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Ask HN: What still sucks about remote work?
50 points by krel 55 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments
Hey HN. Working from home a fews days per month can be pretty great. Less distractions, more time to think deeply about stuff, more natural to take breaks and, let's not forget, better coffee.

But what about working remotely still sucks? Be it from home, from a beach on Bali, or from a WeWork in Amsterdam.

(Im trying to get my company to be more remote-friendly and would like a nuanced view before I make my case.)

I've noticed that it's hard to build rapport with coworkers when working remotely (especially if they are in an office and you're remote). In my experience, remote communication is mostly transactional and doesn't facilitate building relationships with people.

I'm not saying I need my coworkers to be my best friends or anything, but I think that you are more likely to have a well functioning work relationship with people that you're comfortable around. In my experience, those relationships are usually built through informal conversations.

If any of you have this figured out, I'd love to hear tips. Most of the other aspects of remote work are fantastic.

> If any of you have this figured out, I'd love to hear tips. Most of the other aspects of remote work are fantastic.

overcommunicate. Share like you do IRL. Kvetch. Cheer. Share interesting finds. Say good morning. Ask team-mates how they're doing.

I find I build pretty good rapport with my team mates because I _don't_ limit communications to required transactions.

You build relationships by communicating about life and sharing feelings. So, communicate about life and share feelings.

This is fantastic advice, thanks mattcdrake and masukomi!

Personally I think much of the benefits of remote work comes from the ability to close out the noise of the office, which includes thing like someone tapping me on the shoulder or grabbing my attention when Im deep in some mental exercise.

So what I wonder is how you couple the great things about (actively chosen) isolation with the need for social interaction and banter over time?

Perhaps it's a non-issue and remote work will never reach the level of distraction you face in an office. Still would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Wonder if having some games in Slack would help, like one round of Mafia per day or other team building games?

When most of us worked in the office, we did the cliché foosball table. Since our team has become more and more distributed, we've been playing TagPro (https://tagpro.koalabeast.com) a time or two per day.

We typically hop into a video conference while we play to make it more personal. It's better than foosball in that more than 4 people can play (we generally play with 8-12) and it's got a much shorter path to proficiency.

Rookies always suck at foosball for their first few months, so getting them involved with something less intimidating has been helpful.

Video Conferencing (we're using zoom). The "time to conversation" routinely take minutes of idle time or raging about the miserable state of technology.

Simple annoyances such as opening the laptop when using with an external monitor (1 out of 10 times making macos unresponsive for half a minute), to changing your bluetooth noise cancelling headphones for music to airpods, reconfiguring airpods tethered to your iPhone to macos. Making sure the wrong input/output audio is selected in macos...

People working from coworking space or a regular office, usually want to switch to a phone booth/meeting room, that takes them 2-3 minutes to walk to the next phone booth and get set-up.

Once you're up&running too often audio/video is unreliable, or simply airpods running out of battery.

I'm experimenting now with a tablet (with its own headset) dedicated to voice&video calls. While the audio/video setup now works seamlessly, there's still some usability issues that need workarounds.

People using bluetooth headsets in vc is irritating.

Can I ask why? What do you prefer? Genuinely interested.

It's irritating because they so often have trouble switching from their phones or whatever. Wired headsets even like a headphone with a microphone just work.

People using battery-powered devices but not charging them has nothing to do with remote work. That's only about working with highly unprofessional people. Working with them on premises would not be any better.

Thanks postcynical, I (OP) feel this pain too. Do you think tandem.chat (YC2019) would solve any of your issues?

Edit: Note that Im not affiliated with Tandem in any way, just curious.

1. Technology is still not good enough for conferencing.

2. Some family members/friend thinks your work is easy and not that important. So you should run their errands or take extra responsibilities.

3. As someone already mentioned, it is difficult to build team rapport. This affects badly in situations like sudden change in deadlines.

4. If you don't have active social life outside job, it becomes very difficult to build new one.

Re number 2, my wife just doesn't get that when I'm working from home, I actually need to work

Same. Some people suggested having a separate office in the house. I think it's the best idea but we can't (we live in a small house). I ended up having a more firm discussion with her to explain how important it is for me to not get interrupted. Since then things improved but it's still a work in progress

My gf is very extrovert and in need of social interactions to not get depressed. Having an "office room" helps, but not really solving the issue. Now she just feels ignored instead.

She gets it from an intelligent perspective that I need to work, but emotionally its a struggle.

What would she do if you worked in an office?

I do work from an office most of the time so I can compare; it works way better since the "Im working/not working"-line is less fuzzy (I think).

I think this is the issue my wife has. She sees me at home and seems to think, well, maybe I can interrupt him just this once, and it happens a few times a day. I feel like I get more done in less time, but I also get less time, what with taking care of random errands.

When I worked on the office, she kept complaining that I came home too late (8 hours + ~1 hour commute). Now she complains when I work too late, but I work late because of the interruptions.

I've considered renting an office in my city, which would mean a ~5 minute commute by bicycle. This should help solve most of the issues we have, since I can be physically away, but not that far away. When I talk to her, things get better for a little while, but it's not really a permanent solution. I could probably make it work with 2-3 days in the office and work at home the other days.

Exactly (including the office situation) here.

Some days I would just do obligations like meetings and urgent stuff at the normal hours and leave the deep work to do when she and the baby were asleep.

This was definitely the hardest thing to balance...

I've been working from home for about 10 years. The only thing that's ever been a problem is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It took years to realize and resolve all of the various underlying issues before I started feeling comfortable without being complacent with things.

My advice for people new to remote work: reserve an hour each morning for exercise, start reading fiction, try out the keto diet, avoid alcohol as much as possible, try to limit your caffeine intake, open your windows to prevent co2 buildup, keep eye drops within reach for long hauls, try to get all of your chores done in the morning.

Do you mind elaborating on why you mention keto? I’m 4 months into keto and down 18lbs and I love it, but just wondering why you mentioned it with remote work.

In my experience, it's a little too easy to snack being home all day every day, especially when work slows down or during burnouts. Keto has played a huge role in managing snacking, or at least, unhealthy snacking.

Plus it compliments nicely with your morning cardio and provides a decent energy boost throughout the day without the need of caffeine.

For the snacks, intermittent fasting also helps a lot.

Plants! Indoor plants if your in an office!

This could actually end up being a problem once they start releasing CO2 in the evening. I had one that always made me sleepy in the evenings... took some time to figure out what it was and move it in another room.

Great tips. I am not sure why you'd limit caffeine intake? Is this to prevent circadian rhythm disturbances?

Good advice for office bound people too!

Working at home, the existential dread and feeling of meaninglessness in my tasks increased with remote work for a time, given my separation from the distractions of workplace politics, drama, etc. that pervaded office life.

It is hard to make connections with coworkers, and it is so important to build a social life outside of work if you do not have one.

I find I work less hours in front of the computer, accomplish more, and have to spend more time "screwing off" to fill in that void of losing office banter, work lunches with coworkers, etc.

Very interesting. Would you rather solve this by having a larger network of local friends, or by having better ways of doing office banter and informal interactions with your co-workers?

I think it got solved on its own for me. Filling that void of social interaction can be taken as part of the time to adjust.

I cannot imagine how the informal interactions with co-workers would happen remotely, but I work in an unimaginative bureaucracy where my co-workers are about twice my age.

One idea that has been floated is meeting together for training with my teammates, but I have yet to meet anyone in six years -- even my boss.

I've been working 100% remotely for the past three years. I guess the specific challenges depend a bit on the nature of your work -- I used to struggle a lot with feeling isolated when I was doing more pure development work, but my job now (technical interviewing) requires a lot of video chat so I'm getting lots of face-to-face communication with teammates and candidates, and I rarely feel isolated or lonely.

The downside to having lots of video chat is that I'm really constrained to working from somewhere with good internet, and somewhere without a lot of ambient noise -- which somewhat ruins the "work from anywhere" appeal. It's definitely a trade-off I can live with, though.

Aside from those things, I'm honestly struggling to really come up with something that sucks about remote work. My experience with being fully remote has been fantastic and has brought so much more joy to my career.

From a remote management perspective, when your presence is felt in an office, it reminds people to do the small things that keep the ship sailing smoothly - things that are outside of the scope of the current project, so they're on another to-do list, but still need to get done.

When you're a remote manager competing for staff time to get these things done with on-site managers it gets even trickier, as people want to please the people they have to face every day, even if they see them just in passing. You need to take extra steps (more reminders) to keep secondary projects moving.

For the sake of argument; are you sure getting those secondary projects done is really a net benefit for the company? Compared to, let's say, doing more uninterrupted work on the primary project?

Im uncertain myself so further reflections on this would be interesting to hear.

Yes, of course. The primary work is client work. The secondary projects are things needed to assist the marketing team to increase conversions, increase hourly billing rates, etc.

Conferencing, still. You'd think that we had gotten that covered now, but nope.

Not just image and audio quality, but Google Hangouts on my phone (so I can carry it around the house and get tea etc during a meeting) slurps up oodles of battery and the phone (OnePlus 5T) gets really really hot too.

No such problem with eg. Netflix and Youtube, guess those video codecs have some HW acceleration while Google Hangouts doesn't?

Further: I only work some 500km from the office, so I travel there (mostly by train) roughly once a month for a few days. Good mix of remote and on-site for me.

I think encoding audio/video is much more demanding than decoding them, and even if it weren't, conferencing is two-way so you should expect your machine to work at least twice as hard as for one-way video.

Anyway, I also work remotely but visit an office a few times a month, that is really helpful both from the technical side of things and socially.

Also, having worked in companies using one or the other exclusively, video conferencing is much much better than audio only. Seeing your colleagues' faces makes you feel so much more connected and less like strangers.

Audio quality is obv important, but is hd video quality needed, beyond screen sharing? I think a lot of tools use too much cpu time (and thus hang) for hd video, where a simple 320x240 from the 90s would do

I don't know, I think resolution is very important to get as many facial expressions as possible over via video. Those things that make in-person conversations smooth, but makes video feel stilted.

I will give you the issues I have encountered during the brief times I've worked remote. I absolutely loved being remote and found work arounds for most of the issues. I would be eager to have another remote contract but my very large employer definitely isn't coughing one up anytime soon.

1) Stable, fast internet for endless video-chats

2) Visa/bank account issues.

3) Company politics.

These 3 things can make working remote a challenge. Video chats are needed to simulate "in person conversations" which company executives believe improves efficiency and morale. Companies are also worried about "how do we legally pay our employees if they claim to be in the USA but are really on a tourist visa somewhere". And third, companies will often has gossip and politics and power struggles where those who are in office have more face time and promotion potential than those who are remote.

All of these things can be easily fixed but it requires the employee and the employer to not be incompetent.

For some reason, interacting with someone you see through a video camera just doesn’t feel the same as interacting with someone you’re in the same room as.

This is magnified x100 in group settings, especially group settings where more than half the participants are physically present and only a minority remote.

Having to go to the yearly meet ups and pretend to enjoy it.

I get ya, I truly do. But, are you at the wrong company, or are you a person that would never enjoy a company retreat no matter what?

hahah i like this one. in my case its "wow, your alot less nerdy then you act online"

It would be great to have conferencing software which doesn't spin all fans on max speed on the latest mbp. Also one which can detect difference between a camera view and desktop sharing. Tiny fragments of text changing don't need same type of encoding as hd video.

Developer roles are so much better setup to work well in an remote environment. The built in task list organization helps people not only stay on track but demonstrate their output regardless if they're on site or remote.

The problem is many non-engineering related roles follow similar organization around sprints and backlogs/task lists. Because of that I think there's a natural suspicion around productivity for people you don't get a chance to see everyday.

In other words work organization still sucks for non-engineering related remote work (sales excluded actually).

And then internal relationship building i think is also a challenge which impacts collaboration 100% - that still sucks.

Human connection.

A major predictor of workplace happiness is if people feel like they have at least 1 other friend or confidant at work.

It's incredibly hard to build meaningful relationships over a conferencing system and makes the job feel more robotic.

Also I think I'd get incredibly lonely and depressed if I did remote work.

I have 3 days wfh And 2 days wfo situation. Commute is 1 hr away so wfh works out great but man do I miss socializing at tge office. People definitely are the reason wfh sucks for me. This year I plan to move close to the office to work in the office all 5 days.

The isolation when working remotely full time, especially when most people are in an office.

See this recent thread for some insight: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20776655

The better coffee argument is moot if your office is in a city center ;)

Is it though? :D I prefer my own coffee over bought coffee 9 times out of 10. Not to mention the money saved.

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