However, you may decide that the individual productivity loss of having people work in an office is outweighed by the group productivity and morale gain from having people working together. Here are some reasons from a holistic company perspective for requiring people to work out of the office:
- To more effectively add to the culture of the company.
- To take part in ad hoc training opportunities, either to teach someone who needs help, or to learn something from someone when an obstacle is encountered.
- To be able to attend in-person meetings or stand-ups when urgent things come up - without the awkwardness and delays of conferencing in multiple people.
- To provide mentorship to junior staff.
- To collaborate more effectively.
- To show clients/prospective clients, partners and recruits, a vibrant and energetic team and working environment that is worth investing in/joining.
- To build morale and a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
At the same time, measures need to be taken in the office working environment to ensure that individuals can be productive, which means providing quiet working spaces, enforcing do-not-disturb rules, etc.
Last point. To anyone who is running a business where your employees can easily choose to work from home for any company in the world, such as software engineers: creating a vibrant company culture is one of the ways in which you can attract and retain team members. Many people like being part of an in-person team and working with each other on a regular basis. But if they're already working from home and rarely seeing their co-workers, what difference does it make if they choose to work for some startup out of SF?
In response most commenters are criticizing your point by focusing on whether or not it is technically possible to achieve any of those things while working remotely, which is not your point. One person has even accused you of responding to data with anecdotes and opinion, and another has called your comment BS. Yikes!
Remote work kinda seems like a religious topic now. If you don't provide an airtight, empirical justification for why you're not in favor of remote work, you'll hear from people talking your ear off about how everything you suggested is absolutely possible in a remote setting. "But you can mentor someone remotely!", or "You can collaborate super effectively on a remote team if you just do ..." People are talking about "valid reasons" to be working in an office instead of working remotely, as though remote working needs to be the default consideration. There's a disconnect here.
To conclude this pretentious meta-analysis of mine: I've worked remotely for four or five years now. I like it, it's cool. I can pick up groceries on a Monday when no one is at the store! But companies shouldn't have to defend why they don't support remote work. Universal telecommuting does not need to be the next step in our evolution as a society, and that's okay.
But...it is their point. They are claiming that this laundry list of desirable things are all lost if you support remote work. If they are achievable with remote work the post is irrelevant.
I've worked in offices where there was low morale, zero information sharing, little collaboration, and where the meetings were overwhelmingly just a giant waste of time (in the absence of productivity, meetings become a surrogate where you can point to the `accomplishment' of a meeting). I've worked with a remote team where we had fantastic morale and ridiculously good information sharing and cooperation/coordination. Vice versa. None of these things have to be limited to one choice.
To be honest, given the rising costs of living in most cities, I'm kind of hoping it will be.
OP is suggesting that the research is invalid because it didn't look at the company level productivity, which is then an excuse to validate his own preference. It's fine to have preferences, everybody does. Making broad claims is generally what gets you in hot water when communicating online.
It would have been more informative to have a specific example. Maybe his point is that it takes a lot of energy for him to figure out how to work together remotely, and that energy is better invested in other things like company culture.
However, I don't believe that every company needs to optimize for individual productivity. It is entirely valid to choose to optimize for other things, such as group productivity, or collaboration, or culture, or really whatever the leadership of the company may want. And as an individual, if you want to work somewhere where individual productivity is maximized, you may certainly choose to work in a place with generous work-from-home policies.
Fifteen minutes ago, I ran into an employee in the kitchen. She looked stressed out. I asked her what was wrong. She told me she wanted to cry. I expressed concern - asked her why - talked her through the situation, found a solution, got her spirits back up, gave her a pat on the shoulder and went on my way.
Could I do this through Slack? Maybe. Would she have reached out to me proactively (instead of me reading her body language) over an electronic medium? Nope, not her - she's too stoic for that. Is it important to me to have this type of high-touch relationship with my employees? Yes, it is.
Now she feels better. I don't have a study that proves that she does, but I don't need one. Is she more productive being here today? Maybe not. Maybe she'd be more productive at home, feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. But I don't care about that - I want her here, feeling supported and encouraged.
Both scenarios have advantages, and both scenarios have disadvantages. Whether you are willing to accept certain disadvantages or whether you actually value certain advantages brings in many personal values. Some people are exceptionally invested in office work because they rely upon their gregarious nature to navigate the working world. Some are exceptionally invested in remote work because they are introverted and constantly overruled by more aggressive colleagues (to the detriment of the business, not just themselves).
As many do not understand why offices are constructed the way they are, why companies are centralized entities, why authority is set up as a hierarchy, etc, its difficult to have a competent conversation about the whole thing. It's a big topic. And it's never as simple as 'this thing just saves us money with no drawbacks' or 'this thing just has drawbacks with no material benefit'. Such discussions need to be extensive, nuanced, and detached.
We really are in a position, however, where the differences in productivity and cost are so stark that in order to justify operating expensive centralized offices, they have to show either that it is Impossible to solve problems technologically with remote work, or that there are benefits to the centralization that are extremely valuable. Being able to keep employees, mentioned in the original comment, is an interesting choice. Since the 1980s, employee total dispensability has been top priority in management culture. Moving toward valuing employees and trying to keep them would be a monumental shift in corporate behavior and change all kinds of things all on its own. It might be advisable, though. As I see it, companies started abandoning everything they offered to workers in the 1980s.... right around the time computers came around and started making it practical for workers to leave and compete against the companies while undercutting them hugely just through not having an office to pay for.
> Some people are exceptionally invested in office work because they rely upon their gregarious nature to navigate the working world. Some are exceptionally invested in remote work because they are introverted and constantly overruled by more aggressive colleagues (to the detriment of the business, not just themselves).
really is a gem. I think this really offers clarity into why there are 2 "sides" of this debate.
One other point often overlooked is one of real estate.
If a company has a lot of value locked up in real estate it may not want it disrupted by remote work.
Definitely helps the traffic jam issues on megacities!
Also the flexibility to run errands to post office, banks, schedule service repairs etc. is just so tremendous.
That way I can get a feel for the week on Monday and a retrospective on Friday. Plus Fridays is usually the "Culture Building" day (taking it easy, maybe having a beer in the afternoon, playing some board games). And Monday's are great to catch up with the team after the weekend, bring donuts or some snacks in the morning.
The middle of the week is when I can just work and be productive, as a developer.
Obviously this isn't a strict schedule. It's just definitely easier for me to pump out my own work at my pace, i.e. "Maker's Schedule". And there is absolutely value in being in the office with the team as you stated above.
That sounds great. No more Tuesdays!
Yeah that makes way more sense than just saying, "hey a client is coming in on Thursday, everyone assume your positions! And for FSM's sake, look like you're collaborating!"
The rest of your points are absolute bull shit that can all be done remotely.
I disagree mentoring can be as effective when done remotely. The channel width of face-to-face communication is higher than that of any other method.
Furthermore, there are a lot of things that are communicated from senior to junior accidentally, for example, some simple efficient pattern of using the IDE, that would not get communicated in a remote setting. The skill transfer can happen of course any which way, from junior to senior, whatever - but serendipitous pairing is often the initial requirement for this skill transfer to happen.
Research to that effect? I know some people have that, I know I do not. So this absolute statement is already 1 datapoint (me) off. And I know others (who I mentor) who absorb mentoring far better via remote methods. When someone mentors me, I like to chew the information over, research it etc. This goes for most communication for work related matters; I absorb far less if it is told to me face to face than when I read it and have time to thoroughly understand it all.
I agree somewhat with the rest but that again can be done remotely: we develop almost everything while in chat; this acidental transfer is even far better than face to face imho. In chat someone says something like ‘I refactor this to that by hitting ctrl-something’ ; all people see it, not only the accidental junior next to you but all of them. And later this can be searched by others while the verbal incidental comms is gone forever.
I definitely see the need for face to face meetings, but far less than some people here do. And it would be good to have more research done into this matter: I simply do not see many programmers (and I managed 100s over my professional life) being productive in the setting you suggest. Looking and feeling busy yes (so for the bums on seats type of manager), but productive as in just getting stuff done, in my experience no. But that is anecdotal, like your view, so real research and numbers would be good.
To be precise, I did not suggest anything else beyond people being in the same location. I agree the type of bullshit you describe is plausible in a typical corporate scenario.
Given the reproducibility crisis in modern psychology, I would be hard-pressed to claim most thing dealing with humans as better than "anecdotal". I pass along those anecdotes that I find useful. In this context literary references are not "academic proof" but rather probabilistic proof that someone else shares my view and that it might be applicable to third parties as well.
The face-to-face plus whiteboard offering the widest communication channel -anecdote was taken from Alistair Cockburn's "Agile software development" that can be referred from example here (just look at the graph):
I have no idea how true that is in the general sense, but personally I've found this to be true. I've had and continue having tremendously valuable whiteboard impromptu chats that have clarified a complex topic to all stakeholders, helped me to understand some issue and thus saving worktime, or just helped to create a shared symbolic context for a complex technical discussion that otherwise would have been imprecise and hand-wavy. The fact that you can draw boxes, point at them, and perhaps draw arrows between them in a shared physical space with people just somehow seems to make everything easier.
But generally won't be. I work for a tech company, and heck, much of those things don't happen even between people in different sites. The two people in our team who are at a different site usually don't learn a lot of things we do simply because over here we all sit in cubes next to one other. When an emergency occurs, we over here will learn about it through osmosis. This is why we now have meetings dedicated for passdowns to the remote workers just so that they learn what we did here. The problem is that they only learn what we think they need to know.
So while I agree with you that everything can happen remotely (and sometimes does), I think it is more likely to happen in person.
"More than half the volunteer group changed their minds about working from home 100 percent of the time--they felt too much isolation."
And bear in mind that is from the group of people who _volunteered_ to work from home. It's reasonable to presume that a nontrivial number of people chose _not_ to volunteer because they valued in-person interactions.
So, I call BS on your calling bullshit.
I'm in an office for a few days a week now with a new company, and I genuinely struggle to get work done on those days. I'm interrupted frequently, office mates love having very loud conversations by my desk, and I can't even fix healthy food on demand and instead drag in a lunch box like a child.
But, and here is the important bit, that's my experience. I have coworkers for whom the inverse is true, who would hate being remote at all, and see the office as the only space they can be productive in.
Just like shoes come in different sizes, so too do office working styles. My overwhelming complaint is that I have to fight tooth and nail to work from home, and I usually get the complaint "Well I don't like working from home, so you shouldn't do it either".
It's like I'm trying to justify being left handed. It's ridiculous. What works for me works for me, and I have direct stats that prove that on every basis (benefit of being a dev, work can be measured).
Similarly, I'd be interested in a survey after the fact to determine a person's social life outside of work. If people have an active one apart from work, I suspect 100% remote is more attractive. When a person's main sources of social contact are at work, I can see that taking a major hit; just water cooler chatter and shared lunches and things would be missed more if you don't have regular social activities.
0. The group productivity argument is completely unsubstantiated.
1. Trust in employees is fundamental, why even go there.
2. There are remote-first companies with great culture.
3. Ad-hoc training works great over Hangouts, I do it all the time.
4. Most meetings are not urgent. For sysops consider having a team on-call. Again it works great over Hangouts.
> - To more effectively add to the culture of the company.
This is genuine question, what does this even mean?
> - To take part in ad hoc training opportunities, either to teach someone who needs help, or to learn something from someone when an obstacle is encountered.
This all can be done online and it's even better, if you have to focus on task and there are people constantly bothering you , or vice versa you interrupt someone, this does nothing but lowers productivity
> - To be able to attend in-person meetings or stand-ups when urgent things come up - without the awkwardness and delays of conferencing in multiple people.
In 15 years of work I've never had this issue, it's more managers' problem I guess, proving that they do something by visually showing that they do something - like organising meetings about nothing. And how it's less awkward to chase people around building than just set up meeting adding it to calendar?
> - To provide mentorship to junior staff.
There's this thing called documentation ;)
> - To collaborate more effectively.
We're not raising barn walls, there's a ton of tools to support collaboration
> - To show clients/prospective clients, partners and recruits, a vibrant and energetic team and working environment that is worth investing in/joining.
At assembly line in car factory, yes. Although this seems to be frequent theme in this industry: dress up and act busy because some big old guys are comming, we have to make good impression. Then there's this crowd of people pacing around asking random questions (imagine what kind, as for most of them 'the internet' is a blue E letter on desktop). Again, that's not productive working.
> - To build morale and a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
Making great product that you can be proud of does all of this , or if you really cannot live without 'making great team' just set up some after hours go out or idk paintball or something
>> - To provide mentorship to junior staff.
> There's this thing called documentation ;)
Also just while I'm here, normally I wouldn't point out spelling but, epitome.
But I grew up in that ICQ/IRC/Forums culture and as a teenie stayed home alone for weeks while my parents were on vacation, didn't bother me. So certainly a personality thing. Now with wife and kids, my remote working times are the only lone times I have,so I love it.
When employees are remote, they are in essence contractors, with less emotional commitment to a company. When employees aren't as invested (other than financially), retention can be harder.
>When employees are remote, they are in essence contractors, with less emotional commitment to a company. When employees aren't as invested (other than financially), retention can be harder.
Being able to remote will keep me at a soul sucking company a lot longer than having to drive through rush hour twice a day. Believe this: if you hire someone as a remote programmer, you will get better access to better candidates for less money. Consider it a competitive advantage.
For me, this is the key point. We do NOT have a quiet working space. We are disturbed constantly. :-(
I have been working remotely in a large company and allow me to refute your points.
If your culture is already remote, or shifting towards it, then it's a non issue.
This works just as well remotely. In fact I would argue it's even more efficient, one can take advantage of super quiet places in a private video chat.
In person meetings, stand ups, team sync meetings are 90% waste of time. Short meetings can be performed quickly in a video call. Notifying team members of something urgent is also very easy.
Again, the point is passing along information, whether it's done in person or online makes little difference. In fact if it's done online, I would argue it's more efficient because is a digital trail that one can trace back
If your team members fail to collaborate remotely, they will fail to do so in person. Remote has nothing to do with it.
Partners and clients don't care how "vibrant" your team is.They care about how good your product is. This point makes no sense
This is hands on SV startup mentally. In person office drinking parties does not create morale.
Morale is created by hard work, strong vision and leadership.
All of which can be accomplished remotely.
The point I'm trying to get across is this: It all depends on the organizational structure. If it's correctly in place, it works very well. As long as there is a clear communication hub between all members, a company can succeed remotely.
But it makes a huge difference for some people like me. Information passed verbally just doesn't stick for me. For some reason it's not properly recorded in my memory and if you ask me about if half an hour later I would have forgotten 80% of what I was told.
Now give it to me in writing, and I'd probably remember it until the end of days.
Ultimately, in either case, you can't tell someone they're doing it wrong if what they're doing is working for them and they're successful.
> If your culture is already remote, or shifting towards it, then it's a non issue.
What does this even mean? How is it a non issue? You are vastly underestimating the nuance required to get from A to B, mainly, from in-person to remote capable.
> This works just as well remotely. In fact I would argue it's even more efficient, one can take advantage of super quiet places in a private video chat.
This is opinion. It works for some people, but for others, part of communication is body language and being near someone. It's actually science. These "non-verbal" communication indicators are not as well communicated through a telepresence.
> In person meetings, stand ups, team sync meetings are 90% waste of time.
Sounds like some more opinion, as well as something that can greatly vary from company to company.
> Short meetings can be performed quickly in a video call.
HA! Have you seen the sorry state of affairs that is telepresence software?
> Again, the point is passing along information, whether it's done in person or online makes little difference. In fact if it's done online, I would argue it's more efficient because is a digital trail that one can trace back
Again, sounds like you are projecting your own personal opinions as some sort of fact. The digital trail point is a separate issue, and a valid one, the rest of the point is opinion.
> If your team members fail to collaborate remotely, they will fail to do so in person. Remote has nothing to do with it.
> Partners and clients don't care how "vibrant" your team is.They care about how good your product is. This point makes no sense
Oh, oh yes they do. You obviously have not been in a meeting where you have one of the big 4 Telco's in your building (I have), and you are giving them a tour, and they are impressed by your "amazing work culture" (your buildings and office are just as much as "marketing" as your sales pitch -- some people seem to miss this point), then you land that multi-million dollar contract, making it all worth it.
> This is hands on SV startup mentally.
Having never worked in SV myself, this seems like again, more opinion, and varies from place to place.
> The point I'm trying to get across is this: It all depends [ on the organization structure.]
You are very right -- it most certainly, almost always, depends.
For people like myself who struggle to understand body language, when everyone else in the room "gets it", forcing people to explain in detail removes ambiguity.
For me the whole "corporate culture" thing is just an attempt to brainwash people into accepting lower salary, because "we are changing the world here".
There are the owners/middle management/laborers. To trick the laborers into thinking that they are part of something is pretty brilliant though.
I've seen several different companies from the insidr, and each one has had vastly different cultures. Usually it is an implementation of the CEO/upper management's views of what "corporate culture" is. There's still usually a facade, but that facade is not necessarily disingenuous.
Also, "work from home" paradigm will only succeed when management paradigm changes from managing time to managing outcome. And changing that management style is not easy. Managing outcomes requires managers to understand not only the strategic agendas set by the bosses higher up but also the technical paths to achieve them confronted by the "serfs" under. It also requires that managers themselves are empowered to make decisions on budgets and execute on outcomes - managers who can't make decisions daily without checking in on higher up bosses for authorisation will be unlikely to agree to a work from home scenario.
1. Neither of us understood the full complexity of the task at the outset. If we want to improve, we'll have to put in more work upfront to figure out the problem.
2. You're less capable than I thought you were -- it just takes you longer or you make more mistakes than I had expected.
3. I didn't adequately describe the job to you, and you spent time going down blind alleys and readjusting trying to figure out what exactly I want.
4. You're a slacker, you didn't work very hard on it and so it took longer.
It's easy to say that I should manage outcome, but if you repeatedly fail to achieve the outcome, what should I do? It depends on why. If you're remote, you're going to say it was #1 with a fallback position of #3. If you're in the office I can probably get a reasonable sense of whether or not it's #4, and if it's #3, we're naturally going to communicate more and so I'm more likely to fix it sooner. This is why office space in SF costs so much.
Why would the manager be the one making estimates? That's a task either for the team, if applicable, or for the implementer.
I work from home, every sprint we have a planning meeting where we do the estimates together, my manager isn't even involed in it.
Only if we're expecting to exceed an estimate by 20% do we contact the project manager (not my manager) so we can figure out how to proceed.
How we work: we have a bunch of tasks available that we create during the sprint planning and we pick them as we have time, some may be marked as priority. My manager only hears from me if I'm ever blocked for some reason and need him to either get in touch with the person that is blocking the task or similar, otherwise we don't.
For us at least the manager is someone who enables us to spend our time productively, generally speaking he'll have no idea what I'm doing most of the time. I guess you could say we're self-managed.
With my team(s) I (almost) always knew (more or less) the time for various tasks.
I was also expecting any feedback/'negotiation' to happen at the time of task assignment OR as soon as someone can see that deadline is at risk.
I know that Tasks from Tasks vary, but hey, this setup requires knowledge from both parties AND trust.
Also, depending on the organization, a 20% buffer seems on the low side. If you can guarantee zero distractions throughout the day, outside of 1 or two meetings a week, 20% is probably ok.
FWIW, if the developer makes the estimate, he is more likely to live up to it, because it's not just some number someone pulled out of their ass. I'm not saying that's you, I'm just saying how I've seen it happen time and time again. I like to think I give good estimates, but like you said, it's a negotiation and if a dev says it will take longer, it will take longer. They most likely know the codebase way better than some manager does.
I contest this. This assumes the manager is also some sort of software engineer plus I don't understand why would there be any negotiation: a project asks for an estimate and we give it based on how much we feel it's going to take, there is no negotiation; either the project manager accepts it or reduces scope and we make a new estimate, my manager is uninvolved.
I suspect this might be a work culture thing: in my country managers aren't timekeepers, their responsibility is making sure we have all the conditions we need to be productive and be "invisible" otherwise.
> This assumes the manager is also some sort of software engineer plus I don't understand why would there be any negotiation:
We have whole methodologies based on the premise that we (software engineers or managers) are incredibly horrible at estimating software.
You -should- never be blindsided by #3. Because that's why daily standups exist. That's why tasking out a story. If the person is going down blind alleys, the -process- should be what brings that out, via daily standup or whatever. No amount of colocation will fix that, only explicit communication. You're not going to passively observe someone going down blind alleys.
I've worked as an engineer for a company that had ridiculous engineering turnover rates because engineers were treated like children, and management would always give these kind of excuses where one guy was a slacker one time so everyone has to abide by ridiculous policies around required office hours. If you want to retain talent and accurately measure employee performance, you need to put effort into measuring outcome rather than working hours.
It's ok to treat adults with respect and empathy. Knowledge workers need more latitude to manage their pace.
Problem with this is that it puts the burden of bad estimates on employees. They'll end up working more hours to cover the mistakes in estimates in order to meet the expected outcomes. And that is exactly the same issue that makes freelancing suck, except that freelancers charge more in order to cover for those unexpected situations.
I come to work at the same time every day for the same amount of time every day and I work on our product that whole time. What's going to get done is going to get done. If a situation requires more, then we'll work late. (And it's almost always obvious when something is important enough to require this.) The process of guessing how long each task is going to take is a complete waste of our time. Of course, we do it. And management thinks it's super important, because they spend their days making spreadsheets and Jira filters based on those guesses. But, the reality is that it simply doesn't matter one way or the other.
We make a bunch of guesses, then we do the work we were going to do anyway and it takes as long as it was always going to take, and then at the end we have another pointless meeting, called the "retrospective," where we talk about how good or bad our guesses were.
It's like a Tennessee Valley Authority make-work program for under-challenged product managers.
A task will take the time that have been reserved for it. That is inefficient. Changing to a result-orientated approach where an employee is giving weekly or daily tasks (if it isn't too complicated - which is really a good question) would also mean that if an employee is finished with his weekly tasks after 3 days, he gets to go home. For many seems counterintuitive (fixed time management is essentially used from the first day of school and is pervasive in society) and it does have it own difficulties changing. For instance, how does co-workers feel when one fast employee always gets to leave early? How easy is it to pick tasks for employees?
Freelance programmers are one group where this result-orientated approach works, not sure it can be extended to other sectors easily.
In my situation, at least, there's a never ending list of tasks to accomplish.
If you finish the "must do now" tasks, it's expected that you'll let them know and pull something else off the pile; not that you'll do nothing for the rest of the sprint.
I think remote work is yet another example where social status play at least some part, if not a significant. Employees, probably especially managers, will of course see their social status diminish if everyone were to be remote. In an extreme case we're going from an in-person small kingdom to a somewhat depersonalized title online.
Even beyond remote work, I think there's quite a few examples in tech, and white-collar work in general, where social status seems to trump economical rationality. But maybe it's hard to admit and thus best left out.
For managers, social status is supreme. This status is measured in numerous ways; salary, trophy spouse, cars, office location, etc etc. Deny this at your peril.
I've been working 75-80% from home for several years now, and I've had 5 managers during that time. Before that, I mostly worked in an office, but my managers were located in another country. In that whole time, even having some terrible managers at points, all of my managers were more focused on managing outcomes - it always just seems to come naturally.
I'm in the UK, working for a Norwegian company - maybe things are just more progressive here than in the US?
Probably. For many in the US, managers tend to do very little to actually help things, but take all the credit (and rewards) for the positive outcomes. I suspect the US is successful in spite of how we do business, not because of it.
I don't know why that is happening, but I have seen it first hand.
> They work in cosy, neighborhoody places with people around
Which is it?
That article did not age well.
I like working from home, but I actually hate the fact that I'm basically forced to work from home every day (because I live in the countryside). Quiet is nice, but quiet all the time is a bit hard to bear. At least for me.
The statements are not contradicting each other. The first statement is on the in-building level and the second one is on the out-of-building level.
But most importantly, they can leave those two locations when they feel like it.
fixed that for you
Management is playing a game of consistency and control. Blanket policies are the name of the game. I don't care if you are 100x more productive at home. I can't have all these other losers asking me why they aren't allowed to work from home. God forbid I consider a stratified policy where some people get privileges that others don't.
This is why small companies move the needle on innovation, because they don't have to cater to lowest common denominator of 5000 people. Large companies are ruled by old men, and are beholden to status quo.
I can really concentrate at home (private room where I feel comfy) but on the other hand it is also significantly easier to distract yourself from work. Netflix is just one tab away and there's no one to look over your shoulder and whisper in your ear "Don't watch Netflix when you're working".
It also depends a lot on my mood. When I feel down and worthless because my research feels like its going nowhere I distract myself more easily. If I feel optimistic like I'm a predator hunting some prey because my research is leading somewhere fruitful I can work anywhere with great focus without the need for distraction.
I'm currently working somewhere that more or less requires a typical M-F 9-5 schedule. I often don't feel in the "mood" on various weekdays, while some weekends I get that "predator" feeling you described and can code non-stop for hours on end. However, since I need to be in the office M-F I more often feel, and give in to, the pressure to not work weekends lest my family and social life/general well-being suffer.
I wonder how many productive hours I've lost due to this conundrum, and beyond that how many productive hours have been lost in my company or the modern workplace.
It's interesting that you describe feeling pressure to not work; usually I think people talk about feeling the pressure to work.
But I know what you mean. It's hard to know how to balance the two. On the one shoulder is a little voice saying "Don't be a sucker and spend your free time making money for the company! It's just a job! Go have a life". On the other is the pride of craft, and the thrill of having a really good idea that you want to see to the end.
I've been thinking a lot about this, not least because my relationship was a bit strained last year due to both of us probably putting too much emphasis on our work. I don't know if ultimately one side or the other is the right answer. Doing good and creative work is important and fulfilling. But friends and family are equally important and fulfilling. Maybe the only way is to carefully guard against either one predominating.
At home, my breathers are more energizing, which is the point.
I can't believe how ridiculous it is that managers feign surprise when they are told that a task estimated at 4 hours will take a calendar day to complete. That is the nature of the work.
I don't understand people with this problem. The problem I have is switching off from work
> If I feel optimistic like I'm a predator hunting some prey
That's like me trying to find a seat and socket in the office.
Tools like https://selfcontrolapp.com/ and https://freedom.to/ are really helpful here.
Enter Bloom, who helped design a test whereby 500 employees were divided into two groups--a control group (who continued working at HQ) and volunteer work-from-homers (who had to have a private room at home, at least six-month tenure with Ctrip, and decent broadband access as conditions).
If you ask people to volunteer for remote work then people who are better remote workers are likely to volunteer and more likely to work harder to prove it can work.
I've previously seen accounting docs at a major defense firm I worked for. They tallied the exact dollar amount spent on each employee's square footage of office space on a monthly basis.
Furthers the argument you make.
The cost of that building divided by the number of people there.
There's then power, heat, cleaning, etc, but that's all small fry compared with the rent or opportunity cost of an office building.
The technical infrastructure (Cisco switches don't come cheap) is probably offset by the cost of supporting remote infrastructure, vpns etc.
The cost per deal in central London is on the order of $10k-$20k a year. I'll take that in cash thanks.
Or if the opportunity is presented as a privilege they might be less engaged to begin with?
> Or if the opportunity is presented as a privilege they might be less engaged to begin with?
Very likely, but even ignoring that, the sampling bias means that the study is confirming that people who want to work from home do better with that arrangement, rather than demonstrating that work from home is in general a better arrangement. If you want to study X vs Not-X and draw your sample population entire from the group that prefers X, you will like find that X is better in whatever ways you choose to measure: happiness, productivity, retention, etc.
Imagine you want to study open office floor plans vs private offices. If you include only open office advocates in your study, you'll probably find very different results than an study that includes only private office advocates.
And people who are better in-office workers volunteer not to go home :) I guess this does mimic real life, no?
> Approximately half of the employees (503) were interested, particularly those who had less education and tenure, their own rooms, and faced longer commutes. Of these, 249 were qualified to take part in the experiment by virtue of having at least six months’ tenure, broadband access, and a private room at home in which they could work. After a lottery draw, those em- ployees with even-numbered birthdays were selected to work from home, and those with odd-numbered birthdates stayed in the office to act as the control group.
> After a lottery draw, those employees with even-numbered birthdays were selected to work from home, and those with odd-numbered birthdates stayed in
the office to act as the control group.
Combined with some basic rules like no meetings on Fridays it can quickly become a simple and effective company culture.
The mix, I think, is good on a social level. When I used to work 100% remote, I found myself walking to the grocery store just to see other people.
Only one of my workers is more productive from home, in the IT department almost all the workers are more productive from home.
We haven’t done any research on the causality, but the personality’s profiles for or digitization and IT departments are vastly different, so too is the work we donald the way we go about it.
If you looked at us over all, there’s 20 workers in my department and around 60 in the IT department and around 55 of the 80 are more productive from home.
The setup I personally use to gain the most out of my employees is letting them work their own hours the way they want. I don’t check their hours but trust them to put in the hours they need, and they do, in fact the biggest problem is getting them to only work the 37 hours they are hired to put in.
Sometimes they come in late and leave early, sometimes they work from home and I can tell by what they produce they spent half the day doing something else. But then sometimes I’ll get an email at 2am on a Saturday because someone found his/her coding flow at an off hour.
This would be extremely unhealthy if I required it, but my employee satisfaction went up from 4.3 out of 7 under the previous manager to 6.3/7 under me and our performance output nearly doubled.
Working at home is fine, but I don’t think you can truthfully say that it works for everyone. I think it’s important to leave the option open along with other options in a framework that encourages team work and communication, and then trust your employees to do the right thing and only intervene in their schedule and where they want to work, when you begin to spot trouble.
god bless you for this insight.
As a contractor I've worked at multiple places, and my current gig cares more about 'asses in seats' than output. It's incredibly demotivating, having come from an environment where output was the goal.
Maybe I'm wrong. If I'm not, he/she has very little say in their environment. At least that's my experience.
When I started working from home 10 years ago, this hit me hard. I used to work about 10 hour days in the office. When I started working from home I was working 13-14 hours most days.
Over time that lead to burn out and that made me even less productive. Some of it was because I felt a little guilty working from home so I put in even more effort to ensure people didn't think I was goofing around. In hindsight, that was unnecessary and a bad way to handle my insecurity... my bosses trusted me fully.
Secondly, when you always work from home... you're always at work! So, it's important to have that distinct work time and personal time otherwise they bleed together too much and you just end up working all the time.
Was this pure development because that seems so unfeasible (at least for me).
You say you manage 20 people. How are your able to judge for 20 people at least weekly if the work they did was in line with your expectations?
I feel like I basically have to read and understand every line written by each developer on my team in order to really get a grasp at whether they're productive or not.
Sometimes people produce very little code but maybe that little code solves a very hard to find bug.
It's something I'm really struggling with as a manager:
My boss asks me if the people on my team are worth their money and I am really not sure how to answer this.
If people aren’t feeling well, maybe they are going through a divorce, maybe they’ve run out of motivation I want them to share it, so we can help them get to where they want to be or give them time to process.
I guess I could have a single inefficient worker and never spot it through measurements, but I typically notice because it changes the team dynamic and the way people interact.
I understand why this would worry some managers, but I don’t believe you can apply factory line thinking or strategies to brain-workers because it doesn’t suit them, especially not if you want them to cooperate in actual teams and not just be a bunch of grouped individuals competing not to be measured as the bottom 15%.
I am Scandinavian though, and our work-culture is very different from the American.
I agree and I hope you're not suggesting that I'm doing that.
My problem is that "I trust my gut" doesn't work very well either as a strategy fot me because I just don't have that body of experience to draw from.
So I'm a bit lost.
For things like project management you have schedules and plans.
And then there is always customer/client satisfaction.
Aside from that you also have a boss who has expectations for you, are you meeting those? If your boss is not just satisfied but happy with your perfomance output you’re probably doing well.
As a developer in regular software companies I like working from home one or two days a week. That gives some nice focus time while still giving enough days for meetings and communication.
Working from home 100% probably only works in remote only companies (like GitLab), otherwise there a huge information gap.
In general I'd love to see a right to home office as a law. That could help to cut a lot of emissions and useless commuting back and forth.
Crucially it's not IT, the work is a call centre travel agency (and it's also in China).
"First, the job of a call center employee is
particularly suitable for telecommuting. It requires neither teamwork nor in-person face time. Quantity and quality of performance can be easily quantified and evaluated. The link between
effort and performance is direct. These conditions apply to a
range of service jobs, such as sales, IT support, and secretarial
assistance, but they are far from universal. Second, the firm can
closely monitor the performance and labor supply of the employees thanks to its extensive centralized database. Team leaders and managers could generate a report from the database of
the performance of the team members daily and easily detect
problems in individual employees’ performance. Third, the
extent of WFH was limited, so that it did not require a significant
reorganization at the workplace. Team leaders continued to supervise their teams with a mix of home and office workers without
any major reshuffling of team membership."
Working from home is great when I have a clear view of priorities and the task at hand but I sorely missed the social interactions of an office when I didn't have the option for it.
As most things in life, it's a spectrum, there are some people that probably work much better away from the office, personally I still need sometimes the social aspect of work to be my most productive self.
Honestly, I can achieve little at home these days and feel like I'm doing injustice to both, work and the kid.
Especially since where I live (Israel) like most of the world men and women are still usually not equally responsible regarding child care and I personally think remote work could help with that (as well as personal motivation to be there for my kids).
Working from home has been great for us all - we get to have breakfast and lunch together every day, and I'm around to help out at those times (if you've got young kids, you'll know meal times can be stressful at times!).
I'm assuming that there is someone else actually looking after the child, you can't leave a 2 year old alone for more than a couple of minutes (and even then you have to keep one eye on them)
There are times when I'll message my team "Beautiful day here - I'm taking the kids to the park for a couple of hours." and then shift my work scheduled to after the kids go to bed.
I wouldn't trade this for any office job.
So we need to look at the issue in a rather more elaborate way and look for both its upsides and downsides.
For example Ray Dalio may have not succeeded applying this technique to his own company; Bridgewater. Because for him, creating a culture of radical transparency and truthfulness is so important. I wonder how he would be able to create such a culture and preserve it if the employees were not working in a common building.
How can being at home ever make you lonely when it gives you more time to focus on relationships that actually matter.
Am I alone in thinking that those who expect any kind of meaningful bonding at work are misguided?
Yeah, one can enjoy smalltalk and the like but I'd much rather change that for a chat with a friend or my dad early in the morning.
Not all of us have kids or live with our family, and as such those 8 hours of office work are the only option for having a human presence around us during the day. Working 8 hours trapped in the loneliness of your house's walls each day, every day can be quite unsettling in the long run.
Work is probably the most common (or even exclusive for some) way adults meet new people, especially people they wouldn't otherwise meet. It sounds dumb when you don't experience it, but after spending a month or two working at home it start becoming apparent that you are getting too detached from society.
By "relationships that really matter" I suppose you mean family. Those bonding happens outside of working hours anyways, so whether or not you work from home you can always relish those relationships.
Now I WFH 2-3 days per week and the rest in the office which is more ideal. My commute is pretty brutal (~1.5hr) so WFH can help me get more done on those days.
This is true is obvious situations, but also false in some interesting ways.
While physical proximity helps for communication within a team for instance, it also makes it harder to know what happens in other teams, as they also communicate offline.
That means for instance that if you want an idea of the status of a team you'd have to physically go there (are they super busy ? is half of the team off for the day? are they under stress or not ?). If the team is in another building there will be enough enough friction that you won't bother except if it's important.
In contrast, having more people remote would allow to peek into their room and see their exchanges.
You'd also catch some issues or insight on stuff that they wouldn't be discussing with other teams otherwise for instance.
Basically, there is a lot of indirect advantages to have people chat by text instead of direct communication. Does it completely offset the other shortcomings ? I don't know, but it's still a pretty nice effect I think.
It does, but working in a noisy office makes concentration harder. As a developer, I communicate maybe 5% of the time but code 95% of the time; so what you are saying is true, but it's such a small part of what a developer does.
But suddenly if you are programming, reading and writing code, you require less concentration?
TV dramas show people talking over their desks and try to convince people this is what being productive looks like, but that's far from reality.
Joel Spolsky said it in 2000: "Do you programmers have quiet working conditions?"
Even so, if I were to start a company today, I would try very hard to hire remote, for many reasons, the most important of which is this would dramatically expand the talent pool, and (I believe) lead to less stressed employees and better results. People who lack intrinsic motivation typically don’t perform well even in the office.
Interesting! So, has it ever happened to you to hire a remote worker with a proven track record (say, 3-5 years, references checked) and then realize after some time that this person "doesn't fit the bill" for working remotely for you?
(If it has happened, I'd be interested to know details -- was it because of the specifics of your company's procedures, or something else?)
I never had anyone who had a track record of _remote_ work specifically, though.
Stuck in traffic, too many distractions, co-workers complains and politics. If I don't want to work from home I can go to a cafe or travel while work. Never mix socializing with work.
What I don't see, however, is a "third option" that I'd really, really want: the option, say, one day a week, to work in a shared space, with people related to my domain.
My company actually has an office that's in a suburb of where I live now. But it's inhabited by people who work in completely different functions and unrelated products. So going there would mean... I'd just basically sit there and chat with my coworkers online all day. Maybe have awkward superficial conversations in meatspace with a sales member, but I find the chats are just not very interesting, because I end up spending all my time explaining what I do, instead of actually having a conversation.
Again, what I'd love, is a shared space with other software engineers working on different products or tech. Sure, there are always issues of IP and privacy, but, I'd guess that the random watercooler conversation with someone tackling a very different kind of problem would be valuable. The added bonus of networking would be useful too.
"Amazon is never going to replace them because people like too much the social aspect of going to the store and maybe bump into their neighboors".
Yes, of course, working from home is much more productive. This is true for creative professions especially (like software development or content creation), where the ability to focus and concentrate is essential for getting anything done.
It's very demoralizing and stressful to have your day split up into 1000 random interruptions, very hard to code or write productively in those circumstances.
Most meetings are useless and this is especially true for standups, and deep down we all know it.
In most companies, people get to their desk and just start emailing people 3 meters away, might as well do it from home.
All this wasted time, unnecessary facetime and excessive long hours, polution caused by transports, wasted time from peoples lives comutting, simply in the name of doing things the way that they where always done.
Remote work will be very common in 10 years, the economics are there: people want it as they want a better life, they save money, and the companies save money too.
Things that have gotten worse: traffic and congestion, real estate prices
The needle is moving in the direction of wfh, I definitely believe that those that embrace it will be ahead of the game.
Because I have to be able to work from anywhere, it makes working from home easy.
I may see the rest of my team on the 22nd, and we have an away day to a supplier on the 30th.
The shared team construct of an office setting helps me get over my common obstacle of procrastination. When I do work from home, I've used some forms of productivity and accountability tools to get over that barrier.
These have included services like Focusmate  which lets you schedule co-working video sessions with a partner. That has been incredibly helpful for me, getting me to move immediately to working on whatever the difficult task at hand is.
I don't think it ever stops. If I had to venture an answer as to why, I'd say "fewer interruptions" - most interactions are asynchronous (email, IRC in my case but slack just as much). The only times I need to have synchronous discussions are either our "watercoolers" (social face-to-face over google hangouts) or the eventual meeting.
Note: the companies I've worked for in this setup are all committed to 100% remoteness, and understand that keeping meetings to a minimum is a good thing (note, not abolish - but make sure "meetings" are only called for when actually needed).
I work remotely a few years (about 8 years) and it definitely changed my life. Less traffic time, more family time and all the advantages we already know about remote work. But there are a few butts in all this.
1- You definitely need a good working environment at home, no use sitting on the kitchen table with your notebook.
2- A certain level of self-discipline is required for those who will work remotely to avoid procrastination. I know a lot of people who can not work at home, it turns into Facebook and Netflix.
3. Remote work is a culture that has to be applied to the whole family. For a long time, and even nowadays, because I was at home, people thought I was at ease and / or their disposition, which caused some friction. The remote worker has to make it clear to family members that at that time it is as if he is not there.
Other than that, I think it's very valid, and I think it's good that everyone could work remotely.
We certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but we've found it makes people pretty happy and we all seem pretty productive. If you want to give it a go, we're hiring! ;-) https://zapier.com/jobs/
Another thing that doesn't help my situation is that I'm mostly working alone on the project that I'm working on. I tried to compensate for that by volunteering my programming skills for an NGO.
Also how does one measure productivity? (this is probably a naive question as a relative neophyte) An article I found on this says they were 13.5% "more efficient" but I'd love to get the details on what that means. Its a travel agency so are they just booking, scheduling, organizing, etc? Would love to see a similar study in a SW dev environment, alternately something less tech focused but collaborative...I dunno but something creative most likely.
I can already hear the argument - "but, working at home doesn't mean you can take the afternoon off!!!" I'm sorry to say this, but anyone who thinks they are 100% productive all throughout the day has not had to try hourly work where you get paid by the hours you work and not by the full day. Hourly freelancers know what I am talking about. I will go on record to say that most if not all people can NEVER function at 100% capacity. To believe that looking busy all day long = working is just wishful thinking, ignorance or foolishness, take your pick.
I can not comment on the hourly freelancer part, but as I understand the US law that keeps getting cited in this thread: "it's illegal to require an independent contractor to be on site or to even set hours".
You bet it's healthier. Except perhaps slightly increased exposure to the three germ incubating kids under 5 that live here, but there's not much I can do about that now apparently.
EDIT: I think kids-flu is hard to avoid at that age, home office or not :P
You could homeschool them.
for me the best situation has always been being a few minutes walking distance from the office. work stays at work, home stays at home, no commute, no bullshit.