my city, that'd be just as well.

"Is a desk of my own where I can do a little nesting really too much to ask for?"

If we give you that, then you might start to think you're an individual, instead of a replaceable cog.

    > And, truth be told, you probably don’t trust most of your colleagues
    > or your boss, either.
From all the places I worked at as an employee or a freelancer in the last twenty years, in the US or in Germany, that was not true for about 2/3rd of them. And the remaining 1/3rd wasn't so much that I didn't trust my colleagues, the whole place was "lost". For example my 2nd job, in a startup with waaayyyyyy too much money and attention for its own good.

Even if I include the time of my apprenticeship in an East German (GDR) chemical factory of several thousand employees, even there the majority of people did a good job at work and were competent.

Even when I extend that to numerous summer jobs in a brewery, sausage factory, chocolate factory and a dozen others (non-food), I rarely had the impression that the sentence I quoted demonstrates.

That a job may be useless - okay, that happens a lot, but I can rarely attribute it to complete incompetence, most of it is much larger forces at work than an individual - even a CEO - can fight. And yes, sometimes people are in over their head, but that happens, so what. In the day to day operations I must have been incredibly lucky that my experiences are overall very positive? Hard to believe.

Since "trust" is the centerpiece of that article I question whether their entire premise is even true.

From reading your comment and the article, I think you're talking about different types of trust.

I trust my colleagues at all levels, say, not to steal £10 I leave in my desk. But the article is talking about the kind of trust to be working hard the whole time, competently, totally for the best interests of the company.

Given how common it is for us to moan about our useless and lazy bosses (and fellow programmers), I have to agree that trust of that nature isn't very common. I can't say whether it has got more or less common prevalent over time, though.

No, you got that wrong. I mean exactly that kind of trust in their abilities as coworkers. The thought of interpreting that in a "criminal" sense never even occurred to me. You may (re)interpret that as you will.

I can see now how a possible interpretation that surely somebody will come up with - whether they post it or not - is that I am clueless myself and that that's the reason I had such positive experiences. May be, I would be the last one to know, right? On the other hand, work as a well-paid freelancer who likes to not just not get fired but also to get the contract renewed would be hard if that was so, I think?

That previous paragraph shows I actually do have a trust issue: (now speaking generally, not in response to the comment) online I've come to expect bad things happening. You post something you think is positive and interesting and out of nowhere comes an interpretation that is dark and turns it all on its head.

Even in the GDR chemical factory, where it would have been extremely easy and would have had few repercussions, most people (actually everybody I ever worked with there, and I saw many different departments) voluntarily decided to do what it takes to keep things running as well as they could. When they didn't work it was because there really wasn't anything to do. I never saw anyone neglecting their duty. My apprenticeship was for a very technical job "BMSR Techniker" - measurement, control and regulation technology, so I never was an office worker but in the production line or in construction (electrical infrastructure).

I do remember that a (random) manager in the chocolate factory I worked for three weeks during winter break at university didn't trust me:

I had just fed a machine - more thoroughly than necessary - and had nothing to do until it would be finished 10 minutes later, so I sat down and read in my French lesson book - always with an ear for the machine next to me. I could not have done any other work even if I wanted, there was only that machine in that room.

In comes a manager (that I didn't know) - immediately assuming I'm a lazy SOB. It was the complete opposite - I LIKE to work, and I had until then - without any supervision or pressure - done much more than asked. That changed somewhat after that !$%"§$ manager treated me like dirt.

Okay, so there is this guy that I didn't trust, but he wasn't even my manager, he just happened to walk by, never met him again but he ruined the entire three weeks of work experience. I never bought anything that I knew was made in that factory again.

Well, the "scrum" methodology can be summed up as "how to (convince yourself even though you actually aren't) force people you don't trust to do stuff that you don't actually trust them to do", so the popularity of scrum suggests that the bosses don't trust any of us. If you trust them, that trust is strictly one-way.

You generalize, but I spoke about my own actual experience. If I talked about the things I read I'd say what you say, but I chose to speak about my personal actual experience.

Since you mention scrum, I was on one project with "mild scrum". It was a very good project with very good people. Other freelancers came from non-IT (but STEM) field, they worked in IT because there was no money in their own field. Even they "knew their shit", in their specialization (an Oracle product) more than me, no need to check on them, they too delivered on time and good enough quality ("good enough" sounds bad until you factor in the usual business pressures, like accumulating ever more technical debt because there wasn't a penny for refactoring, and that project had outgrown its initial spec by orders of magnitude).

Anyway, I only ever read about the horror stories, never been in one myself. The closest may have been a few weeks in an already late project for the German government that I was added to for no other reason then to show the customer that we try. Nobody really incompetent either, the project was doing as well as it could, the actual problem was that in order to get the project my company had to promise more than is possible. You can't blame the government either though, if they don't go for the lowest bidder the newspapers and the public are up in arms about "government waste". Everybody actually seems to act quite sanely individually, much of the insanity is a system outcome. Change would have to come from everybody changing at the same time.

The whole trust thing seems to have come from Nash and his game theory work...

Work is a spectrum between specific repetitive tasks and the need for deep creative solutions to problems. On one hand we have the need to pull this lever every 36 seconds. on the other, is The Problem. We've all faced The Problem, but perhaps not for work. It's the thing that's at the top of the stack for days, weeks, or months on end. Perhaps solving a Rubik's cube. Perhaps understanding recursion. We've all gone through that phase of not understanding something and thinking about it constantly.

IMHO, the 9-5 is is useful because, in the pull the lever case, the lever gets pulled. More importantly, a substantial fraction of time exposed to The Problem. You have nine hours to kill, odds are good people will spend those hours possibly getting hooked on solving The Problem. There's little chance they'll solve the problem in those hours, but they'll get hooked on The Problem and think about it while washing dishes, in the shower, and sleeping. Once you're hooked, it's tough to get away from it without solving it.

Ultimately, i think anything repetitive will be automated away. But we still need some way to hook people on The Problem. Hours and hours of exposure is probably inefficient, but it's effective.

It's not effective because I value my time so I don't work a full time job. You'd get me interested if your work day was 4 hours a day.

But that's not really how it works. Sure, for lever pulling, no problem. For solving a hard problem, I think about it constantly for weeks on end. The 9-5 is just trying to hook you. if you can demonstrate you only need to show up for an hour, one time, and get hooked on my problem, that's pretty valuable. It's just hard to demonstrate you're hooked. Maybe you're thinking about my problem, maybe you're thinking about grape pop tarts. There's no way for me to know what's at the top of your stack.

Shouldn't the results of the work speak for themselves? If the work output is the same either way, it doesn't matter if I spent 40 days in the desert meditating on the problem or 15 minutes thinking about it in the shower.

Yes! But does it work like that? Certainly, some problems i've had insight into and had a very good answer very quickly. But if i'm stuck thinking about the problem in the shower, well i've probably been thinking about it for at least a day. Sleep is a powerful source of solutions. Realistically, it's not the next morning in the shower, it's 40 days later.

The desert is fine if that's what works for you. Most people (imho) grind away with no effect for days or weeks, and then have that flash of insight. A new thing to try. Most work is stupid, typing in stupid things to effectively prove the stupid thing doesn't work. This is more on the lever pulling edge of the spectrum. But then, eventually, there's that one insight that makes the whole thing tractable. In the shower. On a Tuesday. It only works because we've been thinking about the thing, in the background, for a long time.

If you're not interested in your work enough to spend 8 hours a day on it, you're doing the wrong work. (Or the sucky part of the right work... we've all been there.) I don't think it's possible to do your best work on something non-trivial without fully immersing yourself in it.

This is simply not true, the 8 hour workday is a complete arbitrary concept. There is a wealth of research to show our creative thinking is best done in short spurts. Time off in between actually helps your subconscious continue to work on the solution, something known as "diffuse mode" when I am attempting to solve a problem. There is a reason why so many of former geniuses, great authors, mathematicians said their best solutions came after a walk through nature.

Maybe I should have phrased it as "to spend 8 hours a day thinking about it." And I'm not suggesting you need to be spending every waking moment on it, either. But you have to be focused on something for some minimum percentage of your time (which does vary for each person) before your subconscious really starts digging into it.

I'd agree with your final statement, but I don't see any connection between "full immersion" and eight+ hour days. Rather the contrary, actually. Three or Four hour stints of concentration are optimal for me, and seldom seen to happen in an office environment.

Clearly, others will do their best in different environments. The search for "one size fits all" is part of the problem here.

I've tried the flexible job thing. For the office "butt in the seat" part, I have to concede that it works better for me as it prevents me drifting towards more and more comfort (which at some point translates to less and less productivity). It forces some standards and work ethics giving me that feeling that I am at work. For the flexible hours I think it's best to let everybody to choose their own program, but it should be around six to eight hours because that is the productive interval for the most people (except maybe the low-energy or burnout individuals). It's OK if you want to work less hours to foot the bills and pour the rest of your energy into other (side work) projects, but it would be a waste to get yourself some time out of this creative period to only allow it to be poached in some others' service disguised as social play. This "work" tag on your time is a good thing, for many reasons. Don't hate it.

The word "remote" is so general it's basically useless. We need new common terms to describe the different types, such as:

- Long remote: When someone is offshore or many time zones away (such as India or Eastern Europe).

- TZ remote: Same timezone, but requires airplane flight to meet.

- Local remote: Within driving distance.

Local remote is the best of both worlds and all companies should be doing this. It can be a 3-2 balance (3 days remote, 2 days in office) or 4-1, whatever makes sense for the team and company. Employees get the benefit of remote (flexibility, no commute) and in person meetings (such as designing a new system on a whiteboard). It's sad that so many tech companies (such as Google and FB) don't do this. Considering that it's tech that allows this (with video conferencing, git, slack, etc.), it's ironic that tech companies are so resistant to doing local remote.

TZ remote can work, but it should be only for employees who are already established at the company (spent many years doing local remote). The connections developed during the local remote years will help make TZ remote work. And they can fly to the office a few times during the year to refresh those connections.

Long remote has a lot of issues. The big time zone difference, lack of any history of in-person meetings, and culture differences make it very difficult for this to work.

Nope! This is not a problem brought on by the digital age. It has just become more obvious.

The problem is that popular theories of management are about control. The CEO controls everything. His immediate in-group controls slices. Their in-groups control smaller slices still. If you control nobody, then you are lowest in the primate status structure.

Remote working undermines that, because it removes you from direct control. Managers and execs are in large part unable to usefully evaluate the work of the people under them. (The whole theory of the MBA is that it's a universal management degree, that understanding of a domain is irrelevant.) Which is why we have to spend so much time on control-oriented systems like plans and trackers and reporting. Managers, unable to actually judge the work, fall back on the obvious: physical presence and conformance to ritual.

To fix this, we need an entirely different theory of management, a shift from controlling to supportive. There are plenty of options here (Lean Manufacturing, Servant Leadership, "Teal" organizations, what the Zingerman's businesses are doing, even our pre-MBA business past), but approximately nobody is adopting them because the people with control like having control. And because we have these cultural assumptions that somebody is supposed to be in control.

I agree for the most part, but I also think we want somebody not only to control, but to blame for failure.

Definitely. Controlling and blaming behaviors go hand in hand.

I have a question regarding the 9-5 working day. Do Americans really work 9-5 and regard this as an 8 hour working day? Or is this a legacy of the old days with paid lunch or such?

I officially work 8.25 hours per day or 8-17 with 45 minutes of lunch, this is roughly the standard working day in Sweden.

9–5 is the standard British working day, which includes an hour for lunch.

As an example, my contract when I worked for the British government said, "You will normally be required to work a five-day week of 41 hours gross, Monday to Friday, including meal breaks".

The time allowed for lunch breaks was one hour per day, which led to a working time of 7h12m, and a total weekly working time of 36 hours.

I only notice now that this doesn't quite add up to 9–17h. That's probably because most people took about ¾ hour for lunch rather than the full hour, and left at 17:00 rather than 17:12.

(Or maybe I was doing it wrong.)

It may have been the standard once, but these days the standard seems to be 8 hours of work, plus 30 or 60 minutes for lunch.

I don't know anyone that works 9-5 with an hour for lunch.

That'll be me! I am in the Midlands.

....although I must admit this is rare. The last place was 9-5 with half an hour for lunch, which was widely abused by others (eg. 2 hour pub lunch every Friday, clear off early, roll in late).

A previous place wanted 40 hours a week when I inquired about returning. A reevaluation of priorities led me to turn that offer down.

9-6 is standard every place I've worked. I've always worked in London though, so perhaps there is a split there relative to the rest of the country.

In the UK the standard was once 9-5 with an hour's lunch. It's slowly crept from that to "9-5 with a short lunch if you're not busy" and then "8 paid hours plus unpaid lunch".

Depends where you are really. I do 9-5 with an hours paid lunch, last place I did 8-5 with paid lunch.

Not sure about the US, but in the UK which seems to be fairly culturally aligned, we're expected to put in an average of 7.5h of "logged in" work, with core hours being 09:30-16:30, and a mandatory 30m unpaid lunchbreak.

(I say average because you're expected to put in ~37.5h of work a week, and have the deficit/surplus at month end of +-5h)

Having worked 20 or 30 temp jobs in my time as well as perms, in the UK in the 2000s it used to be 37.5/37/35 hours per week for office and 40 for industrial or warehouse work, but it's increasingly common to see 40 for office.

I work for a well known software company in the US. I get in by 9 and leave by 5. I take a 30-60 minute lunch break.

I'm not a young go getter. Many of my colleagues get in earlier and stay way later. I'm not sure about them but I continue to get raises and glowing performance reviews.

The situation is a little different in Ireland: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/employment/employment_r...

I work from 10am to 7pm, with an unpaid lunch break at 1pm. That's considered and 8-hour working day here.

You may be officially "at work" for that time in Sweden, but there are the countless fika breaks.

I believe Swedish law calls for a minimum 5 minutes break per hour? (Not mandatory but an entitlement)

You are entitled to 5 minutes per hours for toilette breaks et.c. Most white collar jobs you just take your breaks whenever you feel you need them, and the fika is very important and in most places longer than the 20 minutes you accumulate in the morning or afternoon. In blue collar it is sometimes very different with a signal at 55 minutes every hour and then a signal 3 minutes later to signal that it is time to start moving back to your station and be ready for the signal at the hour. But I have worked as a construction worker where there was fika at least once every morning and afternoon.

but there are the countless fika breaks.

At every company in Sweden I've worked the number was exactly 2 @ 15 minutes each.

When I worked in manual labour (warehouses etc) that was certainly the case but in a white-collar job it is much less structured in my experience, we may have a formal fika once a week or just informal coffee breaks every now and then.

Fika IS important to productivity though! Morale boosting if nothing else.

Being Swedish, this sounds about right to me.

This is legacy. Lunch is usually not included in the US so 8-5 if you take an hour lunch or 8:30 - 5 if you take a half hour lunch.

Your hours are common in the U.S., except it would be a 1 hour lunch to keep to a 40 hour work week. 9-5 is just a shorthand.

8-5 is the standard USA working day.

most people work 09:00 - 18:00 and take 45-60 minutes for lunch around noon or 13:00. however many people start or end earlier or later to avoid bad traffic.

This is not the "work world of the future".

What we were promised is 30 maybe even 20 hours of work a week, the location hardly matters.

Instead we get to work even longer hours.

Only because employees allow it. Work 20 hours and you'll get paid for 20 hours, but life hasn't gotten cheaper and wages haven't gone up as much, so you'll have to make some concessions.

That way of thinking is the fundamental problem. Being in the office 20 hours instead of 40 doesn't necessarily lead to a 50% reduction in my productivity, so why should I necessarily accept a 50% pay cut?

Because nobody knows how to measure these things. If they do know, they will work with a majority of people who don't. Even if they surmount that obstacle, then something will go wrong and it'll be a failed experiment.

And worse even yet, if you are shown to be more productive, then you've incentivized all the others on your team to gently sabotage you. That sounds more paranoid than it really is. But I've had people say bluntly "we don't want to get this done too quickly because it'll wreck the project management calibration."

This is harder than it looks.

The question is then, why is it that with all the technology/automation we got hasn't life gotten cheaper?

Many parts of life have gone cheaper - while feeding and clothing your family used to take a full time job, now you can buy (that level+amount) of food and clothing for just a few hours of work at minimuma wage.

However, major parts of our current expense, like housing at desirable areas, are "competitive" in that if everybody earns ten times as much then the good would also cost ten times as much.

"Housing" in the sense as shelter somewhere is very cheap to make, only "housing" in an area where you (and everyone else) would want to work and raise your kids is expensive.

"Education" in the sense of simply obtaining knowledge and information is very cheap now, only "education" in the meaning of degree=certification that you're "better than average" is expensive.

I once calculated that I literally could live in semi-abandoned areas with the 1916 level of goods&services (+ a PC and internet) for 5-10 hours of work/week even if that was at minimum wage, and remote contracting often does much better. Including paying for the home - they're dirt cheap in places that people are leaving for the expensive places. However, the trouble is that I don't really want to and can afford to "do better" - and everyone else does as well.

Yes, it seems that life has generally gotten cheaper if you don't require health care, childcare, or education. The one thing that hasn't gone down in price that everyone needs is food.


When we consider that "life has gotten cheaper" then looking at 2005-2014 is rather counterproductive, since the big changes there were before 2000; at least I was talking more on the scale of 100 years than 10 years which has rather different trends.

Also, the healthcare price increase is mostly by changing the "basket" of what we mean by "healthcare" - if we compare current healthcare with e.g. 1916 or 1966, then it's much more expensive but mostly because healthcare now includes expensive procedures for ailments that simply would not be treated back then other than painkillers to ease the death.

The true answer involves looking at the basic inputs of an economy and seeing which are being regulated heavily, and how that flows through as price increases.

Land, labour and energy are the basic inputs. You could argue capital as well. Technology is a productivity multiplier. Some things are getting cheaper - much cheaper. But other things are getting heavily regulated, which drives flow-on price increases.

The problem is those flow on increases have swamped the price reductions from automation. Technology price reductions are gradual and incremental, whereas regulation can be applied on thickly at the stroke of a pen.

Where I live, heavy regulation on land use causes shortages, which drives up the price of everything. To sell tech in a shop requires silly rent, and paying someone to mind the cash register has been regulated to be high. So while the price of a 8Gb isn stick has crashed, the shop and the employee have rocketed up.

I'd add time to that, and raw materials. Knowledge is a nonconsumable input, but education, training, and skills maintenance are also factors.

Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations has an interesting breakdown of factors contributing to wages, though he also maintains that a wage must always be sufficient to sustain not only the labourer himself (hey, this was 1776), but his wife and children, and their education so as to provide for the next generation of workers.

There are some other points I'll address directly to your parent's question.

Because technology also leads to better "things" that cost more but overall provide more value for the money.

Think of it this way: if you wanted to replicate the average life of someone who lives in the 1950's, it would be cheaper than today (I know housing kinda screws that up). No internet, a basic car without all the electronics and safety gear, no computer, smaller house, rarely flying anywhere, etc.

The trade off with improved productivity is this: you can either work less and make the same amount or you can work the same amount and make more. Most people choose the later.

It has gotten cheaper in terms of physical resources (reality), but not in terms of money.

Two of the three main goals of the money system, as stated in the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, are to maintain stable prices and maximize employment.

So, not only does technological ephemeralization run counter to these explicit goals, it also cedes power from the super administrators who dictate the money supply which ultimately determines monetary prices across the globe.

The value from all of this technology/automation is being captured by a smaller and smaller number of people. When your employer introduces technology that makes you 50% more productive, they are not going to pay you 50% more or let you work 50% less for the same pay. They're going to pocket the surplus as profit.

It mostly has, but that's hard to show. Land rents/housing , education and medical care all have been subsidized, so there is more of it ( expect land - they're not making any more of it) and it costs more.

That's a hell of a question.

First of: compared to when? If your baseline is, say, 1870 or 1770, life is far cheaper in terms of hours of work required to purchase basic goods. There's a long literature of basic worker incomes and expenditures, reading of which is fascinating.

If the question shifts to, say, 1950 - 2000, and your focus is the US or Western Europe (and we're considering a majority ethnicity male), I'd argue that life may or may not have gotten more expensive (though I think it has), but it's become tremendously less stable.

Lifetime employment means not having to worry about losing your current job, finding a new one, and supporting yourself and dependents in the meantime. Doing all of that on a barely-sufficient income (e.g., minimum savings), or worse, an insufficient income, becomes quite challenging.

Emma Rotshchild (yes, one of those Rothschilds), a Smith scholar, notes that his liberal philosophy isn't just philosophically liberal but materially liberal. Having income surplus to needs allows making choices. Or, as Eric Ravenscraft put it at Lifehacker: "When you’re broke, the only freedom you have is to make bad decisions."

He explains that:

Paying rent isn’t really a “good decision” so much as a responsibility. You don’t get a pat on the back for paying your rent. It’s great when you’re able to do it—you can’t always be sure you can when you’re poor—but it’s just treading water. You can’t choose to invest wisely or save for emergencies.


Putting yet another spin on this: a life in which you've optimised every decision and every action is one in which your only freedom, your only option, your only inconsistency, in any way, is something which will make your situation worse.

I can't think of a better argument for why a fully-optimised, fully-efficient life or existence would be hell.

Back to your question.

There are multiple elements of this:

1. What are market dynamics, and who has negotiating or bargaining advantage? Adam Smith notes that the upper hand lies with "masters" (employers), not labour.

2. What is price, and how does it relate to cost and value (and what's value, while we're at it) as well? To what extent are these givens, and to what extent are they fictions of market, ideology, or political strengths?

3. The Jevons Paradox. Another dilemma of efficiency is that making something more efficient is the same as reducing its cost, all else constant. Which means you'll increase demand, either individually or in aggregate. The things which have become cheaper (e.g., clothes) we now buy far more of (a closet full, rather than your work-day wear, and a suit for religious service).

4. Social signalling. Thorstein Veblen's contribution -- expensive information costs (both sending and receiving) make social signalling through appearance and consumption critical.

5. Price dynamics of wages, products, extractive materials, and rents. In particular, whilst some prices are drivers (higher-cost raw materials increase market prices), others follow general market prices (higher wages create higher rents). Unless supply of rented goods or services is fungible (e.g., Bay Area housing), well, you know what happens.

Isn't that part of the myth of technology, though? I suppose it's an incredibly fluid concept, but to some degree those "30 or even 20 hours of work" were supposed to be brought about by technological improvement.

I'm a software developer working 20 hours per week as a contractor. I'm also living in Thailand. So in my case, my wages have gone up, and life has gotten much cheaper.

And I'm still tempted to go back to working 40 or 60 hour weeks. There's always... more. I could be saving up to buy a new car, virtual reality gear and a new PC, or investment properties. I could go on longer and more expensive vacations between jobs.

But for now, I've decided that I value my free time more than money.

It's not because employees allow it. It's because there was no change, and employers won't change.

You can't blame this on employees when it means they'd get fired if they refused, and therefore not be able to support their families.

(Edit: The original title is "There's no such thing as flexible work". The title posted here is causing commenters to rail against management.)

The relevant paragraphs:

In other words, the propensity for email, texting and quick-type apps has led us to forget some of our people skills, including distinguishing the nuances of language and meaning, fostering of a feeling of belonging among groups of people, and knowing our bosses and colleagues well enough to have confidence that others will pull their weight. That, in turn, has diminished implicit and earned trust among the people we work with.

Technology has disrupted the workplace – and not always for the better. That lack of trust brings about fear, which goes a long way to explaining why we put in face time, even when we probably don’t need to in order to do our work well. It also can explains why we feel we’ve got to have our “butt in the seat” even if our work could truly be done from the corner café or the back garden.

A big problem, bigger than this even, is that we don't know what a post-industrial economy looks like yet. We don't have all the norms ironed out, and we haven't come to grips with the fact that it'll look different (in basically every way) than an industrial economy. So many of our assumptions are rooted in 19th and 20th century ideas of what day to day work should look like, most of which is based of factory work and routine work. And that's where the 40 hour work week comes from, as well as the 9-5 schedule. Factories have shifts, 9-5 is just the most normal one, 40 hours a week is 1/3 of all weekday hours, it's fairly simple. These norms were designed to fit humans into the system of machinery, to figure out a way they could service the machines 24/7. They've been brought down to reasonable(ish) terms based on decades of work to improve working conditions, but they're still fundamentally norms based on factory work.

Creative work, knowledge work, development, etc, are very much different kinds of work, and they tend to be done in a different way. They don't have the same requirements of factory work (no need for shifts to man machines 24/7 except in a few cases). And they don't take a personal toll the same way. Lots of people fall into the trap of thinking that sitting in an air conditioned office necessarily makes a job easy, even "cushy", compared to physical labor, but that's an archaic notion. The impositions of cognitive labor can be just as severe as physical labor. Stress and bad working conditions in cognitive work can lead to health problems, emotional problems, and shorter lifespans just as easily as physical work can. Stress, psychological abuse, oppression, emotional crisis, all of these things are potentially as life threatening and traumatic as black lung or broken limbs. But whereas we've spent decades and trillions of dollars setting standards for the physical well being of workers in manual labor conditions we have only scratched the surface, with mixed results, when it comes to cognitive well-being.

On the one hand, hours are somewhat tangential to those factors, but on the other hand, when there are conditions which are detrimental to cognitive well-being being the number of hours that must be spent at work often significantly increases the problem. There are many jobs that are tolerable even when they are at 60+ hours a week, and there are other jobs that are intolerable even at 20 hours a week.

I think firms that offer work from home and flexible hours will be able to attract better talent in the coming years, then slowly more will offer it. Eventually people will get smart and start to ask for more money from companies that dont offer these things ("You want me to drive an hour to sit in a box so you can watch me? Sure, that's going to be an extra 20%") once that tipping point is reached things will change.

That 20% sounds about right to me. I'm much more efficient when I work from home. My commute is walking across my kitchen to my office. Lunch break is getting up to get a salad or sandwich from said kitchen. I can work an 8 hour day in 8-9 hours total including breaks for lunch etc.

There is no way to do that in the Boston area where I live if I have to drive to a office. Commutes here are usually about an hour per 20 miles driven during rush hour. That makes an 8 hour work day more like 10-11 hours. So somewhere between 20% and 25% makes up the difference.

That sounds exactly right, once we reach a tipping point it will happen quickly.

I think it's a lot like the 'paper less office'. It was talked about for a decade before it happened and it wasn't a linear progression. At first it meant more paper, as people were doing all sorts of 'silly' things, like printing out and filing emails.

But today I can't remember the last time I printed something or read something on paper.

>> "Our ability to trust each other has not advanced in parallel with the technology we have created"

This is completely false given most employers have way more trust based on using tech to know what they're doing, where they are, etc.

Largest reason that "butts in seats" will go away is in fact due to tech via increasingly "smarter" tech.

My experience is that onsite work is largely driven by more trival concerns such as ego, socializing, etc.

Office space is a huge waste of resources for the major majority of businesses.

Not trusting your employees is simply poor management. There really is no excuse in this day and age to deny remote work to tech workers, other than management is incapable of managing them. When job hunting, I see lack of full time remote positions as a red flag.

Not really. No more than Counter Strike let people decide for themselves how many points they deserve... In our freetime, we play games in systems that decide our worth for us. I see no reason why work should be any different. In a management role, I get far happier, more productive people, when I reach out and find out what they're doing. People like it when people take an interest in them, and what they are doing.

That sounds like you are a good manager. This is more about the remote aspect though. With email, text, phone, and video chat it is easy to find out what somebody is doing and take an interest without physically being there. When management can't do that but instead rely on butts in seats and office rituals is when I worry.

This blames digital culture. But the collapse of institutional trust came with the rise of neoliberalism, and convincing people there was no longer any such thing as a job for life. So this set in well before the Internet. It may have furthered it, of course.

What's good in having a job for life, without any further opportunities? Looks boring as hell.

Stability, and freedom to focus on other things in life is not a bad goal. It's the "Work to live" vs "Live to work" mindset.

Hardly possible to focus on other things if you spend most of your time at the office.

I'm currently working 4 hours a day, usually from 10pm until 2am. I'm living in Thailand, so these hours overlap with clients in the US.

I'm still productive, but I'm the only developer working on this project, so I don't think it's ideal. I think I could be about 3x more productive if I was in "startup mode" with a lot of equity. But I don't want to do that for this project, and 4 hours per day suits me very well.

It can be hard to keep saying no, and hold onto my 20 hour weeks. The client keeps talking about bringing me on full-time, and I keep politely declining. But then I've been thinking about saving up to buy an apartment, or a new car, or a vacation to Europe... I might go full-time for a little while to save up for that vacation. But apart from that, I really value my free time.

I spend a lot of my free time working on side projects. But I also really enjoy the freedom to read, or work on filmmaking, music, or other hobbies. Or to go for a walk, sit by a lake, watch TV, or just do nothing at all. I'm also working during the night, so it feels like I have the whole day to do whatever I want.

It's sad that this article only talked about "flexibility", and didn't mention anything about shorter work weeks.

Curious, did you already have US clients and then decided to go overseas, or did you organize all that completely remotely?

I organized it all completely remotely. I found a few clients from posts on various job boards, including Hacker News threads. I've recently just been working with Toptal, which is a lot easier, although I've had to lower my rate quite a bit.

I've applied to http://10xmanagement.com/, but haven't heard anything yet. They have a huge number of applications.

Very interesting, thanks for responding!

For the most part its pretty much the luck of the draw and I have been pull Aces for many years. Gaining trust is communicating it and backing it up with proof through good work, initiative, and intuitiveness. If those traits are not earning the trust you need then you are likely in a place where it won't matter what you do.

I had a long story written but figured it might reveal too much and give away where I am. I work in a corporate hq, multiple subsidiaries in the same site. The difference in how they are managed is striking, I am in one I describe above. I work more at home than work and most of my on site time is more for me to maintain friendships than anything else.

The difficult part is that by looking at the people in upper management someone coming off the street would mix the two groups up if you told them the stark differences. So its something you either are going to find out from friends who are there or have friends at a location or be willing to spend the time to find out yourself. Just saying, some of the more progressive appearing teams were the most repressive I have ever been around and the so called old school worked up from the field groups were more you earn it you have earned it.

It worked for me. I'm a true digital nomad. I moved out of the US and work whatever hours I want totally remotely. I firmly believe this is the future. Maybe it's taking longer than anticipated but it _is_ happening more and more. Just search "digital nomad" for a taste.

Who do you work for that allows such flexibility, or is it more just contract gigs?

Elasticsearch - it's a fully distributed company. Almost all engineers work remotely from around the world. https://www.elastic.co/about/careers

The entire premise of the article seems to be based on the following paragraph and I simply did not understand it:

"In other words, the propensity for email, texting and quick-type apps has led us to forget some of our people skills, including distinguishing the nuances of language and meaning, fostering of a feeling of belonging among groups of people, and knowing our bosses and colleagues well enough to have confidence that others will pull their weight. That, in turn, has diminished implicit and earned trust among the people we work with."

How has has the use of quick-type apps eroded trust exactly? I don't follow this. Can anyone clarify?

At times I've been called autistic so I've often observed this in many realms of human endeavor. Many people don't trust or distrust others biased on a concrete factual reason like I do("Bob is a soup kitchen volunteer and a Catholic big brother he must be a nice guy"), it is often that they appear to have a "feeling" about a person. The positivity of this feeling is dependent on how much time they have spent in close vicinity to said person recently. It is a odd, probably measurable effect and one I've used myself to advance my career.

Thanks for giving some context. This makes sense. I think this might explain the phenomenon you see at many tech companies where you often see entire departments go out to lunch together every day, something I think is odd.

Employment isn't just about work output, it's also about availability.

To me this means 'butts in seats' will never disappear, because when you agree to an standard employment contract, you are generally agreeing to be available at the employer's location.

There's a reason it's called human resources. The human is a bit like a tool lying in a toolbox. Even if if the tool is not being used all the time, there is an advantage in keeping it available for when it is needed.

I prefer flexible arrangements to full remote work. Some days one needs face time or in-person collaboration. Some days one needs silence and long stretches of uninterrupted thought for coding.

As technology invades work and automates/assists in most menial tasks, the focus of a job becomes more about improving communication (from increasing productivity earlier).


I suspect more mentality change is going to be required in the following areas: trust, economic efficiency, value of money, materialism, stigma's, what makes people happy. Or another economic revolution.

I'm absolutely useless if given excessive amounts of freedom. So there's that.

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