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Automattic is closing its San Francisco office as most employees work remotely (qz.com)
533 points by nkjoep on June 12, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 300 comments



We didn't switch to allowing remote work but started remote and always been remote. We had an office space at Pier 38 that was closed by the city in 2011[1], so had to scramble to find space. At that time we thought we would expand more in Bay Area and found a good deal that also could support other employees visiting the Bay Area. For example, in 2013 we held our whole company meetup, but have outgrown it. The main US WordCamp used to be held in SF but now as cost goes up we are moving them around last two in Philly, next in Nashville so another use of the space wasn't needed.

We found it easier to grow and expand all over the world and didn't grow as much in the Bay Area as thought. Currently only 20-30 people of our 550+ live in Bay Area

Also as far as space goes, that is just one photo of the downstairs area of the space. You can see more at https://automattic.com/lounge/ and some early shots here https://customspaces.com/photo/uklO4BLxis/

P.S. I'm the guy in the green shirt in the photo, woo hoo!

[1] https://techcrunch.com/2011/09/06/pier-38-shut-down/


In my experience, remote work is like a work tax you have to pay, and you have to weigh the tradeoffs.

If you have a completely remote team, you're paying at least something in productivity, because training people to be open to hop on a VC or chat at a moment's notice and documenting everything through email or a shared document is not trivial, especially when you're not used to doing things that way, and the costs are not zero.

Or you could do everything asynchronously to deal with time zones, but then you're introducing an inevitable lag based on overlap of working hours.

For a healthy, functioning organization, it might be worth it. However, if your team is already dysfunctional, having remote workers exacerbates the problem. (I have first hand experience)


On the other hand, working in an office is a sort of work tax too - commuting to and from the office is wasted time that could have been spent sleeping or with family. It has a financial cost attached for the employee too.

Many office environments are noisy too, which doesn't always make them the best place for productivity.

In an ideal world, employers would allow employees to choose themselves, and for commuting-distance, remote employees to 'hot desk' when they want.


>On the other hand, working in an office is a sort of work tax too

On yet another hand working in an office and having to deal with remote workers is also a tax on the local workers productivity.

Lost count of the number of times I've had to take time out of my work schedule to VC with remotes to solve misunderstandings that would never have happened if they were working in the same room.

Company I work at also has several people who have remote worked from the very early days and don't seem to understand the entire culture of the place and workflow has changed which throws spanners in the works at times.


It's almost as if remote work and in-office work both have their plusses and minuses, the choice to do one vs. the other involves trade-offs, and one size does not fit all. Crazy, I know!


> On the other hand, working in an office is a sort of work tax too - commuting to and from the office is wasted time that could have been spent sleeping or with family. It has a financial cost attached for the employee too.

The difference here is who ends up paying the tax. For remote work, the employer pays the lion's share of the "tax". In a traditional setup, the employee pays the brunt of the "tax".


And the difference here is that the 'tax' the employer pays lessens or disappears as employees get used to working remotely; whereas for the employee, there will always be a cost in time and money to commute.

With employees working remotely, the employer can also make big cost savings by needing a much smaller office space.


Assuming that employers don't pay for commuting is a bit much. More stressed / sleep-deprived / commuting-fatigued employees are less effective at their jobs and, crucially, for the cases in which someone commutes while still spending all their desired time on leisure and sleep, then the commute time is clearly one-for-one substituted for work time.

There's plenty of research as to the negative effects of commuting (e.g. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/urban-survival/201501/c...)


The employer is paying for it, it just isn't clear what ledger column the cost appears in.

If an employer isn't paying me enough to cover travel costs and another offers work from home, it is a reason to switch jobs.

I suspect that and a dozen other tiny reasons are why work in office jobs tend to pay more than work from home jobs.


Organizations are generally well acquainted with that sort of "work tax", and the results are fairly well characterized and understood and can be worked around. (Move closer to employees, open a branch office, promote off-peak working hours, transit subsidies).

Remote work is a very recent phenomenon and as such, runs into a completely different set of problems that haven't been as thoroughly solved as a co-located working environment.

It's like picking PostGres/Mysql over Cassandra/Mongo. Sure, both have problems, but the traditional SQL solutions are stable and the problems have known workarounds. With NoSQL solutions, you might be one of the first people who are doing that particular use case, and you'll have to pioneer your own solution, at the expense of the company's business plan/profit.


Regarding commuting, it depends on how you look at it.

For example, commuting has been instrumental in helping me lose 35 kg in 10 months, from size 46 to size 36.

I made the decision to always commute walking (30 minutes commute which I do 4 times a day because I also wanted to have lunch at home with my family). Once you factor in that your commute is 30 minutes instead of 10 minutes (or 0 minutes if you work at home), things are rather easy.

So I end up spending 2 hours a day walking, which turns out to be an activity that I happen to like a lot (its been a bit of an evolution, possibly inspired by the "Love what you do" approach to things as opposed to "Do what you love") and therefore I do not see it as a time waste at all.


Glad that worked out for you! Highly dependent on circumstances, though. I have a 30 minute _drive_ to get to my office, and it's supposed to be 117 degrees next Monday. Walking is pretty impractical in Phoenix in general, and the public transportation is awful. So yes my exercise happens in a dedicated gym.


You know you could have a shorter commute, go to the gym for ~30-45 minutes of real exercise, and have more free time in the day, right?


Don't long walks qualify as "real exercise"? The op's weight loss seems to indicate so. Even without the results, you can't discount the fact that they might get far more enjoyment out of long walks than being crammed in a smelly Gym each day. It's not always about being efficient with your time. Often the most enjoyable things in life are the least time efficient.


In my case, I'm not sure. I had a long history of being a member of gyms to where I did not go because I always found something better to do. In fact, in the past I even was paying for two gyms and I did not go to any of them. I suspect I'm not alone here, if all members of a gym decided to go, they would not fit in the gym. I always hear that the lion's share of revenue for a gym comes from people who never go.

I think that what worked for me (goal: increase activity) was to build the activity as a part of routine that was too inconvenient to skip, and then ending up liking that routine. I do not see anymore commuting as busy time, for me it is part of my free time, an activity that I do want to do. In other words, on weekends I now usually go hiking and I do not consider as busy time.


There's a bit of irony in describing walking as "not real" exercise.


"Chemotherapy is actually kind of nice considering the money you save on haircuts"


> In an ideal world, employers would allow employees to choose themselves

But it's not that simple, because the "remote tax" is paid by everyone, not just by those who decide to work remotely.


I think it works for some companies, not so much for others.

At the company I work for, we're spread around a few countries and are well used to working this way. But despite the benefits, not everyone chooses to work from home - not everyone has a home environment conducive to remote work, and some simply don't like it. We've got decent comms tools, and honestly, the 'remote work tax' is very seldom an issue.


It's not even a tax. It's an alternative (and likely better) work flow. Online and remote-first processes should be the default. Why? Because you can record them, distribute them, play them back and use them as a reference. Even if you don't allow remote and have any level of team colocation this should be the default.

Even meetings make more sense at your computer. Who wants to squint at an overhead in a room full of people? I'd rather get a close-up view of the presentation (screenshare) and be able to hear everyone clearly. I can capture screenshots, take notes, schedule follow ups etc.


You make some good points, but I still think there's a cost.

There are frequent times throughout my working day when I ping the dev who sits next to me (or they png me) to ask if I'm free to chat "IRL" for 2 minutes, and if so we'll do a _very_ quick pairing session on a bug, or get input from the other on a design problem. These things are big enough that they are worth getting a quick check on from someone else, but likely small enough that typing out a more complete explanation, or even having to loop someone else into the full context, is prohibitively expensive. I don't think we'd lose out much from not having that ability - when the other one of us is busy we can't do it anyway - but I think the lack of it does cost something.

> Even meetings make more sense at your computer.

I think I'd also disagree with this to some extent. I think it's easier to get distracted at a computer, distracts others who work next to people who are talking into a mic on their computer, and can add overhead with connection issues (I find adding a remote employee adds ~3-5 minutes an hour of overhead, and they are involved less in the meeting). That said, we don't have computers in meetings other than the one that is running the screen, so people aren't getting distracted by (or working on) other things, and we have a tendency to (politely) walk out of meetings that we feel we aren't adding value to.


You have to factor the fact that offices are very distracting and full of interruptions. I personally feel that i get close to double the work done when I work from home.


Homes can be distracting, too! Working alone isn't "natural" for a lot of people, I feel.


Some people start a family and working from home dramatically lowers the hassle, they still get things done yet get to see their kids.

It just depends on the situation and the person. For some people it's great, for some okay, for some horrible. Luckily, there are a wide range of employment options so you can chose employment that fits your needs/desires.


> I personally feel that i get close to double the work done when I work from home.

Well, it doesn't matter if you get twice the work done, if it doesn't advance the team twice as much.

If you're working completely independently, sure, work from home. Contractors have far more leeway than salaried employees in that regard.

If you're working remotely but as an integral part of the team, it doesn't matter as much that you're individually getting twice the amount of work done, if it doesn't dovetail with team objectives. Without constant communication, which is facilitated by in-person interactions and communication, the team might actually be working forwards more slowly.

It doesn't matter if you're coding two features instead of one in the same amount of time, if the two features never hit production and the one feature does.


- ...training people to be open to hop on a VC or chat at a moment's notice and documenting everything through email or a shared document is not trivial, especially when you're not used to doing things that way, and the costs are not zero.

How is that any different that in office? In my experience, in office communication is often MORE difficult to document. Remote communication often happens via email, or text, and can naturally document in an informal way. Technical documents are no harder, or easier, to 'train' employees to create when working remotely or in office.

- Or you could do everything asynchronously to deal with time zones, but then you're introducing an inevitable lag based on overlap of working hours.

This is really more a problem with dispersing your team, than it is with remote working. You can have a remote work company with everyone in the same time zone.

Remote work carries with it a certain number of risks to be sure. But it's not nearly as risky as I feel like people make it out to be.


> In my experience, in office communication is often MORE difficult to document.

Exactly, because if everybody is colocated, you can pick up on subtle social cues and figure out what's important and what people are working on just based on what people are talking about. If you spend that much face time with people, unless you're completely socially stunted, you don't have to document things because people "just get it".

> Remote work carries with it a certain number of risks to be sure. But it's not nearly as risky as I feel like people make it out to be.

There are tradeoffs to everything, and I think on this board, things have swung too far to the other side. Remote work is not an absolute panacea, and carries with it costs. Just like NoSQL is not the end-all be-all of datastores, remote work isn't the right solution for many teams.


> you don't have to document things because people "just get it".

and then a year later when you have to figure out why something was done a certain way what do you do? or when some of the people that "were there" have left and nobody else remembers?

If all the discussions are written, there is no risk of forgetting anything: even working in an office I always send an email after a meeting or random chat to the person involved to document what we talked about, what was decided and why. I might also cc other people that should be kept in the loop, which is also something you cannot do if you just talk.


> If all the discussions are written, there is no risk of forgetting anything

Remote working enforces discipline, which is good in the long run, but is not very rewarding in the short run and requires the pre-loading of effort.

Humans are really bad at making those sort of trade-offs. That's why many of us still eat fast food, smoke, and don't exercise.

Even though you're "doing the right thing", there are immediate up front costs for theoretical (but very real) benefits down the road. Even though you're doing the right thing, maybe an organization isn't quite prepared to pay the costs to do things that way. Hence, "work tax".

Also, my assertion that remote work is mainly for healthy organizations holds sway. It really magnified and focuses a light on an organization's details and flaws, and many people don't like that.


That's a very lopsided view. Offices also come with their own hangups. It's a matter of weighing the pros and cons and then deciding. Also, to be fair, sometimes there are a lot of imaginary cons that people think will happen when they go remote, but in reality, they don't happen. So it's also worth for companies to try both and see(though this might be a stretch, I admit).


Out of curiosity, was that remote workers while having an onsite presence? Or fully remote?

I ask because from what I've seen, the partially remote situations have generally been more dysfunctional than fully remote. When it's one person who missed the conversation, it just makes their life miserable; when it's everyone else, it makes -your- (the person with the info's) life miserable, and that leads to better communication processes and documentation.


Maybe there just aren't any pictures here, but is there real work space too? Standing desks? External monitors? A place to put my own keyboard and mouse and leave them there. Why would I go into an office that isn't ergonomically friendly. I don't care how hiply aesthetic it is, I want function.


It's what I don't get about the whole outsourcing, tech sector debate; if bay area tech employees are so expensive, why not hire people that are equally or at least sufficiently as qualified in other parts of the USA, where you could get away with paying them less even though it would provide them with wildly higher quality of life than they would get anywhere in the Bay area from most perspectives. Essentially the question is why the heck outsource to places like India, where people don't speak proper English and the technical skills are lower in many ways, which is only compounded by communication issues, let alone why hire H1B visas from, e.g., India at Silicon Valley rates; when you could have hired net far better Americans in the long run. Western and American society suffers from a shortsightedness that will end up destroying not just the USA, but the advancement of all of the rest of humanity through that kind of mentality. You can only live on the inertia of others for so long before momentum ceases.


I think some companies think, as long we're willing to have remote workers in the first place, why not get the cheapest? Obviously you can also pay someone in India less and provide them with "wildly higher quality of life than they would get anywhere in the Bay area from most perspectives".

My experience with Indian devs has been their English is as "proper" as anyone's, and their technical skill levels vary with about as much variation as in the U.S., where there are also plenty of not very good developers.

The thing is, once a company has decided to prioritize saving money on developers, they are probably willing to take devs who are really not very good to get cost savings (whether they realize it or not), and there are a lot of companies in India which exist to help them do that. If they wanted to hire not very good developers at cheaper rates in the U.S., they could easily do that too. Perhaps the people making the decisions fool themselves into thinking the rock-bottom-rate devs they are hiring in India are magically highly skilled, and somehow it's easier to fool yourself this way when they are on the other side of the world.


It sounds like there would be a huge competitive advantage in starting your own company and doing just that. You can pay much less, get much better work, and rake in the profits as you shut down your idiot competitors one by one.


That's probably overstating the case a bit. If you're hiring remote workers from other parts of the USA, I'd say you can pay somewhat less, get roughly equivalent work, and reap the profits so long as you have the skills to manage a distributed team.


Because many of the workers who are "good" come to the Bay Area for the money, the lifestyle, the location, and the job selection. If you could, why would you not want to live in an excellent climate by many of the US tech companies and make 3-8+x what you'd get elsewhere? You also typically get to work on "cooler" stuff since the companies out here can afford to make bigger and riskier bets. There aren't too many AI/ML positions around the rest of the country, but it's hot right now here.


> If you could, why would you not want to live in an excellent climate by many of the US tech companies and make 3-8+x what you'd get elsewhere?

Because California, number one, and because everything costs 3-10X what it does elsewhere. I could easily double my salary if I moved to SV, but I'd have to live in a van in the parking lot like a hobo, instead of being able to afford a decent house and have a goodly amount of disposable income.


Your conclusion of destroying all of humanity might go a bit far - but I agree with the general idea of hiring people where they are is more competitive and I would say better overall.

Remote work allows for a better diversification of work forces across regions. For example, if somebody who lives in Detroit because that is where they were born and family is can have the same high tech job as people in the Bay Area it helps Detroit be more resilient and flexible to regional business fluctuations.


Too many companies IMO pay "based on location", which would mean that the person in Detroit gets about 20-30% of the Bay Area person doing the same work. If you make $100k a year in the Detroit Metro doing computer stuff that is still non-management, you're doing fantastic. For $1m out there you can get a literal mansion. In the Bay, you can get a totally unremarkable single-family home on a street with a bunch of people who can barely afford their property tax bills. Houses in such neighborhoods in Detroit are about $10k and you can literally buy property by the block in some areas.


Because the executives and rich people who bankroll companies aren't yet sold on remote work, and those who are mostly prefer to just hire where labor is the cheapest (eg. India, Eastern Europe)


> why the heck outsource to places like India

You vastly underestimate just how cheap outsourcing is


Maybe he does... BUT I used to work for a consulting firm that would sometimes bid against far east outsourced providers when local firms had projects.

This is anecdotal but over and over again, this was the scenario:

  1. local firm collects bids
  2. As courtesy firm tells us we were 2-5x more expensive than winner, winner is in far east.
  3. 1,2,3 years latter firm returns to us asking if we can re-submit but on a more shorter timeline (maybe the project would have been 2-3 engineers for 6 mo)
  4. We come back with a new bid that is 8-12x more, has a bigger team than we would have used orgiinally, less favorable risk analysis..
  5. They paid us to take them on! Often-times we had to throw away almost everything their Bangladesh contractors had been working on for years (fundamentally bad schema, no unit tests, bad bad code)...


I have similar anecdotal evidence from Norway. A bank outsourced running IT systems to a company from India. A year later they hired a local company to fix/redesign things.


Yep, many people who have been in the industry have heard this one before and/or inherited the project-from-hell that has been touched by half a dozen offshore dev firms and basically needs to be scrapped. There's a reason why we aren't all jobless while other countries take all our tech jobs; it's highly-skilled labor, which means that the quality of the end product is directly influenced by the skill of the workers. The time differences and language / cultural barriers (I forget the name for it, but IIRC there was something in Indian culture around ~"my part is done" which is part of why e.g. There's so much trash in the cities -- basically it's not your problem -- please correct me if I'm misunderstanding or misrepresenting this) certainly don't help set up these situations for success.


One thing I've struggled to understand, even after years of working with a great team of relatively low-cost engineers in India, is this:

If engineers in India are, say, 5x cheaper fully-loaded than in the US; and some of them are awesome engineers; why are there not startups in the West competing to pay the rock-stars a Western salary but have them stay in India?

With all the close ties between the Indian IT sector and Silicon Valley I would expect it to be common practice especially among startups to try recruiting the best away from, say, InfoSys by simply paying them what you'd end up paying an inferior engineer locally.

As far as I can tell this is not done very often. Anybody know why? Or am I just not aware of it?


The three big challenges I see are how to identify the rock stars, management culture, and time zone. It's possible to overcome all of those, but you'd need significant expertise hiring and managing Indian teams.

The hardest part would be to build a team of true startup hustlers, because the outsourcing industry has not been built around those types of people. Traditionally you have to have very strong top-down management and clear requirements since the mentality on the other end is to do what your told, avoid giving bad news, and maximize billable hours. This is something that large companies with established products can do a lot easier than startups.

In general the reduced execution risk is not worth the cost savings because you don't yet have a business, you are trying to build one. The safer bet for a startup very tight team working hand in glove where every employee is obsessed with the high-level product.


I suspect there are cultural issues that break down communications.

I've seen people who've got really cool sites to show that they've worked on in their spare time, or worked on with local collaborators.

Somehow, and it's hard to pinpoint how, when they try to work with someone in the West, it breaks down. Understandings that are natural to you sitting in one part of the world may have been completely missed by your remote guy in the East. Doesn't always happen, but it's enough to warrant a risk premium.


> If engineers in India are, say, 5x cheaper fully-loaded than in the US; and some of them are awesome engineers; why are there not startups in the West competing to pay the rock-stars a Western salary but have them stay in India?

If you're paying them a Western salary, why not relocate them to be local? In my personal experience this is what I see happen when we do ID an engineer who isn't local but good


"If engineers in India are, say, 5x cheaper fully-loaded than in the US; and some of them are awesome engineers; why are there not startups in the West competing to pay the rock-stars a Western salary but have them stay in India?"

Doesn't that remove any kind of gain from outsourcing? What would be the point? You now have the downside of SV salaries and the downside of managing remote teams across the globe.

"With all the close ties between the Indian IT sector and Silicon Valley I would expect it to be common practice especially among startups to try recruiting the best away from, say, InfoSys by simply paying them what you'd end up paying an inferior engineer locally."

Usually those worth their salt aren't working for Infosys in the first place.


They just don't have the technical ability their western counterparts do, obviously some do but finding them is a crapshoot. Also if you pay people too much they won't stay with you and that will be a much bigger issue when you can pay someone more than they would otherwise be getting (even if it's costing you less)

There's also control, if you outsource your whole project then why do your workers even need you? They could just do it themselves and cut you out completely.


I don't think startups would have enough funding or the time to take advantage of it. MVPs would be done by the founders because of the time constraints (setting up a whole outsourcing setup would take a bunch of time). Also, if you fully outsourced all the startups tasks then your group that your outsourcing to doesn't need you. If a startup was well funded and has larger projects I could see that though.


There's no grand mysterious reason. Businessmen want cheaper. They are like "Indians are already used to low payments, let's offer them 15% more so they are ecstatic". In my observations, there's nothing else to it.


If they were equally qualified they would still demand a comparable salary. A full stack dev in Houston makes nearly as much as one in SF with the same qualifications.


I have a hard time believing this is true in general. I live and work in Austin. When I was interviewing for the job I have here I interviewed at a few companies in SF and received offers at two to do basically the same kind of work I do here. The offers in SF were substantially larger than what I accepted in Austin. After looking at my budget more closely I decided to stay put because after taxes, cost of living changes, etc I found that there wasn't much of a difference and that I'd rather not move.

I understand that this is just a single anecdote but I work with quite a few people who have moved here from SF – and have friends who have made the opposite move – and they have all reported something similar.


A quick jaunt to Stack Overflow Jobs, Glassdoor, or h1bdata.info will show you that in the vast majority of cases, no. Different markets have wildly varying pay.

If you meant "overall net income", then the Houston dev would likely come out ahead after taxes and rent/mortgage.


That's not really going off the beaten path enough to find bargains. If remote work was more reliable and easy to find, I'd be sorely tempted to move someplace out in the sticks, albeit where there is high-speed internet access, where land and living expenses are significantly cheaper than any urban area by considerable multiples.

Plus, you get to be out in the sticks, not cheek by jowl with a million other people.


Almost every comment you have made with this account is either dead or flagged. I am surprised that your account is still active.


Groupthink and investor pressure


Why not offer dorms for people to live there on a daily to weekly basis? It looks like a fantastic place to work but it seems like not a lot of people live near there.

It would be totally awesome to get a group of developers together and hack away at stuff not having to worry about going home for a few days.


> It would be totally awesome to get a group of developers together and hack away at stuff not having to worry about going home for a few days.

lol to me this is the opposite of "totally awesome"

"work for us, never go home, leave your family behind"


Yep, company dorms, company stores, etc. have been tried before. We've made labor rules prohibiting them because we realized that the line between dependence and outright slavery blurs more quickly than many expect. It's a trap.

Sadly, this gung-ho "for the company" attitude, which arises from a combination of naivety and boredom, is one of the essential characteristics that VCs want to see in prospective founders. It's one of the biggest reasons they push the "You must be young and pure to be an innovative founder!" angle, although most people aged 25+ can see pretty clearly that experienced founders would be a great benefit to any company. That experience threatens the VC game, so they keep it as far away as they can.


Research indicates that older founders perform better:

http://www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/research/2010/05/the-anat...


You and me both, but there was a time when I would have been perfectly fine with this, because I lived it.

Well, it was the military, and you'd have to replace "hack away" with "non-stop exercise and dumb chores", but the analogy still fits I think.


At least in the military you stay fit!


Because that's an extremely expensive project that nobody would use in addition to the already super expensive space that they are closing because nobody uses it.


Also I can't imagine many people want to be at work for days at a time and not go home


There are also city regulations against using office space as living space.

The downside of working remotely all my days are at work, or is it all my days are at home :-)


Not only is it expensive, it's often difficult and cumbersome to deal with zoning and occupancy laws in a office or area that was set up mainly for business use


I take it you are young and don't have a family?

Most people over 25 want to go home at the end of the day to their friends/family and don't want to live in dorms.


There are apparently plenty of large Japanese companies that own apartment buildings for their employees to live at, simply because the economies of scale make that cheaper than paying them extra so that they can all rent from hundreds of different landlords. I doubt many in the US would go for it; can you imagine if your boss was also your landlord?


Most places have zoning restrictions where commercial property is not authorized for use as a dwelling. I would imagine they would need a fight a zoning variance battle to set up something unconventional like that.


I would rather be unemployed than in that situation.


This is cool when you're in college, or maybe like one year out of it.

Older adults (aka anyone over 23) typically prefer to have their own space.

And many people, surprisingly enough, don't want their job to be the sole focus of their existence.


Had a party at the WordPress office a few years back and it's a great space. There's a lounge, kitchen, the bathrooms are nice, some room for bikes, and the rest of the space is setup to be multi-use. There's a big stage area and the corners are furnished to be pretty cozy.

Of my past work places--death star cube farms in old silicon valley to tiny rooms in sweltering Berkeley summers to shiny live/work lofts to giant sprawling disneyland like campus to noisy hipster coffee shops--that WordPress office would be up there in terms of a good place to work at.

The real story is the upward trend that if you give an inch, your employees will take a foot. If you offer telecommute, workers will not show up.

I've been freelancing and telecommuting the past five years. I've built my workstyle around chat bubbles, slack channels, video calls, and emails whether 2PM or 2AM.

I've built my lifestyle around that. As in I work around my life. Things just... get done without a direct measure of productivity anymore.

Sitting somewhere from 9 to 5 is like watching TV from the 2000's, ordering Netflix DVDs when we live in the 2010's with streaming Netflix.

And as one disappear, so does another and another. When you look around and realize no one else is there anymore it just becomes a ghost town while the virtual water cooler becomes more and more vibrant.

No ones goes to the office anymore, it's too lonely.


> The real story is the upward trend that if you give an inch, your employees will take a foot. If you offer telecommute, workers will not show up.

Isn't that the employer offering a foot, and the employees gladly taking them up on the offer, to the mutual benefit of both? It's not like they're helping themselves to a pocketful of pens and a spare monitor on their way home.

> I've built my workstyle around chat bubbles, slack channels, video calls, and emails whether 2PM or 2AM.

I'm glad that's working out for you, but the only things expecting anything from me at 2am should be my child, and Pagerduty if I'm on-call that week.


> the only things expecting anything from me at 2am should be my child, and Pagerduty if I'm on-call that week.

I totally get this sentiment but for me it's really nice to choose crazy work hours if I want them.


This is important. There's a backlash right now against companies that _demand_ such work hours, which is totally understandable.

But - some people _choose_ to work at 2AM. They could be people still working at 2AM after starting at 10AM (I hurt for those people, but to each their own) or they could be people that started work at 9PM after a 6 hour break from working from lunchtime to 3PM.

Such is the beauty of the remote-working culture. Working at what some might consider "crazy" or "unhealthy" hours might actually be the result of having a healthy work-life balance, spending the "regular" waking hours with your family and enjoying life.


An interesting aspect that gets sidelined in a discussion involving flexible hours is the undeniable observation that the nature of work requires 'sprints'. Not in the agile context but as in physical running context. Software development happens in bursts trying to fit it into the assembly line model of fixed working hours and repetitive tasks just shows a gross misunderstanding of how things get built in the software world.


The sprint analogy is especially true when you consider that units of work in software development can very often be neatly itemized into JIRA tickets.


I feel bad for those people. Unless it's their company, and they have a major ownership share, there's pretty much no reason for them to be putting in hours like that.


From my perspective, I think there's an unspoken balance that can be struck between the different sorts of coworkers. We're a relatively small team, for example. 5 people. 2 have kids, four total are married, making me the sole (and young) bachelor. Most live far from the office and telecommute, coming in a couple times a week, whereas I'm in every day.

So a balance is struck - I'm here in the office the bulk of work hours, and I'm fucking uncontactable after 5 or on weekends because I'm living a young bachelor life. The other guys are available during the day but by definition not as online as me, but if something comes up after hours or on the weekend, generally one of them will be around and can pick up whatever the emergency is.

Maybe it's because we're a small company with a good CEO but things just kinda "work out" with unspoken agreements here. I hope I can emulate this in later jobs.


True; if I didn't have the kid, I would love, love, love to work on a much later shift. At work, I usually don't really feel like I'm ready to dive into something until afternoon; and I've spent many hours coding away on personal projects after the kid goes to sleep at 8.


The only problem is that it ends up not being a choice. Once you start working those crazy hours, they're going to expect them, even after you "choose" not to work at 2AM.


"they" do not need to know when you work.


I don't think this is WordPress employees taking a mile when given an inch by working remotely all the time. I believe WordPress encourages employees not to regularly go to the office. The reason being is they don't want a small faction of the company to become essentially collocated while the rest of the company is distributed, thus breaking their communication flows. Remote works for WordPress because almost all communication gets archived in Slack, email or p2 (their internal social network built on WordPress). Anyone can see what's going on or get caught up asynchronously. It's pretty much guaranteed that in a collocated environment some of that communication would happen offline IRL, and others would miss out on it.


"archived in Slack"

Wait, is there a way to make old conversations in Slack less painful to find and read? Anything more than 3 pages away is just not worth the effort for me.


I typically use the slack app to find conversations I want to read, and then if they're more than a few pages in the past, will read them in the web interface. The web interface seems somehow to perform many times better.


These guys are building a business in this space: https://slackarchive.io/

The claim to fame so far is free archiving for public channels, often useful for open source projects that have accepted the trade-offs that come with directing a community to a free public slack.


use the IRC bridge and log in plain text ;)


http://slackarchive.io/ is neat, you might be able to get utility out of that, depending on what you're doing.


Search


Searching in the app is brutal, and if you are having a conversation in the same channel, it's basically worthless.


Have you tried in:<channel> <search query>? Seems to work ok for me. Similarly, using from:<user> <search query> is useful.


> Things just... get done without a direct measure of productivity anymore.

Happy customers, products shipped, features delivered per team, bugs fixed, documentation written, individual git commits, are all direct measures of productivity that the good companies and managers track.

Time spent in the office, visibility, and even overall time spent working etc. are poor indirect measures that doesn't require any skill from the manager.


Even the 'good' metrics you listed are not that good and can be easily gamed if they are important enough, e.g. can influence salary, etc.

Happy customers is the only exception, but it's essentially impossible to attribute this to a team or an individual and is more of a company's health metric. You could just replace it with revenue.

>>> products shipped, features delivered per team

Will lead to releasing products that should never be released, or releasing too early, or creating a lot of features just to increase the counter.

>>> bugs fixed

Then why ship quality product in the first place, if it is more valuable to have easy bugs to fix later?

>>> documentation written

Can result in poorly written, or way too detailed documentation which will go out of date the next day.

>>> individual git commits

Some people commit more than a dozen of times a day and happily push them. Or you can create tons of commits that deliver very little value (e.g. adds a single comment), but increases the counter.

I understand that it is all well intended, it just seems like it creates a game rather than solves a problem. Some people are great at adapting to games and rules, some people - not so much.

Quantifying developer's work has been discussed a lot, and I am still largely skeptical about such low level metrics. Essentially, it motivates people to maximize the score, even if it means doing things that are only good for the score, instead of good for the company.


I think reactions like this tend to sidestep the issue, because orgs should never adopt any one metric in isolation, but instead try to use many different metrics as part of a larger holistic picture, both of the organization and of individuals.

If you measure how much stuff got done on paper within its agreed-upon deadline, sure, people may skimp on quality in order to ship something on time, and it probably would've been in the org's interest to delay release until all the work was really done.

And sure, if you measure against the number of bugs opened against production versions, trying to incentivize the least number of bugs opened as possible, you may invite people dealing with issues through back channels, so that they don't show up in the metrics.

And of course revenue is more of a company-wide metric.

But if you combine all of them - if your teams are hitting their feature development targets, and customers aren't complaining through established support lines, and revenues are up... is that not what makes a successful company?


In addition to your points, with which I agree, it also depends a lot on team culture. If you do your best to hire responsible adults and then treat your employees like adults most of them act like adults. When there is a healthy team culture of shared responsibility people who aren't pulling their weight tend to stick out.

The best way to avoid people gaming the system is to hire honest, hard working people who don't want to game the system. Then get out of the way and let them work.


You're right, of course, but hiring for culture fit is easier when you're a small company and you only have to hire for a few distinct roles. When you're a large company and you have a hiring quota of hundreds of engineers a year to deal with expected development requirements, well, that's where you start to need to "corporatize" and come up with good metrics.


I've never run a large company, or been high enough in management to try this, but I still think there is a better way:

In code we work in layers of abstraction. Large projects can be healthy when every layer is small enough to fit in your head.

In the same way, I think we could build a large company in layers of teams. Each layer should be manageable in the way discussed above.

Good modularity in code allows us to keep the whole problem in our head. Good team structure (requires good management) allows us to keep the management decisions at the tribe/human level that we are good at and not need the kind of mass, impersonal systems that lead to burdensome bureaucracy.

Of course, this kind of leadership and culture has to come from the top. It also requires that leadership explicitly avoid micromanagement, breaking the team boundaries. And requires continued commitment to treating your employees at every level like adults.

Of course, people are not code, but I think this organisational system of managing complexity can be applied to both.

It would be interesting to do some case studies, but I believe there are several large companies that have done this successfully, until top leadership changes (founder dies, etc.) and the new leader doesn't have the same trust of and commitment to employee/team autonomy. The dynamic changes, people notice and either leave or start gaming the system, etc.


There's some blatantly missing metrics here.

First off, there's no allowance made for mentoring and answering technical questions. If you go head-down and socially punish anyone who disturbs you - even for good reason - you'll get more done and get a raise. On the other hand, if you annoyingly ask questions that further your project at the expense of distracting people around you, that also shows up in your project metrics and not your coworkers'. This will likely end up resulting in a really dysfunctional, non-collaborative culture.

Second, technical debt. There's two casual factors here. First is that hacking together stuff helps your projects in the short run, while hurting the organization as a whole in the long run. Basically, another example of externalizing the costs of shipping your features. Also problematic is that working with lots of technical debt in the code base will stretch out your estimates, since there's tons of tech debt and making slow progress is the new normal. You'll "hit your feature development targets", but those targets will be a fraction of what they'd be with a better culture.

Third, and related to the above, is deadline inflation. Your organization ends up rewarding people who are better at convincing management to give them more time to ship things. Yeah.


1) Not so sure this is true. You may get more done individually in the short-term, but over the long-term, your anti-social behavior will cause the rest of your team to shut you out in turn, and your lack of visibility and understanding into what your team is working on will affect your future productivity and earnings. This is a Nash equilibrium at work, and good management will explain how the Nash equilibrium of co-operating on teamwork serves everyone's best individual long-term interests, even if the metrics naively seem to favor short-term action.

2) You don't need to adjust feature development metrics to get technical debt paid down. You set a target (e.g. 20% time to paying down debt), build a backlog of technical debt you know about, and either add the tasks to your sprint/version target (rewarding the team for completing them, like any other task) or come up with some other manner of getting them done, like Boy Scout code reviews (i.e. leave the codebase cleaner than you found it or fail review).

3) If you think you can ship better code by forcing arbitrary deadlines, then I hate to break it to you, but if the beatings continue, morale will not improve. And if you think you can substitute metrics and cash bonuses for good management skills to get people to work long hours so that you'll ship by the start of the holiday season (or other real deadline), then you don't understand how metrics is a tool for management and not a replacement for management.


I think I phrased my third point poorly, since I seem to have conveyed exactly the opposite effect that I intended. What I'm saying is that if you tie pay to performance against arbitrary deadlines, you're effectively paying engineers to pad their estimates. Estimation is definitely a pretty major game as it is, and we do ourselves no favors by paying people to play it more aggressively.


But all of that assumes that you're just plotting it on a graph and checking how it looks. Humans are capable of doing more assessment than that. Really a manager should do at least some cursory checks of documentation, etc. to ensure that it's not poorly written, etc.


At my last job we learned that productivity was measured with scrum points (so, estimates) done and your Github activity.

It was ... not really efficient.


I could see measuring the "points committed" : "points complete" ratio, but the points themselves...?


Any metric you put on a graph for all to see needs to be something with a direct impact on the company. So happy customers yes, products/features/commits shipped, no.

Developer performance can not be measured quantitatively. It's okay for a manager to look at these things, but when they go to an underperfoming employee the story always has to be qualitative and personal about the specific work they are doing.

It's hard enough to create a culture where everyone is focused on the success of the business without reducing people's work to easily gamed metrics. If you do that, you tacitly send a message that the true quality of their work doesn't matter and then you've shot yourself in the foot big time.


It's hard enough to create a culture where everyone is focused on the success of the business without reducing people

No it's easy; make everyone an equity partner.


It's funny because "aligning employee interests with the company's interests" is probably one of the easiest problems for a business owner to solve, yet it's treated as some holy grail of business knowledge.

I once worked with an entrepreneur of a very closely held small business. It was owned exclusively by the entrepreneur and his family, no employee had any share whatsoever, as far as I could tell. He often complained that employees lacked initiative, work ethic, etc. and didn't "treat the business like it was their own". Yep, that's a head scratcher.


My last employer, a vast multinational, exhorted everyone to "think like an owner" but that was kinda hard to do when they referred to every employee as a "resource".


You're hijacking my comment to grandstand on an orthogonal point.

Even if everyone has equity, if you put up metrics to measure productivity, they will be gamed, so choose carefully.


I'm not hijacking it; I'm refuting it.


You are not refuting it, you are cherry-picking one phrase of my comment which is not central to the thesis and pushing your own agenda. That bit of my comment can be completely replaced without affecting my comment but giving you no stone against which to grind your axe. Compensation is one thing, feedback on performance is another. Unless you think everything should be a cooperative with equal ownership and that will magically solve all performance problems, in which case go do that, but I will neither found a company like that nor work for one and I have two decades of experience on both sides of the table.


How do you game a metric which is actually "the performance of the company"? You can't without, umm, making the company perform better, which is the goal, no? It's only - as you asserted - "hard" because people try to wriggle around this truth to capture a bigger slice of the pie for themselves.


Dude, you are willfully ignoring my point. The discussion is about metrics such as bugs fixed, features shipped, and commits pushed. The sentence you are fixated on is entirely beside the point.


> if you give an inch, your employees will take a foot.

Employers have been eating up to 10 hours (2 hours per day) of unpaid commute time of employees for ages. Is it then really surprising that no one wants to waste time coming to work. If that time was paid, if commute time was paid, then maybe you would consider it. But it's a very simple economic calculation. It's like why am I paying for that time. I don't have to, so I won't. That 10 hours is 20% extra salary that is not paid.

And if your argument is that you could live closer, then the counter argument is that employers should have their offices in affordable areas where any employee can afford to easily live because rent is cheap. Not in the middle of downtown because that's what their peers or customers expect.


Everything in the valley back in the day was 15 min away.

Now that same 15 min takes 1.5 hrs. Because everyone's now here.

Who pays for that?

You can move Google out of Mountain View to Bumfuck, Idaho. Then you lose the centralization and plugging into the network.

Who pays for that?

But to be honest, most prefer it this way. This crazy doo-dad lifestyle of fighting that 3 hour traffic. Because the thing is, if you work hard to win (or more likely you're just fortunate enough to win), then you get to enjoy central networking, get to enjoy the year over year growth of your property, get to enjoy the convenience of job hopping, get to enjoy that the smartest and the brightest all want in on this action.

So I don't know. I paid for my own uniforms in the marine corps. Someone should be sending me checks!


Not sure where the heck you're living in the Bay Area, but I haven't had a 3 hour commute here...ever. I've lived in areas with true traffic nightmares (NY & DC), Bay Area doesn't compare at all in my experience here the past 3 years.


I know multiple colleagues who have 1.5 hour commutes each way. For example live in San Francisco and commute to Mountain View, or live in Oakland and commute to Mountain View.


I did the SF -> Google commute from 2011 through 2014, and it was usually 1.5 hours each way, up to 2 hours on a bad day. I assume it has only gotten worse.


My commute (Livermore to south bay) is 2+ hours each way. From the folks I know/work with, this seems like a fairly average commute, maybe a little on the high side.


Well the company gets to enjoy having employees, because they tolerate them working from home. They get to make all the sweet sweet profit. They see their revenues increase, etc. Your whole perspective can be framed the exact other way as well. At the end it's a negotiation. Who wins that is a matter of perspective. It's a privilege to have talented employees just as it's a privilege to work for a good company.


Right. And every time one hits up hackerne.ws it's wage theft as well. Cuts both ways.


I'm doing that in the office right now, has nothing to do with location.

Measure productivity, don't police time.

If you as an employer are getting less results from telecommuting (while also not being able to attract better talent, which you should) then of course it's a loss, but I would like to see those numbers. I for one produce better results at home, even if I were to spend 2 hours on hn.


That's not wage theft?


Usually it's more like free training and networking and sales opportunities, but whatever helps you lick boots better I guess...


You paid for your own uniform but you were provided a uniform allowance unless you were an officer, correct? Well line employees are like enlisted except no ones getting an allowance here


Way deep in the thread here but is this being down-voted because of the comparison of tech employees to enlisted? If so, cool.

But - if it's downvoted for the allowance part, somebody is sending checks... eventually. I totally got the OP's intention with the phrase - well taken - but for folks that are interested:

$1900 initial for the Marines (following actual activation so you'd have to do the initial out of pocket) then ~$633 / yr after. http://www.military.com/benefits/military-pay/allowances/clo...


The job of line employees, especially developers at companies in Silicon Valley, are in no way, shape, or form comparable to the job of enlisted soldiers/marines. Don't even try.


Try and go against your managers orders and see how well it goes. Developers like to imagine we are in the upper class of society now because of how we are treated and the intellectual effort our work takes, but that's not the case. We happen to be in demand now but we have more in common with blue collar workers a hundred years ago than we would with the professional class of the same time


If commute time was paid you'd be incentivizing people to live further from work.

The onus is on the employee to optimizing getting to point X by time Y. Whether that means living closer or leaving earlier, they make that call.


In theory I agree. In practice, has anyone seen anyone work farther from work on purpose to pad their pay?

I suspect if commute time was indistinguishable from work time as far as pay goes, employers would still want to encourage employees to live closer to work in various ways.


"In theory I agree. In practice, has anyone seen anyone work farther from work on purpose to pad their pay?"

Look at it in another way -- you're basically penalizing the employees that don't spend time commuting by paying them less money. In practice I've seen this kind of phenomenon with smoking. Many years ago, in the army, the smokers got smoking breaks whereas the non-smokers did not. Soon almost all soldiers were smokers!


I knew a guy a long time ago who pretended to be a smoker so he could get periodic "smoke breaks" from the office.


I've seen it first hand. At one large financial services company employees who came in early (before 7am) or stayed late (after 9pm) had access to free black cars for commuting.

That had a direct impact on at least one person I know's decision to move further from the office.


This sounds like the old conservative canard about some folks not wanting to earn more income because it will put them in the next tax bracket.


although most believe the cost of commuting falls to the employee, in reality, the cost is shared. a long commute means the employee will demand more money, quit sooner, not accept the job in the first place, etc.


Well if your goal here is to make sure people continue to waste 2 hours of their day on commuting then look no further than making that time paid.

It's a perverse incentive for the whole destructive car lifestyle that has you sitting utterly depressed in some metal death box surrounded by millions of your peers in more death boxes as you slowly trample through cities (picking up a few of the locals on the way and leaving them dead by the roadside) to your job.


It's interesting to view commute time as the employer's time rather than employee's time, and therefore as time that should be compensated. I'd always thought of it as the employee's time, and the employee's decision about where to live and how to commute, etc. As an employee I'd factor in the commute when making decisions about a job.

Playing with this idea a bit: do you view the clothes that someone (only) wears to a traditional in-person office as rightfully the responsibility of the employer? Lunch?


Interesting related court case from a couple years ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrity_Staffing_Solutions,_...: "a unanimous decision by the United States Supreme Court, ruling that time spent by workers waiting to undergo anti-employee theft security screenings is not "integral and indispensable" to their work, and thus not compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Court delivered their ruling on December 9, 2014."

I found this because I had a vague memory about a case about time spent "closing down stores" but maybe it was this or something else.


I was really shocked at that ruling, and especially at the court's unanimity regarding it.

Perhaps there's some deeply technical reason that it makes sense, but the conclusion seems absurd to me based on common sense.


From the actual ruling:

Finally, respondents’ claim that the screenings are compensable because Integrity Staffing could have reduced the time to a de minimis amount is properly presented at the bargaining table, not to a court in an FLSA claim.[0]

The petitioner brought the claim under FLSA. It sounds really bad on face that the workers have to do this as a condition of employment, but imagine if instead of this pat-down, the complex property was really big, and employees had to walk an extra 25 minutes to their station because public transit could not access those roads, no employee cars were allowed, and no shuttles were provided. It boils down to a worker/employer bargaining dispute, not a labor violation.

[0]https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-433_5h26.pdf (page 2 as numbered)


Seems like a sensible application of the Portal-to-Portal Act, which specifically says that "activities which are preliminary to or postliminar" to the main job activity are not compensable.

I.e., blame Congress.


I guess it is not really that different than the parking area being really far away and you have to spend time either waiting for/taking the shuttle or walking.


It's about free market at work. You can choose to work for another company that pays you more, or pays you for that time.


Many workplaces require a certain attire. You probably already own dress clothes, but someone who doesn't might have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to obtain clothes for their job. But I'm not just talking about just white collar positions either; construction workers, photographers, waiters, retail workers, telemarketers, etc. all have dress codes, some for safety and some to weed out "undesirables". If I can expense my ergonomic keyboard, a dock worker better be able to expense their steel-toed boots.


> all have dress codes, some for safety and some to weed out "undesirables".

In Germany if some safety clothes are compulsory by law, the employer has to pay for them: http://www.business-netz.com/Arbeitsschutz-und-Arbeitssicher...


To some extent, yes on all counts.

> As an employee I'd factor in the commute when making decisions about a job.

Meaning you make concessions to either where you live or where you work. Isn't that a sign that it's not completely your choice? If all jobs could be done from home you would have all choices of housing available.

> do you view the clothes that someone (only) wears to a traditional in-person office as rightfully the responsibility of the employer? Lunch?

Same reasoning here: The only way you're not making concessions is if you happen to like the clothes that fit within the dress code of the company (if any).

And as for lunch, I've done IF for a few years (stopped a while back), and it's really difficult if you don't tailor it around work when it comes to work lunches, fitting meetings, available restaurants around work if you don't bring your own lunch, etc.

I don't have much problems with either of it, as I've accepted it as status quo, but it's obviously not a free choice.


> Meaning you make concessions to either where you live or where you work. Isn't that a sign that it's not completely your choice?

Well yes, I mean there are many things about my job and my life that aren't completely my choice if by that we mean I have to make prioritization decisions and tradeoffs. Not being forced to work from any specific location eliminates one of the constraints, sure.

The point was more about the idea that commute time should be compensated for those whose employers to require them to come to an office. That's not obvious to me. Suppose, for example, I chose to live 2 hours away from my office. Should I be compensated for the 4 hours per day I spend commuting?


> The point was more about the idea that commute time should be compensated for those whose employers to require them to come to an office. That's not obvious to me. Suppose, for example, I chose to live 2 hours away from my office. Should I be compensated for the 4 hours per day I spend commuting?

Yes, you're right. I wasn't arguing for a mandate, but merely questioning the status quo. But if I could change it, I guess I would say;

Not if you have the choice to work from home instead. Otherwise, I don't know, maybe? Obviously no one wants to pay wage to someone who chooses to live hours from work, but likewise if my employer forces me to be somewhere far away when I can get the same work done remotely, that's equally bad.

Of course both parties has the choice of switching employer/employee, but I digress.


Your choice of where to live (therefore, commute time) is inextricably linked to your job/compensation. In theory I could move closer to work--but to do so, I would need to make more money, which, if it were possible, I'd already be doing. Similarly, I could change jobs to one closer to my home, but that would likely mean making less money, which may price me out of my current home, forcing me to move even farther away...


Everyone has to eat at all times regardless. Everyone has to wear clothes. I bought steel toed boots that I only needed for work, company had a $150 allowance for that.


> Not in the middle of downtown because that's what their peers or customers expect.

Clients expecting you to be there is a perfectly valid reason. Peers isn't.


Those places that are affordable are affordable because not many people want to live there. Those places where people do want to live are quickly becoming less affordable.


who pays employees commute time? is this an american thing?


What's interesting is that we can get paid for travel to other customer sites of our employers when using personal vehicles (up to $.535/mile per IRS guidelines[0]), but not to go to our actual workplaces.

[0]https://www.irs.gov/uac/2017-standard-mileage-rates-for-busi...


If you have a home office and commute to a client site you can claim it as a deduction at tax time. Outside of that I do know of some employers who do reimburse mileage as long as it is filed and more than 20 miles but that is rare.


Employees eat commute time, at least in most white collar salary positions in the US.


Not entirely sure I caught your thought about "..direct measure of productivity."

Butts in seats is an indirect measure of productivity.

I find that (typically) being remote forces you to make tangible, valuable progress as there is no room to hide behind "showed up on time, sat in a bunch of meetings."

There will never be a perfect system for all people in all roles, so YMMV.


>> Sitting somewhere from 9 to 5 is like watching TV from the 2000's, ordering Netflix DVDs when we live in the 2010's with streaming Netflix.

Remote or not, it can be very difficult to get things done when you're waiting on input (or output) from a co-worker who's not on the same schedule as the rest of the team.

There are some tasks where you can work on blocks of time at any an hour of the day, but there are also tasks and time you need to be available (whether it's voice, chat, video) and responsive.


"it can be very difficult to get things done when you're waiting on input (or output) from a co-worker who's not on the same schedule as the rest of the team"

That sounds to me more like a poor problem deconstruction and task distribution. For problem deconstruction though, I agree that team discussion might be desirable, thus -- availability requirement.


After working from home most of my career, I wish I had an office to go to. I find it very lonely at home.


There are coworking spaces you can rent with fellow telecommuters in most cities and of course coffee shops as well.


Yeah, getting a co-working space was the best $350 / month i've spent. Effectively solved all of my complaints, met new friends, and could nap at the desk when needed ;)


I've heard of these but it's been tough to justify the costs. Coffee shops are good, but they're usually crowded with awful internet. I'm finding some success with the library. I found a big one that has lots of people working away. I went today and got a lot of work done and felt wonderful, so maybe the public library is my new co-working space :)


$350/mo?? How much would the gas cost for you to commute to your physical office (assuming you have one)? Are you really coming out ahead compared to commuting to an office?


How much would the equivalent office space cost for the employer?


> Things just... get done without a direct measure of productivity anymore.

Curious what you meant here.


As was I. The direct measure of productivity is, and should be, successful work completed. It's a pretty easy measure, actually - is stuff getting done in the time expected.


> I've been freelancing and telecommuting the past five years. I've built my workstyle around chat bubbles, slack channels, video calls, and emails whether 2PM or 2AM.

If that's the tradeoff I think I'll keep commuting.


If you ask anyone inside IBM or Yahoo, going from remote to in-office was all about significantly reducing the headcount. The moves also coincided with reducing the number of sites, so many people would have to move far away or resign.

I think the benefits of working remotely are still poorly understood, and long-term the companies that are being built remote-first are going to have a significant engineering advantage over those that bolt remote working on after the fact.


If true, it seems like a silly way to reduce headcount. The employees who feel like they need the job will move, but those who know they can get a job elsewhere will not. This adverse selection leads to some of your best employees leaving, with your worst staying.

Better to just pick and choose who you want to keep.


> This adverse selection leads to some of your best employees leaving, with your worst staying.

Doesn't matter. Failing public companies like IBM and Yahoo don't care about better vs. worse employees; what they care about is reducing costs, and that tends to make better employees more likely to be laid off, because they're more expensive. Wall Street doesn't give a damn how good your employees are; it just wants them to be cheap.


That seems overly cynical. I doubt Google would be the company it is today by hiring cheap employees.


Is Google a failing public company?



Agree with your point and think your right.

From the companies perspective, downsizing via changes on remote policy they spin a negative news headline into a positive ("Yahoo no longer allowing remote" vs "Yahoo lays off 2,000") and it is way lower risk in terms of labor law.


"The employees who feel like they need the job will move, but those who know they can get a job elsewhere will not. This adverse selection leads to some of your best employees leaving, with your worst staying."

So your argument is that the employees that choose to stay must be bad because there can not be other reasons for their decision but the limits of their career prospects? Even if that might be true to some degree, I'm afraid that if you use this logic to guide yourself it will someday backfire badly.


Not sure about the US, but in France it's pretty common to use these kind of sub-optimal ways to reduce headcount, like offering a "resign bonus" for the volunteers.

Obviously highly employable people will leave, but the company saves the risk of strike, lawsuits, bad press etc. that come with lay-offs.


That's common in the US as well.


"Better to just pick and choose who you want to keep."

But cheaper if they pick themselves.


I am on the fence about whether companies with 100% remote workers have an engineering advantage.

First, you have more layers of (mis)communication with remote since non-developer/engineering stakeholders won't be able to know whether their points and concepts are properly being understood by developers. Body language and tonality (voice inflection) are lost online. There are ways to minimize miscommunication through agile and lean processes but that needs to be in place before working with people remotely.

Second, tech companies might be known for having lavish office spaces so their employees want to be there. If their employees want to be there then it is easier to attract and retain them. On the other hand, bad egos can easily zap that synergy if not properly kept in check.

Attracting and keeping human capital is a very difficult problem not just in tech.


> First, you have more layers of (mis)communication with remote since non-developer/engineering stakeholders won't be able to know whether their points and concepts are properly being understood by developers. Body language and tonality (voice inflection) are lost online

We do Slack Audio/Video and Zoom when we need to get in touch and talk things through. That being said, the loggability and searchability of text conversations also resolves a lot of miscommunications.


> Attracting and keeping human capital is a very difficult problem not just in tech.

It is easier to do that if you are not fixed to the people in a 50km radius and can choose the cream of the crop of the world


Miscommunication is a huge problem of all companies, not only in tech.

Most companies that I worked for had this problem and only one of them was remote.

If your process is "Lets go to the devs and ask what I did wrong", you have big issues in your company independent of the location of their employees.


> so many people would have to move far away or resign.

I would think you could just say "No, I was hired to work <here>. If you want me to relocate and I don't want to, you can let me go (which comes with unemployment, etc)". I certainly wouldn't voluntarily resign without compensation.


It sounds like the crux of the issue is connectivity is now fast, reliable, and cheap. Employees don't need to waste time commuting anymore, so they don't.

Now spare a thought for those of us sweating in the digital wasteland that is Australia.

Every so often I have to walk over to my fridge and nudge my 4G modem to improve the signal strength. I have a script running 'round the clock to reset the darn thing if the connection drops completely (this somehow it fixes it). I need the 4G connection because the copper wire to my house is so broken it can no longer support an ADSL signal.

Fibre is apparently coming in like... 2019? It is expected to run at a maximum of 25Mbps.

Needless to say, remote work is not exactly on the cards.


FWIW, I have 100Mbps on NBN fibre in Brisbane, and I remote work (for a WordPress agency, as it happens).

Fast internet is definitely possible in Australia, although right now, you might need to move to get it (alas). It's also not yet cheap (but we can partially expense internet, and you can also write it off for tax).


I've got 100Mbps plan over copper with FTTN. Generally get about 96mb/s down and 35Mb/s up. It's great.

But I'm lucky, and I get that. We play the broadband lotto, and it's not easy to win. If I move I no doubt will be back in the ADSL2 world hoping I'm close to the exchange.


100Mbps on FTTN? That's not bad!

I'm holding my breath for when the NBN finally rolls through my area. Even 25Mbps would be acceptable at this point.

I had a chuckle today when I saw a restaurant in the Perth CBD was using a Vividwireless 4G modem. I would have thought the middle of the city at least would have a decent wired connection.


I'm actually considering to move to Brisbane to bootstrap my startup. Which area you live in and who's your provider?


Missed your comment; I'm in West End, which is fully fibre but in two parts: most of the suburb is Telstra South Brisbane Fibre (which they built when the Qld Gov knocked down the old exchange to build a hospital), while all greenfields (apartments, e.g.) are NBN. My apartment is NBN Fibre with a dodgy company called MyPort (who were preinstalled in the building, but refuse to give me a critical information summary), while my office is Telstra Fibre with iiNet.

Both get 100 down, but Telstra Fibre only offers 5 up. The NBN on the other hand has 100/100 sync available if you want it.


If you look at the pictures I can't say I'm surprised. It doesn't look like a nice place to work. Two long desk, concrete floor, it looks very temporary.


If my employer weren't providing me with a proper monitor, as appears to be the case in these pictures, then I wouldn't be coming into the office either.

(Actually, if my employer weren't providing me with a proper monitor, I'd be refusing to work on the grounds of the occupational health and safety risks of working primarily from a laptop for an extended period of time.)


Automattic does provide monitors for all employees. In fact, they will arrange a session with an ergonomics consultant upon hiring you to set up a proper home office, as well as give you an allowance to buy a proper desk, chair, keyboard, etc.

At the San Francisco office, there's a table with cinema display monitors you can plug your laptop to, they're just out of frame on this picture.

I'm 100% sure the people on this photo are not using the external monitors because they don't want to. Some people prefer a consistent workflow everywhere (be it at home, the office, Starbucks or at the beach) and you can't quite get that with an external monitor.

Source: Worked at Automattic


Yep, ergonomic consultation applies to your home office setup. Though I prefer working on laptop as you can tell by my bad posture.

Miss you Marco!


I was also laptop-only for quite some time, being an early adopter of the Retina display MacBook. Found switching between @2x and @1x to be really uncomfortable, and 4K monitors weren't really a viable option initially. (Due to cost, limitations in graphics cards and video interfaces)

Miss y'all too <3


<3


Well, that's good to hear! I'm surprised by how happy people seem to be using a laptop monitor, but at least it's their choice.


I tend to work on multiple large monitors most of the time.

But thinking back on it, some of the most productive programming time I've ever had happened on a netbook with a 10 inch screen. For some reason, having limited workspace made it much easier to stay focused and avoid distractions. Maybe because it was impossible to have my attention drawn away by the HN tab open on my second monitor. :)

Attention and focus are a bit different for everyone, though. I could imagine many people feeling unbearably cramped if they were working on a small screen all the time.


I'm surprised as well, though I see that trend where I work as well. People who have a monitor sitting on their desk, but they never use it. They only use their laptop. For myself, I love desktop space.


I've changed over time for some reason. I have a nice dual monitor, mechanical keyboard setup in my office at home. But I really got into the habit of working on my laptop--probably because of a lot of travel. These days, I'm more likely to just work on my laptop at home and not even in the office. At work, I have an external monitor and keyboard I could use but I never do.


My employer is legally required to supply me with an external monitor, keyboard and mouse and height adjustable desk and chair. If I worked from home, they would also be responsible for ensuring that I have these things, and use them. This is precisely as you say because it's a health and safety risk to work on a laptop for extended periods of time.


I get aches/pain and eventually headaches if I use a laptop with poor posture for too long.


> occupational health and safety risks of working primarily from a laptop for an extended period of time

This is news to me, can you explain a little more why using a monitor is better than working primarily on a laptop?


It's not the lack of monitor, it's the fact that the monitor and keyboard are inseparable. If one is well-placed, the other isn't. You can fix this with either an external monitor or with a laptop stand and external keyboard.


maybe i'm addicted to something I shouldn't be, but I much much much prefer laptop/keyboard/screen setup to external monitor/keyboard setup.

I use an external monitor from time to time, but I'm too mobile to have that be a "default". With the laptop setup, I have consistent experience wherever I'm at.

That said, I'm typically reclining (feet up on desk, leaning back, sitting in easy chair, etc) for most of my laptop time, and perhaps the experience is different from just have it on a desk most of the time?


Posture (neck angle) and arm/wrist placement are really hard to get right in the situations you describe.

I saw a physiotherapist at one point and the best advice I got was to get someone to take a photo of you in your "usual" position. You can analyze that yourself or bring it to your family doctor at your next appointment if you are curious.


Laptop use and poor posture go hand in hand. An external keyboard can also work as it allows you to move the laptop display to a better position, but if you're going to do that you might as well go all the way and get a decent monitor too.

First result I found with Google: http://education.qld.gov.au/health/pdfs/healthsafety/laptopu...


I'm a freelancer who works at home, but I bought my own monitor a long time ago. As well as the chair, keyboard, and other peripherals I wanted.

Actually I got the monitor during a time I was an employee. But I knew that such gigs don't last forever and I sure didn't want to cope with packing it up and sending it back.


hehe my monitor is totally a reason I go into the office


The space is actually divided into two sections: the downstairs area is open, and designed to be flexible (for company meetups and such).

The upstairs section has a lounge-type area with meeting booths and working tables, designed for the 20 or so people who actually use it regularly.

There are some images of the upstairs area at https://automattic.com/lounge/


I think I agree with you, even after reading all the other responses to your comment.

The long desks are what kill it for me. That's one seating arrangement that I just don't think I can get on board with unless forced. I worked like that for some projects in college and I always felt so distracted, and I really disliked what seemed like a complete lack of privacy and isolation.


I think it has more to do with the fact that remote work is discretionary.


I agree. Is that an airplane hanger?


As a remote developer myself. I still value having an office.

I think being remote with an office setup is the best you can get. I can go in at any time I want, and still have the nice environment to work from of.

Being remote doesn't necessarily mean no offices.


Yarp! That's what our coworking allowance is for. I've been a member of a local coworking space for longer than I've worked at Automattic, and always got value out of it. But there's many coworkers that don't get value from it -- so no need for them to pay for / expense it.


Yes, working remotely with kids running around in the background is not the easiest way to concentrate and get work done.

On those days it is nice to have another place to go to.


Agreed same situation but I lost my desk to someone who comes in daily so I stopped coming in. Kinda miss the office but not as much as I would if I lost my remote position.


Me too, and that's why as a remote worker I go to a coworking space.


I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I work remote, at least from my employer's prospective, but I recently leased an office in town.

I now have a quiet, private space to work, and a nice 5-6 minute bicycle commute :D

It costs a little bit (~$300/mo for the space & utilities - yay for small-town-Ohio pricing), but it's totally worth it.


This is how I like to manage my 100% remote position -- I rent a small space to convert into an office, or just hop into a coworking space depending on the amount of time I'm going to be somewhere and the infrastructure that needs to be built out.

I have worked "from home" for years and have much better mental health (and therefore better relationships) if I have a separate space to work from.


>The goal is to make the company’s workforce more nimble

No the goal is to reduce head count with out laying people off. Companies that go from Remote to Non-Remote do it because it is an easy way to reduce head count with out having to Lay people off, it is a methodology to force people to look for work elsewhere.

People that can not relocate or have built their life around working from home can not or will not make the transition back to working in an office easily. As such they will seek out employment that better fits their needs which is ultimately these companies goal because they want to avoid that "XX Company is laying off X,XXX people in the next quarter" headlines


>Companies that go from Remote to Non-Remote do it because it is an easy way to reduce head count with out having to Lay people off, it is a methodology to force people to look for work elsewhere.

Isn't the article suggesting that Automattic is doing the opposite? They are allowing people to work remote? By your logic, this would be to help retain workers, right?


The story also talks about IBM and Yahoo and how they are doing the opposite of Automattic, this is where the quote is from and what I am talking about.

While the headline is about Automattic the actual article covers more than just them


Yeah I think he got it backwards. I still found his comment insightful but it just doesn't apply to this post.


There is less to no friction to look for new employment when you work entirely remotely.


Going remote may make a company easier to sell as well.


I'm sick of working in open spaces. If you cannot give me a cubicle, let me work at home.

There are countless researches clearly saying that open spaces are bad for productivity yet for some reason they always win. And it's easy to see why, you only have to throw buzzwords like collaboration, team-work, open ... and done.


What I dislike most about a cubicle is the lack of natural light. (Open space doesn't necessarily mean that natural light is available, I know, but a cubicle makes it even less likely.) I am all for productivity but the cubicle setup feels like going to an extreme for the sake of the last few available percents worth of concentration improvement by stepping over parts of our inherent nature. I am willing to tolerate that only for limited periods if I absolutely need that productivity boost, I am not however considering that good for me or anyone else for the normal daily work regime.


Yeah agree, I guess it's just more cost effective to define an open space. At some point in time cubicles gained a bad rep also.


So they bought an oversized office space, provisioned it like a warehouse, in a location that is horribly expensive to live near or get to. Are they surprised employees would rather not go there?


Their office is/was 4 blocks from Montgomery BART. Not hard to get to at all.


They leased a warehouse and provisioned it like an office. People probably like to go there, but they like to not go there more. I don't think they are terribly surprised as they created the remote working policy deliberately. It is more a counterpoint to IBM and Yahoo and their policy of not allowing remote work any more.


Local employees do like to use it, but as we've grown, the majority of employees are not local to it. Fewer bay area employees proportionally, fewer events in SF (due to price, we tend to do meetups elsewhere -- and with recent customs concerns preferably not in the US for our international coworkers), fewer usage.


I would go there. No... I would move in there.


Do the bigger companies offer living spaces alongside their campuses yet? I mean having good apartments in 10 minute walking distance would be a huge perk in SF.


I had this idea when I was 10 years old, my mother said it was communism.

But really, I love my job but I wish there were options for living in subsidized accommodation.


What happens when you are fired? You get the bonus of an eviction?


That seems like an actual bonus though to me, one of the downsides of 1 year leases is that if you decide to switch workplaces you are on the hook for large sums of money. I would love a clause in my housing that I am automatically evicted if I terminate my current employment.


I'd like the idea of a super short commute from company dorms, but uprooting the wife and kids would be less than ideal. And what if you cannot secure a new gig quickly where you then move into their dorms? I guess you potentially take on the lease that you are trying avoid. I think I'll stick with home ownership :)


ideally, it's not either/or.

You use the dorms as a low cost local alternative to homeownership.


If you can't afford to live near your company, then it means company is not paying you enough...


Or, if the pay rate is flat regardless of location, you rationally decide to live like a king in Minneapolis instead of in my crappy apartment in Queens.


Living two blocks from the office in a different highrise in San Francisco is pretty fun. Still ended up working remotely despite having an awesome team since it was so quiet at home though so I could get more done.


Would you also be okay with paid in company cafeteria credits?


Does the phrase "company town" ring any bells?

This is a baaaaad idea.


Not when everything is going well. Grew up in one, it's better than any socialism and communism.


Dictatorships are really good for a country when everything goes well.


There are a lot of bad ideas that work great "as long as everything goes well".

Unfortunately, everything does not always go well, and some ideas are better at handling that than others.


The biggest problem with company towns was that they paid employees in company scrip instead of money. IIRC, that's illegal now under modern labor laws.

The second biggest problem was that companies used their company towns to force their social agendas on their employees. George Pullman would spy on employees' homes and firevict anyone living a lifestyle he didn't approve of. Tenant protections and anti-discrimination laws can take care of that (but we do need to strengthen our laws first... they're not quite there yet).


They used to do it for summer interns in the Valley back a few years ago. It was indeed a huge perk and removed a lot of hassle.


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