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A Decade of Remote Work (viktorpetersson.com)
503 points by mvip on May 19, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 163 comments

I've worked for over 30 years only remote on one thing or another... most of this guy's points are on the money.

Unless it's enforced to share information properly, if some people are in an office and others are not, there are two classes of political animal created immediately and that will affect everything.

Unless I missed it, he didn't get into how variable work really is... this 10h thing is kind of a crock for the kind of work I do anyway... sometimes you are blocked on the one thing you have to be doing and it's difficult to focus on things that are of secondary importance just because you should be working. Other times you're being paid, but there's nothing to do for one reason or another. You can usually find useful things to do but at these times, they already know the situation. They want you to just note it, keep your head down and do something you can do yourself that should be somewhat helpful, and pick up immediately the thing is unblocked.

It's just not always possible to move things forward for 10h each day... be transparent about it. Sometimes if it's an architectural or philosphical issue, you need to study it and then do something else while your brain thinks about it. Some days nothing is going to move forward no matter what you do because of your personal state... you learn to recognize it and let it go... tomorrow or the day after you'll be back in triple force and more than make it up. The people who are paying you usually care about results not hour by hour but week by week. So long as it's all happening on that scale everyone's happy.

This is true in offices too. Anyone in knowledge work claiming to consistently work 10 hours a day either does way too much busywork or is lying.

Enterprise is 80% busywork. It’s really easy to hit 10 hours a day.

That relevant "Compiling" xkcd comes to mind :)

That's a strong claim: that human capacity for working hours at the outliers never exceeds by more than 25% what the average has converged upon.

The average that real knowledge workers work per today is probably closer to 6, including meetings.

I did a simple poll of HN a while back. Here is the result: https://imgur.com/qdSltlM

It's a normal distribution around 4-8 hours. There's no correlation with hours worked to seniority.

Poll language here: https://strawpoll.com/47x15cf1

I specifically included meetings, etc, in the time counted.

If you took anecdotes from office workers IRL you'd think everyone was in the top quintile. You can argue that its an unrepresentative sample (people browsing HN) but I'd postulate that people not on HN are using downtime elsewhere.

And I'm not convinced the 8+ people are being more productive with their time (as per my busy work note in the other comment). Anecdotally, the people who most complain about being busy seem to be the least impactful.

OK, so that's a strong claim, that outliers can't work 1.5 times as much as normal. I've worked in GameDev and now science... I've seen them, they exist! Some people work not just harder but longer as well, they are extremely productive compared to average.


Richard Hamming says:

You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode's office and said, ``How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?'' He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, ``You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.'' I simply slunk out of the office!

What Bode was saying was this: ``Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.'' Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime. I took Bode's remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done. I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There's no question about this.

On this matter of drive Edison says, ``Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.'' He may have been exaggerating, but the idea is that solid work, steadily applied, gets you surprisingly far. The steady application of effort with a little bit more work, intelligently applied is what does it.

that's a strong claim, that outliers can't work 1.5 times as much as normal

Imagine you truly were an outlier. One of those 10x guys. If you were that good, why would you choose to work more hours? So you could get 15 times as much done in that one day instead of just 10?

Put the way you did, the natural conclusion to draw would be that outliers would be the guys getting their thing done in fewer hours, while the average guys trying to fake it would need to stay late.

>> why would you choose to work more hours?

Because you have a high drive and are intrinsically motivated. Because you find your job satisfying, want to get rich, famous or make a life saving discovery etc.

In my opinion burnout comes from working long hours in a job you don't really care about. There are plenty of people who don't burn out from working hard, they just have really unbalanced lives.

> why would you choose to work more hours?

Because you have a neuro-atypicality that means you prefer to stick with one thing for many hours.

My observation is that teams that work long hours are typically disorganized and there are many sudden changes and interruptions.

Neuro-atypicality that means you prefer to stick with one thing for many hours usually have you preferring routine and well organized predictable structure.

>stay late.

Stay where?

> Some people work not just harder but longer as well, they are extremely productive compared to average.

Not for long. Overworking always rewards you with burnout.

I've only ever felt burnout when I didn't enjoy the job.

I once worked at a job I didn't really enjoy, and I worked 8 hours during the day and often 4 hours coding on my side projects. What's the difference between that and coding 12 hours doing something you love?

I have some experience in it: I was working day-and-night on my own projects at the beginning of my career - gave me a lot of money and experience, but now I know for sure that I could do it with just 20% of efforts - all my best things were written/built after some long rest periods (more than week of rest). All that experience I could learn just in a few weeks but I was too stupid to spend some of my time to read what other people do - I was reinventing all the wheels.

After that I was working in a company, 14-16 hours per day, 6 days per week. After 2 years of such work, at the end of the day I had to spend 5-15 seconds to remember names of my wife and son, my address.

So I decided to never work more than 8 hours per day, preferably less. And you know what? My earnings increased, my relationships with employers are much better now, my health is MUCH better. So I can say for sure - overworking is a waste of lifetime and gives nothing.

Good for you. Hamming worked long hours, neglected his wife and now there's a function named after him in every scientific library running billions of times a day.

Nobody should be forced to work long hours but if they want to, and it works for them - go for it I say.

How do you know he neglected his wife? I found that they did not had children, but could not find anything else about his personal life.

Hamming quote in post 5 ancestors back:

I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done. I don't like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes

And he might've achieved that regardless. Study after study finds people have about 6 productive hours a day in them.

Wrong imgur link? Shows a random image dump here.


I am working remote for 3 and a half years now. Meeting the "week by week" expectations is the most important thing, period.

The fundamental problem with scrum is that bugs happen and nothing interesting from a development point of view can be predicted effort wise before hand, at least not accurately.

The right way, is to do all velocity analysis backward-looking. Create a culture where code reviews are done constantly and long after they've been merged in.

Use metrics like KLOC, duplicate lines of code, changes to code, stories completed, etc. That's the way to measure velocity. Measuring done done done by end of sprint, is really wasteful as some engineers get it into their head to pad their estimates to make sure it's completed by some arbitrary date. This just leads to a culture of padding estimates rather than completing work when it's done.

That said, I do like letting engineers pull tasks as they like. If a more senior engineer in a certain area can complete a task better and more thoughtfully, than he should have a chance to pull it.

This also does require technical PMs which can discuss and understand the cost of their stories. This is important regardless however.

I'm about to add our first remote hire to our team, where 4 will be based out of office and one will be remote. Would love to hear your thoughts on this and get some feedback as to how I should best plan for this on our side, if you're willing to share? My contact info is in my profile.

I've been the only remote worker on a team in the past, and it was a horrible experience. Ways you might be able to avoid that:

- Treat communications as a first-class management consideration for yourself and every team member. Make sure your team gets the message.

- Treat telecommunications issues, especially the quality of teleconference calls, as a top-level issue. Otherwise the remote worker will, again, be at an information disadvantage. He/she will have to choose between (a) repeatedly asking everyone in the meeting to repeat themselves, move closer to the mic, adjust the camera orientation, etc., or (b) miss some potentially important communication.

- Remember that every fun perk for physically present staff (going out to lunch together, having an after-hours beer, etc.) runs the risk of making the remote worker feel left out and not an integral member of the team. Treat this as a management problem.

If these problems are manifest, not only will you suffer the direct implications of missed communications, but you're likely to face a disengaged worker, which is fun for nobody.

You just need to embrace async communication even with one remote worker. In short: all relevant problems/design/communication solved on project channel and not offline or private coversations.

I'm about to add our first remote hire to our team, where 4 will be based out of office and one will be remote. Would love to hear your thoughts on this and get some feedback as to how I should best plan for this on our side, if you're willing to share? My contact info is in my profile.

So one thing that isn't mentioned in this article that I think is incredibly important is making sure you maintain a social life outside of work.

When working at an office you tend to spend time with your coworkers outside of work and that is something you don't really get an opportunity to take advantage of when you're remote. Be sure to make some effort to get out of the house and be social in some form. Otherwise it becomes too easy to become isolated and you can suffer because of it. It also helps with counteracting the problem of overworking, since you have other obligations in you day that push you towards wrapping up work for the day.

Totally agree, and thank you. As much as I enjoy being alone, if I go too long without any significant social contact my "social muscles" start to atrophy. I start misinterpreting others' social cues, I forget how to do the usual give-and-take of a normal conversation, I start coming across as aloof or pushy (which is enough of a problem for me already). It's particularly helpful to have social contact, even if it's just VC, with the members of my team, so I can "stay in practice" interacting with those particular personalities in that particular environment, but social contact with anyone is almost as good.

Author here. I 100% agree with this. That's one of the many reasons why I enfoce the 19:30 stop. After that is for socializing and other offline activities (such as reading).

Working 10 hours per day? Looks extreme to me, as a European.

He is the founder of a company, and is probably doing a lot of meeting & email work which doesn't necessarily have to be mentally draining compared to fixing bugs. There might be some long lunch breaks in between there too.

(For me, meetings are draining in other ways most of the time)

Having fixed bugs /coding for nearly a decade and now having more meetings & emails,I would argue that if anything meetings & emails drain _more_ energy because of the context switches. You are more likely to do deep work fixing bugs than in meetings in my experience :-(

You might just be an introvert of some sort, sounds eerily familiar from the description

Extroverts gain more energy from being around other people and in social situations.

Introverts (like me) can handle social situations perfectly well, but need some time to recharge afterwards. Preferably completely alone without human contact.

If I spend a day coding and just talk to my coworkers occasionally, during lunch and coffee breaks etc. - I'm just fine when I get back home.

If it's a day full of meetings with customers, I'm completely drained and pretty much useless to my family for the rest of the night (at least socially)

Heh! I am INTJ if that helps :-) . Agree on the rest of your comments.

I'm an American, and 10 hours a day seems extreme. I've worked remote for about 10 years now, and I aim for about 8 hours a day.

Sure, I might hit 10 or 11 hours in a day occasionally, but that doesn't happen very often.

For a founder or any other exec, 10 hours is pretty tame. It also depends on your definition of work. I’m always “on” so to speak. Meaning I might be cooking dinner, but I can easily answer an email on my phone while cooking. I don’t necessarily consider that work, but I know a lot of people do.

Not going to happen with a kid, unless you have a full time+ nanny and are willing for them to maybe hate you later.

Seems like a valid point. I wouldn’t know as I don’t have kids, but being a high output exec + having a kid seems like a recipe for a mental breakdown, but I’m sure a lot of people do it.

I just miss when I could think about work at home while cooking and doing anything else. Now it’s make sure toddler doesn’t climb up and hurt themselves.

It's worth remembering that the 10 hours include "commute" and lunch, so it's about the same as as a nominally 8 hour workday.

My first thought when seeing the domain and title was, ok, a guy in sweden who chooses remote work ... We're isolated enough in this country already.

Glad for you not both points seem to be true.

The 7:30 stop?! Is this parody?

No, just the "American way of life".

As a remote employee I never worked more than 8 hours a day (including lunch break), knowing my friends in the office sit there for 8 hours INCLUDING lunch breaks, table tennis sessions, kitchen chats, multiple smoke breaks, meetings, scrum sessions and so on.

Also I know very great programmers and literally NONE of them can stay really focused for more than 5-6 hours a day, regular devs will struggle to be productive for 4-5 hours, I'm happy if someone actually works for 3-4 hours a day. Sitting or standing in front on computer for 10 hours a day is a highway to carpal tunnel syndrome, haemorrhoids etc.

This is actually an interview question I use: "How many hours of productive work can you do in a day?"

If they say 8 hours (full work day), they're either lying or using some kind of performance enhancing drug.

I've been paid for software development for close to 20 years and I've never done anything productive before lunch. Mornings are for documentation, code reviews, emails, stuff that doesn't really need constant focus. Afternoon and early evening are when I get shit done, that's when I can get into the Zone.

Lol so what if they're using a PED? Many people have ADHD diagnosis and use amphetamines to focus. Filtering them out at the interview stage is a huge mistake. Abnormally productive people should be seen as a benefit not a cheater.

I didn't say it was a bad thing.

The point was that being "productive" - that is to say fully focused - for a complete workday just doesn't happen all the time without medication of some sort.

> When working at an office you tend to spend time with your coworkers outside of work

Never experienced this. Is it really that common? I love my coworkers but they are colleagues, not friends.

They don't have to be friends, but it does help to know people's specific interaction styles. Are they quick to voice an opinion, or hesitant? Do they play the "strong opinions loosely held" game? Which people will speak up in the group, which would prefer one on one, which will avoid one on one because of culture-specific gender or hierarchy rules? Which people are generally "progressive" early-adopter new-shiny types, which are "conservative" use-proven-technology types? Who welcomes new people? Who enjoys a bit of teasing banter, and who seems bemused genuinely hurt by it? A little light social interaction can answer all of these questions, and those answers can be very useful when interacting with them later in more structured and directly work-centered contexts.

It can vary greatly by age, location, and company culture. I have a bunch of 20-something coworkers who all hang out together. My coworkers in London can often be found together at the pub after work.

That said, plenty of my older coworkers tend to go home immediately after work.

Depends on a country. In the UK, you are very likely to get a lot of social interactions after work aka the pub. In some, like France,I was told it's not really the case.

Second this. Over the 15 years that I have worked in the UK, most of my best friends are ex-colleagues. I moved back for a while to my native Norway and worked 6 years there but there were nearly no social interactions with colleagues. Perhaps once a quarter you would go for a beer or pizza but very rarely. (Though some of the work organised sports events, lunchtime football, floorball, etc, was good.)

I was relieved when we decided to move back to the UK and I could have a quick pint after work once or twice a week again. Some quick banter and gossip improve camaraderie and spirits a lot. Though as a parent it has to be a quick drink but still enough to bond.

But also in the UK, it has been very different depending on if the office is located in the city centre or an office park. One of the many reasons why I try to avoid companies in an anonymous office park...

Though now I am working mostly remotely in a tiny town where I know no one so I make an effort to occasionally jump on a train into London just to meet ex-colleagues for a drink for my social interactions (and possible contract networking...)

The pint after work thing is a culture thing. In London and maybe. If cities where everyone gets the train in it isn’t unknown. For most in the country people drive to work, it seems rare to have after work pints.

Yeah, I was surprised at how that was phrased at well. I've made friends at work who I have spent time with outside of work, but that's a select few group of people.

I've definitely not experienced that one generally tends to spend time with coworkers outside of work. I think this could be more common in other industries like Finance where having drinks with people is essentially a job requirement.

Not in my experience, and I've worked at a couple large US tech companies. I've had groups of friends who happen to work at the same place who I never interact with at work, but for actual people I work with, I'd say spending time with them outside of the work is reserved for once-every-couple-months happy hours.

In the EU countries where I've worked, coworkers usually shared some activities (e.g. weekly soccer matches). For some, especially parents, it's their main social schedule outside their home.

Agreed, the hardest part of remote work and the lack of accessible coworkers iRL are these in-person opportunities to be out of the house. If you move somewhere that you don't know people, still getting into groups, volunteering, and generally having a thing or three that forces you to be somewhere not on your own time with people who need you to be there is a good thing.

I’m working on a project to help with this problem — basically trying to combat isolation by connecting with small groups of remote/indie workers that are local to you.

I’m collecting interest to see if people would find this useful. If this sounds interesting to anyone, please let me know (contact info in profile)

I thought it is a given that people have (social) life outside of work?

Unfortunately it’s not a given. Especially in our industry. Doubly so with remote work where you have to make an effort to separate work/not-work lest the two blend together into a state of always working/thinking about work/etc

Hahaha hahaha! Hahahahahaha! Ahhhhhhhhhh. /sigh/ wipes tear from eye. Best laugh I’ve had in awhile, thanks for that.


Remote work taught me that working in batches can really drive up my efficiency. 2.5 hours at the start of the day, a half hour break, then another period of work about the same length, and then finally one more. I find this breaks up things and allows the 'down time' to settle in my head so I can come back and prep to get "in the zone" for another two hour purely focused work period. All that ties in wonderfully to his routine keeping, which is a great template to work with.

It helps to shut off all notifications on your phone or computer as well, including email.

Author here. Yep, "batching" is great advice. I am a big fan of Pomodoros. Also, I usually only check my email twice per day: once time in late morning and once in the late afternoon. Each time I spend roughly one Pomodoro just one email. After implementing this routine, I've found myself far more on top of my mailbox despite spending less time. Kudos to Cal Newport for recommending this in his book Deep Work, which is where I got it from.

I didn't realize it was called The Pomodoro Effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique) until now, and it's been the one approach to my work that's had the most success.

Cal Newport's book looks interesting, so I'll take a look at that and give it a look. Thanks!

I love this too. I actually wrote a simple web-app that I use to "pause" my emails throughout the day for this very purpose. Starting at 8AM, my emails batch until 11AM, then again until 4PM. I found the notifications hitting my phone were a big distraction, so pausing them helped me to ignore them during working hours.

I don’t use the email app on my phone, problem solved, haha.

+1. I have the account configured, but disabled auto-refreshing. It only fetches emails when I manually "pull" them.

Me too, on the desktop.

I just have no audible notifications for email on my phone.

This was very well written and helpful to me as a newly remote employee. The tone in this article is very pleasant and uplifting. I especially like your point about having mental triggers to establish routines. When I worked in an office, I struggled most with others triggering me into unpleasant behaviors. Now that I'm remote, I feel a great burden has been lifted and I'm free to set my own habits in time. Thanks for sharing this!

I'm about to add our first remote hire to our team, where 4 will be based out of office and one will be remote. Would love to hear your thoughts on this and get some feedback as to how I should best plan for this on our side, if you're willing to share? My contact info is in my profile.

Thanks you! Glad you find it helpful.

As someone who has worked remotely for not quite a decade myself, there are a few other points I'd consider essential. The big one is remote workers being left out of meetings. "Oh, you can't make it then? We'll just make you optional and fill you in later." Except it doesn't work.

If someone's not there, they get no input. They don't get to correct any facts that are incorrect or out of date. They don't get to bring up a point or principle that's important in the moment, before people start taking sides on what might be a moot point. The quality of the output is usually awful too. The "catch up" often doesn't happen at all. If it does, it's usually just a few action items and open issues. It doesn't capture the ebb and flow of the conversation - what people spent the most energy on, what the points of contention were, pros and cons that flew by so fast nobody wrote them down (but could later turn out to be crucial). That stuff matters as much as the bullet points, not just for the topic under discussion but to understand how people go about their business and thus how to work effectively with them. Maybe even to coach them on how to present their ideas more effectively. As a senior engineer that's something I'm supposed to do, I enjoy doing it, I can if I'm there, but if I'm "optional" that door closes.

There's an art to making meetings effective for people who are remote. If you're remote yourself, expect to spend a certain amount of time coaching and coaxing your team mates on this stuff. They'll usually welcome such advice IMX. People mean well, they just don't have the right knowledge or habits yet. It's worth it to become an advocate and mentor for effective remote or cross-site meetings. Everyone will benefit, but especially you.

There are other fine points to do with time zones, the effect that an 80ms delay has on our unconscious "who speaks next" protocol, and more, but I feel I've gone on long enough.

The most important thing for remote workers is to tell them they have to give up subtext/implied context because it gets lost over remote channels very quickly. This is probably the hardest I've found. I've asked people who are not skilled in being explicit to throttle their attempts to initiate comms and watch how people are skilled in initiating and to try to learn from them.

For example, don't start a conversation off with "Hi", or "Can I get your help with that problem yesterday?" Or even "We're having difficulty resolving JIRA-2341" Rather, immediately narrow in on the specific, crisp question you need answered. Subtext and context can only be used when you expect someone to supply it. Senior people on my teams know to call this out, even if they know what the other person is talking about.

Also, everyone has to have ipads with pen or some type of drawing tablet for white boarding sessions. A camera pointed down at a whiteboard works well too.

Remote is very doable, but everyone has to be all in, and those who do not communicate properly can destroy the effectiveness of remote culture very quickly. And if they are the senior technical talent on your team, they can do it all the faster. Especially if they are co-located in an office as they'll communicate via non remote channels and vital discussions will get lost / unrecorded.

The other problem is there is pretty senior talent that doesn't look for remote work because they've learned to use charisma to short-cut and speed up getting things done rather than making complex arguments about things they already know to be true. This is in my opinion is the greatest blockage to making remote more effective than people wasting time and risking their lives by driving every day into an office.

I find your last point to be the thing that sticks out to me the most. I feel like the whole charisma to grease the wheels allows you to guide a company easier as a SME/senior technical when vision and leadership are failing. When I go down the complex argument route I can only convince some people but lose others from the differences in expertise and audience (or the people who somehow feel they can say any complete technical idea in 10 words or less and reject reading). When I am in the room you are just better enabled to deal when you start losing some of the people on the fringe.

In fact it feels like most times I try the complex argument route I end up in a charisma meeting anyway so who knows.

It's hard to read the room when trying to convince people if all you get from them is their voice.

As a counterpoint, I'm pretty senior and I've been pretty successful working remotely ... but then I've never been able to rely on charisma anyway. Having some senior people remote works, fully distributed works, but I do have a hard time seeing how things could work if there are a lot of less senior people in the office without a "critical mass" of seniors to guide them. This is very similar to what happens when people try to outsource development and find that the people they're outsourcing to just don't "get it" enough to make good progress without constant and detailed oversight.

Remote work needs development.

We have a long history of work in the Office, a History over 100 years long, with a significant fraction of the population working there. Lots of companies have experimented and risked with different approaches of management and few remain.

That is not the case with remote work. We don't really understand it yet.

Writing down "remote is not for everyone" implies that we know everything about remote working and our particular model or management style is THE only one, which is not.

It implies that the worker is not prepared for remote when probably it is the company who is not.

In fact, with remote work you can measure the output of each worker way better than in traditional working conditions. Instead of measuring a worker punching in and out and then buying at Amazon or doing facebook at work, you can measure actual work.

In the future, there will be companies that will specialize at remote work, for example they will come at your house and prepare a room for working remotely without distractions, and they will do it, not you, because they know what they do, just like your dentist, and your company will pay the bill.

Lots of things will change, but we are yet in the mindset of Office work, and can not see it.

> In fact, with remote work you can measure the output of each worker way better than in traditional working conditions. Instead of measuring a worker punching in and out and then buying at Amazon or doing facebook at work, you can measure actual work.

Why can't you apply whatever "better" measure you propose for remote workers not to workers sitting in an office?

> Usually, people who fail at remote work tend to either lack the self-discipline it requires, or they are simply socially oriented and thrive being around other people. In the latter case, working from a shared office can help, but even then, if you lack the self-discipline and habits required, you are likely not going to thrive. While there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, young people (early 20s) tend to struggle more with this than people who have reach their late 20s and early 30s.

These are probably valid points, but it pigeon holes the employee. There are lots of reasons remote work may not work out for someone. The organization matters as much as the individual. One terrible boss can be hell for a remote worker who does not have presence in the company.

Good advice, except, do not work 10 hours like that person, aim for 8 hours.

Author here. I don't factor in lunch (so take away 30-60 min). Also, the 19:30 stop is there as a hard stop. Sometimes I feel drained at 17:30 or 18:00 after a very productive day. In that case, I'm happy to wrap up the day.

That was also my first thought, I feel 10 hours (or even 9 hours) is extremely long. Being laser focused for 9 hours is extremely hard to do on the long run. As others said, you need to find your own schedule but don't aim for 10 hours first thing, go slow

Different people have different ideal workloads at different times in their life. People need to figure out their own healthy velocity.

I've been working fully remote for a little over a year now. I enjoy the freedom it grants me to live where I want, but the main issue I have is feeling like I'm not meeting enough co-workers and having some sort of network while I'm still new in the industry (and fear of not learning enough).

It's also quite annoying to have a laptop that doesn't even have an SSD in it, and having to email IT or someone from a different group and never hear back without sending 3+ follow up emails. It would be easier to walk and go see them if I were just working there.

One thing I learned from my first remote job was to examine how your direct manager treats remote work, and that will quickly tell you how your experience might turn out. My boss communicated with me hardly ever (even to relay requirements for new projects), and frequently stayed up all night to finish stuff.

Rather than sending that third email, why not call them? Even in my company, where I don't know any remote workers, people webcall each other all the time, since we're often on different buildings.

Calling doesn't show or track attempts to get a hold of these individuals. CC'ing managers on emails being sent to other groups/IT is what I've been told to do now since I'm not the only one having issues with this.

Also I would be lucky for them to pick up the phone.

This is where the follow up email to your attempt comes in handy. You try to speed things up by the phone call, but if you don’t get an answer, then you send an email and mention that you called as well. In the cases where you do speak with someone, then you can adjust the content to reflect your appreciation for them speaking with you and then outline the issue(s) still remaining, assuming they weren’t resolved. There are obviously various iterations and combinations but the gist is to be persistent and try to take more control of the situation by incorporating a follow up into the mix.

Yes! This is something that took me longer to learn than it should have. Even if the call went well, send a followup email briefly summarizing the discussion and end with actionable things.

I find phone or in person much better to gauge tone and emails can more easily be dismissed.

Anytime I talk with someone either on the phone, video chat, or in person and we agree on some thing (work, decision, etc...) I follow up with an email confirming that my understanding matches theirs. This isn't CYA as much as making sure we both walked away from the conversation with the same understanding. Many times, the email follow up has brought to light misunderstandings.

>This isn't CYA as much as making sure we both walked away from the conversation with the same understanding.

This. Thank you for being this person.

Hah. I tried only doing it at the end of a conversation. "Just so we are all clear, this is what we are agreeing to do.", and that still was not enough. Plus, having it written down makes it so much easier to revisit past decisions. I spend a lot of time trying to understand why an old decision was made so we can make changes with confidence.

>Also I would be lucky for them to pick up the phone.

So lucky it's not worth the time? I'm still learning the how who when and what to overcommunicate when remote. Can you suggest to schedule time for remote meeting/screen share with this person?

I suppose, but most of the time the answer I receive from this department is "We don't know" (ie: why a server is turned off)

I'm about to add our first remote hire to our team, where 4 will be based out of office and one will be remote. Would love to hear your thoughts on this and get some feedback as to how I should best plan for this on our side, if you're willing to share? My contact info is in my profile.

This is great advice. Being a remote worker the advice on having time in the morning to yourself before starting and a shutdown is super important. Another aspect I found is to get dressed up even if it is just wearing jeans as it mentally shifts you from leisure to work.

The Deep Work in the morning to really dive into a single thing is important even just for self-discipline. But it does take a while to really hone this and as he said remote work isn’t for everyone. It feels like it’s better suited for introverts than extroverts.

Spot on regarding getting dressed! After my morning excercise, I get dressed just as I were to go into the office.

Regarding intra vs extraverts - I think you're right, it probably somewhat favors intraverts. However, I've worked with a number of extraverts over the years too that worked well remotely.

I can't work remotely. Wife and kid constantly sneak in and before you know it she is sitting on the floor and my daughter is jumping on my lap. It's useless to fight it... better go to the office. Can other family men in here get this done? I am curious

I've been working remotely for around 15 years now. Currently have an 8 year old and a 1.5 year old. At various times I've had the kids in day care, school, cared for by a nanny, by in-laws, or by my wife during my working time.

Obviously, school or day care makes it simple: they're not around, no problem.

Nanny and in-laws work pretty well too. They leave me alone unless they really need something.

My wife sometimes intrudes. She currently works as well, and typically works one day a week from home. She's a bit lax on those days, and she can forget that I'm not going to be the same way. I accept this when I can, and shut it down firmly but kindly when I can't.

The older kid has been coming straight home from school for the past year, no after-school care. It was harder to get her to understand that she can't monopolize my time until I'm done with work, but we got there.

The key is to set clear boundaries and expectations. Physical reminders help. Your office needs to have a door and you need to feel free to close it to keep people out. How much you need to do this will depend on how you work. I tend to deal with interruptions fairly well, so I mostly close my door for meetings and calls, but sometimes it's good to do it just to be able to concentrate. I reinforced this with a sign on the door saying "When is it OK to interrupt my meeting?" listing things like medical emergencies, fires, floods, aliens, etc.

Be kind, but be firm. Although you may be home, you are at work. As long as everyone understands this and respects it, you'll do fine.

Edit: forgot to mention, the boundaries and expectations need to go both ways. When you’re not at work then you’re not working. Don’t drag your laptop out or wander back to your office in the evenings. Make exceptions in unusual circumstances if needed, but the routine should be a clean separation both ways. Not only is this a good idea for your mental health and family wellbeing, it will make it easier to remember and respect your work time too.

I completely sympathize with your struggle. I have 3 children <= age of 3.

Prior to having children of toddler age (as in, children able to physically bang on my locked office door), working from home was the only time I was able to maintain deep focus and accomplish difficult tasks.

My wife does an amazing job keeping my 3 children happy and occupied, but the noise and distraction level at times creates an atmosphere worse than being in the office. I have come to the realization that this is just a temporary phase that will pass. In a few years, once the kids are in school M-F 8~3, WFH glory will one day return. In the meantime, I've discovered quiet places in the office to hide out and perform deep thinking / heads down work. If I was paid more $$, I suppose I'd probably rent a temporary or shared space to periodically work from.

Remote doesn’t have to mean work from home.

Exactly, I was gonna write this. In fact I feel that working remotely is more difficult from home. Go to a co-working space or rent a shared office space, it's a win win you get other people around you

I hit the bar of what's expected of me, and that can typically be done with constant interaction with my wife & cats. Work performance is like 5th at best on my priority list so it works out.

Just because I could give my employer more output doesn't mean I should. Especially if I'm already doing plenty to not draw any criticism.

My wife and I talked when I went remote. We agreed that if I am working, I'm not "home" even though I'm physically at the house. She is a homemaker and for a while we did homeschooling with the kids. They learned too that I'm simply not available during working hours, unless I let them know otherwise (lunch or whatnot). My family has been very supportive.

Yes I hit the road and work from closest cafe/library. Home has too many distractions (kids, pets, musical instruments... you name it).

Absolutely. It helps that my wife runs her own business so she understands that home time isn’t necessarily family time.

Having an office with a door that closes is key.

Having my wife run interference on the kids is key wouldn’t happen if she didn’t play ball.

With those two factors I’ve worked remotely for a dozen years (only the last five with kids).

For me it is not so much that my wife and kids would sneak in, as that I would constantly be tempted to sneak out.

Working in the office is better that way, but given the choice I think I’d rent a private spot at the nearest co-working space (right now my company does not allow remote work).

Working remote doesn't mean working from your living room. You can go to some shared office place (rent a desk at nearby Wework or something). It's much better than working from your house.

Most of this seems obvious to me.

I've been working mostly or completely remotely since October of 2001. For a brief period in there, at one startup, I had an office in an incubator a few blocks from my house, but after 6 months or so we decided it wasn't a good use of money, and everyone went remote.

The only other "exception" is my current job, which I've had for almost 12 years. We've never had office space anywhere, so it's been 100% remote EXCEPT that early on, we did a lot of travel to client sites.

We haven't really done that much AT ALL since about 2010/2011, owing to the greater acceptance of remote presence/screensharing tools, and that's been awesome. I haven't seen my boss in a year. I have coworkers I talk to (skype/voice/email) daily that I have never met in the flesh, because they're in other cities.

For us, this has worked VERY WELL. We all mostly work a normal day for our timezone, though obviously sometimes there are extended hours.

The only downside for us that I can really see is that we can't really hire fresh or inexperienced devs. There's no water cooler. You can't go sit with $senior_dev_guy for a day to get a feel for things, or learn the stack, or whatever, so we tend to only hire midcareer or later folks. OTOH, we also have absurdly low turnover, which means hiring doesn't come up THAT much anyway.

what sort of stuff are you working on? And, are you hiring?

We're a software company, and unfortunately no, not right now.

>Either you’re remote-only or you don’t do remote at all. Lots of companies brag about giving their staff the freedom to work remotely.

I've worked on three different "remote" teams now and I think the author's point is spot on.

The first time we did it everyone was remote, scattered across different states in America. It was a great experience. Everyone had a ton of freedom and flexibility and there was a lot of trust across the team.

The next two teams I worked in had each "division" headquartered in different regions. Design was based in one area, Engineering in another, product in another. It was so much worse. The people I worked were wonderful but we just couldn't develop the trust needed to build at the pace the market demanded.

How I describe the issue now is that we thought we were a "remote team" but we were actually just a handful of employees working remote from HQ. The HQ was wherever the core work was being done at the moment (usually with engineering) and the rest of us were just remote employees.

I'm about to add our first remote hire to our team, where 4 will be based out of office and one will be remote. Would love to hear your thoughts on this and get some feedback as to how I should best plan for this on our side, if you're willing to share? My contact info is in my profile.

The article has some good advice. I've been working remotely for 2 years and here are my observations:

- When you work from a coworking space with others, it's easier to meet people and make friends. They are not your colleagues which removes certain "fakeness" from the relationship (you are not force d to spend time with someone, no office politics, no boss-employee dynamic, no zero-sum games like promotions). - It could be a good idea to spend a few months working together and then transition to remote work. - Use Block Site and block youtube.com etc. on your work machine - Don't stay at home 100% of the time. Work from a cafe from time to time.

> remote is not for everyone

I view this as a problem. Everyone should be able to work remotely in tech, especially in 2019. Office and commutes should be legacy concepts. What do we need to do to enable better and more remote cultures? Society has currently adapted to Office norms, with regards to working hours, interpersonal interactions etc. With the rise of remote work and indie work we 'll need to develop new ways to live.

Office work is not for everyone. It's nice that remote is an option in tech now but lots of people do jobs that aren't really office based and often they say that it's at least in part because office work is not for them. Really it's office work that's a 19th and 20th century aberration.

My biggest fear regarding remote work is career progression. It seems that the author is a founder, so this isn't an issue for him, but my anecdotal evidence tells me that remote workers are left behind in terms of promotions and professional growth.

This might be less relevant for remote only companies, but I would need to see it first hand before I become less sceptic.

For devs, there are usually two path choices. Engineering Management or Individual Contributors. As a remote engineer, you will tend towards being IC than being EM and this is because most engineers, as the post mentions, are self-motivated and self-disciplined. And being an IC, it's not as hard to climb up the ladder, although, the problem is, most remote companies don't have a defined ladder. I think with companies like Gitlab, setting an example of a fully-remote company of a considerate size, the view will change and more companies will take this path in future. If you notice, most remote companies are really in their early stage and there's no need to define career progression path yet, given the things they have to prioritize at that stage.

The information flow, specifically the lack thereof, and even more specifically the lazy/disorganized/maybe-even-passive-aggressive way it was (not) handled, ended up being the primary disadvantage of the remote arrangement for me. If you get a chance to work remotely, make sure management is fully committed to the idea, and to all that it entails. If they subscribe to the "blurt things out and wander off" management style, and people just kind of yell out whatever's bothering them in the office, that's already a pretty bad sign, but see if they're willing to promise to document everything in writing. If they're not willing, or they have any misgivings at all, you're probably better off staying in the office.

Pretty strong article. As someone who has to manage onsite/offsite people( non IT thought), the flow of information is essential and it's very hard to balance it.The people in the office will always have more access to additional info unless there are some processes in place to balance it.

Also,what the author of the article doesn't mention is client ability to work remotely. I'm currently dealing with one: cc'ing everyone on everything ( <20 people company,all sit in the same room). Emails are often without much sense and you have to reiterate again and again.

There's a category of people who can't write and express themselves well,which makes them impossible for remote jobs.

Communication is definitely huge with remote work. I think it’s the crux for a lot of newly remote workers. You have to adjust your communication style when working remotely, which some people just can’t handle. This goes for all sides as well though. I’ve been in a situation where onsite employees refused to participate with remote employees, which obviously didn’t end well.

I recently started remote work for a company I've been working for ~3 years and it's been great so far, I'm more productive and I feel I just have more energy overall. But the reason I think it's been great is that I already know people I work with quite well, I have a lot of slack conversations with my teammates so I don't feel left out or lonely at all (well, so far at least, it may be too early to say). I do wonder if the experience is different when you start remote for a new company from the beginning?

From 20 years experience, mostly nodding along except that engineers are easier to manage remotely than sales. Depends on who is doing the managing, not inherent in the job

I've been working remotely and concur with the author's thoughts. Freedom can also be a curse in disguise. Cannot emphasize more on self-discipline and getting a separate room as the office in the home.

Also, socializing! I was pretty introvert as a person. Would hardly initiate conversations with strangers. Now I get cravings to just go outside and meet friends. I cope up with this by attending meetups and catching up with friends in the evenings.

In the "remote only or not at all" argument, I think it's really up to the leadership to set the example. You can have an office, but if the leaders of the company stress how important it is to work remotely, this will be ok. The employees just need to understand how all remote workers feel; when they have to go through the same patterns as remote workers do, then these habits get adopted well into the culture.

I believe the whole remote only or not is really about the process as you mentioned. I've worked in a company where we had physical offices, but folks would work remotely several days a week. When we did standups, everyone would hop onto Zoom on their computers. Everyone would also be very punctual to meetings and respect the time setting agendas and providing notes for those who couldn't make it.

Now in a company that operates as an in-office, but supports remote work, it functions very differently. Everyone in the office huddles around the scrum master's computer and the remote folks are dialed in. Often times the audio is incomprehensible since people are too far from the one laptop. Meetings are randomly canceled or moved without knowledge. There were a number of times I would sit in a meeting for 10 - 15 minutes waiting for people and posting on the Slack channel if the meeting was still happening. Dead silence. Any larger team meetings, forget about it; I'll have to catch up from the slides later or ask my colleagues what I missed.

I think we're saying the same thing. My added point is just that leadership needs to set this example.

Thanks for this post, Viktor. A lot of this hits home.

You inspired me to write up my own experiences of 10 years in remote work https://theremotedev.com/10-years-remote/

From a UK perspective, my question is how do you find roles that allow remote work? It always seems to be a blocker and I end up having to take non-remote roles to pay the bills.

How does it work with time zones in a remote company? Is everyone allowed to live anywhere they want? Do they usually restrict the time zone the employees live in?

It depends on the company. Some companies have core hours where everybody is supposed to be working. Others work asynchronously, so that people work whenever they want. It seems to me that the organisations that embrace remote work fully tend to go async. and the ones that are new to it or don't fully buy into it have core hours.

Author here. Usually you need a few hours overlap per day at least across a given team. This can be challenging depending on where the team members are located. We've had team members in Australia working with Europe, and there's literally no convenient overlap. In that case, someone needs to stay up late (or get up early).

Going on 8 years remote and I 100% agree with the authors.

I wonder if remote work is a good thing for a Deaf developer. Do people who work remote sometimes need to make important phone calls, for example?

It’s obviously going to depend on the person, and how deaf they are, but I’ve seen things like Google Meet’s new automatic subtitling making it easier to participate in meetings for someone who’s hard of hearing than it would be in person.

Deafness is a spectrum. If you've got sufficient hearing - and pick the right phone - it can work out. I usually have a second party on the call who can explain anything I mishear via instant messaging.

I've experimented with a wide variety of techincal solutions over the years, and I've learnt that the often-compressed bandwidth of cell phones is bad -- I avoid calls using cell phones like the plague these days.

Since I work remotely, in a private office, I can get away with using a really high quality speaker phone. With hearing aids as they are today, including digital processing and noise discrimination, it works OK.


I don't hear anything.

IME, audio calls are relied on less in a remote environment than in person meetings in an office. They do feature heavily though.

However, it probably makes instant messaging, or web based tools a more natural way if interacting rather than grabbing a meeting room for everything.

I've never worked with a deaf developer but I'd imagine it easier to accommodate in a fully remote environment.

Thanks for the article. When you read in the morning, does that include things like Hacker News or do you earmark it for books?

Author here. Rarely digital. Mostly good old fashioned books. When I read on a tablet or similar I find it too easy to get side tracked and look up other things, and before you know it you've used up all your morning "quota" raeding about other things (that may or may not be related).

That said, once in a while, I use this time to make a dent in my Pocket backlog.

Brilliant post, thanks for sharing! Starting my 4th year of working fully remote and love it.

I hate the idea of the yearly summit. People working remotely may have health or social issues on a greater average. There is a benefit to face to face but requiring the team to fly to remote locations yearly makes a local company with a normal christmas party seem more attractive.

The in face meeting is actually incredibly important. I've been remote for 7 years and it is just so important to put a "face" to a person. You get to bond on a personal level that is really hard to do remotely, even if you've been working with someone for years. As a strong remote advocate there really isn't a replacement for face to face communication, which is why I support annual summits.

Face-to-face meetings are valuable (GP agrees). Requiring get togethers in unique exotic locales, not so much. It's a huge perk for some, and a not-insignificant cost for others (with most "regular" people probably somewhere in-between, but giving in to the peer pressure of emphasizing the glamor). Oh and it seems to inevitably blur this whole work-life balance thing people claim to care about. (Not to mention it's a bit of a bad habit, carbon footprint wise, and a dubious use of investor money.)

If a company just picked a logically geographically central place (per its employee base), reserved a reasonable hotel w/business suite or rented an office for a week, that'd make a lot more sense and be a good bit fairer imo. Let people who enjoy exotic locales do so on their own, and not as a (required!) perk. Bonus, you're now being more serious about avoiding monoculture at work too (not everybody enjoys exotic travel, and companies that de facto require it will end up selecting for it).

Ideally work will pay for a summit (although day to day expenses are unlikely to be covered). If you were a single parent, it would be extremely tricky to work out, though. In my case, I have to fly 12 hours to get to the office of the company where I work. Virtually anywhere on the planet would be easier to get to :-)

There is a bit of an advantage to "exotic" locations, though -- shared unfamiliarity. If it's new for everybody, then everybody is learning at the same time. It gives you something in common. Having said that, though, I've had discussions with the team I'm on where a lot of people would love to get together in a relatively boring place where the only thing we could do is code together. That has a lot of advantages too and I'd be surprised if you couldn't get some backing from other teammates to try it at least once.

The issue isn't the personal financial cost - the whole point is (if it's an exotic trip) that it's a paid perk, for people who enjoy it, and a (non-monetary but real) cost to those who don't (and who'd probably just prefer a bonus to having their company buy them an expensive trip they don't want).

And yes, boring but neutral (non-exotic, non-expensive) locations seem like a reasonable ideal for a business trip - that's essentially what I'm advocating. They can also be unfamiliar to all, if you think that helps - it doesn't have to be the Bahamas to not be somebody's home turf.

But there are, as I've explained, good reasons for it to be something other than the (expensive, particular-lifestyle-centric) glamor most tech companies push - larger reasons than the neutral ground piece. It alienates more than it includes, and burns money (sure not yours, but you'd rather your company be prudent, or at least let you spend money on things you want) and carbon to boot.

Also, I'm not vilifying all exotic travel - just the habit of entangling it with work, as it becomes a heavily asymmetric perk and a significant cultural filter/selector (for a certain sort of "living life" crowd - again, not bad people, but not the only sort of people in the world). I'm all for places giving vacation time, and paying well enough for employees to pursue their interests, be that the Bahamas or rare book collection or anything in between.

> it is just so important to put a "face" to a person.


Blind people can be productive members of a team without ever being able to do that. And yes, there have been productive teams made primarily or even entirely of blind people.

If you want to argue instead that it's important to put either a face or a voice to a person, well, I think deaf-blind people would argue with that, though I don't know much at all about that community.

My comment wasn't meant to alienate blind people, far from it. To elaborate further, being able to see someone outside a meeting (since this is where most interaction really occur when remote) means things like small talk occur and you get to know your co-workers on a more personal level. This personal connection is what really matters in the long run and being together in person is what drives building those connections.

This is not really about faces as such, but there is something about physical presence in the same room that cannot be replicated through telecommunication alone. Call it chemistry or whatever you will, but I notice that whenever I've spent more than a few months without physically meeting my co-workers, I start getting increasingly out of emotional sync with them.

As a remote worker, I think some sort of in-person gathering is pretty crucial. We have plenty of video chats and whatnot, but nothing quite replaces the experience of meeting someone in person. Obviously doesn't need to be super frequent, but especially when you're a small company (which many fully-remote places tend to be), it really helps you feel more connected to your co-workers.

Absolutely. I work remote full time and I just returned from spending a week in Germany (I am in USA) where I had meetings and social time with others both above and below me.

> People working remotely may have health or social issues on a greater average.

I don't know any reason that working remotely would correlate to health/social issues. Is this a known statistic from somewhere? The social thing perhaps correlates to working (remotely or not) in a software field, but I'm not sure why remote workers would be statistically any different than non-remote workers. (I happen to be a remote worker)

I would think someone disabled or with mobility issues would seek out those opportunities over local employment at a higher rate. People with visa/passport/country of origin issues would have issues traveling would be another group.

From my experience the health issues point is true.

When I used to work from office my day looked more or less like this:

a) WALKING to the car/public transport, b) sitting at a desk, meetings, multiple small breaks for lunches, chats etc., c) again some moving, coming back home, d) SITTING AT DIFFERENT CHAIR WITH DIFFERENT DESK AND DIFFERENT PERIPHERALS AT HOME.

Right now:

a) waking up, b) no one forces me to take breaks, c) I do not change peripherals twice a day, so before I was using two different keyboards and two different mouses and two different setups daily, now I'm using the same mouse and the same keyboard and the same everything in work and after work, this leads to RSI and after 8 years I'm facing carpal tunnel syndrome in near future, also changing chair even to a shitty one for a while is apparently much better for your body than sitting in Herman Miller ALL THE TIME (I have standing desk too BTW).

Self selection? I assume a very social person applies to more in person than remote jobs. I assume more reclusive people apply to more remote jobs than in person jobs.

Neither is a guarantee but it’s a reasonably safe bet.

Not everyone is suited to remote work. It sounds like you are better suited to working in an office. I can tell you from experience that the periodic get together events (whatever they are called) are really crucial to building a stronger team bond and to working efficiently together.

To say someone isn't cut out for remote work just because they can't make an annual work event is pretty crazy and allienating of people who could benefit from remote work the most. How could it possibly matter more than the hundereds of other days of the year where you have been actually working together and honing your processes and efficiency? You shouldn't be struggling to be a competent team before having a hugathon.

I love the idea of an annual face to face event, but none of the benefits I want from it are work related. They are opportunities to build friendships and have some fun with people I wouldn't mind knowing better.

>They are opportunities to build friendships and have some fun with people I wouldn't mind knowing better.

Which I would argue is very clearly a benefit to your ability to work together. My team off-sites certainly include formal information exchanges, but we specifically try not to spend too much time of things that could be equally well communicated via email or video conference.

I've worked remotely a number of times for years at a time. I've usually worked locally first and moved remote or only spoken to my team through chat/phone.

The yearly meetings I can see appealing to a certain type of employee but for the older employee with a family it is not that appealing.

In-person interactions dramatically improved my remote work experience and improved the bonding that happened outside of the project. I can see why someone reclusive might not like it, but it's almost always on the company dime anyway. In my case, it wasn't a retreat but meeting IRL for project work which I liked better.

In my experience, working remotely requires, if anything, more social skills than working in an office (though deploying them strategically instead of 9-5 may be easier to do).

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