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.
I did a simple poll of HN a while back. Here is the result:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because you have a neuro-atypicality that means you prefer to stick with one thing for many hours.
Neuro-atypicality that means you prefer to stick with one thing for many hours usually have you preferring routine and well organized predictable structure.
Not for long. Overworking always rewards you with burnout.
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?
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.
Nobody should be forced to work long hours but if they want to, and it works for them - go for it I say.
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
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.
- 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.
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.
(For me, meetings are draining in other ways most of the time)
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)
Sure, I might hit 10 or 11 hours in a day occasionally, but that doesn't happen very often.
Glad for you not both points seem to be true.
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.
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.
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.
Never experienced this. Is it really that common? I love my coworkers but they are colleagues, not friends.
That said, plenty of my older coworkers tend to go home immediately after work.
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...)
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.
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)
It helps to shut off all notifications on your phone or computer as well, including email.
Cal Newport's book looks interesting, so I'll take a look at that and give it a look. Thanks!
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.
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.
In fact it feels like most times I try the complex argument route I end up in a charisma meeting anyway so who knows.
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.
Why can't you apply whatever "better" measure you propose for remote workers not to workers sitting in an office?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Also I would be lucky for them to pick up the phone.
I find phone or in person much better to gauge tone and emails can more easily be dismissed.
This. Thank you for being this person.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
This might be less relevant for remote only companies, but I would need to see it first hand before I become less sceptic.
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.
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.
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.
You inspired me to write up my own experiences of 10 years in remote work https://theremotedev.com/10-years-remote/
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.
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.
That said, once in a while, I use this time to make a dent in my Pocket backlog.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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).
Neither is a guarantee but it’s a reasonably safe bet.
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.
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.
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.