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How to Determine If Candidates Will Thrive in a Remote Work Environment (hackernoon.com)
132 points by drieddust on Aug 9, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 74 comments

> If they talk about how great it was to do their laundry during work hours, thumbs down.

I've worked from home, successfully, for many years, and I disagree with that criteria. Everyone works from home differently, and I know people who can rock their work exactly because of the added flexibility to care for their home and family on their work breaks. It decreases the stress in their life to slice their day in different ways, and allows people with busy lives to do better on all fronts.

There are many different ways to manage remote teams - some are hands-off, only concerned about whether the work is done. Some monitor their people to be sure they are 100% online during "working hours". Many are in a middle ground, with expectations set of specific response times to Slack, IMs, emails, etc. Likewise, there are many different remote working styles. Some people do well with a typical 8 hour day. I tended to target a 40 hour week, but that would be made of many 2-3 hour chunks throughout the week, not 8 hour blocks.

At the end of the day, you have to trust your team to do their work. The companies that are resistant to their remote people handling personal tasks during their "working day" don't truly have that trust.

The way I see it, too, is that companies that don't embrace flexible work hours in fully remote companies (as opposed to just flexible working arrangements) aren't really a remote company. They're just pushing off the capital cost of having an office to the employee themselves. It's a pretty dishonest thing to pass themselves off as a remote company if they expect you to work like you do in an office environment.

The flexibility of being able to intermingle personal tasks throughout the workday is paramount to remote work. It totally does reduce stress and it allows you to work when you're productive and not work when you're not. I find that I'm a very bursty developer and I think that's more the rule than the exception in our profession. Remote work arrangements really help accommodate that reality where output is not constant throughout the day.

> They're just pushing off the capital cost of having an office to the employee themselves.

I made the same comment elsewhere. Completely agree with your post here.


I don't regularly work from home, but I have solved several difficult problems while doing laundry, and I can specifically think of one time recently that was during a workday while I was folding towels. I know it's happened other times as well, I just can't specifically think if it was during the day while working from home.

I've also solved problems while showering, mowing the grass, eating dinner, and laying in bed trying to fall asleep.

Who knew -- developing software involves lots of thinking. You don't have to have your butt in a seat in front of the computer in the office to think. Sometimes doing something completely different is just what's necessary to break through -- whether this is getting up to get a drink, going for a walk, or doing sometimes completely non-computer-related like laundry.

An office space, with a computer always on your face and the expectation that you will be working is probably the worst environment possible for any kind of creative work.

... Or not. Make it an open office space, with people taking around you. Then you'll get the worst possible.

The hard time I have with having a computer in front of me is that I always feel the need to use it (eg surf hacker news), even if that isn't the best course for solving the problem I am grappling with. Sometimes a shower or a walk helps me disengage visually so I can spend some time with my thoughts.

Absolutely agree. My profession is more creative and most of my eurekas happen when I'm doing mundane house chores. Something about the mind wandering about I suppose. I don't think it's a coincidence either that some of our best ideas often come just before we fall asleep.

My high-school math teacher used to say that we have our best ideas for solving problems in the shower and on the toilet. :)

There's actually scientific support for that theory. You gave an example of 'diffused mode' [1] of thinking as opposed to the 'focused mode' of thinking.

Neither is necessarily 'better'; both have their place in our daily lives. The 'diffused mode' regularly doesn't get the credit it deserves as people (e.g. educational systems) are hammering too much on the 'focused mode'.

If you are interested in learning how to use the 'diffused mode', more things related to learning, and optimizing the way you learn I can recommend the free course on Coursera called Learning How To Learn by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.

[1] https://staciechoice1010.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/focused-vs...

[2] https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

Yeah. What I like about remote work:

- I can focus

- I can go on a walk w/ my dog, wife, kid(s) whenever I want

- I can sit and think without worrying that I don't look busy to some stupid manager...

Lots of reasons, and they're all perfectly acceptable. Good leaders will realize that the best work often happens when you're not directly working (e.g. in the shower, doing laundry, going for a walk). Being able to step aside and do these things throughout a workday is a productivity boost.

Agreed. I routinely fold laundry during my morning standup call. It's a zero-mental-effort task that gets me on my feet while I chat with my coworkers in a meaningful way. Since I'm at home, my wall-sized dry-erase board is right there. Anything I need to note gets written down, then I resume folding.

One of the things people often forget about in this discussion is the lost company time from being at the office. Yes, valuable conversations can happen in the hallway, but more often than not a lot of non-work chatter does too. I'm fine with that -- I don't want to work in a POW camp -- but to me it highlights how ill-considered the "laundry folders = bad workers" mentality is in many cases. I worked in a cube farm for 5 years, then from home for the past 4 years. I'm vastly more productive at home.

> If they talk about how great it was to do their laundry during work hours, thumbs down.

That really just means they're a butts-in-seats company that doesn't have an office. Take this from a job listing of theirs[1]

> we don't care if you work at night, on weekends, in your pajamas, after class, in another timezone, etc. We do ask that you are available by Skype during regular 9-5 CST work hours

That's great if you can flex your work time, but if you have to always be available, that means you are either working or thinking about work almost all the time. This makes work even more stressful, unless you only work during the proper business hours.

On another note, the laundry thing is just ridiculous. That's a 5 minute task. People in an office environment burn 10 minutes at a time playing ping pong, foosball, or any number of time wasters.

[1]: https://community.articulate.com/discussions/building-better...

That's a pretty hilarious quote from the job posting... We don't care when you work, as long as it's in addition to the regimented 40 hours we prescribe.

Don't forget the very first line: 15-20 hours to start. So you're paid for 15 hours, but required to be available for 40.

Decorum prevents me from saying how I truly feel about that.

Also don't forget the:

    Cool things about working for us:
        Potential to earn bonuses for projects. Very *LOW* salary but since we are ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), bonuses are part of the deal!

I didn't even make it that far in the posting. Here's another gem that is very close to the top

> You would be part of our underpaid production team

The job posting you're referring to is posted on the Articulate community site, but it's not an Articulate job. Another company posted it there. :)

Of course, one of the benefits of working from home is that you can do a load of laundry and perhaps background process on a complicated problem in the meantime. No question that it's a nice perk. The flexibility to craft a healthy work-life balance is wonderful.

I think the point in the article is that if that's the FOCUS of why you want to work from home, it COULD be a red flag. The people we've found really thrive in our remote environment are those that cite the fact that they are more productive when not working in an office.

I've been here at Articulate for 5 years and prior to that I worked at several butts-in-seats companies. I hated working at those places where my value was measured by the amount of time spent in the office or with co-workers. This is not that kind of company. Sure I have folded laundry and done other low brain power tasks while thinking through a tough problem before. Putting my hands on auto pilot helps me find creative solutions to problems. That works for me. May not work for everyone. What excites me about working here is the freedom and autonomy I have to get shit done and the opportunity to work with a stellar group of humans to build something great. I have never felt like my butt had to be in a seat while working here. Not once. My time is my own and I'm responsible for making things happen. That's it.

Ok so I'll just turn off Skype for the day then.

Yeah, let's also point out that it's an internship posting that requires 1 year of experience publishing content and knowledge of multiple LMSs.

Yeah, anybody who has those "must have" requirements is not going to be looking for an internship, being low paid, or part time. It's an interesting posting to be sure

We’ve found that people from big companies with a slower work pace and unclear project owners often find it difficult to adjust to a culture that expects them to personally drive their own deliverables.

This doesn't sound very compassionate to engineers leaving big, dysfunctional companies (which by the way preach the exact same ethos of personal responsibility). Basically, they are damaged goods who aren't expected to thrive in a better environment?

> This doesn't sound very compassionate to engineers leaving big, dysfunctional companies (which by the way preach the exact same ethos of personal responsibility). Basically, they are damaged goods who aren't expected to thrive in a better environment?

Compassion aside, it also isn't the least bit accurate. If our process sucked that bad in large companies, then I shouldn't have the numbers to show for it. Somehow, though, we manage to be really profitable despite being lazy idiots.

I've posted this elsewhere on HN, but if you find an engineer or manager with a history of accomplishment at large companies, you're lucky to have them. Not only can they get shit done, but they can get shit done even with the distractions and roadblocks from big company politics. Those folks would probably be very effective in a remote position given their ability to filter noise. But yeah, if someone sucked in a big company, they might suck in a startup, too.

Agreed. Most people can adapt to their environments. I've worked at both and big companies tend to wear me down, but I can still work there.

The problem with small companies is usually they are chaos and often cult of personalities. It's not their fault, it's their nature. They have to be able to pivot their business on a dime. That's tough on developers though, particularly when the thing you've been working on get scrapped on a pivot.

What it boils down to is it's short sighted. He's professing like he's solved the interview process. I'll bet his success / failure rate is just like everyone else's.

More likely that people who are succesful at big companies don't leave as much, because there's a higher upside sticking where they are than joining a small startup that allows remote working. So the people they are hiring from big companies are usually the rubbish ones.

Btw, if you're really good you can work remotely even in the largest companies. Just work your way up to your own P&L, hire a global team and away you go. Probably will have to check in a few times a year in person, but that's no big deal.

There are pockets of awesomeness in big companies. I worked for a company that sold for over half a trillion, and it was a great job until we got acquired.

Small companies can be hellholes too, especially when runway is short, or competition is fierce. Like anything, it depends on the culture.

As far as staying at big companies, inertia is a big reason. It's easy to justify staying at a place that pays really well, particularly if you have a family, a car payment, and/or a mortgage. 5 weeks of vacation is nice too; that comes with tenure and leaves as soon as you do. I have to constantly check myself to see if I'm miserable. I have scars for staying miserable for too long. It's bad for my career due to burnout. Not everyone has learned that lesson though.

>I worked for a company that sold for over half a trillion


There are only a few companies worth that much in the world. The only (well known) company big enough to buy another company for that amount is Saudi Aramco.

Sorry, over half a billion not trillion.

>Basically, they are damaged goods who aren't expected to thrive in a better environment?

He's probably generalizing for the sake of writing, but you can get some really lazy positions that really can rot your skills if you don't drive yourself. We're talking about companies that barely need more than for-loops and if-statements and some CRUD.

If you try to go from that to a fast-paced startup then I agree you're chances of thriving are going to be much lower. You have to absorb all of the startup's knowledge in addition to not having enough technical skills "in cache".

> We're talking about companies that barely need more than for-loops and if-statements and some CRUD.

This is 99.9% of all companies, including startups.

How many companies need developers to write a new sorting algorithm that is 15ms faster?

Few, but there are plenty that would benefit from an event sourcing model over a CRUD one, or that would benefit from thinking and implementing business logic as functions with their inputs and outputs rather than procedures with their loops and branches.

Why should it be compassionate?

Because we're all people? And people are important?

I don't see how that's relevant to assessing whether someone will be an appropriate hire.

    - If they talk about how great it was to do their laundry during work hours, thumbs down

    - we don't care if you work at night, on weekends, in your 
    pajamas, after class, in another timezone, etc. We do     
    ask that you are available by Skype during regular 9-5 CST

    - Cool things about working for us:
        Potential to earn bonuses for projects. Very *LOW* 
        salary but since we are ROWE (Results Only Work 
        Environment), bonuses are part of the deal!
As someone who successfully works remotely full time: nope, nope, nope. These guys have offloaded their office space costs to their employees homes under the guise of a flexible work schedule.

Too late to edit but I realize now points 2 & 3 are from a non Articulate job posting posted on the Articulate site. My apologies!

I miss the old days when companies interviewed you, asked some technical questions, some personal questions, then hired you. It took 30 minutes to an hour. If you didn't work out, they just fired you and started again.

I think companies are less willing to do job training now.

Thats called the phone screen now :D

We made them come in to make sure they didn't have any weird shit attached to their face. This were client facing people after all. :)

That is solved today in the world of video chat

The new thing to do is put employees on a contract agreement for 30 days such that even IF you complete the ridiculous interview gauntlet, you are still a "tentative" employee and have to prove yourself. I did this for a YC company this spring and it was awful.

"Have you ever used a microwave? Great. Grab your apron and get going. The Big Mac rush starts around 11:30."

It's funny, back in the Delphi days, we had a famous interview question, "What's the difference between a procedure and a function?" If you couldn't answer that in 5 or so words, we knew you weren't to be hired. You'd be amazed at how many people couldn't. One guy went on for 20 minutes trying to BS an answer.

Now if you don't come up 5 times in a row with optimal solution to problems like how many possibilities there are for N companies to make mergers until only one company is left without caring about the order using dynamic programming and complicated combinatorics at each step, you won't be hired to write those boring JavaScript apps...

to be fair, there is now the benefit of a wealth of a) readily available info on what works/doesn't work and b) a lot more developers. Ok demand still outstrips supply probably but still, the best paying positions can afford to be choosey and demanding, no?

> no?

Very likely, no.

Unless those companies somehow got very good on your "a" point and told nobody, their more filters they add the biggest the likelihood of having one that is anti-correlated to competence. And just one such filter can be enough to cut all the extremely few great candidates.

It's amazing how risk averse companies are when good talent is so scarce. They need to take more risk on people, especially when it is so easy to fire people in the US.

I wouldn't do a 5 hour interview, I don't care who the company is. I haven't had to do a cold interview (not referenced by an existing employee) since my first job out of college 20+ years ago. There is no way companies are going to find talent doing those long slog interviews, unless they pay 2x rates or something.

Just the thought of 5 hour interviews makes my stomach queezy.

I like doing those onsite interviews at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple etc. once a year to keep in touch with what is required these days. Why not testing yourself? In the worst case you'll get just rejected, not blacklisted or sent to a Gulag :D

That's a good idea, just not for me. I read up on the criteria they ask about from time to time as a refresher. Last time I checked, Google had a study guide and it was really good coverage. Anything I don't know, I'll look up, then forget a few weeks later because I never use it. I also don't live in a city with any of those companies present (except for we have a Microsoft and Apple store). Finally, I'd rather have 5 hours of dental work done without anesthetic than sit in a stuffy conference room getting grilled about tech minutia for 5 hours. There's that. :)

The difference between a procedure and function is so nuanced, in the 80s maybe it meant something, today it would just come across as a pointless trivia question.

A function returns a value. It doesn't really apply in C type dialects because everything is a function, but in Pascal type dialects, they were distinct as they are in PLSQL and TSQL. If you wrote anything in Delphi, you would have to know that, thus why we asked it. It's actually declared that way.

  procedure ShowTime;                    // A procedure with no parameters
     // Display the current date and time
     ShowMessage('Date and time is '+DateTimeToStr(Now));

  function Average(a, b, c : Extended) : Extended;
     // return the average of the 3 passed numbers
     Result := Mean(a, b, c);
Edit: thanks for the formatting tip.


> Sorry, don't know how to format code on here.

Two spaces at the beginning of each line.

And you have two hours to edit a comment. :-)

seems like a silly gotcha -- a literal technicality. Aren't you worried you passed on some amazing talent because they didn't read the same "bibles" or study in the same "groups" as you?

Sure, if you were hiring someone with no Delphi/Pascal experience, for example a programmer who had worked in multiple languages and you expected to be able to learn Delphi quickly, then it would be a silly gotcha.

But if you were interviewing someone who claimed to know Delphi/Pascal at all and didn't know this off the top of their head, it would be a big red flag.

It would be like asking a C programmer what's the difference between "void foo(){...}" and "int foo(){...}". They had better be able to tell you the difference without having to think about it.

It's funny. Based on the responses, I can tell who has Delphi experience and who does not. Pretty good interview question for Delphi devs, I'd say. :) Sure beats 5 hour interviews about God knows what.

I haven't touched Delphi in twenty years, and I still remember the difference. It's fizz-buzz for Delphi devs: if you say you're a Delphi dev and don't know this off the top of your head, then you're lying about your experience.

If you were programing in Pascal for 5 minutes, you would know the answer. It is a technicality, but a plainly accessible one.

If "knows Pascal" is one of the job requirements, it's actually a good question.

You literally couldn't program in Delphi if you didn't know that.

"Functions return a value."

That's only 4 words.

It seems like a rather cruel interview question, now that it qualifies as uninteresting trivia.

That's why I said 5 or so. I was specifically looking for, "a function returns a value," which is 5.

If you worked in Delphi, it most certainly isn't trivia. It's like asking what does void mean in C type dialects or what does the = vs == do. It's not trivia, it's trivial.

> It's not trivia, it's trivial.

That is a great quote; I hope you don't mind if I borrow it from time to time.

The comments that this is "nuanced" or a "silly gotcha" are interesting. I wonder if these commenters have ever programmed in Delphi or Pascal? (No offense intended to those commenters if you have.)

I've never used Delphi itself (although a program I wrote was bundled with it for a while, if you remember WinSight). I did write some Pascal code 35 years ago for DOS and the original Mac OS, but haven't touched the language or looked at it since then.

But even I knew the answer to this right off the top of my head. It's so fundamental that if you don't know it, you don't know the language at all.

>I hope you don't mind if I borrow it from time to time.


>It's so fundamental that if you don't know it, you don't know the language at all.

That's what we were shooting for. We knew there was no way we would know a rock star without working with them, and we were more than willing to accept good people who had room to improve. We couldn't accept someone who didn't know the language. It worked out really well for us. Because the interviews were short, we could fit a lot more in during a workday and get the process over quickly.

Now that I exercise my memory of things past, I seem to recall that VB6 had "Function" and "Sub", too, which had essentially the same distinction, except there were some further differences if you ever tried to write Office macros.

I never did voluntarily, because "real programmers" just didn't do that. But there was always some legacy POS written by a non-software person--who no longer works for the company, of course--that had been embedded into an Excel spreadsheet and never once tasted source control, but it was somehow critical to the business, anyway, and you might have been assigned the task of figuring out what it did and turning it into "real code".

While I have a low sample size, it seemed like those reduced from about 10 MB of godawful brute-force spaghettified spreadsheet macro, down to about 10 lines of Java or C#, using algorithms and basic library functions. The hardest part is convincing your boss's boss that they both do the same thing, because the guy who wrote the macro spent so much time on it that there's just no way it could actually be so simple.

As I favor considering aptitude in addition to skill, asking gotcha questions about jargon or syntax doesn't seem fair to someone who could hear that 4-word explanation and instantly understand what you meant.

> If you couldn't answer that in 5 or so words, we knew you weren't to be hired.

I could answer this questions, but have a tendency for long, technical explanations. ;-)

> Successful remote workers are disciplined and self-motivated. No boss is eyeing them from across the office to see whether they’re working. They alone are responsible for structuring their workdays.

This sounds like precisely the kind of person I want to work with, regardless of whether they are remote or co-located.

If they talk about how great it was to do their laundry during work hours, thumbs down.

Talking about the work/life balance benefits of remote work is a bad thing? This makes even less sense since remote work is usually coupled with flexible work hours.

Success in remote cultures has a major dependency on leadership as well. I've helped a client start a company who was dead set on having a remote engineering team until he realized that he wasn't comfortable with it. He would have said "they were all bad at remote" but really he was a micromamager with trust issues.

It seems like every other week an article is posted about interviewing, and then half the commenters proceed to customarily disagree with their own personal anecdotes and such. Has anyone proposed an alternate method that has been put into practice, and actually works? OTOH, it seems like tons of different styles based on often opposing viewpoints (yes/no CS questions, yes/no whiteboard coding, etc) all work. Maybe what needs to happen is someone needs to create a proper taxonomy of the differnt styles, and a method to choose one depending on the situation ala data structures.

> Has anyone proposed an alternate method that has been put into practice, and actually works?

Not that I've read this year, but I think we're finally past peak FizzBuzz.

I find it somewhat hilarious that companies think they're vetting employees and use these small little "probes". It's much more likely that the candidate is vetting you and already has a good idea of whether or not they will be able to work from home.

Wow, I really like lunch time with my teammates so... I think I'll go remote where I can't do that at all and just freeloading on a random company so I can do my laundry from home! No one will ever notice my evil scheme! Said no one ever.

Having remotely hired others and being hired, I've noticed remote workers don't always understand how critical it is to deliver and add value, instead of putting their interests and balance and what they're getting out of it ahead.

Highly recommend anyone who has opinions about certain rights try hiring someone for a gig and see how much the responsibilities come to mind, when it comes to being effective.

Some people aren't geared to work from home, or good at it from the get go. They still may be geared to work remotely (maybe a coworking space). Managing distractions at home is no different than managing distractions at the office. Same goes for finding a way to be effective at the office vs remote.

The ability to focus and manage distractions is something that can take people a while to figure out, and a worthwhile thing to focus on.

I just try to remember the value of removing the commute - If we take an the 2 hours a day saved in a commute (door to seat), it saves 60 hours a month, or 720 hours a year. That's an entire 30 days of living per year of extra waking hours.

> We look for work-from-home experience and affinity

Great, back to the "you've gotta have experience to get experience" dance.

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