I work remotely for 6+ years; during that time I created some unique algorithms, traveled around the world, met diverse types of people giving me unexpected inspirations from which business benefited tremendously (unique stuff nobody else has). I have the big 4 companies trying to contact me all the time if I wouldn't want to work for them, however seeing inside e.g. crammed offices of Google in Zurich with monitor next to monitor, makes it very unappealing.
Remote work requires focus and discipline. Focus is way easier than in an open office, discipline is more difficult. I still remember finishing some server part and tests while laying on a beach in Barcelona using their public Wi-Fi, getting tanned, and whenever I felt like, dipped into the sea - it was super energizing and motivating to continue working. Also viewing sunset above the place of refuge on the Hawaiian Big Island from a rented cottage, while sipping a cocktail and working on some advanced algorithm was superbly motivating. Just because some managers need to control everyone around and enforce the same misery on their subordinates doesn't mean there aren't better ways to work. It's actually stupid not to give people WFH and make them miserable commuting (some people spend up to 6 hours/day in the traffic). The technology is there, but the perceived lack of control and insecurity of power structures must spoil it for everyone, "'cause everybody is doing it in the office and it can't be done other way well". Phew
Your perception of this approach changes relatively quickly in a managerial role.
If you are shaving 1-2 hours off your commute, then the overall output should be in line with whatever it was in the office. I probably met two other engineers that kept that in check.
But as an employee, there's no way I'm going to drag my ass into an office ever again on a regular basis, when I can just as well work from exotic beachfront homes.
This is going to work out just like companies who cut compensation work out. You'll be left with the mediocre engineers and everyone who's able to choose to work remotely will eventually do so. If you don't permit that, you're left with the chaff.
Besides, isn't it kind of the managers job to help keep output in check? If my output was down I'd expect a friendly note telling me to quit slacking.
This has to be the best comment in this thread.
I am observing this phenomena lately and I gotta say, I feel rather good about seeing the more backwards employers struggle already.
They really have no idea it's the programmer's market.
I have a line item called "distress surcharge" that is charged to clients who want to bother me with being in the office. Effectively doubles my rate. Helps them quit being silly.
I am looking forward to start working with N customers on contract / consulting base but the transition is really hard. People keep treating me like a coding monkey whom they have to swindle for the lowest possible salary. Guess I have to change my LinkedIn profile dramatically, and make my own website as a start.
Bottom-line / on-topic: if you're willing to share lessons learned from your transition then you should know that you'd have a passionate and intentive listener (me).
Why not? I work remotely and if I was to run a company I would hire remotely too. Given that I've coded myself I expect to know how long tasks should generally take. And I would want to give that benefit to my employees and attract talent as well.
There are courses that teach people how to focus on results and deliverables.
Deadlines being flexible roadmap deadlines of course
For you. But not everyone works like that.
Here is a scenario for you: you're a manager at a company that does not have a remote culture in place. You have ten employees on your team. Two of them want to work remotely. You let them.
I'm interested in hearing how you would resolve these issues:
1. The remote employees now feel left out because even though on paper they are video conferenced in to all team meetings, important insights or decisions are happening in organic social discussions for which it is awkward or simply not worth it to start a video chat? What happens when everyone in the same room gets involved in a conversation that was started by two of the in-office employees talking about a weekend project, and they decide to port a discovery to their current software?
2. Some of the in-office employees start to find it cumbersome and annoying to communicate with the remote employees. They hate video conference software. They're reluctant to reach out to the remote employees because they know they have to set up a video call. Video conferences become prone to connection issues. Conversations that would normally be a five or ten minute check in with your peer in the same room become 30 or 40 minute asynchronous conversations over Slack.
3. Some of the in-office or remote employees encounter a lot of friction in communication, because they don't really know how to interpret tone over Slack. Video conferencing remains a pain in the ass, and some people simply don't want to do it.
I work remotely. I like it a lot. But I think your characterization of many of the comments here as a "crab mentality" is unfair. Not everyone wants to work remotely on a beach and not everyone focuses well or has the same discipline like you. Far more importantly, companies that don't already have remote cultures have employees that don't really want to work with remote employees for both rational and irrational reasons. It is a complex business problem to implement a functional remote culture for all involved.
2. Some of in-office employees find it cumbersome and annoying to sit next to loud and obnoxious coworkers. They find they can not get any work done around them. Why should we cater to some employees and not others?
3. Video conferencing is not a pain in the ass. At my job, it's a simple as "create skype meeting" on outlook. Everyone clicks link, done. Or if it's more adhoc-open chat, call, share screen. Done.
I've yet to see a good reason why good employees can not work from home, other than, your company is just poorly managed and can't handle it.
There's not much serendipity in any office I've ever worked in; I've always had to do the legwork myself.
Basically you decide to make a speech on some topic, e.g. this month I talk about how to make a compiler easily, then you work on it & learn what is necessary and in the end present it. Next month you decide to do Paxos vs RAFT on transacted clusters, then you study and prepare. Next month it's about using GANs to make new, sci-fi looking furniture, so you learn and present. Then you throw in perpendicular stuff like how to retouch beauty photoshoots properly, mix deep house as a DJ or compose trance quickly in Ableton, just not to get stuck in programming only. And so on.
Essays from workers like Jen McCown isn't going to work.
What works is to have massively successful businesses that beat the competition because their employees work remotely. Since no multi-billion dollar business has demonstrated that specific cause & effect, the idea doesn't gain traction.
Yes, businesses like Basecamp and Automattic have remote workers but I'm talking about significant business successes on the scale of Google/Apple/SpaceX/etc. If a remote workforce can demonstrate unequivocal superiority, there would be endless case studies about it in Harvard Business Review and every manager would be copying it like the Six Sigma craze a few decades ago.
What the WFH movement needs is evidence of massive business success instead of essays. So far, the real-world evidence just hasn't tipped the scales yet.
The vast majority of businesses aren't like Google or Facebook. The vast majority of the nation's GDP isn't created by companies like Google and Facebook. Hundreds of thousands of businesses are the size of Automattic, Basecamp, or smaller. Those businesses employ the the vast majority of workers. Therefore, Basecamp and Automattic are excellent role models.
Unequivocal success does not mean the same thing as Unicorn. A sustainable and profitable business of any size is an unequivocal success.
You can't really lead with, "Basecamp and Automattic are closer in size to most companies, and companies of that size employ the most people; therefore they're excellent role models." Size draws a false equivalence, because the remote culture at those two examples depends on far more than size, and they differ from most companies in the same size range.
As for the parent's logic, he is starting from the premise that larger companies have a much stronger signaling effect for business case studies, which in turn prompts changes adopted at other organizations in the same industry regardless of size. I think that's probably a fair premise; it's not necessarily rational, but it's correct that the business practices of large tech companies are reported on, studied and emulated more than smaller companies.
As for other factors, of course there are lots of companies and roles for whom remote working won't work, but there are certainly more it would work for than currently allow it - and many of the reasons they don't allow it aren't sensible, which is why I think essays like this that make the argument in favor are useful.
1) A collection of insightful essays discussing the merits of remote working for amenable cultures, written by people who work at companies that basically only our ingroup is very familiar with; or
2) An academic study explored by Harvard Business Review, which discusses the way remote work at a household name improved productivity in a quantitative way?
There's a herd mentality here. Larger companies impact organizational choices down the size chain. It's very similar to open source software. A large, recognizable company is much more likely to have its open source software adopted by other companies of different sizes. Not necessarily because it's more functional or robust, but very often due to signaling.
And I already seen it happen several times in my home country.
Which brings us back to my fundamental premise - companies emulate the business practices of the companies they desire to become (or in the special case of tech, desire to be acquired by). For every company that wants to virtue-signal their remote culture, or be avante garde out of sincere appreciation for the concept, there are many more that don't want to make changes like that without seeing it work at widely recognizable examples. When the companies with the collective lions' share of business signaling power in the industry have returns that look like those, they're not concerned about having mediocre engineers. Privately, they'd probably disagree with you that their engineers are even the competitive advantage.
To reiterate: this is all coming from someone who presently works remotely and enjoys it thoroughly. I just really don't think there are substantive arguments that it should be adopted by companies that don't already have the culture in place.
I dislike the herd mentality you're describing but I know it's real. And I know that most people are followers -- only when they see something like WFH brings widely recognized benefits from bigger corporations, it's only then when they will follow suit. Sad state of affairs but nothing much can be done.
At the same time, such changes never happen overnight. The returns you're linking to IMO hardly have any meaningful correlation with the on-site vs. WFH work. Engineers must deliver and produce, but the company's bottom line is only partially influenced by the engineers.
There is work at home and there is remote work. Most companies of any size (more than 1 location), have remote workers. My first job out of college in the late 90s had most of my 'team' spread across the globe in other offices. We got everything done through conference calls and emails. Eventually I stopped going to the office because there was no point. This also was not some super forward thinking tech company, but it was very cost conscious. The cost savings alone led the company down the path of figuring out who could WFH and how to make that work.
But no thanks, I get to WFH every day. Life is too short to commute.
I travel to the office every two quarters and I usually get nothing done (meetings, interruptions, etc...)
VC, chat and email makes it possible to do work. Folks saying that they can't, err, "ideate" when they're not together making noise and preventing other people from working just don't know how to use the tools they have.
Furthermore I have to travel to the office for a week every month and a half or so. That amount of travel sucks, but it's the price I pay for being able to work remotely so I pay it.
I'm honestly neutral on this, I prefer when my coworkers are around me because it's easier for me to interact with them (I noticed I'm a big procrastinator with remote communications, I keep thinking "I'll message them later" or "I'll send the email later", but that's a personal thing), it's easier to have the casual chat that leads to some form of rubber duck debugging or simply just an innocent exchange of opinions that ends up solving a problem/implementing a feature. I honestly don't get that while WFH.
However, some people feel the opposite of me and think they are more productive at home so I'd say leave it to the person to decide and, as the author of the article said, calibrate your employees based on deliverables, not on their presence in the office.
Personally, I have reasons... I prefer it, I get more done, it cuts out the commute time (which includes a lot more than actual time in the car), it lets me work on things at night when I want to...
Sure, there are negatives too, but there's a heck of a lot of positives, too.
> you should attend to all the meetings you need to and be reachable
Working from home has no real impact on either of those.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely agree with you. I don't prefer it but I understand where you are coming from and I think you should be allowed to do so if you find it's better for your productivity.
I find I prefer working from home when writing design docs rather than doing dev work, for design docs I like simply sitting on my couch with my chromebook and be "lazy", whereas if I am developing I prefer a more customized setup with multiple screens and stuff so I have that better at work than at home. Also more coworker interaction.
Whenever I need to write design docs, I simply tell my team I'll be working from home that day and nobody so far has complained.
>Working from home has no real impact on either of those.
Yes and no. I agree with you that it doesn't have a significant impact especially since we usually have people from the other side of the world dialing in the meeting so it's not a huge difference, but I personally think that if everybody is participating in the meeting remotely, it gets harder to talk because there's more chances for talking over each other and the audio/video quality is always impacted by the connection or by the headset quality. So many people have terrible headsets/microphones that really it gets confusing if everyone does so.
But all these are problems that can be simply fixed by providing your employees with the appropriate hardware for it, obviously.
That may be true at Google, but there are a bunch of supposedly high-tech companies which are happy to give people seriously cruddy workstations. Even though my home setup is actually a 5-year-old monitor on a standing desk I bodged from an off-cut of worktop, it's dramatically nicer than what I have in the main office.
A lot of mediocre middleman managers in the typical company aren't capable of setting expectations and evaluating work results.
You need very good workers and leaders in a remote company.
I think that's a point that some people miss. To have remote workers, you need people who can effectively work remotely. It's a learned skill, like any other, and not everyone will be good at it.
Saying "we're only local" or "we're only remote" is a bad idea, you can have both and call it a win on both ends.
Honestly, I think it needs to be one or the other. Mixing some remote people into an otherwise local team often doesn't work.
The fact is WFH does not need to be a full time thing for most companies. Just offer it as a benefit-if you want, you can work from home 2 days a week, or WFH if you need to be home to pick up a package or have a doctors appointment.
That alone will make your company much more attractive.
This is one of the key problems. It's not that remote work doesn't work, it's that a bunch of mediocre middle managers only have the "butts in seats" metric to fall back on to answer whether work is getting done.
If a manager is properly tracking progress and managing the pipeline, people working remotely shouldn't be a problem.
For my own edification, I looked this up.
There are about 125 million full-time employees in the U.S.  Of which, there are:
* 35 million Fortune 1000 employees 
* 22 million government employees 
So, government and the Fortune 1000 account for about 45% of all employment.
I also found a census reckoning  (that seems to exclude government altogether) that puts large- and medium-sized enterprises at 65% of all employment (and growing).
Edited to fix sources.
Far from being role models amongst small businesses, businesses like Basecamp, Automattic are seen as outliers if they're really referenced at all. Hell, in some circles even Atlassian is seen as progressive.
Similar in a way to the amount of resistance you see to DevOps style practices / even moving to cloud with lines like "But we're not Amazon/Netflix/Etsy/Soundcloud or one of these modern businesses."
Businesses will be won over by case studies of WFH working with similarly massively conservative cultures.
What the WFH movement needs isn't proof, because you're not going to get proof without first having activists. And if companies like Basecamp and Automattic aren't wildly sucessful, is not evidence against WFH, because clearly WFH is not the sole determinant of business growth and success.
You misunderstand my explanation.
To be clearer, one can argue the "work-from-home" from 2 perspectives:
(1) WFH as a nice employee benefit -- such as ping pong tables, massage chairs, and free food.
(2) WFH as a non-negotiable employer business requirement to be the best most profitable company that crushes the competition. If you don't implement WFH, your business will be extinct.
Regarding (1)... if one only thinks of WFH as part of a "benefits package", the adoption of it will be sporadic and inconsistent among businesses. E.g. "free food" is implemented at Google & Facebook but not at Amazon & Microsoft. Yes, for arbitrary employee benefits, the bar of evidence is much lower (or none) in this case. All of those companies are profitable.
I think a lot of people are more ambitious about WFH and position it as (2). This would be similar to repeated demonstrated evidence of superiority similar to Henry Ford's "assembly line" manufacturing, JIT just-in-time inventory control, software engineering "source revision control", etc. If WFH wants to accumulate respect in this bucket, there needs to be amazing business success that points directly to remote workers as the cause & effect. The author of the essay had some citations promoting the "business productivity" angle which attempts perspective (2) but they are unconvincing for business leaders. In contrast, all 4 companies Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft implement "source code management" and it's an absolute requirement to be productive and competitive.
It would be better if WFH was elevated to the importance of "source code management" than to let it get grouped in with "free food".
I dont see working from home as being a paradigm shifting productivity enhancement but I do see it as something that has been shown to be workable, and companies that refuse to offer it will be at a disadvantage attracting skilled employees that can get that benefit elsewhere.
Why is this one different and requires that much higher standard of proof ? because i'm not sure that there's much value there, at least today.
And then it occurred to me that their thousands of writers are not employees. They are 1099 contract positions.
And then I remembered the awful stuff that went down when the Fortune 500 company I worked for created WFH positions for my exact job. It was a big fat nope for me for reasons that boiled down to the company invading my home and trying to control my life in ways I found highly objectionable. And then thing got worse as it went along because they put your quota 30% higher if you worked from home for no real reason. This was literally a figure pulled out of thin air by a person high up in the department.
When they found that people were working 11 hours a day and this was a violation of the law on their end, rather than lower the quota, they just got psycho controlling about how many hours a day you could be logged in. So I guess at that point people needed to log off to go pee in order to preserve the 8 hours a day of work time they were allotted.
This has me thinking that there may be deeper systemic issues with the very concept of a WFH employee than just "Well, it is new and different and weird and it just needs good PR." Perhaps the (apparent) Textbroker model is the actual sane thing: If you want to work from home, you get a contract position and are not classified as an employee.
None of that precludes the possibility that WFH arrangements may be inherently poorly suited to an employee contract and may be better suited to a freelance type situation.
I thought it was worth tossing the idea out there.
I think society is understandably waiting for repeated large scale remote work success before shifting their thinking.
That's not necessarily something that companies couldn't adopt if it turned out to be a good way to run a remoting-based organization.
They don't have to prove anything else beyond that.
You're talking about business succeeding because their employees work remote. Sounds like you mean "cofounders", not "employees" however. Employees are often times not directly related to the company's bottom line. Sure if I finish this project on time the company might win over a customer, which is good. But from then on, my employer's income from the customer comes from support, PR, upselling, business negotiations etc. All things I can't even remotely touch while I am in a corporation.
Basecamp and Automattic are basically full remote companies with world wide reach of their products. Automattic is even global marked leader with Wordpress.
What else do you need?
Plus, they are ditching that as we speak.
Usually when you're on your way to being successful, you hire MBAs to do your people management and those people are the ones suually vehemently opposed to remote work.
Chicken and Egg problem.
Wow. That means that the existing technical staff will be gone in no time. New hirees will have a hard time figuring out how to even just press the "build" button, let alone, add new features. Furthermore, anybody with more than one job offer will never pick the one from an MBA. Therefore, in my impression, the success won't last, because its very reason will have been destroyed.
So, the business success piece doesn't matter. Losing key employees will turn things around quite quickly.
Or it wont, and the business suffers, and maybe eventually fails, maybe eventually doesn't.
There's a few reasons to prefer working in the office. The single biggest one is the hard delimiting of the work day; when I'm not in the office, I'm not working, I'm not available on email or chat, and unless it's an exceptional situation, nobody will phone me either. My evenings belong to me and my loved ones only. That's precious. It's far too tempting to let one thing bleed into the other when working from home.
The biggest secondary one is influence on the business. Simply being present when decisions are being made, whether they're technical or business, means you have a chance to speak up and help set direction. Stuff that emanates over remoteable media like chat, email, project planning tools tends to be after the meeting, not before or instead of the meeting. This doesn't change for a company until most / all of the workforce is remote, and that's simply not true for most companies. If you're interested in a career, turning up is a significant boost for most people.
The final one is bandwidth and transaction costs. Chat is a dreadful medium for remote communication - if you've ever had to sit there waiting for a reply, and wonder whether it would be more efficient to switch back to what you were doing - it's almost impossible to come to a decision in good time in chat. I've seen 5 minute conversations take half an hour. Starting a video chat is far better, but it has a big barrier to entry; it's not like talking to someone a few desks over. Try and do it with 4 or more people, and it turns into a coordination problem, people dropping in and out, someone eating while not on mute, synchronization for startup, etc.
Frankly, I prefer email. You can put together a logical argument, a coherent or strawman proposal, and discuss things at length point by point. It's much higher bandwidth. But too few people read long emails, and even fewer respond correctly with inline replies. The days when people were trained on newsgroup netiquette are long gone.
This resonates very strongly with me. A "wfh" day for me means I get half as much done. My home is where I keep all my distractions!
> You can put together a logical argument, a coherent or strawman proposal, and discuss things at length point by point. It's much higher bandwidth. But too few people read long emails
My trick for this: I write the email, then I go back to the to start and write a 3-4 sentence summary of the rest of it. Often doing that leads me to delete the rest of the email entirely. Always check: are you writing at length to help someone else, or just to clarify your own thoughts?
I also label sections as to who they target (ex, when something is a technical explanation that not everyone needs) and add footnotes (with raw data and the like) when it's appropriate.
I'm a serial long-emailer, but I've learned how to interact with normal society ;)
I completely understand your point of view and I think working from home is not for everyone. But many people do have the ability to delineate without that geographical reinforcement. I think the title of the post should be: "Employer Let Your Employees Work From Home If They Prefer" since its not a zero sum proposal.
>"The biggest secondary one is influence on the business. Simply being present when decisions are being made, whether they're technical or business, means you have a chance to speak up and help set direction"
This issues also exists though when a company has two offices that everyone is required to work from, one in London and one in SF for example. Relying on chat and informal lunch meetings is equally problematic for work form home as it is for employees of different offices. It seems like solving the communication issue for one solves it for both and companies seem to have no issues with having multiple offices.
I completely agree with you about email, I feel like we are losing the will to compose proper arguments and counter points or parse them in the context of email.
A while back, while working in a relatively large but sparsely filled open-plan setup, I had a tendency to hide in the far corner of the building when I had code to write. My manager at the time once complained "I start walking over to see you, but when I'm half way there I decide it's not important". I think he did, at least, pretty quickly realise what he was saying.
Having a (low-ish, but meaningful) transactional cost to "quick questions" is a good thing.
Whether it's headphones, or making it clear what a context switch looks like, trivial questions are definitely cut down.
One can have lengthy and substantive conversations over chat
— and I do — but it's definitely an uphill battle, both against the medium and against the prevalent psychological, and intellectual cognitive characteristics of the people who favour it. I frequently get the feeling that I'm not using chat the way I'm "supposed" to, which is to write in short sentences and traffic in reductive sound-bites.
I've worked at two different remote companies over the past 5 years. One was failing the other is succeeding and growing. Chat played little role in either case, it was simply one of the chosen methods of communication. One method in a tool box that also included email and video chat.
In both companies, chat functioned very well as the stand in for most office conversations. We only fall back on video chat when we find ourselves talking past each other in chat and need the higher bandwidth of voice communication to clear up the confusion. We almost never use email in either case.
I've also used it in several non-profit organizations I've served on the board of and as an organizing tool among local activists. In all cases, it has served me well, allowing conversations that could span from exchanges of long, in depth arguments or explanations to quick exchanges of information or Q&As.
Chat is a tool. It doesn't favor or dictate anything. It's all in how you use it.
If you find yourself continuously having low value conversations over chat, I think that says far more about you than it does about chat.
I've never understood why private news servers and groups never caught on. Company newsgroups on a company news server seem to me to often make a lot more sense than company mailing lists on a company mail server or company forums on phpBBB or similar.
News readers generally do a much better job than mail client of organizing discussions into threads, and the hierarchical structure of the newsgroup namespace fits well with the way most companies and projects are organized.
Nowadays the argument for NNTP is weak because the decline of Usenet has, I believe, reduced the number of good, maintained NNTP clients. But I don't understand why NNTP wasn't the first choice for these things 15-20 years ago.
Believe it or not, the issue wasn't as much the servers not being maintained any more, it was the clients. Various clients, especially email clients, stopped providing NNTP support alongside POP3/SMTP/IMAP.
I am never trash-talking people who prefer working on-site. Quite the contrary, I respect them just like any other valued colleague.
Working from home is a learned skill. I am so good at it these days that the moment I close my second Chrome instance (the one with all my work accounts) and shut down my VMs, my mindset immediately changes to "chill and leisure mode".
If you can't do it, that's fine. It's different strokes for different people. As the article says, both options must exist.
That is why it is hard to do decisions by email. Also, poor thread representation by email clients doesn't help.
Chat has the potential of being used efficiently, where arguments are stripped of their emotion and converge faster to a point without rambling. To your point, chat can be made high-bandwidth, with multi-sentence points made in a single message, or they can be a verbose rambling that consumes time and focus.
It really comes down to the professionalism of the team you're working with. Some people are a lot more cognizant about minimizing the waste of other people's time, and get to the point instantly. Others just type whatever is going through their mind—and I should point out that they are equally good at wasting time in in-person meetings.
So then it's not about the communication medium or whether people are physically present; it's about how we use each other's time.
Full disclosure: I work in the BU that makes Cisco Spark, a chat/collab tool. :)
PS: I agree with your other points about home/work context separation. We solve that by explicitely "checking in" / "checking out" of chats. There's an expectation that people are NOT always-on (except for a few rare operations chats). Notifications are adjusted accordingly, so as to not be disturbed during family time.
So does face-to-face conversation. If your coworkers manage to put away all personal feelings, emotions and opinions when behind a keyboard, I salute you - mine, myself included, do not, and instead of actually making your feelings clear through signals our brains have been optimized to understand for millennia, we either have to explicitly specify things, or just guess what the other person means beyond the ascii.
I worked with a guy once who'd been WFH in a previous job. He would get up, shower, put on a suit and tie, unlock the door to his home office, hang the suit jacket on a peg in the office, and sit down to work. At the end of the day he'd reverse the procedure, locking the office. He said he had to do it to keep things separate.
It is hard, after a time, to not be around people. If you WFH, make sure to spend some time in a cafe or something.
No matter how good the team is at communicating, you're still going to miss those hallway conversations. Just know this and accept it. When you realize you have missed something, get the team to fill you in immediately and document what you've missed.
Which brings me to...
Whether you WFH or not, always follow up with a persistent communication form for important bits of information.
 Email, Bug tracker, whatever. If you've had a conversation about it, make sure it is documented. Otherwise it never happened.
Are you also in the 30-something friend-slump? My parents (late 60s) have a more active social life than me.
I find working from home to be exceptionally boring.
I'm on the introvert side of things and I'm simply oversaturated with human interactions. I have to actively avoid being physically around other human beings just to keep my sanity. I recently managed to convince my boss to give me 2 WFH days a week and I saw both my productivity and happiness skyrocket within those days.
A lot depends on the type of project, I guess. Mine is such that I'm mostly collaborating with the customer side, which works in a different country. For me, 99% of events in the office are off-topic. Others in this thread seem to have close-knit team projects, so I'm not surprised they feel more productive in the office.
What if you want to work from home but your team believes there will be a productivity-reducing communication cost? How does the organization respond to this? Can it bifurcate the teams between remote only and office only? What happens if they identify consistent productivity differences?
My point is not that you're wrong, but that I think adopting remote work requires answers to very challenging questions for companies that do not settle on one culture or the other. And if they don't start with a remote culture, in my experience they'll never have it.
As a tangent, I wonder a project with such "productivity-reducing communication cost" for (even partial) WFH looks like. Honest question, because so far I've never worked in one. I ask because the very idea of it goes against what I consider a properly organized programming project.
On the design meetings of the projects I worked in, I always pushed for figuring out appropriate architecture to minimize required communication between people. We decomposed the problems until we were able to identify isolated areas of the project and design interfaces between them, and then we coded them in isolation, with occasional exchanges for adjusting the design (interfaces, in particular) when things changed, like they always do.
Teams that work in office already have productivity deltas between employees. This isn't communism-people are paid different amounts, they don't all work 100% and get paid the same. You reward the high performers, like you'd do anyway. Regardless of if it's WFH or not.
There are sometimes advantages to offering full or partial work-from-home options to employees. For some projects and company cultures, it can work well. But honestly, this blog post was a rather shallow argument in favor of it.
I love working from home and have done it for most of my career. The next job I take will probably be in an office though for a change of pace. I honestly find that despite my personal affection for it, most arguments in favor of remote work really just aren't very compelling.
"Some companies do it successfully" is not compelling to most companies. It's a disingenuous portrayal of the real difficulties and sacrifices that need to occur for remote work to be successful. Remote work rarely works partially, because without a deep seated remote culture the employees who are not in the office will be fundamentally left out of subtle but important group interactions. If you are the only remote employee on your team, they're not going to video conference with you to have a spur of the moment discussion that leads to a business insight. Conversely, asking a company without a remote culture to change is asking all of the employees who are already there to embrace a new, unfamiliar culture where they can't just lean over and ask someone a question.
It's my personal opinion that there is a very vocal minority that wants remote work to succeed, a more silent swath larger than the first that is indifferent, followed by a supermajority that silently disapproves (or at least, wouldn't want to work in such an environment). Even though I enjoy it, it appears selfish to me to ask companies to offer remote work without significant evidence it will work for them, all the while imposing a real communication cost on employees that work there who already thoroughly enjoy the status quo.
It seems to me like it's similar to a lot of other things in professional life: you can't have everything, and if this is really important to you then find a job that offers it. But don't expect companies to alter their organizational machinery to cater to you when they have no reason to.
Also, it's sad to label employees preferring benefits and choice as selfish, vs huge companies sitting on piles of cash maybe losing .00000005% in productivity, if that's even true.
The same old arguments get trot out, and your arguments show where you are professionally. Business insight? Sorry to say but most people work to collect a paycheck. They don't make decisions, and typically their "insights" are ignored by management anyway. For every "insight" from a group discussion, there are just as many people working on their own, making important discoveries or taking steps forward.
This isn't band of brothers. I don't need subtle discussions or have to pick up on social cues nor am I a manager who has decision making power. I don't need to form lasting bonds with anyone. I just want flexibility with my hours to make my life more convenient-and a place that values that will get a lot more out of me than a place that doesn't. That is what the essay says: if you want to expand your options in hiring, offer at least partial WFH. And put me in the boat that agrees with that.
And IMO, there are far more advantages to companies offering WFH than there are challenges.
How about a summary of "Both options should exist on an equal footing for the employees to choose"?
In general, it appears to me that most businesses are wildly disorganized, and don't bother to plan anything more than about four hours in advance. Thus you have all of this unrelenting communication going round and round in circles, with priorities and goals constantly in flux, and nobody knowing what the hell is going on long term.
The most productive stretch of my career, I went into the office on Monday, did staff meetings, planned out work for the rest of the week, and caught up on any office politics and other such that needed to happen, then I worked from home the rest of the week. I've never gotten so much done since, nor been happier about it.
I prefer going into an office purely because it lets me be social and I enjoy the technical and non-technical discussions. I am way more productive from home, and I don't think in face technical discussions really solve that many problems that can't be solved over the phone or over chat.
I currently work a bit of both, when I need to get something done I do it from home, when I want to feel part of a happy go lucky team working in the city and have lunch at the CBD markets, I go into the office.
I can't help but extrapolate that to business owners as well, and I know that if I owned a business with enough margin to do it, I'd probably have a swanky office space just for the experience of it all.
Also, any user issues that I need to investigate are done with Team Viewer. So, even though I'm in the office, most things are done remotely.
We have on our list to request early access to Hangout Meet (if that is the right name).
We have a remote team, all with average home connections. The ironic part is when we try to have a meeting with the office and their network is the issue and all of us at home are still on the call and seeing clearly seeing each other.
I would go crazy working from home day in and day out. I actually did have a borderline nervous breakdown years ago because I couldn't take being alone so much of the day. In fact if I have to work from home full time again I would pay to have a membership in a co-working space just to be around other humans.
I think work from home full time reinforces the idea that programmers and anti-social and not creative. The opposite is true for many (most?) of us. And for people who are social and creative you need other humans around.
I say let people work from home but make sure they have the option of an office.
...or provide a stipend to be used to help pay for local co-working spaces, if that's your preference. I can certainly understand how some people might need alternatives to the monotony of WFH, but making everyone commute to some crowded business district/downtown is whole other set of nuisances and inefficiencies.
They are linked in that I think they are both related to working in an office.
- Social interactive as it relates to an office environment is fairly obvious
- As far as creativity... that requires more explanation. That was more a response to people saying things like "I can get more code done working from home"... as a manager who also still codes (a lot) I can say, I am paying you to solve problems not write code. If the problem gets solved I don't care if it is 10000 lines of code or 10. Solving problems takes creativity. And for many people, creativity is enhanced by being around other people. Other people expose you to new ideas. You can still do that work from home but but I think an office accelerates. Granted, history is full of people who were immensely creative but also recluses, so that can swing both ways.
Really glad to hear this, it's something that people seem to easily lose sight off
If the problem gets solved I don't care if it is 10000 lines of code or 10. Solving problems takes creativity. And for many people, creativity is enhanced by being around other people
That may be true for some people, but it's diametrically the opposite for others. Partly just pure personality, but I'd also argue that working with others biases towards "fine grained" solutions where your contribution dovetails with other pieces. Working alone for non-trivial increments of time makes it easier to step back and think about whether there's a single piece that can solve the whole problem.
Finally, the specific case of WFH often (not always) makes it easier to step away from the computer for an hour or two when you're stuck, perhaps prepare lunch or even go for a walk. That's a far more fertile setup for inspiration to strike than sitting in front of a blank text file.
Also the problem is that companies want to hire the best and the brightest and then they quickly turn around and they don't trust their employees. Funny enough this is exactly how communist countries operated: they needed very smart people to fight the West but then they could not trust them because smart people had a tendency to like the West.
When the situation that managers in aggregate do not know how to evaluate their staff's work prevails at a company, forcing everyone on-prem and letting the managers evaluate that is likely what causes a lot of the organizational dysfunction we talk about. WFH definitely offers managers fewer readily-available cues to evaluate their direct reports, but I wonder what a quantification of those cues versus those available on-prem by a professionally-trained anthropology observation team might turn up.
I hear a lot of stories of people getting pissed off that a less-capable coworker is far more successful within the organization because the coworker was fantastic at say, face-to-face networking within the organization. Could such activity be much more difficult to pull off in a WFH-dominant organization, and fool managers who are deficient staff evaluators in an on-prem-dominant organization, sufficient to offset the drawbacks of WFH?
To a certain extent, I think the WFH-versus-on-prem debate obscures an overarching requirement that managers still must sweat out the details, and cannot delegate to a set of company policies the need to lead and manage, a core component of which is knowing your direct reports at a granular level in many dimensions.
How productive am I?
When teams do well in defining production metrics (aka key performance indicators/KPI), and employees have some way to know what conditions work best for optimizing their KPI, they figure out if they want to work from home, the office, the subway, etc.
I was probably most productive at a job that just had an enjoyable environment, three-quarter height cubicles (i.e. almost private, reasonable sound division) that were tucked away from phone users and conference rooms, solid team contribution on projects (inclusion of key players in kick-off meetings, without excessive status checking, but cooperative design from developers, design, business analysts, etc.) and... very occasional work from home. It helped that I lived less than 10 minutes away, too, and could come in at (what I consider) a reasonable hour, rather than forcing myself awake.
In addition, we had "billable" targets - we'd work together on estimates, and we'd try to spend 80% or more of our time measurably attributable to projects. We could readily access this information, and know how well we were doing.
But... there are other jobs where remote work is far superior. Noisy open spaces, cramped workspaces with not enough monitor real estate. Then I just want to get out of there. I want to have the choice, and the ability to know if I made the right choice, by looking at how productive I am.
You're forced to give up several ways of communication which are valuable. You can't walk into a colleagues office for a quick whiteboard discussion. You have to schedule time when both of you are available. Not only that if the discussion brings up things that other people are working on you have to again wait and schedule time with them too. You also can't pickup on non-verbal cues, which can tell you if they're nervous/apprehensive/unhappy about something in the project, etc. You give up laughing at silly things over lunch, or sharing a quick joke as you pass someone in the hallway, or giving someone a hug on their birthday. All the little things that do lift your spirit when you're frustrated or feeling a bit low.
Please show us some numbers to back up the claims? The few numbers that you do provide either fail to support your argument or can be construed to contradict it. (I am thinking of: everybody wants to the option to work from home followed by 35% would change jobs for the option to work from home, even if it is part-time.)
Also, anecdotes don't cut it. You can find counter examples to almost anything that is based upon human nature, particularly when it involves self-assessment or personal opinions. Businesses will care more about the quantifiable. The bigger the business, the more likely they are to care about the average over a large group of workers (rather than individual cases).
I am sorry, but most of the debate over working from home is based upon what people want rather than what businesses or even their employees need. Your article does nothing to change that. If you want to change people's opinions, please be more persuasive by dealing with the quantifiable rather than the subjective.
I can't write an article that will convince 100% of the people. A book deal and a set of long discussions wouldn't convince 100%. If you disagree with me, that's fine. I spent my time knocking down the most common arguments I've heard, and a little time talking up the observed benefits.
One final point: I think companies should take "what people want" as part of their career into account! Even big business doesn't completely dismiss trends in the workplace - which are indeed driven, in part by what workers demand. More places offer considerations for ergonomics, pleasant work spaces, tea and coffee rooms, snacks, health programs, and so on. This is just one more thing, and this is my small contribution to the talks.
With so huge positives. I don't understand why not more research is put into work-from home.
Then again, I'm at a senior principle engineer level, and need to have face time with my VPs and directors in addition to other devs. I don't believe it would be possible to work at the level I'm at remotely, nor to be promoted to such a level. And my commute isn't horrid at ~25min.
Exactly! Your company has to offer any kind of WFH to allow that!
Writing the policy was trickier than I expected. Started very much with a spirit of 'Hire people you trust,' but thinking about the policy, applied to specific people who have been hired, it brought some more specific guidelines to the policy. Here are the highlights:
Eligibility for Remote Work (pick 4 from: 1 year with company, management status, strong performance record or recommendation from team lead, one department-specific criteria)
Requirements for the Remote Office (minimum equipment, ample space, etc. clearly defined)
Approval Process & Remote Work Guidelines / Contract (lays out guidelines for working remotely and collects employee commitment to adhere)
Saw some commentary that the frequency of working from home shouldn't be a privilege (i.e. if you do a good job, you can work from home for a week), that it should be as routine as possible, so we're making eligibility to work remotely, on a set frequency, an attainable privilege (so it can be revoked if necessary).
For the alternatives to surveillance, we will be implementing some improved communication tools, and departments will be adopting the concept of an ultra-brief daily scrum.
Tried to keep it lean, will be interesting to see where it excels and where it can improve.
I'm guessing "pick 4" is a typo, since you only listed four criteria, but "management status" strikes me as odd. Assuming this means "be a manager to qualify for this option", which may be an entirely incorrect assumption, I think this is actually backwards. Managers are the people who need to be on site most. 80% of a managers job is interacting with people. Unless their entire team is remote, a manager should really be in the office to quickly handle issues as they come up and be available to their team as needed. Difficulty around effective communication is the biggest down side to remote work, in my opinion.
This strikes me as favoritism towards the managerial class, rather than an actual good policy. Otherwise, sounds like an interesting way to handle it.
If the inputs and outputs of your job can be delivered entirely over email and version control commits, then work from home is a good idea. However, how do you deliver more value than someone from a developing country if your pipes are so narrow? I think there's still a lot of room for the value provided by teams working closely together.
Even if you come to the office, your team may be on the other side of the country. The roles range from sysad to developer to research.
What I've noticed is that people figure it out. They create ways to communicate efficiently, they find the right tools to solve their workflow issues, and they ultimately are as productive as they'd be in the office cube farm together. Sometimes more so, since working at home gives you the ability to focus more in addition to the creature comforts that make your quality of work life that much better.
Anecdotal, perhaps, but relevant to the conversation.
Discussions that would be counted in seconds sitting side by side turn into 10-20 minute long video awkward skype calls.
There is so much anecdotal evidence in blog posts about how great remote is for your devs because "an interruption costs 15 minutes of concentration" yet very little about the reality of other people in the organisation having to work with these privileged employees.
That is a big problem with remote work--that it is viewed as being a privileged employee. If companies have remote workers, they should allow anyone to work remotely and design interactions around remote work. Otherwise, you end up with resentment and poor communication. By design interactions I mean figuring out a method/system of communication that works just as well as in the office. Some companies do this with video boards/google hangouts.
I have moved to a developing country, and now I work from here.
Below the line, there are many candidates to one job. Above the line, there are many jobs to one candidate. Above the line, you can work from where you like. Below the line, you are lucky to have a job at all. They can even tell you to dress like a clown for work, if that is their fancy, and what can you do about it? Nothing.
> I think there's still a lot of room for the value provided by teams working closely together.
Not really. Anybody with talents above the line, will not join such team. So, you will be surrounded by people with talent that is too limited to get what they want. You will most likely not learn anything useful either. What you describe is the prototypical dead-end job.
How long to write a long email? How long to speak to someone?
A better question is how long to say something that is well thought out and matters vs. how long to write something that is well thought out and matters. I have found that talking leads to lots of talking with little real substance unless it is meant to be a brainstorm session. And even then, writing ideas down before hand help to quickly get to the sticking points rather than bike shedding over something trivial and wasting everyones time.
Writing out a page long email forces the writer to think through and address their idea more seriously up front. This is why Bezos famously requires a written memo for a new idea before the meeting .
How long to deliver a speech. How long to send a one-sentence IM?
> Text is the least efficient of all forms of commutations.
Less efficient than semaphore or smoke signals?
In reality, text is very efficient form of communication, and it has the benefit of being asynchronous.
People tend to actually think before they write something down that will last forever. Much less so when they're flapping their gums in real-time. High quality, premeditated communication trumps low-quality, off-the-cuff communication, for me, anyway.
It also showed me that I have a problem with employment in general. People telling me when to work where and on what. It agitates me.
I also find that days when I work from home tend to be more productive - no pets and no family means I have no distractions at home, I can just sit and code all day.
I would think in most IT positions the thing that makes one least replaceable is their value to the team. If you constantly provide in the form of More code written or servers maintained because you can focus better then you could be more valuable. I don't think working from home directly relates to values, and I think arguments can be made for value increase or reduction.
I will have to think more on that to see all of the ramifications. Immediately, I can see how it looks like businesses might try to hire devs from inexpensive overseas shops, but I know why employers rarely do that a second time. Then there are the really expensive devs who are clearly some of the best in their field, but that is so expensive few shops would consider it.
as an aside, I suspect working from home as a cultural shift would allow some real estate prices to normalize. There would be less need to move many people into very expensive areas.
However, the corporation is not a sentient entity. It cannot desire anything, be it money or something else. It's only human participants that have incentives.
Of those, only shareholders have direct incentive to make profit, but even then they may own the shares for speculative purposes and desire share price to grow, not necessarily the profit. And even that's not necessarily true: Those who short their position may actually want the shore price to drop.
But shareholders in fact don't have much influence of business decisions of the corporation. Those are delegated to the management. The management, in turn, has incentives to extract as much rent from the business as possible. Thus, it cares about profits only to the extent where it adds to their rent. Increasing profit while decreasing the rent is a bad trade-off.
Regular employees, in their turn have incentives very similar to the management. They want to be paid as much as possible without losing the job.
All in all, you can think of it as of struggle for a limited resource (bananas, share of profit) in a group of chimpanzees.
Now, imagine what would happen if one chimpanzee refused to participate in the group's interactions, walked away, but still demanded his share of bananas. It's not going to work.
In the end, I would say that WFH would only work if everybody worked from home, completely changing the way the group interacts.
Office culture is often (I'd say usually) toxic and/or inefficient. Being in the office doesn't mean any useful work is getting done. And just because people are in the same general vicinity doesn't mean they're interacting in a useful/beneficial way or even interacting at all.
Working from home is certainly different from working in the office, but being in the office isn't some natural state of affairs or a particularly useful baseline.
I feel like this part of your comment could easily be overlooked, but it's a pretty astute observation of how group dynamics applies to this situation. We're wired to be tribal animals, to some extent.
Everyone knows that "culture" is an important part of a company's success. The idea of working from home profoundly affects the culture.
I'm not saying it has a significant impact on productivity, but the team "connectedness" is sometimes not as strong if some people are never in the office.
I personally would love to give the ability for my employees to work at home, even if I didn't. I don't understand the mindset where people don't want things to be better for someone else... even if they can't also be better for you. This happens even when those benefits to others come at no cost to yourself.
Does anyone else have any experience overcoming this with someone else? Like it's bad to the extent where if this person works late he'll be passive aggressive towards everyone who doesn't have to also work late.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
There is a story of mysql as a company who had an employee who was not reachable for a few months.
Yahoo got there workforce back at the office.
I personally like to have the option to work at home when necessary and i might get more stuff done at home i also might just not work.
How does this have anything to do with WFH? If someone is not reachable and has not communicated up front they are going to be out, then fire them. This is no different than if they just stopped showing up to an office job.
I always love the arguments that are around 'well how will I know my programmers are working'? Well, how do you know they are working when they are in the office?
I couldn't find the story with some (brief) googling. What makes it different to "they didn't turn up the office for a few months"? Were they still getting work done?
I might just not work at the office either.
It was my first remote job and I enjoyed it immensely, so much so that I haven't had an office job in 10 years now, and have no desire to return to one.
An open plan office where everyone is trying to talk, quickly degrades into people raising their voice to be heard, becoming a yelling mess where it's impossible to do serious work unless you are very good at ignoring noise, or you are blocking noise physically... like using earplugs or moving to a meeting room.
Working from home, you can just focus and do your work. However this is not the case for everyone. If you live with a bunch of people or pets this might not be your case.
But, sadly, there are some that abused WFH privilege. And we, for the most part know what the out come is when a small group of people abuse a privilege - it's gets removed as a whole.
But then I founded a company and made that building its International HQ. So now I'm not remote any more.
I think his sentence nails it. I also prefers working at the office and interacts with fellow developers either formally (meeting) or informally (water-cooler talk), but it makes no sense to force anyone to be at the office all the time.
I'd like the flexibility of working remotely out of country or WFH during rush hours and commute whenever I want. This really affects my decision to join or leave the company.
Is this a problem that people who work in technical fields actually have? Even in companies with aggressively unfriendly WFH policies, I've had good luck requesting time at home in situations like the above.
I guess if I lived an hour away I'd have preferred to stay home.
How can you have good office culture if everyone works from home?
WFH is everything from "I gotta go home, the kid's sick" to "I'm going to WFH Wednesdays to concentrate", to "see y'all online!"
* Face-to-face communication is often more efficient. Just my opinion, but conversations are usually faster and easier in person than over Slack or email. Asychronous communication can be nicer for certain things, but it sucks when that's the only option. Video hangouts are better, but there's a barrier to setting one up, and they're still not as effective as face-to-face.
* Presence in the office helps keep everyone in the loop. Team members are much more likely to speak to one another actively. They're more likely to understand what everyone else is working on. They're more likely to understand the business's main priorities and problems. Even physically just sitting a few desks away from someone, vs. right next to them, makes it less likely that two people will interact.
* The office provides important social interaction. If you work a lot, your office might be your main opportunity to have substantive interactions with other people. Some of my past coworkers have become my closest friends. People who work from home (I'd guess) are much less likely to form close bonds with their coworkers.
* A professional setting can be motivating. I find it energizing to walk into the office where everyone is working hard. My day is measured out in minutes and I feel a constant pressure to get something done. When at home, I feel the pressure less - it makes me feel better about what I get done, but it also makes me less productive.
* Boundaries between work & home are helpful for relaxation. The ritual of leaving the office helps reset the mind, I think. Otherwise, workdays easily bleed into evenings that neither productive nor relaxing.
* "Some people need close management". The internet is incredibly addictive & distracting. Sitting at home makes it much easier to succumb to that distraction. Obviously that can happen at work, but there's a limit: you can't watch Netflix, for instance. And you'd feel weird if your screen was constantly on Hacker News or Reddit or whatever every time someone walked by.
* "How do I know they’re working if I can’t see them?". This is a strong point and I agree that most managers over-emphasize face-time as a measure of productivity. But that doesn't mean it's useless. For non-routine, creative, or project-based work (e.g. engineering) it's hard to measure productivity. Deadlines can be great but oftentimes are artificial - much of the time, the most engineers can really promise is that they'll work efficiently, smartly, and to the best of their abilities during the workday. So it is of some benefit to the manager to see that the employee is there for 40+ hrs each week. Managers also want to know if their reports are frustrated, anxious, demotivated, happy, confused, etc. - much easier to get a read on that in person so that the manager can address it.
Many of my friends who are able to work from home choose to rent coworking space for many of the reasons above. Admittedly I rarely work from home, but I do manage people who work remotely. Also, neither me nor most of my friends are parents yet.