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Don’t work “remotely” (blairreeves.me)
451 points by ntang 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 254 comments

I usually appreciate a good semantic argument, but not really sure what it adds in this context? I think the root of every conversation on "remote", "distributed", or "agile" working is not how it's perceived from a nomenclature perspective, but that it's something that has to be open to everyone. You need to work somewhere where the default is non-location, only-core-hours specific, otherwise it falls down.

Am fortunate to work in a place that offers "agile" working (it's not a developer focused environment, so that word isn't loaded for us). You go where you need to to get the job done, within a set of core hours work how you need to. You can work from home independently for days or weeks on end, or you can turn up to a desk every day, or you can collaborate in a meeting room, on Skype, or in a cafe.

We have an HQ, but not enough desks for everyone to turn up every day, so there's an expectation of being fluid in how you work. Every meeting has a video conference link, and very few decisions are made by the proverbial watercooler. It takes time and discipline to make it work, but that's spread by default and expected across the entire workforce.

As a long time remote worker, I've found that what seems like a hair-splitty difference can actually be a deep insight into the company's culture, and how it will affect your work experience.

Distributed teams develop a culture of communication that does not rely on frequent face-to-face contact. I personally suspect that they tend to be even more productive than completely co-located teams, because, based on a sample size of one, I've seen that the communication methods they develop will require fewer person-hours to share more information at higher fidelity.

"Remote" tends to imply a large chunk of the team is co-located, and one or more of the members are not. My experience here is that the remote people tend to not get the memo, or people fail to invite them to meetings because they don't want to bother with the conference room's videoconferencing equipment, or they do invite the remote folks but then the first 15 minutes of the meeting is devoted to figuring out how to work the Polycom system, etc.

I had the pleasure of working on a distributed team that became a team with remote workers as a result of being acquired by a company that decided to only hire new people to work in their home office. It was impressive how quickly things fell apart after that.

(Edit: This isn't to say that P's team isn't working well with a flexible approach, but it sounds like there's a big difference between it and many other non-distributed teams that have remote work: Everyone is in it together.)

I've seen it even within teams in the same corporation: some are used to working distributed, for whatever reasons (e.g. working on truly open-source projects/ with external collaborators); others highlight the "efficiency" of co-location, and try to get everybody working on the same project in the same office.

In my experience, the former is far more effective, for a very simple reason: informal communication channels quickly break down. In the latter approach - you have decisions discussed between some people, with others not informed, not documented properly, forgotten after a while, shifting agreements etc. Because the team can be more "agile" it's less structured, and while on the short term it may seem to be a good thing, on the long term it really hurts it (working on the wrong things/ on things that are not needed anymore, constant overhead for on-boarding new people, loss of team knowledge with every "old" team member that leaves, etc).

I'd say the distinction between "remote" and "distributed" workers is on how serious the team is about enabling remote work. If it treats remote workers as a secondary, "extension team" - things don't work well. If that's the primary mode of operation - things actually end up working _better_ than in co-located teams, in most situations(read: as soon as the team/product grows big enough).

There’s not enough pressure to prevent tribal knowledge from becoming the pattern. If you have to write everything down at least once, you’re part way to solving the problem.

> informal communication channels quickly break down

I've long had a suspicion that this is why co-located companies tend to require so very much management overhead.

> "Remote" tends to imply a large chunk of the team is co-located, and one or more of the members are not. My experience here is that the remote people tend to not get the memo, or people fail to invite them to meetings because they don't want to bother with the conference room's videoconferencing equipment, or they do invite the remote folks but then the first 15 minutes of the meeting is devoted to figuring out how to work the Polycom system, etc.

100% this. source: am remote.

Add in the "sneakernet" of communication: Heading over to another's office or cube, and the event/conversation/information never gets captured in a form that can nor is communicated further.

"Oh, we talked about that... when was that, three weeks ago?"

I don't view this, per the example, as a positive pattern. Such things become anti-patterns.

They're also another reason that meetings become long, confused, and drag on. The first one third, one half, maybe even two thirds can be spent syncing the team up with all these conversations and their data, that have taken place out-of-band.

I guess agile, scrum, and the like are supposed to reduce this. But when people go to training to become certified "scrum masters"... Bureaucracy is winning, once again.

(I remember one big, corporate "agile" name coming to speak at our campus, back when it was new. I think it was "agile"; the waves up corporate uptake start to blur, after a while. People actually showed up for it. And were rather disappointed: Same shit, new name.)

>Add in the "sneakernet" of communication: Heading over to another's office or cube, and the event/conversation/information never gets captured in a form that can nor is communicated further.

This is a strategy and culture fail, in my opinion. Our team has a rule that sneakernetting is allowed but anything substantive that comes from it must be communicated immediately on our collaboration platforms (Slack/Box/etc). No "meetings after meetings" when people aren't connected and over-communicate whenever possible/necessary. If you discuss something and there is information that's needed that you're not communicating to people effectively, that's on you, not on the people working remotely.

Opinionated personal experience:

If you need to meet face to face, it's because you have to "arm twist" people to get things done. And/or it's because you have a knowledge/learning/teaching impedance -- a disparity between these abilities in roles and co-workers -- that is too large. Speaking of "knowledge work".

In the physical world, an example can be worth a thousand words. But when you have to keep showing someone the same thing over and over...

In knowledge work, I find frequent, repetitive meetings to be a version of that "over and over".

While I think your points are valid, in my experience many people are more comfortable communicating face-to-face. They've had decades of practice at it.

They will talk about "body language" and fail to recognize how often such cues are interpreted wrong. They fail to see their discomfort as a flag of a problem and instead see IT as the problem. They (and many if us that prefer text communication) fail to realize that communication is a skill like any other that requires deliberate practice to improve in any great degree.

An example: dont ask a question with two alternate examples, you'll get a "yes" or "no" that isnt helpful and require at least one more cycle for them to clarify (usually more than one, because THEY know what they meant, so unless you explain your confusion well, it is 1+ cycles to explain your confusion and then another to get the answer. )

DON'T: "is the shutdown this weekend or next? "

DO: "the shutdown is this weekend, correct?" Or "the shutdown is this weekend and not next, correct?"

You wouldn't expect a "yes" answer to the "or" question, but it happens all the time. Conversations are "time-delayed" - our minds are constantly back filling guesses at the meaning, and often we respond when we have the wrong guess.

Changing this is HARD. I seriously think modern conversational practices have a lot of redundancy in them for error correction, but this also makes people find any impediment to communication (such as the quality of a call or having to wait for someone to pause so you can actually be heard) more annoying.

Good distributed/remote development certainly doesn't happen without effort. I work remotely (9 hour time difference from the main team!). I was one of the first people on our team to go full time remote and it was difficult at first. These days I have practically no problems, but it took us a year or two to get the bugs worked out.

I think the main key is that you need to have management on board. It is trivially easy to cut a remote developer out of the loop. Any kind of petty office politics around remote work can sour the deal pretty quickly. Our biggest improvements came when management decided to transition from "Core development at the office with remote workers" to "We're remote first with some limited ability to work from the office if you want". That change in mindset made it much easier for people to make appropriate decisions.

Since the company I work for is growing rapidly, I don't think we can even go back to the way it was -- we don't have enough desks. Management is loving the cost savings and even those that were opposed originally seem to be big fans now. We've even started having some of our call centre work remotely from time to time (which, if you know the culture of a typical call centre is astounding).

Despite enjoying working remotely (and being grateful that I can), I've always preferred office work. However, with very few exceptions remote work is just superior. Communication is explicit (if it's not written down in an accessible place, it didn't happen). Work is inclusive. Generally things are more focused. However, it's really important to work hard on the social aspect of the job (because people can get isolated quickly).

Amazon.com had a little movement called NEWS: Not Everyone Works in Seattle.

Distributed is a mindset that is different from primary-secondary

A couple years ago, not long after moving into their South Lake Union headquarters, they overfilled the offices to the point that they had too many people and not enough bathrooms. I heard stories of people being forced to work from home so they didn't violate the building code.

"Remote first" seems to be a popular term for distributed teams. "Remote OK" tends to have problems.

I very much agree that you want to work at a company that embraced remote working instead of one that reluctantly agreed to it.

This is much easier in a company that is 100% remote. The OP suggests using the word distributed company. I noted that many companies with multiple locations. So we used the term 'remote only'. We didn't like the sound of that so we changed it to 'all remote' https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/

It seems a bit more like a rebranding to me. The name matters when deep understanding does not. When the major employers in your industry turn aside from "remote work", because their management culture can't make it work for them, there may be strategic value in saying "We don't have remote workers; we have a distributed team."

It's a way of distancing yourself from the failures of companies that tried remote without actually committing to it. You signal that you're all in on remote, and structure your leases such that moving back to co-location is impractical, at the least.

You have to do that, because no one in their right mind will believe that they are valued equally when the company has 90 co-located employees and 10 remote employees. No, this is not the "remote work" you may have been burned by before. This is different. This actually works.

I think you just summed up the article in a much more concise and significantly less annoying and pedantic way.

> "We have an HQ, but not enough desks for everyone to turn up every day"

Management by musical chairs?

Saves a lot of money - why have individual desks if you're giving every employee a laptop anyway and we might only turn up once or twice a week? Only need to pay for 60% of the floorspace you otherwise would have to, and you get the benefits of in-person collaboration, as well as reasonable cost savings of remote working.

There's no hierarchy to seating, and although it's an open office, disturbances are quite well contained.

But the problem occurs when you only have 60 real seats and 65 people show up expecting or needing to work colocated. It's easy to say that some people would just leave then, or a few people would work in a conference room, or something like that, but it's a legitimate problem if I show up to work because I have to be there for something, and now I need to leave for the morning and hope the situation resolves itself.

We have around 300 people in our HQ, and in 3 years I've never encountered that issue. I appreciate it's an issue to think about, but if you have a laptop and plenty of breakout spaces, combined with the expectation you're not going to turn up every day - it rarely pans out.

I believe it happens in our company from time to time (I live on the other side of the world, so I don't get to see it). Basically people are encouraged to plan ahead about coming in to the office so that they can make sure there is enough space. It's definitely an issue that some people complain about.

It will obviously depend a lot on how the space is managed. If a company likes to see high utilisation of the space (so they aren't "wasting" money), then you will have more contention for chairs, desks, etc. If the company doesn't mind having some empty seats most days, then it will be easy to accommodate days where more people show up.

We have quarterly meetings with everyone in person and this always happens.

> We have quarterly meetings with everyone in person and this always happens.

Well, yeah... if you've designed your office to deliberately not hold all employees, then having a regularly in-person event in the office for all employees is evidently going to be a problem.

But either don't hold all-hands meetings in your general workspace where every employee will need a desk, or for 4 days a year where it's an issue, vs 250-or-so where it's not, work around it?

I'm definitely not attached to my employer, but based on the balance of pros and cons by embracing this approach across all staff, I'd find it hard to rationalise moving back to a different environment.

I suppose it would get annoying if you commuted into an office regularly and constantly had to hunt for a free place to sit. But camping out in a conference room or breakout area every now and then because the office is busy for whatever reason has never been a big issue for me. I actually spend more time in other company locations than my "home" office location anyway (where I had a desk but recently gave it up).

I suppose it would get annoying if you commuted into an office regularly and constantly had to hunt for a free place to sit.

Apparently, it does.

Self-link with some good additions, along with a previous storypost about this kind of thing: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3345896

Maybe people could register desks or rooms in advance?

I mean I'd be pretty pissed if I commuted into the office just to be told there's not enough deskspace today...

As I recall, when Sun was all big on hot-desking at one point, you could reserve a space but I don't know if you reserved a specific location or just a desk generically. I suspect though that if had a program like this and were near capacity, you'd almost certainly want to reserve specific locations; otherwise people will end up wandering the office looking for a space.

However, TBH I don't find this an issue. I'm often at various company locations and I can always find a space to plop myself down and work on my laptop whether it's some sort of enclave or just the cafeteria.

That's the same problem of airplane overbooking.

Everything has a cost, the false positives (empty desks where no one's coming) and the false negatives (people without desks). You have, as in the movie "Fight club", to figure out whether p * c0 < (1-p) * c1 or the other way around.

Using a scheduling tool like the one used for conference rooms might be the solution.

Fractional reserve hotdesking.

No worries, Starbucks is the desk of last resort.

It set up the clickbait title pretty nicely, at least.

I think it's only worth having the semantic argument, in this case, because of the established equity (whether negative or positive) of the term "remote". There are a lot of implications that go along with that word and, as someone who's struggling to get the rest of my organization to adopt this paradigm shift, my team gets a bad rap from people because we're all branded as "millennials" (in a very negative sense) simply because we're able to perform and do all of our work fluidly. We don't have requirements that people have to work from the office or work remotely so everyone has the choice to do whatever works for them. Some people prefer coming into the office because it's less distracting and others "need" that mental separation from their home life and that's fine. For others in our org, though, there's this negative perception that surrounds it as if there's no accountability and that we're all just too lazy or unmotivated to actually come into the office or, worse yet, that we're all somehow afraid of face-to-face interaction. People seem to think that you lose interpersonal connection with people when "remote" work is part of the strategy so I think framing this as "distributed" work is really just to try and remove the way the work is done from people's (mostly older, non-agile people) perceptions of what they think is actually happening.

It all comes down to 2 things:

- If you're single, working at an office is good for you. Surround yourself with people who share a common interest. Yeah, it's work, but I'm sure you'll meet people who have similar interests outside of work. Go share a 2 bedroom apartment with someone else in downtown and enjoy the social life.

- If you're married (or even with kids), remote work is what you should be looking for so that you take away the bad energy you collect at the office and you don't bring it back home. You can spend more time with your family which is what matters the most. The bad energy includes a long commute to get to work since you can't afford living next to the office. Competitive environment and politics. Dress code, loud open space environments where you can't get anything done, constant distraction, having to fake working 8h straight sitting in front of a screen while anyone can look over your shoulders. You need to be able to afford a bigger home to host your family so you need to move far from your office.

You can get flexibility in both, not only remotely. As long as you're not forced to commute more than 30 min to work, usually Tech giants are flexible companies in terms of hours, etc.

Interestingly enough, I have the opposite perspective.

A single or childfree worker can structure her leisure time at will, spending it socializing or engaging in activities, such as a sports league or making music. Work can be done in the home office and social activity later.

A worker with a family has much less control of his leisure time, being obliged to pick up or drop off children, and to be present for dinner. Socializing is much more opportune at the office.

It seems that your basic premise is that being at the office is unpleasant. I posit that being at the office can be pleasant and productive, and lead to social situations that otherwise would be harder to justify to one's family or encounter naturally.

Are you married with kids? It seems that your perspective comes from someone who still values personal activities and self care over the family life. I was exactly like that before I got married. Totally fair... But when you start having kids, it's a complete different world, nothing else matters but your kids. It doesn't stop you from going to the gym at lunch time, etc. People have different priorities in life based on their own setup I totally agree with you.

Looking at spending 8-10 hours at the office plus 1-2 hours on your way to the office and way back home, when you want to spend time with your kids it takes away a lot of your happiness. It all depends on your priorities I guess. Everyone is different :)

I've a different view. Before being married the social life of work was fantastic, that naturally waned once the different social circle post marriage developed.

Regarding remote working, although it's great to have the flexibility of working at home with a family around I much preferred going into the office as I found it was a much better working environment. It's also good be be with other creative people so you can thrive in the mental energy there. My family were good at not interrupting when working at home, but it was always there looming in my head.

I still prefer being in the office but do some days at home as I get less interruptions there now the family have grown up.

I've worked in open plan offices and have always had my own desk so can't compare to hot-desking which must be hell, especially for anything creative.

I have the exact same configuration as yours and I confirm I can't get anything done during the days I'm at the office. It's all about face-to-face and meetings which is why I usually commute to work. Getting job done requires a quite place and at home, thanks to my wife, I can get a little control over my own private space which makes things easier unlike at the office where I lose control of the basic things like a quite space and some alone time. Since our jobs require both, it feels like putting milk instead of gas in your car waiting for it to move. It’s not fair and certainly not optimized for good results.

Yes I can still hear some noise on the background (wife/kid) but I can pop out of my room at anytime and chill with them. Rather than having a 10 min lunch with colleagues talking about work, jumping back straight to my screen listening to everyone else’s stories.

For the past 5 years i am working remotely and i am single. I don't think this advise is for everyone.

Good social life doesn't mean you need to be always around someone. I do catch up with my buddies over weekends. My mom is a cancer patient so remote work provides me quality family time.

This is bad advice because each and every pro listed when you're married is also a pro when not married. So I guess I don't get it. Also, there are a million ways to meet people and from my experience meeting people through work is really one of the worst ways to go about it (if you're looking for a relationship). Go join a singles club or something.

For many people, their coworkers are their main group of friends. I personally would have fewer friends if I worked remotely. If I was married, I would prioritize my family over my friends, and would likely prefer remote work.

> For many people, their coworkers are their main group of friends.

From what I've experienced, this is true only until your late 20s, or about 20% of your career.


This is really true. I made amazing friends at my first 2 jobs and since then, nothing but work. The culture has changed as well for the last 10 years. Colleagues don't even say "hi" anymore. When you're already established in your life you usually don't have time to make friends at work.

This has nothing to do with dating, which is probably why you didn't get the point. I was referring to the martial status. If someone is not married doesn't mean he or she is not dating anyone. I was pointing out family responsibilities versus no family responsibilities. A simple example like I mentioned is your home. If you have kids, it's hard to share a one bedroom with a roommate in a condo next to your office. It is simply not an option. Meaning, you have to move far away from work in order to be able to afford a larger home. That adds up on your commute and makes your life way harder compared to a someone who doesn't have a family to take care of.

That's where remote versus non-remote jobs could make a big difference in your life. Hope this help ;)

The primary difficulties i have with remote work are linked:

1. I usually wind up alphabetizing my socks at some point.

2. a lack of face to face contact and the setting of being in my own space keeps me in a semi-permanent doubt/guilt cycle about my work quality and how my effort and reponsiveness is being perceived.

Working remotely does NOT mean working from home. I rent an office locally to resolve this issue (my company happens to pay for it), but the bottom line is, I don't like merging my personal life with my professional life so I avoid that.

The second issue is a personal one, and not exclusive to those that work remotely.

The second issue is definitely a personal one, but it's also an important one. Not everyone is built to work remotely (just as not everyone is built to work in an office) and it's important to recognise that.

I've worked remotely for about a decade now, and have been hiring other remote workers for about half of that time and in my interviews with people, I spend a solid chunk of the time pushing them hard on understanding what it actually means to work remotely - I want them to be damn sure that they are paying attention to their own need for things like contact with other humans, because I've seen enough people burn out on loneliness and quit because they're miserable.

> Not everyone is built to work remotely

It's more like, cities are not built for everyone to work remotely. If remote was a lot more common, the support structures for it would be more common (some exist, like shared/coworking spaces etc). As remote work expands, cities will adapt to accomodate people working without commuting (which was the norm before industrial times anyway)

I’ve been working remotely for just a few months shy of 5 years. I’ve moved from coast to coast in that time. I’ve held 4 different positions in the same company. The _only_ thing that has worked for #2 is relying less on Slack and email and more on phone calls. It completely eliminates the guilt factor. I encourage everyone on my team to be more open to phone calls during the day. No real work gets done on slack. Call each other.

Interesting. Having worked remotely for 17 years, I haven't found the value in phone calls. They seem time consuming and lossy. Being able to ask a directed question, without the cumbersome setting of context that a call requires, and getting a directed response back – one that can be reviewed again later – seems far more productive to me.

I think one point is that it's not always about maximizing efficiency. Being on a team really requires some communication that isn't strictly about completing a task.

There’s definitely value in relationship building. Chit chat you naturally do on breaks in person can also be done over video chat if it’s encouraged by leadership. This helps people bond, so when things get tough, it’s easier to band together towards the solution because of the stronger relationships.

Bingo. Context helps, a lot in some cases. It's hard to gauge what's happening, on your project, a different project, the company, the team, etc. without a little metaphorical-water-cooler discussion.

I will second the slack factor.

Semi-synchronous communications are a trap for distributed workers. It makes it feel you are more accessible (actually true of course), but it drives the discourse to the trivial and makes raises decision thresholds. I feel that if a decision needs consensus, either circulate an appropriate email, or do a skype/hangouts/whatever real-time conference.

But this doesn't work well for junior team members who need more handholding. I'd say that's the one area where distributed teams don't work well.

We underestimate the bandwidth of a phone call. We can speak faster than we can type. We can listen to a big block of text more comfortably than we can read it. And that doesn't take into account the annotations about the rhythm, pitch, tone, etc. Face-to-face bandwidth is even higher, but not that much higher. Phone calls convey 80% of the information with 2% the effort.

Still, text messages (SMS or Slack or what have you) are even more convenient. So I would say it depends on the question. A question like, "What is wrong with the syntax in this line of code," is far better by text. But a question like, "How do you suggest we reconcile these two contradictory requests from our customers," might take less time over phone.

The rule I'm trying follow is this: If a reply to one of my emails suggests disagreement or misunderstanding, I usually try to catch them on the phone, rather than trying to clear things up with another reply. My experience is that these emails take several replies to clear things up, and sometimes there is a damage to rapport. A friendly phone call keeps rapport at the same level or even adds health points.

> We can listen to a big block of text more comfortably than we can read it.

I think this is true for some people, but not others. I find it easier to read through a block of text and break it down so that I can ask follow-up questions on things I may not fully understand. If I listen to it instead, I may miss some important detail and just not remember it after 30 minutes unless I take notes (in which case, it might as well be written down in the first place).

Agree. Text, Slack, email etc are convenient since they are asynchronous and document things, but carry other problems (for example, since they document things). Keep them to a minimum, use face to face or phone whenever possible.

A remote organization may even have an advantage here, if there is a well thought out internal communication strategy aiming at keeping everyone in the loop and up to speed.

I've done pair programming through skype, with screen sharing. And I've found it extremely effective. It really feels you're side by side with your colleague and is very effective. Synchronous communication with voice (and possibly video) can be very beneficial to work, unless your company is built from the get-go to be completely asynchronous (and use issues, proj mgmt tools for communication)

Do you see the new VSCode features as being a threat to this? (Notwithstanding they are both MS offerings)

What features? (I use vscode and feel curious :- ))

I'm not somebody who likes or needs phone calls. They disrupt any flow I've got and require time coordination. So I definitely don't appreciate it when a manager forces me into them when that is something that suits his personality and management philosophy.

Since I'm not forcing him to meet my emotional neediness, why should he force me?

I've worked remotely for a little over 10 years. The approach I like is: start with IM (or sometimes email) and then move to voice if your real-time chat takes longer than a few minutes or a handful of back-and-forth volleys. At some point someone just sends: voice? (which is usually video/screen call). Depending on the problem worked on it means the person in the office (cubicle farm) may need to get up and grab a meeting room to avoid bugging their coworkers with the call. They might respond with a link to the video conference line/room, or with a better time in the future: 2pm?

That way you're not bugging people with a voice call for what turns out to be easily answered questions. But the culture allows for quick transition to voice and you don't get sucked into long IM conversations spinning your wheels due to miscommunication.

Not responding to IM until later with a 'sorry, was heads-down/afk/whatever' needs to be acceptable too, otherwise you get the problems of people expecting everyone's instant response all the time.

That said, I miss the old MSN messenger feature of 'buzzing' someone, which would animate/vibrate their IM window and play a soft buzz sound. I sometimes use the slack call feature for this (just ring and hang up), but that doesn't quite relay what I'm looking for - something less urgent than an immediate voice call, but lets the person know I'm likely blocked waiting for their answer. There's always that game that plays in your head - if I get an answer in < 1 minute, I'll stay on this task; if it takes longer, I'll spin up a different task I'm not blocked on...

I'm a fan of form follows function. So every project is different, and every set of coworkers are different. For the type of work I do, with high autonomy groups, I wouldn't make the same choices as you.

I've found phone calls disrupt my flow, but instant messaging disrupts it a lot more. People are less likely to make a call than to send an IM. As a result, I would get a lot more IM's than calls.

In my last job I had a rule: People who are with me on the site have to come to me physically (or email if not urgent). Remote people can use Skype, but they must call me - not IM. Of course, they can still email if it's not urgent.

People still called, but the volume went down quite a bit.

How is this different from saying “my chair feels good so any manager who makes me get out of my chair is a bad manager”?

Flow feels good, that doesn’t mean it is good, or that interrupting it for collaborative work isn’t overall more beneficial.

Well, some people believe people's opinions matter. And some people believe that intrinsic motivation is important. And some people believe that autonomy is something worth striving for. Of course, there are plenty who disagree, and you should feel free to associate with those who hold your values.

Does Slack not disrupt your flow? Or putting an email together?

Personally I find that they can, but they don't have to. I can put off Slack/email until I hit a stopping point, or I can wedge it into the middle of a long-running process (start a build/test-cycle/deployment, then go answer Slack). At the very least I can finish the chunk of code/whatever I was working on. Phone calls and in-person talking are a hard interrupt, drop all my context on the floor and get nothing else done.

Those feel more comfortable and they count has hours worked, so it doesn't matter that they are far less time-efficient.

1) I don't enjoy talking on the phone, and yet

2) I've also found that talking on the phone makes remote work much better for me.

Same here. When I was working remotely we talked over Skype all the time. I felt more connected to my coworkers than I feel now with everyone a few cubes away.

I was working remotely for a year in my last job, and setup a morning call with 1 or 2 of my colleges every day,even if to talk about movies, games anything, just so we kept that connection going. Then we tried to meet up once a month in person for lunch (we where all working in the same city). I felt it made it more like being in the office then sending a "good morning" chat message.

> No real work gets done on slack. Call each other.

I just spent the last two hours helping a dev on my team write some code in an area of the project he was unfamiliar with. We did it all over Slack, with liberal use of code snippets. I can't imagine how a phone call would have helped.

Less typing and more talking. I imagine you would have been more productive on a call. I couldn't imaging doing pair programming without being able to talk with the person I'm pairing with.

Also to be clear, when I say "phone call" I mean audio + video. So Zoom, Hangouts, Skype, etc.

Big OSS projects seem to do fine being organized by mailing lists etc.

They make progress, but they also have no deadlines, commitments, oe bankruptcy-threatening budget pressure, and not in the same league from a perspective of personal return on investment . It's a different model that can't be adopted by all.

Although in the case of most big OSS projects, a lot of the work is done by teams, many of which are co-located and/or have communication channels outside of IRC and email. In addition, in-person get-togethers are fairly common with many of the big projects.

we require the use of webcams when on a conference calls, not everyone likes it but it does help to feel more engaged.

It helps if everyone's work is public and planned ahead of time. That way everyone knows what you're supposed to be accomplishing and they also know whether it is being accomplished. There should be no room for doubt about quality if the work is peer reviewed.

If having alphabetized socks keeps you happier in your space, then that's a good thing, right? :)

That's funny as it's the exact opposite of the problem I have. When I'm in an office I feel:

1. Totally unable to take care of home chores and errands. Often falling way behind on organizational or personal administrative tasks.

2. Fully exploited by my work place. I know I don't need 8 hours a day to be very productive. If I'm not working from home on my own schedule, I feel taken advantage of.

not being snarky here, maybe consider a therapist? both of those are in-your-head type problems.

in fact, in general, maybe a regular therapy session should be considered a standard part of remote work. in-office we all use our coworkers as a social support network whether we mean to or not, so it makes sense that many of us would need an alternative to help cover that gap.

I'm not even saying that it'd be a good thing (replacing a dozen interpersonal relationships with one) but its a hedge.

> both of those are in-your-head type problems

The latter is valid. Face-to-face communication carries a lot more information than messages on Slack. If a company hasn’t developed a remote-first culture, feedback can fester instead of being communicated. Regularly-scheduled phone calls, one on one with critical people and team-wide from time to time, in my experience, alleviate this greatly. (Paired with occasional flyings out.)

in-your-head type problems are perfectly valid! I never said or implied otherwise, I merely gave a possible solution.

If you are feeling guilt you should talk to your manager. It’s part of their job to give you feedback.

While this is a nice idea, I don't think you should tell your manager that you are feeling guilty for not working hard enough. A good manager might do something positive with that information but you're putting yourself in a good deal of risk saying something like this.

If someone is having mental health, emotional or personal issues they should not look to solve those issues through their workplace and instead keep their personal life as partitioned as possible from their professional life.

GP isn't saying that they are feeling guilty for not working hard enough. Is that they don't know how other people are perceiving their work. So in that case a "how do you think my work is going on?" doesn't hurt at all. If, like others said, you can't talk like this to your manager, there are other problems that need to be tackled.

If you don't feel like you could talk about it to your manager, I think you should find another manager.

Yeah because that's so easy to just grab another job.

I totally agree with the parent poster - keep personal life personal. I never mention anything personal to anyone at work.

I've had 4 different jobs and never felt like I couldn't talk about personal issues to my managers. I'm not saying you should talk about it, it's still a personal preference. But a manager that would punish you for your honesty is not a good manager in my opinion.

In this case, we're not even talking about personal issues, but guilt at work. If your manager can't help you with that, he shouldn't be a manager.

I don't sweat the effort perception thing for one reason: My git commits are publicly visible for everyone to see and on a web site, no less.

I know what you mean, what works for me is going to a coworking location every so often. There i get some social contact with other professionals and it really helps. As for boredom, that's something i really have to stay on top of carefully. If I don't watch it, i'll end up creating work for myself and then when a bunch of regular work comes my way i'm overwhelmed.

> 1. I usually wind up alphabetizing my socks at some point.

I don't get it :-/ Can someone please explain what that is supposed to mean?

It's a joke about doing pointless things because he's at home. Nobody actually alphabetizes their socks, but he's saying he gets distracted and starts doing things around the house when he should be working.

To alphabetize your socks, you first have to name them.

Which is one of the hard problems. That's why it takes so long.

You always have a few pairs who disagree what their name should be.

You have pairs ! Consider yourself lucky.

GP gets distracted at home, to the extent of categorising their socks

I'm currently suffering a similar situation. My entire team are co-located and I work remotely. The timezone difference means there's no overlap unless I move my hours around. This leads to split shifts or longer working days. I also have to attend these meetings otherwise the lack of face-to-face means I lose out on a lot of updates.

Due to other aspects of my personal life I feel like my mind is completely spiralling into a black hole. Lack of seeing my team/manager day to day means they won't see this happening, and I also find it difficult to bring up due to limited contact time between my manager and I.

If anyone has any experience of suggestions, I couldn't be more open to them right now.

Really basic suggestion is ask for (read: insist on) a weekly one-on-one with your direct manager. And when you have those meetings, be direct and honest about stuff like this.

I think the problem here is the difference in time zone. Unless you job is made in such a way to be completely asynchronous, that will lead to a very unhealthy life, as you are experiencing.

My advice is to find something else within your timezone +- 2 hours (i.e. at least 5-6 hours overlap with other colleagues)

Sounds like a toxic workplace to me. You should change it.

Very likely not what you wanted to hear but that's my immediate reaction.

>2. a lack of face to face contact and the setting of being in my own space keeps me in a semi-permanent doubt/guilt cycle about my work quality and how my effort and reponsiveness is being perceived.

This seems like a personal issue rather than an issue with the concept of working from home. For me, personally, I don't care about when/how people work as long as they're delivering on what I'm asking from them. I may just be extremely fortunate that my team is very responsive but I never have issues with being available for my team or them being available for me and that kind of negates any kind of guilt cycle there could be.

2 just identified a strong guiding emotion in my life I didn't know how to describe but that I've felt for awhile. I'd append to it and say it also affects me outside of work in that I feel guilty being at the gym at 1pm instead of being at work, or being underdressed in basketball shorts during the day because I'm entirely at home or doing errands.

American Culture in particular pushes a lowest common denominator of what it thinks work should be: 7-6 while counting commute, sporadic overtime paid or otherwise, and various other things that are entirely not to the benefit of the individual worker. It's crazy.

Alphabetised by colour name, material, pattern, sock-type - sounds like quite the challenge? Sounds like you need some sort of 5D matrix do it properly.

Knuth help you if you have enough socks to justify a 5-D matrix. YAGNI. ;)

This seems like a case of capitalist imposed enculturated guilt for not having a butt in seat for 8 hours a day (regardless of actual productivity).

Rather than alphabetizing your socks, go to the gym or improve some other skill set interspersed with your paid work.

Embrace the fact that you can build a schedule around you and your wants and desires and not that of your companies.

I feel like the post is a 25 cent practices discussion wrapped in a $25 semantics discussion, with the added injury of a click bait title.

I was expecting something interesting about the problems of working remote. Just closed the article when I realized the main point of the article was to keep doing what you are doing but call it something else.

The most annoying thing about the tech giants that askew remote is that they also choose to locate themselves in the most expensive cities in the country.

Here's a tweet today from the creator of Babel on how he is moving to the east bay because housing is more affordable. https://twitter.com/sebmck/status/1064252136349822977 .

If someone who's created that much value is not able to afford an area then it's insulting that tech giants expect us to move there (or have a 2 hour commute to somewhere affordable).

There's this terrible myth that I want to kill; that software engineering is a well-paid field. That's a lie.

Here's something pharmacists, account managers, farmers can afford: 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom houses near where they work.

We can't. We're asked to live in apartments in Jersey and commute 45 minutes to Manhattan every day.

Or we work remotely and are expected to take a smaller wage, where the company can't wait to get big enough so that it can force us all to move.

There are tons of jobs all around the country where software engineers can live like kings. I'm typing this from my home office in the midwest, I have a 3500sqft home in the best school district in the state, and the house cost <2x my yearly salary.

There are tradeoffs, sure. But it's not a lie to say software engineering is a well paid field.

I also live in the midwest and have a similar plush lifestyle. It's dishonest if you think your arrangement is typical.

Typical for what set of people? I guess all that I really know about is

- stories I read about bay area devs here and

- stories from the people I work with here in my state (there are maybe 5 real tech companies in the state, and I know people at all of them).

Even the people on my team who make lower salaries (say 70k-90k in the midwest), half of them have spouses that don't work and they are doing just fine with kids and enough house to support them all. Compared to this dev who created Babel (and is probably a better dev that anybody on my team), it seems insane.

It sounds like you're not disagreeing with the tradeoffs, you know them well if you live here. So what do you mean is atypical?

It isn't typical for this site, but it is probably typical for a large amount of tech workers who work for non-tech companies. My situation is the same as well. I had no interest in moving to Chicago or a coast and it is amazing how well it works out.

I am paid the same as a remote worker in a suburban area as those who work downtown. The only way to make change is to stop giving into tech companies and VCs wanting to force people into moving to high cost areas. I like to think I do my part when I decline any interview requiring onsite by explicitly stating why I will not accept it.

> There's this terrible myth that I want to kill

Can we also add "have to be where the talent is" that is thrown around often?

> There's this terrible myth that I want to kill; that software engineering is a well-paid field. That's a lie.

For me it's been very profitable.

> Here's something pharmacists, account managers, farmers can afford: 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom houses near where they work.

I can easily afford that. Most software engineers I know can afford that.

> We can't. We're asked to live in apartments in Jersey and commute 45 minutes to Manhattan every day.

I don't live in NYC. I work from home or from an office 5min away from my home.

> Or we work remotely and are expected to take a smaller wage

I work remotely and earn more than most engineers in SF. I save 300-400% more.

> where the company can't wait to get big enough so that it can force us all to move.

I've never experienced this.

All of your points here are "me, me, me". Well, good for you? The fact that you, a rich guy working from home, who never experienced these issues is merely an anecdote. It doesn't contribute anything to the discussion, it just states your own dissatisfaction with GPs comment to which I would reply with "so what?"

GP's experience is also anecdotal because software engineering clearly is a well paid field, AS IN better paid than the majority of other fields.

Feeling victimized because you have to commute for 45 minutes, do your cushy job, and get paid incredibly well compared to most of your fellow citizens is just sad.

This mentality does not represent the majority of software engineers. Most of us are (among other things) grateful and content, thank you.

Science has shown commuting to be quite bad for health: http://time.com/9912/10-things-your-commute-does-to-your-bod...

Was curious about your situation so looked at your profile.

> I run a high-grade 2-person consultancy that works with both established companies and passionate entrepreneurs to help them polish their ideas, turn them into state-of-the-art working products, and bring those products into the market.

Sounds like you own a successful business. Congratulations, that is very impressive.

Keep in mind though that entrepreneurship is far riskier than employment, and this discussion is around being an employee. So it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

Thanks but contracting / doing projects with a friend is hardly "owning a successful business".

You wouldn't call $5/hour folks on upwork "business owners". We're basically doing the same thing, selling our time for money.

It’s fairly straightforward if you use the irs definition.

Small business owner: files 1099, pays self employment tax.

Employee: files 1040, doesn’t pay self employment tax.


…bless you?

GP meant "eschew" but typed "askew". Also confused me for a second.

As somebody who is currently working remotely, I think this is a decent take. A distributed culture can definitely get better results than a remote one. But there's something in the section on collaboration I want to take issue with:

> Product Management is mostly about consistent execution of plans, not painting high-level visions.

It's a common view that software developers are an output device, like a printer. You tell them what to build by sending them very detailed instructions. They follow the instructions to the letter, and their work is judged by compliance. Perfection is perfectly conforming to some one else's plan.

I think this is bunk. It might have made a little sense when releases were every 18 months to 3 years. But in an age where companies are releasing dozens of times per day [1], it's foolish. Perfectly following a plan means you believe nobody will learn anything during the time it takes to follow the plan. But if you are releasing early and often, you can learn a ton from users. You can be much more innovative and much more effective than competition.

That only happens, though, if you treat team members not as rote plan-followers but as creative professionals who are deep collaborators. Where vision isn't something a few HiPPOs hammer out in exclusive twice-annual sessions, but where everyone constantly participates and refines it. If a company's process has already shut down collaboration, then of course the difficulties of remote collaboration aren't a problem. The challenge -- still unsolved, I think -- is how to maintain both a high level of collaboration and fast iteration without having to have everyone together.

[1] E.g., https://www.infoq.com/news/2014/03/etsy-deploy-50-times-a-da...

He goes in more details about product management here: http ://blairreeves.me/2018/10/16/whats-a-senior-product-managers-job/

I don't believe his view conflicts with yours.

I think it's very possible to have someone present to help define value and priorities, and focus on the people part of getting shit built, while giving engineers a lot of creative involvement and ownership.

I agree it's possible. I disagree it's compatible with seeing product management as being about consistent execution of plans.

Ah, I read that phrase differently, but think I see your point now. There's definitely a type of "plan" that can be very micromanagey, and problematic.

I've lucked out and most plans I've worked with are super, super high level and gives everyone a lot of freedom.

Martin Fowler agrees with you in a post about Agile, https://www.martinfowler.com/articles/newMethodology.html. He says that the old way of looking at programming was to shape it after civil engineering, where there are architects and construction workers. So companies hired an "architect" or two, but most programmers were seen as the construction workers, with straightforward orders that just had to be done.

Fowler cites Jack Reeves, who said that the parallel to a construction blueprint is not some UML diagram but the source code. Therefore all programmers are designers. Programming has a parallel to construction workers, but they are not people, they are the compiler and linker.

Exactly. In contrast with manufacturing, where the goal is to make the same thing over and over, in software we are supposed to make a different thing each time. Whenever we discover that some labor is repetitive, we either automate it (as with CI, CD, and automated testing) or we generalize it (as with libraries, frameworks, and services).

Software would should, as much as possible, be design of novel things. And the only way we know whether something novel really works is to see what happens when people use it. The shorter that feedback loop, the more effective we can be.

I find that definition of Product management being "Project management"

Agree. OP's use of "Product management" is not the usual one - but many companies have fuzzy concepts/boundaries between the two so that may be the route.

Usually products without someone filling the product manager (not project manager) role in some way suffer for it.

I absolutely detest every single aspect of remote work. Every time my coworkers or I wfh (and all companies I worked were very lax as to when you can wfh) small, tiny communication problems start occurring that bite us in the future. I find it easier to motivate myself in the office, with people, free snacks/food. I don't think slack/hangouts is a replacement for face-to-face conversation. I cannot even imagine working remote full time. It's not just that I don't trust myself, I don't trust other people too.

Remote working might not be for everybody.. and that is okay. There are plenty of people who cannot make themselves go to the gym on their own, they won't travel alone, etc. And plenty of people who do.

> It's not just that I don't trust myself, I don't trust other people too.

This sentiment seems to say that you don't trust your colleagues in general, and that doesn't really make a difference remote or at the job. There are plenty of "chair warmers" at every office...

> Remote working might not be for everybody

That's definitely so. In the same way as 5% (read in some study quite long ago) of us are capable to manage other people.

Remote work requires self-discipline/determination to reach end result. Looking on developers I know personally I would estimate 30-20% of them are capable to do remote work.

Actually that is not about just remote strictly speaking. In office those 70%-80% require tight supervision/mentoring/other forms of motivation.

What communication problems exactly?

What is the difference of working remotely and working in office with your headphones on, only using slack to communicate? I know several places like that.

I’ve worked full time remotely for the last 6 months it’s been absolutely wondrous. I would hate to have to commute and go back to an office.

This is currently the main impediment to a remote (distributed) organization I'm sure. I'm however also convinced it's a problem that will eventually be overcome, as savings/benefits of a distributed organization become evident while broadband infrastructure continues to penetrate the remotest (and cheapest) of places, and as new generations becomes accustomed to it. FWIW.

This sounds like you guys don't have a paper trail for your work communication and are probably making big decisions around the watercooler.

If so, that's unprofessional.

you need to work on your communication skills and trust issues. those are you problems not remote work problems.

> small, tiny communication problems start occurring that bite us in the future


You just fix those problems in the future, it's just software.

You are getting a barrage of comments telling you that you are the problem, so let me just say I completely agree with you.

I have multiple colleagues who just casually disappear from the office (sorry, "work from home") for days to weeks and it's beyond irritating and disruptive to the rest of us.

Responding here since the comment I was originally responding to was deleted.

> grace us with their presence.

> someone deliberately absent is insulting.

It seems you and the parent comment are conflating working from home/remote with playing hookey, which might be the case for your co-workers/organization and that sucks, but for a lot of companies that's not how it really works.

For example, my organization is spread out across the country, so even if someone on my team isn't working from home, they are still working remotely (from my perspective). This means as an organization, we have to establish communication channels to avoid the pain points you mentioned. I've been in "whiteboard" architecture discussions without being face-to-face with every person on my team and I would argue our way of accommodating remote teams is far superior to your in person discussions for the simple fact that we record all of our meetings and they can be reviewed by anyone at anytime.

Maybe recording these types of meetings (or all) might be something for you and your organization to consider? It seems like it would make you a lot happier and it is very beneficial to come back to a recording of this type of meeting months later and remember why you decided on a certain direction.

I think it's irrelevant if I'm the problem or not. I'm still hired for the job and given (1) I have no communication problem when we're face to face and (2) when people wfh I observe people other me also have communication problems, the only way this can be relevant if my employer is willing to fire me -- and nobody else -- for having communication problems when people other than me disappear (I never ever wfh unless I'm sick so I have a potential to make other people at work sick).

> I have multiple colleagues who just casually disappear from the office (sorry, "work from home") for days to weeks and it's beyond irritating and disruptive to the rest of us.

I cannot agree more. I would also add that (you might not agree with this) this is not just a tiny, minor problem, inconvenience, I think this can possibly cause major problems, especially in the design phase of systems. If the design is not communicated perfectly there will be problems and the only way to ensure this is to communicate face-to-face long enough that all engineers agree design is impeccable. Call me old school.

If faces are that important to your design process, you can use video chat. There is nothing that can be communicated in the same room but not over video chat. I don't know what the problem you're encountering is — whether you're the problem or your work has implemented remote work poorly or your coworkers are just weird and pathological — but it really seems like you're misidentifying it.

Smells are key to the design process.

I don't see any reason to conclude that the parent is the problem. But if lots of people just disappear for days to weeks for no reason (that you're aware of), that's a problem with co-workers and management, not remote work in general. Yes, remote work probably makes slacking easier, but it's the slacking that's the issue, not the remote work.


In a lot of roles people juggle various tasks and responsibilities that coworkers may not be aware of. That was the point I was making.

In any case you seem to have a real issue with your coworkers wherever the actual fault lies. Doesn’t seem sustainable.

Maybe I’m just a grouch in general, but I pray for a time when we have sufficient data available that this ceaseless and monotonous drone of posts about whether remote work is the best thing since sliced bread or if it’s the 7th sign of the apocalypse can just all be replaced by “here are the data and there are some pretty clear conclusions that answer questions X, Y, and Z”.

Anyone who knows more about this than I do, are we close to that day?

Since, I suspect the answer tends tobe driven by the culture of an organisation, and within individual teams within it, and by the proclivities of individual workers, I fear you may be waiting a long time.

That’s true of any kind of success in any organization, yet there are still studies that show that certain types of traits indicate success at certain types of organizations, etc. Even in a general sense, I’d be happy if these types of conversations could have data-driven discussions.

You need to be careful of cargo culting though. There have been a lot of "traits of successful organizations" types of books and papers over the years. And it often turns out that there are unsuccessful organizations that often have very similar characteristics and successful organizations that take the opposite approach.

Well that’s fair. If it’s all unknowable anyway, I’d be happy to know that. Anything that lessens the blogspam on the topic!

Data would be nice. Open source projects have been studied to some extent looking for communication patterns but, of course, they're probably not representative. The bottom line is that it's going to vary a lot by company culture, what a group does (right now), what type of project is it, historical happenstance, individual preference, etc. I've worked more remote than not for well over a decade but it has varied for a variety of reasons. I've also known people in very similar roles who just preferred to come into the office.

It'll probably be around the same time we get conclusive data on exactly what type of career, relationship, and lifestyle is the best.

I'm convinced it's possible for a business to work in a distributed manner, but I think there are certain business scenarios (and/or persons' personality types/collaboration styles) where it's problematic. Anecdote:

I've been in two startups, one working remotely ("distributed") and one working in the room with the CEO.

The degree of situational awareness was very different.

When I was sitting 5 feet from the CEO, I knew the company was in the tank and in grave danger of going under. We turned it around.

When I was remote, based on the daily/weekly phone calls I knew the project I was working on was in trouble and way behind, but had no idea till the CEO drove up to meet me that he and the other execs had no salary for 3 months and the company was out of money. (They found a buyer for a pittance within a year to save face.)

I had a sense of urgency in both cases... but the urgency was different when in-person. And the awareness was WAY different.

Real questions from someone who has been leading remote teams for awhile:

Which one helped you better focus on your role and deliver what you needed to help the company?

Hearing all these things in-person can definitely be good context, but there is also a risk that you hear something wrong, succumb to gossip, or lose focus based on worries that may not be necessary. (Of course I’d argue it’s best for the employee to judge rather than be left in the dark, but I’m curious here specifically)

Part of this comes down to company culture as well - getting remote comms channels down is really hard, and takes a LOT of effort from senior management, especially for things that are nuanced or may change. How do you not panic anyone but also let them know there may be a need for urgency, etc (in-person works well for that)

When you were remote, was the CEO remote as well, or just you?

Something to consider about scalability is in the long term either the company will figure out how to scale beyond all workers sitting within five feet of the CEO or it'll go out of business or they'll somehow have over a hundred employees per square foot. So over a long enough timescale the problem kinda fixes itself.

As I moved up in the industry it eventually became normal for my peers to be two floors away and I never see them IRL, or later on, for my boss or peers to be 100 to 2000 miles away.

If my closest (in the sense of daily peer cooperation) coworker is three hundred miles away, does it matter if I'm at home or in an office with 600 people that I don't directly work with in it?

Not ever job will forever be entry level with a dozen IRL peers within a dozen feet. Companies that can't scale, do not survive long term.

It's an interesting question- which one helped me focus on my role and deliver? I can see in the abstract that distributed work can both demand and benefit from strong focus. In my case, when I was a "distributed" worker I had a much narrower scope of responsibility and along with that, less ability to gauge whether something was "good enough" to ship and perfectionism/procrastination and poor remote communication on my part really hampered my work. As an in-person worker, when we were betting the company I was able to constantly assess all work being done by all the company and pivot us and others to what was the most risk-mitigating thing we needed to do. When distributed, I suppose that was the role my Engineering VP was supposed to do and I was just focused on my narrow domain, but overall the company wasn't able to leverage my problem solving and triaging strengths and I was just a remote coder/designer resource with a task. When it was late, I knew it was bad, but I didn't have a sense of the consequences to the broader team (just my own job). In hindsight I think management was trying to shelter me from the stress and I respect that but I was really stunned at the end of the day how out of the loop I was. I was East Coast, CEO was East Coast but four hours away, some execs were West Coast, Engineering Lead was UK. I did a great job for them with engineering for in-person clients, but when I switched to being managed from overseas it really didn't work out. I always didn't want to interrupt the UK VP since he was so busy and/or because I was behind but the communication dynamic was ultimately dysfunctional for which I take more than half the responsibility. (I have since been on the flip side of that coin with a remote worker! It's an interesting challenge.)

Thanks for these answers - super interesting and helpful. Much appreciated!

By definition the CEO is not remote, right?

Fair enough - I meant was the CEO in an office with others, or was everyone distributed. I find that when it's "a few folks are remote" vs. "everyone is remote" (even culturally) this makes a big difference in how context is provided to an organization.

There's a lot of gradient to be found between those poles.

If your CEO had a private office with a closable door, it would have been a lot easier to conceal the urgency of the "money" calls and conversations.

I think your experiences may have had more to do with the openness and transparency of the CEO to the line employees, rather than a matter of mere proximity. It's certainly easier to hide things from employees when they aren't all in the same room, but if the execs decide to keep bad news from you so you'll keep working instead of jumping ship, it's not going to matter where you sit.

Personally, I'd rather not have to deal with the pressure of keeping the whole company afloat, rather than staying on my oar and pulling on the drumbeat. We divide labors and trade different areas of expertise to be more efficient economically.

Were I sitting 5 feet from the CEO with the knowledge the company is in the tank, I would look at my ownership stake in it, likely find that it was worthless even if I busted my ass to turn things around, and would then put all my extra effort into shopping my resume out to companies with more runway--after hours, keeping it secret. If things are that dire, my loyalty can only be secured with ownership, not promises and dreams. At that point, everyone still left hanging on might as well be co-founders, because the originals couldn't pull it out themselves.

Both your example seem to relate to (1) startups and (2) being on the brink of oblivion.

Hardly a representative sample.

True. My anecdotes correlate with the issues someone raised here of VC bias against remote work which other people didn't seem to have any sympathy for so I figured I'd mention my real-world experiences.

I've worked with offshore resources on and off in my career and have a variety of more mundane (?more representative?) experiences pro and con.

In my experience, it's hard to transfer knowledge, wisdom, and strong (micromanaging?) technical/quality-oriented direction offshore. Onshore tech lead becomes a bottleneck. If there are strong persons offshore leading efforts, or some rotation onshore of people from offshore largely focused on communication I've seen it work out better.

Yeah, this is actually a really good point and I didn't notice it before - "remote" is a relative word and implies there is a place that you're not which is considered the center of action.

But whatever word is used.. maybe it won't matter for that much longer? I think another thing that will be interesting to watch is if/how quickly the extra word "remote"/"distributed"/etc disappears because it becomes redundant or outmoded.

Think of the internet: every service on the internet was once "e-{service}". Over time that mostly just became "service", because the fact you are on the internet is now assumed, and doesn't have to be qualified. Indeed, if you're not on the internet that might be the thing you have to qualify now.

Will we see job listings in 10-15 years with "Engineer (Colocated Office)"?

I think yes. Just as horseless carriage became car, remote will become norm in a few decades.

"...That said, I just don’t encounter the need for deep strategy and vision-setting sessions with cross-functional teams of my colleagues on a frequent basis. ..."

And you won't, either.

I think this is very simple. Either you are a distributed team working on digital artifacts that live primarily online .... or you are a cross-functional team trying to creatively solve a problem for somebody.

If you know what you're doing, the solution is locked in, and all you're accomplishing by showing up somewhere is moving cards around on a wall? Stay home. If you don't know what you're doing -- requirements are in flux, the customer can't decide, the project is high-risk/high-stress, etc? Show up where the other people are.

And it doesn't have to be one way or the other. I've worked great projects where we all co-located, got into a groove, then finished it up from home -- only to repeat when the next big hunk of problems showed up.

So many of these tech essays seem to based on turning the contrast way up, insisting that the answer must be X or Y, then defending it. Why can't it be both? Seeing success in teams working both ways, wouldn't the more logical position be that in some cases each has its advantages?

I read the post as venting disappointment towards the strong anti-remote-work bias, for what it's worth.

Remote (or distributed, as article is advocating to call it) work will not fit everyone's style. It requires certain level of self discipline and recognition that the one needs to develop certain habits in order to be able to efficiently deliver work while doing this remotely.

What I noticed is that in early days of my startup when I was working remotely I was able to contribute much more than now, when I'm required to work from the (open plan) office. Working remotely gives flexibility on work hours (i.e. I could do normal 9-5 and then in the evening I usually checked in to add some extra but I could do that as I did not have to wake up early in the morning in order to commute to the office).

Working remotely makes it more challenging (for some) to resist temptation to procrastinate. And also it requires leaders to understand how to measure the output (although, of course, leaders need to understand that despite the fact where does the worker deliver their work from).

That floating header on the site is amazingly annoying.

Reading, and scrolling down a bit on the mouse, so the content I'm reading reaches the top of the page. Maybe a second after I stop scrolling, boom, suddenly the header re-appears out of nowhere and covers right what I'm reading. I actually gave up reading the content, not because I wasn't interested, but because that damn header kept hiding the content.

Save this as a bookmark and click it to eliminate floating headers: javascript:


Remote work is fine if you dont mind being pigeon holed into one range of tasks, paid well relative to your cost of living, have no career advancement, and want to wear whatever you want at work.

I’ve been working “distributed” (per the article) for about 17 years. My range of tasks has been across the board (engineering, support, presales, ops, etc). I’ve had quite a bit of career advancement (although I don’t really care about titles).... and I get payed CA salary while not living in CA.

Just wanted to post so folks understand there is a range of opportunities out there... you just need to find them...

I think that last sentence is the key: "you just need to find them." You'll work harder to find career opportunities that fit with the distributed lifestyle, but for me it is worth it because of all the non-career opportunity that comes with it.

I've been distributed/remote for almost 10 years and my experience hits all the same points you made. I also have no doubt that my choice has limited my career. But career is just one scope of life. Not commuting to an office has afforded me the time to exercise more, see my children every single day, participate in their lives in ways that would not be possible otherwise, eat healthier, spend time with my aging parents who come to see my children at least once a week, and on and on.

I have a very hard time believing a real CA salary is being paid to remote workers. For engineering at leading companies, seventeen years of experience would be over 400K TC. However, I could believe someone paying a remote worker on the low end of entry-level compensation of around 120K for remote work.

It's not at all hard to believe some people are receiving CA salaries (and note, your 400k TC line only applies to a relatively small group of companies and senior positions).

On the other hand, I agree it is unlikely for the majority of remote workers. Depends a lot on your skill level and how rare/in-demand it is I suppose.

Ska's spot on here. We're not paying high end CA wages to _everyone_; however, our remote employees are making _much_ higher than the norms in most of their areas. We require a lot of breadth/depth for the main remote position. If you were to look at glassdoor, comparably, or paysa .. they would suggest this position for our company pays on average of 145 to 150k salary (w/o bonus / RSUs .. which would significantly raise that num obvi).

At most places the "talent is your #1 resource" is bullshit. Ours is not and is a key to us being profitable (it's actually rolled into our comp model).

This is largely accurate most items but there are exceptions for when the whole team is remote. Where I work, the entire software department is remote, we are scattered all over the world and it works great. When everyone is remote, issues of lack of career advancement aren't much of an issue as they have to choose someone to lead projects and that person is going to be remote.

I am relatively new to remote work so I am still adjusting but I find that for me the negatives are that I actually work more hours as its harder to gauge how I am thought of without face to face time and the lack of real human interaction can lead to feelings of isolation. Working to get past that. I currently live in a city but am planning on moving to a cheaper area and taking my higher urban salary with me which is great. Even thinking about just traveling every summer with my family, as long as I have internet connection I can work and get paid and I have the unique opportunity to show my kids areas of the world they would never see.

This is not the case for any remote worker I know and I've been 100% remote (and working with other remotes) for 12 years. We all get paid way more than the going rate in the town we live. All have moved up considerably in the engineering world. I work with more than one remote VP, have worked with a handful of remote heads-of-X-department. Either my world is filled with just lucky people who break outside the norm or you don't at all know what you are talking about.

Hi, I'm a life-long remote worker. I went from freelancer, to junior employee, to senior employee, to founder/cto and I'm now on my second startup. This spanned a variety of tech jobs and even some non-tech ones. Career advancement is absolutely possible as a remote worker. (In my case, spanning multiple companies, but I do not believe it's zero even if you stay at the same company).

Um... where do I sign up? Because that sounds like the perfect job for me.

(Edit: I'm not actually looking to change jobs right now, so don't take the first sentence literally and start sending me positions. But I'm contemplating a move out of state next year, and if that happens I'd be seriously tempted to look at remote work.)

Anecdotally, I am the main dev for a very small remote business, and I've done quite a wide range of tasks up and down the LAMP stack, from deployment automation to server admin to developing software projects to fixing CSS to doing "sales engineer" work.

My actual work experience has been quite deep in a lot of those areas, though obviously not as much as person that only does those things with their career.

That's a function of the scope of my interests and the size of the company.

I am 100% fine not "advancing", because there is no "advancement" to be had at a small firm. We just get pay raises and more days off. I dunno what else I am supposed to want.

And I certainly wouldn't be allowed to play banjo if I had to go into an offie.

My experience has largely been the same. I get to work on a little bit of everything, and occasionally get to dive deep into different areas as the need arises. And the pay follows.

I'm working remote for 4 years and I had the impression to be truely free and successfull you have to work on your own career advancement.

Most people regularly job hot for one reason or another. In such a situation their are very few reasons not to work from home.

"No career advancement" is actually just fine for a lot of people, particularly older workers.

People should not underestimate the value of getting an "urban" salary in the sticks, it can be the equivalent of a huge relative pay increase.

One day someone will figure out how to be a salary calculator for remotes and this benefit will go away as employers will try to tailor the salary for local cost-of-living.

Large MNCs and the like already do this today. Their HR departments likely have tools to calculate cost of living globally. Or they have local partners who do it for them.

I didn’t end up working for them for completely unrelated reasons, but one company I was considering a few years ago used the US government pay scales for locality-based supplemental pay.

They were unrelated to the government, but I think one of the original founders had military experience so they went with what they knew. Not a perfect solution, but an easy one.

Do you think it was beneficial using the government scale? Or do you think the salaries were lower?

Sorry, I should have been more specific. They used the US Government locality pay supplements to determine a percentage that you got in addition to your base salary, they did not actually use the pay scale itself.

Have you looked at Gitlab's salary calculator?

Not a great example. They just pay low period. Their target is 50th percentile. That's hardly going to result in a big paycheck relative to most SF startups, let alone the big companies.

I know their pay isn't good but it is calculated based on where one lives and is similar to what the parent-post mentioned.

This was discussed fairly recently. There are some oddities to the calculator. For example, the entire state of Oregon and the entire state of Massachusetts are on a single pay schedule even though there are enormous CoL differences between the main urban areas and the rural areas of those states.

I've ran a distributed company for about 6 years now.

We started as a conventional company located in San Francisco.

For some context - we're https://www.datastreamer.io ... we provide data feeds around blogs, news, and social media to search engines, and data analytics companies. We have about a petabyte of content in our index now.

Our SF location was SWEET. Downtown. 100 year old building. Brick walls, super nice place - until they tore it down to build the new Transbay terminal.

Long story short but at that point we decided to give distributed work a try.

Back then there weren't many companies doing it but I decided to embrace the benefits of it in terms of what it could do for my company.

This isn't discussed often but there are actually PERKS to distributed work.

If your team is in different timezones. This means you can coordinate ops so that if there's an emergency no one actually has to wake up.

This has massive long term implications for morale and hiring!

You can now hire ops people and tell them that they never have to be woken up in the middle of the night.

We will often have issues with data indexing of sites at odd hours. We can't control when a site being indexed breaks so it can happen at unusual times. Usually at 5AM when I'm sleeping.

One downside is that each country has its own hurdles for hiring.

My advice is find 2-4 countries (including your own) that are close to your timezone. You will have banking, political, and infrastructure issues so limiting the number of distinct countries you work with reduces your risk.

We prefer the US, Poland, Germany, Spain, and Brazil.

It definitely takes some re-thinking in terms of tools. Lots of video conferencing. Lots of slack. Lots of email. Lots of Github issues.

I think it's worth it though.

Also, don't rule out being a hybrid company. If you have a central office (or offices) you can have the benefits of both worlds.

I've been remote for a few years and it's been a very frustrating experience for me, one that had turned me off developing in the end. hearing from you how it can be done right is very enlightening and encouraging at the same time - i wish i had found such a carefully crafted work environment! mind if i drop you a line in private?

I wrote something similar over the weekend about how remote teams are great for people on a maker's schedule, but people on a manager's schedule tend to dislike it.


I think finding this balance is the crux of the remote work experience. Meetings are necessary, but where is the line drawn? Collaboration is important, but do you need to have whiteboarding sessions to get things done?

Really well put. And I want to add another anecdote: when remote working, I used to do pair programming through Skype, with screen sharing. And I couldn't really feel any difference than doing this in person (it was a half remote/half office type of job), apart from the fact that we were not bothering anybody and there wasn't any other noise around our work. So it actually felt better than pair programming in presence.

The article looks at the benefits of distributed computing and makes the case that similar benefits could apply to distributed working (eg. scalability). Then it is only fair that we also look at other aspects of distributed systems and try to identify constraints on this model. I can think of:

1. Just because a system is distributed does not mean you have a lot of very small machines (eg. a system with 10 machines each with 1MB RAM will beat one with 1000 machines each with 10KB RAM). Similarly, having 5-10 distributed offices could net all the benefits mentioned in the article while avoiding costs of having 500 employees working from home/wework/...

2. Just because your system is distributed, you don't locate one machine on each continent. Machines are still arranged in proximity and having cross datacenter communication significantly erodes performance. Similarly, having distributed offices in far away timezones (eg. US west coast and India) imposes tremendous costs on collaboration. Having office in nearby timezones would be much better (eg. Seattle, Denver, SF). One particular case where far-away timezones help is ease of having 24-hour oncall support.

3. Different machine profile in your system, or different composition of your clusters, makes it harder to tune the system for performance or quality. Similarly, having employees in vastly different jurisdictions would mean you have additional costs on compliance / regulations / etc.

4. When you are prototyping or bootstrapping a new product, you do that quickly over a small setup (one machine). Similarly, it might make sense to bootstrap your startup in your garage (or a single city) until it is ready to scale.

Working remotely for many years is the greatest perk for me, this is the only thing keeping me at this job... To booth, the team I am managing is across the country, so no point going to the office anyway - I only go few time a year to pickup my boss to go for lunch/informal chat...

Never heard of the assertion that VCs hate remote teams. Anyone care to expand on that?

Definitely my experience; one of the first things that happens after an A-round is all the remote workers get asked to move near HQ, and can’t, so they have to resign with no severance. And the standard startup recruiting playbook is to say “we will consider remote for the right candidate” when inquired, but all their hires seem to come from the same central California town the company founders live in.

What's the reasoning for that though from the VC perspective?

They want to come in and see the monkeys working at the zoo.

I wonder if readers will take this comment seriously, but it very much sums up the reasoning based on my experience. And some CEOs think that too.

I've been part of startups where VCs would stop by to pat on the CEO on the back, take a little tour of the office, happy to see 15-ish bozos banging on the keyboard. Sometimes they would invite some of their buddies to show off their monkeys. I don't know, maybe it was the VC version of a dick fight.

I have seen that too. It's especially important to show off someone from MIT or Stanford when the VCs do their rounds.

And what if the majority of the founding team is remote?

I've experienced this in my current fund-raising endeavors.

A reductive narrative: a lot of investors like to pattern-match, and SV is full of many more success stories of a small tight-knit team collaborating well in a tiny shared garage office than it is of teams who managed to create a functioning collaborative distributed workflow.

(In our case, we've managed to sidestep this so far by working with smart angels who get it, and by working in a space — indie games — where distributed teams are comparatively common. Also helps that my cofounder is in SF and can take in-person meetings. I do worry we'll feel pressure at the A round to consolidate, but I'll be pushing hard against it.)

Yes, this is very much a thing. When one startup I was at took another round, the new VC demanded everyone be in SF. We were asked to move to SF or get fired. We all chose to get fired and took our severance somewhere else.

Was a reason ever given? I'm not exactly surprised by this, but it seems pretty irrational, especially if the distributed company is already working reasonably well (which presumably it is, if they've just closed another round).

The reason we were given was that they believed that true innovation could only be found by sitting around a physical table discussing ideas.

I actually ran into the CEO a year after this happened and he still believed it to be true. "There's no way we would've been able to pull off our last pivot without everyone sitting around the table late at night spitting out ideas".

Oh well. I'm at a better company now.

VCs being personally invested in SF real estate :)?

It is possible but takes the right team. Lots of people are perfect for it. It really depends on the lifestyle you live. If you are running it you have to replace people pretty quick if it doesn't work out and you'll probably end up with a pretty good team. When I was young I started out contracting remotely from home. That blows if you don't have some reasonable guarantee of steady hours. It can get hard to enjoy free time when your home is your office and you are hungry for work. If I was ever going to go back to hit or miss income I'd only do fixed price projects with nailed down scopes.

In my limited personal experience:

pro of "decentralized" work

- no itinere ⇒ no travel cost, wasted time, bad weather...

- comfort at work


- tech limitation, you are often forced to use bad proprietary software that really suc*s

- if your partner also work from home maybe more family stress being more time together

- a tendency of work more while being rewarded less

Other things balance, for instance connection problems may cost you but that's the same for protest or adversity on roads. You pay less for travel but you generally pay more for "personal hardware" etc.

At first glance this seems semantic, but I think it hits on something that really makes a huge difference between my current work situation and my previous remote work experience.

I naturally gravitate to remote work -- it works for me. Where it's tough is at the edges of "my" work. What is mine, and how does it interface with everyone else's? This was a constant struggle with distributing the work at my old company (and this was prior to Slack's ubiquity, which doubtless would have helped).

My current company uses Holacracy as its organizing system, and even besides the fact that the tools are better now, the role clarity and distributed authority provided by Holacracy make an absolutely massive difference. From talking with friends at other Holacracy-powered companies that aren't remote, the difference is still big there, but a lot of the highlights are extra-highlighted in a remote setting. Things really get "distributed" in a meaningful way.

I recently did a job search in SF and very few companies were hiring or open to remote. I agree with the author that it's very ironic that tech gives us the tools to work remote but yet most tech firms insist on working face to face. Certain functions may be more conducive to it or more in demand to consider it.

I've worked from my house for 8 years now.

It saves gas, etc. I don't need the social aspect of work (I'm introverted). I really, really like working remotely.

But it's not for everybody. Sub-par performers especially will drag down productivity

So it's a mixed bag, IMHO. But for me, I love it.

If you like to work in an office, work in an office.

If you don't like to work in an office, then don't.

For whatever reason.

Cool, Russ Olsen used this remote/distributed workers analogy back in july 2016 here http://blog.cognitect.com/cognicast-transcripts/104

If you know precisely what to do, then remote work is ok. However, once you need to communicate with people and problem solve with them, all forms of digital communication are inferior to face-to-face.

Only voice works just fine and has worked for me for 8 years now.

I suspect that (1) you don't have strong relationships with the people that you've only communicated with via voice, (2) if you do, then it took a very long (multi-year) time to create that trust: significantly longer than through face-to-face communication, (3) you do not do a active, engaging brainstorming and problem solving sessions (e.g. whiteboarding) with your colleagues that you communicate with voice only.

I see some sort of assumption in your comment that I should be bonding with people I work with -- and by "bonding" I mean stepping outside the of work relationships. I don't aim for that. If it happens naturally, I welcome it. But I don't actively pursue it.

But your assumptions are mostly false: I've actively brainstormed and planned with people in voice-only sessions -- and they rarely exceeded 25-30 minutes. And that went on and on for the 1-year contract, every week or two, and only once did we have trouble getting a message across.

Building trust can take anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks if you are a down-to-earth productive programmer -- which I am. Not sure where your multi-year idea of building trust comes from?

I am not attacking you. But I can't stand behind this very widely believed legend that face-to-face trumps everything. That's provably false in literally half my work relationships during my 17-year-long career.

When people have common vision and are working honestly for the interests of their employer -- and are professionals -- things go pretty smoothly and the machine gets oiled fast.

I’ve never worked on a distributed team. While I can see how it works effectively for collaborating between senior contributors, how do you effectively mentor in a distributed environment?

Using Slack/email/whatever, mainly.

I think it works just fine when the domain in which you're mentoring is like software engineering.

It's not like you need to show them the proper technique for wielding an axe or anything else with a lot of physicality to it.

Remote / distributed requires discipline and wearing different hats while you sit in the same physical chair (if you work at home and not in remote co-working spaces). And you must be damn good at distilling your thoughts into a succint text -- in short amounts of time.

Fail these two and of course you will think remote/distributed doesn't work.

It's not for everybody. I only find myself improving all the time by working at a home office.

I respect the people who dislike it but they rarely return the favor.

>Teams hold more meetings when they don’t have enough important work to do otherwise.

This is... quite the statement. Teams hold more meetings as the size of their organization increases and any one individual cannot complete the work on their "shared digital artifact." This horrific, pre-digital concept termed "teamwork" emerges and the team discovers the most effective form of getting work done, as a team, is talking to one another.

Remote working = “Cast Away” by Tom Hanks. At some point, even the best of us need the human interaction or we start losing our other needed skills. (My 2c anyways)

You're allowed to have human interaction outside your company, ya know? :/

co working spaces

Remote may not be ideal for everyone. Some prefer office setting. It all boil down to individual needs and preferences.

In my case, I chose Remote option as a necessity when we had our kids. Due to the necessity, the client agreed for a partial remote work arrangement. This gave me a sense of satisfaction and balance in work/life.

After this experience, I continue working with other clients with option of partial remote work.

> "few people want to move there".

It's like that Yogi Berra saying, "Nobody comes here anymore. It's too crowded."

But it's true. No one moves here anymore because it is crowded. People moved before it was crowded.

Any suggestions for remote brainstorming with whiteboard and all that?

I would like a large-ish collaborative drawing surface, and ability to see the faces of my collaborators (2-3 people), as well ability to request and grant control of the board.

So much of our design came out of impromptu design sessions, I don't see a future without it.

Partial remote is optimal for me, both in quality and speed of how I work. Even if it wasn't at home, I can't stand being in the same physical space for that long, I burn out. Kinesthetic learning something something something productivity efficiency sh ./buzzwords.sh

To me if you are in the bay, and have one office up in SF and another one down in PA, you are still "distributed" / "remote" or whatever you want to call it. Once you have two offices, it doesn't matter if its 50 miles or 500 miles.

Misleading clickbait title - pretends to be against remote work, actually promotes a different form of remote work.

blairreeves.me uses an invalid security certificate. The certificate is not trusted because it is self-signed. The certificate is only valid for . Error code: MOZILLA_PKIX_ERROR_SELF_SIGNED_CERT

ITT: people who didn't read the article beyond the clickbaity title. ITA: someone's trying to coin a new buzzword.

I don't even mind the buzzword, it maybe even captures the point of companies such as 37 Signals better than "remote." But I am bothered by the "fault tolerance" section. Because it pretty much boils down to "it's easier to find a scab." In fact, the term might be a bit unfair to the "replacement" worker, as it's unlikely they have the means to find out that the previous employee has left for reasons they're comfortable with.

This is just another time when I'm worried that "distributed" work might be a double-edged sword if it ever becomes truly common. I still think it's worth it — as an autistic person I _really_ appreciate being in control of how and when I socialise and the amount of stimuli I receive — but it's not all roses.

Exactly, remote from where? Working from home is a better term.

Doesn't matter what you call it, eventually you'll find yourself being left out of some decision making if you're remote.

Accept it as the trade-off like I have. It's just the cost of doing business.

The author is making the distinction between “remote work”, which has this downside, versus “distributed work”, which would seek to build a culture where being left out due to in-person communication methods just isn’t possible.

Distributed companies i.e., Elastic seem to have solved this issue. Being a remote team member on a collocated team has this issue in spades.

> Doesn't matter what you call it, eventually you'll find yourself being left out of some decision making if you're remote.

the only companies where everyone is involved in every decision they want to be involved in are <3 people.

That number is more like 7 in my experience.

Semantic pedantics and the developers who love them

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