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We need to adopt a no-commute culture (irishtimes.com)
182 points by rbanffy 42 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 206 comments



It seems to me that remote work does a whole hell of a lot to reduce CO2 emissions, so any company that claims to care about the environment and their future should really be doing all they can to make themselves as remote friendly as possible, especially now that technology is good enough to make it happen.

I've been working 100% remotely for a large company for a year and a half now. They shut down our office (and a bunch of others) to save money on real estate, but with software like Microsoft Teams (and I'm sure there are just as good alternatives, but this has a solid mobile app and Outlook integration, so it's pretty enterprise-friendly), it's not that hard to do.

We also VPN to the same network that we were on when we still had an office, so I still have access to everything we had and can remote into our other servers as needed, just as I could when I was at the office.

Obviously the environment is not a big factor to a lot of these companies, despite the lip service they may pay to it, but perhaps the government could provide incentives to facilitate the transition for several companies?

It really doesn't help that several of the biggest tech companies, which should be a model for how other companies could use tech for this benefit, have gone anti-remote in recent years though. I think that's shown other companies "Well it doesn't work for them, so it can't work for us." and has done a lot of harm as well.


> so any company that claims to care about the environment and their future should really be doing all they can

The company that owns my office publicly boast about ecology and saving the planet all the time. Yet every single morning I come in to find the windows open and the heaters on, lights stay on all night, they heat the stairs to 30c degrees even though nobody ever use them, &c.

It's always the same shit, they talk the talk but never walk the walk. Apple doing everything in its power to not let you repair your devices, not even replace consumables, is a prime example of that. 0 companies really give a shit about ecology outside of PR moves.

Anyway, many people value office time to meet actual human beings. Commute isn't that bad if the public infrastructure is decent.


> It seems to me that remote work does a whole hell of a lot to reduce CO2 emissions

Remote work involves a hell of a lot of flying in my experience... How many car journeys do I have to have saved to pay for one flight to the office every now and again?


This is something I have some experience with. I work from home most of the time, except for travel across the US one week a month. I was concerned about my carbon footprint, so I ran some numbers. The result I got was that I was about 8% worse than someone with an uncongested 10-mile (one way) daily commute in a typical compact car. That guy driving a Ford Compensator thirty miles each way at peak hours is way worse. Nonetheless, I wish my number could be reduced still further.

The problem IMO is that too little work is truly remote. If the rest of your team is colocated somewhere else then you'll have to travel. If your team is spread all over but still relies on face to face meetings (e.g. planning sessions, "all hands" announcements, hackathons) then you'll still have to travel. If your job/role involves dealing with customers who aren't even slightly remote-friendly, you'll have to travel. If you're in or adjacent to academe, you'll have to travel to conferences. Most of these exceptions are not necessary. Unfortunately, most people and companies don't even try to avoid them. They just do what they've done, and the not-really-remote workers have to fly in.


> I work from home most of the time, except for travel across the US one week a month. The result I got was that I was about 8% worse than someone with an uncongested 10-mile (one way) daily commute in a typical compact car.

Are you sure about that? I'm curious about your numbers. This is 12 round-trip flights across the US a year, right? And I assume they're always on full flights (peak efficiency)?

From [1] (2013; maybe it's more efficient now), that's 2-3 tons of CO₂ per round-trip—so in your case, let's average and say about 25 tons/year.

The EPA [2] says "A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year."

That means your flying (1 person) is costing 543% as much as driving (1 car)? It's unfortunately not apples-to-apples, so I'm curious what your calculation was.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/sunday-review/the-biggest...

[2] https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-t...


Those 2-3 tons are the "warming equivalent", based on some multiplier that they don't specific (see the correction at the end of the article). The actual CO2 emitted by the flight is much lower, less than 200kg/passenger (EDIT: per leg).

The other estimates I've seen put flights as worse than cars, but not that bad.


If your measuring climate impact, then the "warming equivalent" is the correct metric and pure co2 is the wrong one. Am I misunderstanding what you're saying?


The problem is that we're comparing 2 numbers, one is "warming equivalent" and the other doesn't seem to be. We need to adjust one or the other, but which one we adjust shouldn't matter here.


No, it does matter, we should use Warming Equivalent. "Warming equivalent" is the correct metric. Warming equivalents are typically given in Tons CO2 equivalent. It's a way of converting methane and NO2 and other more powerful greenhouse gases to their CO2 equivalent. It's the standard metric anytime we're examining the climate impacts of actions.

In the case of gasoline powered cars, I believe they just put out CO2, the other components are pretty negligible. So you can directly compare the warming equivalent of planes to the pure CO2 of cars, it's a reasonable comparison.

It's worth double checking that last thing, it's been a minute since I looked at the numbers, but I'm about 85% sure of it.


Interesting... I just learned N2O is 300x worse than CO2. I don't know how to make a better comparison then. Some numbers I can find:

"Aircraft engine emissions are roughly composed of about 70 percent CO2, a little less than 30 percent H2O, and less than 1 percent each of NOx, CO, SOx, VOC, particulates, and other trace components including HAPs." [1]

For gasoline the ratio seems to be 51% CO2, 47% H2O, and 0.9% nitrogen oxides, and 1.3% other stuff (excludes nitrogen). [2]

Water vapor isn't considered to be relevant when calculating CO2 equivalents so we can ignore that. [3]

But I'm not sure how much the difference in NOx contribution is... given ground level emissions aren't the same as high-altitude and such.

On the face of it it seems unlikely to me that the non-CO2 components would tip things in the other direction, but I'd definitely welcome better numbers...

[1] https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/policy_guidance/env...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exhaust_gas#Spark-ignition_and...

[3] https://climatechangeconnection.org/emissions/co2-equivalent...


Oh wow, interesting. I was looking around and found another estimate that it's 1.4 tons (SFO/NYC round-trip).

I guess this is better (365% vs. 543%), but still looking much worse than driving?

[1] https://co2.myclimate.org/en/flight_calculators/new


I got about 1.3 tons for BOS<->SEA. Close enough I guess. For cars, start with

https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-t...

Look at the third answer down. The figures I cited earlier were based on about half that mileage per year, so that comes out to 2.3t. Lots of unit confusion here, but I think those both end up being metric tons and the daily commute is already worse than monthly air travel. Maybe that's all wrong, but the point I'm trying to focus on is that the need for regular long-distance travel severely erodes the environmental value of letting people work from home.


> that comes out to 2.3t

2.3t per year, not per month, though.


Ah, right you are. Now I'm really sad.


Okay, so to also summarize for anyone else reading, here's what's going on. The assumptions are:

- Using 261 gal gas/year (which 21.5 gal/month, or e.g. driving 2 × 15 mi/day at 41 mi/gal)

- 1 gal gas = 8.9kg CO₂ (resulting in 2.3 tons of CO₂/year)

In your case that's 15.6 tCO₂/year for flying, vs. 2.3 tCO₂/year for driving.

So, yeah... your flying footprint is 678% more than driving. i.e. you need to fly to work less often than once every 7 months in order for it to beat driving the route you had in mind.

Sorry for the bad news :( but yes, you're very much correct that this makes it even harder for remote work to be good, if you have to fly even twice a year.


> this makes it even harder for remote work to be good, if you have to fly even twice a year.

Well, he's working a continent away from his office. There are still infinite possibilities for remote work without having to travel 2500 miles for those occasional visits.


> If you're in or adjacent to academe, you'll have to travel to conferences.

I really think we should be working to change this - conferences are huge wastes of resources IMHO. I usually see a handful of inspiring talks, which could just as easily have been delivered as webinars (which would also allow asynchronous viewing, involving a wider potential audience).

Then again, I'm antisocial and terrible at "networking", so those aspects of conferences don't really appeal to me.


>Then again, I'm antisocial and terrible at "networking", so those aspects of conferences don't really appeal to me.

And, really, the "hallway track" is the value of going to conferences. For the most part, if someone just goes to a conference to sit in breakout sessions, they're probably better off just watching video of the sessions (if they were filmed) or a webinar version of the content.


I love going to conferences, even though I'm an introvert - some would even say a misanthrope. I just need time to recharge afterward. But the fact that some people enjoy them is far outweighed by both the environmental harm and the exclusionary aspect of requiring such travel. We need to figure out how to replicate that energy and easy discovery of like-minded people online. Even as a 30+ year online native myself, I don't quite see it yet.


Most people are social, even if they express it in different ways.

Virtual events are fine, as are watching videos. (In fact, for bigger events, I'll often watch the keynotes from my hotel room rather than packing myself into a room with 10,000 of my closest friends so I can watch the distant speaker projected on the screen.)

But it's a small subset of the experience of attending live.


Well put - that's exactly how I feel.


It's a huge problem that makes the hypocrisy argument palpable when thousands of climate scientists fly across the world every year for conferences on climate change. Teleconferences should be a thing for nearly everyone but the presenters, but it'll never happen because of prestige and elitism.


This hypocrisy is a reoccurring issue with most people who favor coercive political solutions to problems instead of voluntary and cooperative ones.

When people make arguments like "taxes should be higher" or "air travel should be more expensive", they almost always mean "for other people".

People need to eat their own cooking or they instantly lose all credibility, even when the facts are on their side.


No, they mean "for all", rather than just for the patsies sacrificing themselves so that others can just consume more.


I'm not sure there is hypocrisy if they believe gathering together will ultimately lead to solutions that lower future carbon emissions.

It could be viewed as an investment in future lower emissions, the same way spending money on R&D today can improve profits in the future.

Even voluntary and cooperative solutions would benefit from the type of coordination an in-person conference affords.


Taxes aren’t coercive (unless you’re a Galt’s Gulch Randian, I suppose), and I’m sorry, but would you rather deal with driving a more efficient car or millions of immigrants trying desperately to escape drought, war, and famine after it’s too late? If climate change really is the looming disaster it seems to be (and I personally think we’re fucked), then yeah, sorry, governments might have to do some things you find unpleasant. That’s the price we pay for unfettered consumption for generations. It might be time to pay the piper.

Also, it’s really hard to live in the modern world without using fossil fuel-based comforts. You can criticize air travel and still travel to a climate conference. It doesn’t make climate change any less real. You can maybe argue that people are hypocrites, but so what? The ice caps don’t give a shit. And maybe that meeting of scientists in-person is what it takes to fix a really big global problem. Flying to Asia every year for a vacation definitely won’t do that, though.


I never argued that climate change isn't real or that nothing should be done about. My point was simply that when people behave in a hypocritical manner, they tend to lose all credibility even when they're right, and they hurt the credibility of those around them who are making the same argument. It's like an anti-halo effect.

Every Hollywood actor demanding we take action on climate change while flying around in a private jet weakens the argument for real action on climate change. It makes the issue look like a vanity cause even though it's not.

You see the same thing on taxes. You've got guys like Bernie Sanders out there demanding we all pay more taxes while he himself has a very low rate of charitable giving by most standards. He could also opt to voluntarily pay more taxes right now. Of course he doesn't, which again undercuts any broader point he may have.

Human beings are hardwired to be turned off by hypocrisy.


> I work from home most of the time, except for travel across the US one week a month.

I've worked full time remote for over 10 years for different companies and never had to fly that much. I've always flown once or maybe twice a year at most. I think this is more the norm, at least for software engineering and operations.

> The problem IMO is that too little work is truly remote.

You follow this with some specific examples, most of which would require travel even if you were in an office. I don't agree on those you list as requiring face-to-face meetings, they are all fully capable of being done remotely. IMO the only ones that require you on site are one where you physically interact with things/people.


> they are all fully capable of being done remotely.

They certainly are, as long as others cooperate. Good for you if you've never been on a team where people resist and sabotage any such effort. I don't see any particular reason to believe your shorter experience is more representative than my longer one.


> your shorter experience

I had assumed I had the longer experience as most people I've discussed it with have only worked a few years remotely and you didn't specify.

I've only worked one job that was part-time remote where people weren't cooperative with it. But that was mostly the results of one manager who was generally bad, so I didn't take it as remote specific. The other 3 companies where I worked full time remote were all good experiences w/ no one sabotaging things. Solving the issue with one place with the bad manager was pretty simple though... I just found a new job where it wasn't an issue.

Anymore I only apply to places that are either fully remote or advertise themselves as remote friendly with a remote-first culture and it hasn't been an issue.


> travel across the US one week a month

That seems excessive. I work remote and only have to fly in once or twice a year for a few days at a time, maybe a week.

Do you have an idea of why they don't go all the way and let you WFH on the same basis as I do?


I kind of alluded to this in the first couple of reasons why people have to travel. Some companies, including this one, just don't have remote-friendly work flows/habits. Too many hallway conversations with outcomes that are never recorded because nobody can bother. Too many people who allow in-person interruptions to take unqualified preference over response to remotes. Too many people mumbling and/or talking over each other in meetings, so the remote has trouble following or breaking in. Inadequate videoconference and VPN infrastructure making that worse. Too many high-level planning or review meetings that are explicitly in-person for no good reason at all.

I could go on much longer. ;) The point is that accommodating remote workers requires significant cultural change, and people in mostly-colocated groups resist it. It's much easier for all-remote teams, somewhere in between for teams that are still mostly colocated but have already been "broken in" by someone like me. My last company was much better at this, though worse in other ways. Since there are only about five teams worldwide doing storage at the scale we are, and I want to keep doing that, it's a the "price of admission" and overall I think it's worthwhile. But it's still unnecessary and I'm still sad that it's not improving faster - for myself and others in similar situations.


> Too many people mumbling and/or talking over each other in meetings, so the remote has trouble following or breaking in. Inadequate videoconference and VPN infrastructure making that worse.

This, in spades. Thanks for taking the time to explain in more detail.


The first step is to make "kinda remote" way more normalized and pervasive ... then we can work on "truly remote".


I'm OK with that, as long as we realize that in the short term "kinda remote" might actually be worse than status quo due to long-distance-travel requirements. We're discussing the numbers in another sub-thread to see how much.


I'm a bit skeptical that remote/distributed work (as opposed to just WFH instead of going into a local office every day) nets out to be all that green. It's hard for me to factor out travel that would have happened anyway from travel that's specifically related to being on a distributed team. But I probably do something like 10K miles/year flying that wouldn't exist if the team were co-located.


> Remote work involves a hell of a lot of flying in my experience.

I don't think that 's true in general though. Is that even remote work? There are now hundreds of companies who only meet for yearly retreats. and these are optional.


Even the most remote of the remote workers I know will go into the office at least once a quarter or so. Four trans-oceanic flights is surely going to outweigh all but the most extreme car commutes.


> Even the most remote of the remote workers I know will go into the office at least once a quarter or so.

I've been working remotely for 5 years and have never once seen the faces of my co-workers. We don't do video chats. We don't do in person visits. We do everything by voice and text.

I wouldn't even consider myself the "most remote of the remote workers." We still do daily standups and quarterly all hands meetings.


> have never once seen the faces of my co-workers

Did you do your interview by text chat?


Phone call and a take home test.


Wow well I don't doubt you but that's pretty unusual.


I'm remote in the UK. For some years I went to the office once a year, all my other work (apart from conferences, which I would still have done if I was office based) has been remote.

All depends on the type of work, the team setup and the company culture.


That's curious, this hasn't been my experience. Why are they needed physically at the office so often?


To make in-person connections and to present and teach in-person. I don't think it's particularly contentious to say that these things often work better in-person, even as someone who thinks remote work is best and has been doing it my whole career. Once a quarter also probably doesn't seem like a lot to people who are going to a conference every month or so anyway.


A conference every month! How do you get any work done?

By teaching, do you mean workshops/classes? We generally mentor people, but never actually tried teaching. But do most developers in your company teach?


I don't do that many conferences, but I know people who do. They do work at the conferences around meeting people and presenting their work. I find I'm more productive straight after a conference.

Mentoring people, yes. For very difficult topics that's definitely easier in person. Everyone teaches to some degree yeah. How do you level people up without teaching them?


Most of the teaching at the office involved the regular processes, like giving appropriate tasks, recommending learning materials, and collaboratively reviewing work (their and ours). And of course, answering their questions.

I never tried to teach, or have been taught, something like a course (even a mini-course) in anything in the workplace. But then again I don't believe most developers are qualified to do that (I don't mean "credentialed").


This has been my experience as well. The amount of flying done by most remote workers is astounding. If anything, remote workers have a bigger carbon footprint than your typical commuter from all the flying.

The other thing I see is a lot of remote workers moving to very sparsely populated areas that are cheap to live in, but where they end up driving 40 minutes for groceries.

There are lots of great benefits to remote work, but environmentalism (in most cases) is not one of them.


I (and everyone in my office, except the director, who flew once to go to corporate headquarters) have flown zero times in a year and a half of working remotely. It's not a guarantee that remote workers will necessarily do a bunch of flying.

It depends on the culture of the workplace. We are able to get plenty done with conference calls and email.

I can't speak for the management and executives above the director, though. They might do a decent amount of travel. But there's about 200 employees that aren't doing any travel at all for work, and only a handful of people in management above them.

And from what I hear, it sounds like a lot of the other departments in the corporation don't do a whole lot of travel either.


Agreed although, in a lot of cases, remote workers travel a lot not because they're remote (though that may contribute) but because people who travel around a lot anyway for their job are often a good candidate to work remotely some or all of their time. If you're only going to randomly come into the office for a day here and a day there anyway, it's not a big step to just go fully remote with, possibly, some F2F team meetings now and then.


I'm curious, why are those remote workers flying? I've started working remotely this year, and only flown once, at the start of the project.


Are you not flying anyway, to go to conferences and things?


A lot of developers really don't travel a lot for work if they don't speak to customers much. And it's not uncommon that a developer/sysadmin may get to go to one conference a year or something like that.

Certainly some people I work with, whether developers or other roles, are traveling all the time. But it's not everyone.


No, I go to big conferences less than once a year. I've lived in multiple EU countries, and never worked anywhere where a common developer went to conferences regularly. Didn't even realize that was a "thing" except for a few people who were known to give talks everywhere.


That has NOT been my experience, but mileage varies.

I've worked for a virtual company -- no offices anywhere, everyone works at home -- for 12 years. The developers almost NEVER travel.

The owner and I used to be on the road quite a bit (just like most software firms) -- say, through 2010 -- but then it seemed like all our clients and prospects kinda had the penny drop: they didn't NEED US on site to do implementations. GoToMeeting or Skype or WebEx or whatever was entirely sufficient, and saved a shitton of money too.

I haven't visited a client site in over 3 years. I see my boss at 2 conferences a year. HE makes a few more trips -- partner conferences, a few sales trips -- but nothing like what it was in 07-10.


Was this at a 100% remote company, or were you a remote worker at an in-office company?

I've worked remote 15+ years and that much flying is abnormal in my experience. Some places do quarterly, but I found that rare too. A lot of them do an annual retreat, but it's often optional. Or sometimes we would do a mini-meetup at a developer conference.

It also depends on the position. Most of the flying was for brainstorming sessions in the leadership / project team, but most of the team didn't need to be involved in those.

I will also say I've always interviewed over either phone or google hangouts and I've never had to meet in-person before the offer. I've sometimes gone years without meeting the people I work with in-person.


For many of us, remote work means staying home all day and working. (Or sometimes, traveling somewhere nice and working.) But how many flights and how often is up to you. In my case, it's just 2-3 per year... and I would have probably made those flights anyway for a holiday.


It seems like a hybrid model would be ideal: teams that work from home in a metro area, with one or two "meeting days" a week at an office (which can be 20-30% the size it would be with no work from home).

This is something companies could incrementally adopt with existing employees.


I think it depends on one's personality. I worked for some years using that hybrid model and really didn't like it. Now I work 99.9% from home and vastly prefer it.

My only real gripe is that teleconferencing for meetings just doesn't work that well, because I find it hard to hear people that are not very close to the microphone, and background noise from the open-plan office in which the non-remote team works is very disruptive at times.

Well, and that sometimes remote workers are sort-of-not-quite second-class citizens, probably because we aren't in the office for people to see every day.


A fully loaded aircraft gets pretty good fuel economy per person, at least as good as a Prius. I've seen figures from 50-100mpg depending on aircraft and of course how fully loaded it is.

So it's basically like driving a little less than the flight distance.


Right, but (from what I remember from an article I read years ago) emissions from aircraft are worse, pound for pound of CO2, than those of a car because they're deposited directly into the upper atmosphere as opposed to at ground level. I don't remember exactly why, but it's worse because of its location rather than the actual amount.


About the distance of the flight.


About the distance of the flight by bus. How does the efficiency of a car compares to a bus/plane? (Both are roughly on the same mark, larger planes are usually more efficient.)

If you commute 10km each way every working day, you'll move nearly 3,000km on a year.


This is in the current remote work environment. If we (the royal we) could encourage a 3 or 4 day remote in and a single day commute (preferably on a bus, but that would be too much to ask for), it would still be a local community and not make air travel necessary. There can be varying shades of remote work, even allowing for a weekly stand up =)


[deleted]


> I suspect a plane puts out less CO2 per person than a car going to and from the same place.

Err... yeah... except I don't drive from the UK to San Francisco.

The relevant comparison is a twenty minute drive a day, vs flying inter-continental a few times a year.


Sure, this can be done eco-friendlily or not. If you prioritize co2 emissions in the remote setup, you can decide that thete will be no flying.


If you work remote anyway, take the train! (only partly joking)


I've thought about this, the problem is the cost. My trip would cost 3-5 times more, which is hard to justify to the company. They'll probably just tell me they'll pay for those "CO2 compensation programs".


There should simply be a heavy tax on all presence-required jobs, payable by the company. Suddenly, as soon as there is monetary incentive, things will work quite fine remotely, "concerns" be damned


There is a monetary incentive: owning or leasing office space comes at a premium expense.


That's far from enough IME. And a remote employee might still need some place other than their home sofa to work so that cost isn't automatically removed just by moving people out of the "one office."


> heavy tax on all presence-required jobs

It's called a carbon tax -- if you tax jet fuel, gasoline and coal-based electricity for office a/c equally, the invisible hand of company bean counters and employees will figure out the low-carbon compromise.


That's a great way to lose tons of manufacturing, skilled craftsmanship, assembly, repair, and service sectors jobs along with many people in the arts, cinema, music, and... well almost everything but coding, finance, and the CAD parts of engineering.


Came here to say the same thing. There remain a plurality of jobs that literally require physical access to tools, systems, cash registers, customers, etc.

I agree that where possible, remote should be allowed/encouraged. I also think that for roles where that can't work, we should consider 4 day work weeks, or other non-commute or less commute strategies. But, to a great extent we are not going to eliminate the in-person nature of working with other people, and we probably shouldn't aim to all live in little bubbles.

Source: I have been full time remote for 7 years. I estimate it saves me ~25k/year in direct and indirect costs + time.


From the employee side, an easy-to-use calculator for commuting expenses could help. The monetary incentive is there for choosing a remote position, but people don't always know what it is, especially with car commuting.


From the employee side, there should not be an extra cost to pay. The problem is with companies and bosses wanting people to come to the office. That is what needs to be fixed, therefore the company needs to be taxed, not the employee. Taxing the employee just makes shitty underpaid jobs even worse, no upside and maybe increased unemployment as a downside


One of the things economics is pretty sure about nowadays is that it doesn't matter who you tax, it matters who is more flexible. If employers can fire you and hire someone to replace you easily they'll be able to pass on most of the cost of the tax. If you could have your pick of jobs you can make your employer pay most of the new tax even if technically it's a tax on employees.

Ask essentially any at least minimally competent expert in economics and they'll tell you it doesn't matter who hands the money to the government (although they might call it the relative elasticity of supply and demand dictating tax incidence). They may all be wrong, but your phrasing gives me the impression you haven't considered this and came up with a good counterargument.


It doesn't have to be as extreme as 100% remote. Most office jobs would be ok with a 3/2 split between in office and WFH. And everyone doing those days WFH would make a massive immediate difference in CO2 and other air pollution. Also less traffic on the roads. Government could easily encourage this with tax benefits for companies doing this. To fight climate change, I would prioritize this above any EV rebate or EV related program. This is such an easy and immediate win for climate change and reducing traffic. Even those not concerned about climate change can get behind reducing traffic.


It seems to me that remote work does a whole hell of a lot to reduce CO2 emissions

Is that really true?

When my wife started working from home, our utility bills went way up. Still need to heat/cool the place, lights are on, water is being used in the washroom and kitchen.

It's probably far less efficient to have 1,000 employees all using utilities in their own homes than have them all in a handful of buildings.


There's a good chance your home is more energy-efficient than an office building. This can go either way, and perhaps modern office buildings would win, but my experience with ridiculous behavior around heating and aircon provides a counterbalance. As for water use, I think people drink and use the restroom at the same rate, regardless of whether they're at home or in the office, so the only difference here is who's footing the bill - which is irrelevant in terms of emission reduction.

On top of commute, if you work in an office, you also probably eat out or take delivery - both being arguably much more wasteful than eating at home.


Don't forget to account for the total lifecycle in a building. Companies will fit out a new office space with company branding, furniture, etc. I suspect this happens far more often than myself making equivalent changes to my home's interior design. Which is to say, I don't move houses much and I'm not in the habit of arbitrarily rearranging partition walls.


> It seems to me that remote work does a whole hell of a lot to reduce CO2 emissions,

Heating or cooling your home can easily more than offset the emissions associated with driving. E.g. My car might consume 4 kwh round trip (20 miles); that's about an hour of running a typical home air conditioner.


Offices have to be heated and cooled too.


Yes, but with high people density, it is much more efficient.


When I go to work I have a 40-50min train commute each way. I get to the office around 10-10:15. I make a coffee and basically just check slack and email until my daily 10:30am meeting. Im not really productive until about 11am and even then I eat lunch around 12:30, usually with co-workers, so I can't really get into a long productive zone until after lunch. This on top of your typical distracting open office plan.

When I work from home I basically wake up, make coffee, and start working around 9am. I can actually get something done before my meeting. I probably put in more work time from home than in the office.

Personally I prefer a balance between both because I enjoy the social aspect of coming into the office. But I'm happy that I have the flexibility to work from home when I want.


My commute is 1 hour drive daily (each way). The traffic takes a toll on me - hard to be energetic when I had to deal with 1 hour of stop-and-go nonsense.


I traded your commute for the parent poster's (train) commute several years ago. It's SO much less stressful to sit on a train, even when it's crowded, than it is to drive in heavy traffic. Plus, you can snooze, read, play phone games, watch Netflix, or even do work!

Driving to work just frankly sux. I will never do it again.


I used to go to my coworking spot by bus, and it was impossible to work. I had to sit down or stand up in a crowded, loud bus for 45 minutes twice a day. Since then I ditched coworking, work from home and I get my social infusion when I do sports.

Trains are cool though.


I think you illustrate the point. Find out what works for a person in a given situation. It can take some trial and error, but it's really worth it when you find your happy routine.


A fantastic investment I've made for my unavoidable commute is buying a newer model car with automatic/adaptive cruise control. Most newer Hondas, Toyotas, Subarus, have lane keeping, automatic braking, and adaptive cruise. It makes stop and go traffic a lot less stressful.

They're not quite at Tesla levels of autonomy, e.g. most of them don't do lane centering and just bounce between the lanes if left alone (and don't do any lane keeping at low speeds), and they won't automatically accelerate when they bring themselves to a stop, but still, it helps a lot.

I rationalize my commute because it's the only time of the day I can binge-listen to podcasts.


Isn't it harder to learn from others if you're working remotely? I don't mean to say that it can't happen, but I imagine that overhearing complaints from coworkers about their problems or them sharing knowledge with you is more likely to happen when you're physically in the same area.

I do think that remote working should be more common, but it's important to think about the things we might lose if it became the norm.


Learning in a physical office seems easier for the person being taught because it's accomplished at the expense of a priority interrupt on the part of the person doing the teaching. You hit a snag in your work, you get up, walk to my desk, and tap me on the shoulder. I help you out, then return to pick up the pieces of my concentration.

When working remotely, you hit a snag, put a "@here anyone available to help me out with XYZ?" message in Slack, and do some stretches by your computer, wherever that may be. Eventually, someone surfaces from their zone, sees your cry for help, and gets you unstuck. No one need suffer.


But it's not just that. When you're in a physical office you can see people's workflow to a degree. You can see how somebody gets up to take breaks, maybe you'll get a glimpse on how their windows are laid out, maybe you'll see some useful tool being used you didn't know about etc. There are a lot of things people do that they themselves don't think anything of that can help others improve. If you require the teaching side to actively share what they know then a lot of these things are going to get lost.


I work remotely full time. Recently I’ve been running Twitch-like live programming sessions with an audience of coworkers. They get to see my workflow and interact with me as I build something from nothing. These sessions have become quite popular, and accomplish the sort of learning you describe without any of the pitfalls.

Perhaps one day I may become a Twitch celebrity due to my live programming prowess. What say you, chat?


That's a nice coincidence. What actually made me think of this in the first place was video game live-streaming. I improved much more by watching someone play a bit than reading about it or trying it just on my own. That made me think of the same thing in the workplace. I think being able to see live programming is really useful in the same manner.


I've been utilizing the VS Code "Live Share" for remote paired programming. It's been a great help in getting that mentorship aspect.


I have remove coworkers, and we learn from each other all the time -- it's mostly through code reviews, design discussions, and pair working on tough problems. We also recommend resources to each other when we find useful stuff (books, sites, etc).


I've seen this too. It definitely takes remote workers much longer to on-board and get up to speed. And once they are up to speed they tend to impart much less of their knowledge to new employees coming in. Remote work seems to work much better for more experienced employees who aren't doing a ton of collaborative work.


I worked in an all-remote company for years early in my career, and while I did learn a lot, I was kind of surprised how much more quickly I learned new things when I shifted to an in-office work environment. Somehow just being able to sit next to someone at a desk helps. But I think more than that, most people have a much higher empathy and willingness to help a person they can see and touch than someone who is just a name on the chat, or an occasional video presence. It’s that intangible social factor that I think made the biggest difference.


I've found it's so easy to start a slack call with my coworkers (especially when they too are working remotely and don't need to find a room to start the conversation).

There's only been a few days out of the year that I ever overhear anything where I could be useful or someone would be useful to a conversation I was having with someone else.

Steep price to pay.


No doubt a lot of things are harder when working remotely, but bear in mind that remote workplace culture is still nonexistent while office culture counts 2 centuries. We will need to change some habits and develop new sensitivities. The writing is on the wall that remote will only keep expanding, as the scifi visions of the past suggested


I telecommute every Wednesday and attend a lot of meetings in a global company virtually. If every attendee is telecommuting, it works well. If some are physically present, sotto voce comments are my nemesis. Folks in the room can hear them just fine, and frequently they are hilarious (judging by the laughter). For the distant attendee, the microphones do not work well enough yet. Once that is tidied up, I can imagine much more adoption of no-office corporations.


I'm not sure what the problem with microphones / voice transmission is in 2019.

Using Zoom and other such platforms (across different companies, computers, meeting rooms) the result is almost always a distorted, low bit, overly compressed sound. Plus crazy 2-5 sec latency in some cases.

One would expect this to be solved in an age we stream 4K movies...


As someone who worked on videoconferencing for a while, there are four answers: multiple microphones, echo cancellation, background noise, and network issues.

If everyone in a conference room wore individual headsets it would be great. But when you have 3 different mics along the table all of which are picking up different audio signals (to make sure people at both ends can be heard), you need to subtract background noise of construction and hallway chit-chat and people typing on their laptops, and also subtract everything coming out of the speakers (which has different delays in each microphone and is distorted by both the speaker response and microphone response)... and then it's 2:30 and your office upload link is saturated because everyone's starting a new remote meeting uploading HD video simultaneously?

That's why.

But the main culprits behind the "distorted, overly compressed" sound are echo cancellation and then noise cancellation. It's insanely hard. It's actually not low-bit at all, it just winds up sounding like that in the end. (Play with a noise removal filter in Audacity and you'll realize it will produce similar-sounding audio.)


The true solution to remote conferencing is, everybody stays at their desk. A group in a conference room loses so much for everybody - others have trouble with who's talking, faces are tiny and far away, noise cancellation in a big room is hellacious.

Stay at your desk and join the meeting. Everybody can share a document, look at any document share whenever they like, look straight at the camera with good focus, sound wonderful with a headset mic. Everybody knows who's talking instantly, with their name associated with the voice and face.

The 'conference room' idea is a terrible one, and should quietly die.


Everyone always talks about videoconferencing and cameras but do you really need to see faces?

At my company we just dropped the cameras. We can still share screen if needed but we didn't gain much of value from seeing faces and the occasional bandwidth issues mostly vanished. I don't think anyone misses the video.


> do you really need to see faces?

The research I've seen points to a huge, unambiguous, flashing YES.

The fact is that a majority of communication is nonverbal and emotional. And this is just as true in business meetings as it is in your personal relationships.

Video allows us to better understand when someone is done talking and we can speak without interrupting. It allows us to better understand if someone is being intentionally disrespectful or merely clueless. It lets us see if someone is deeply concerned or merely mildly interested. It lets us see if someone is being silent because they're zoning out or because they're furious but resigned.

All these cues (and hundreds more) allow conversations to 1) proceed far more smoothly and efficiently, packing more productivity into a single meeting, and 2) avoid misunderstandings which can be affect both the material outcomes of meetings as well as damage interpersonal relationships.

Many people think video is unimportant, but that's because when it's lacking, we make assumptions about people on the other end for lack of evidence -- assumptions that can turn out to be wildly untrue. Because we have no immediate evidence to the contrary, we assume we're not missing anything. This is why research is so important -- it shows that plenty of normal human communication tasks often perform far better with video, and more frequently fail without it.


The cues only work if they're delivered in a timely manner, though. I would argue highly compressed and delayed video is actually worse and more frustrating than having no video at all.

This is one of the few arguments against remote work I actually agree with: streaming video technology still isn't good enough to replace in person haptic communication.


As its done now, yes streaming video is problematic. I worked at Sococo, and back when we made our own solution we had good low-latency video. Careful bandwidth control and stream-sharing did a lot to make it more useful.


In your opinion, is there still space for a competing low-latency video teleconferencing application in the market? None of the apps I've tried get video right. I haven't heard of Sococo before, though. I'll definitely check them out.


Maybe, for some people, but definitely not me. Maybe I'm just weird, but I hate video conferencing so much. It makes me feel uneasy and being watched. When I'm in audio only mode I can express myself much better. And this is not just a "getting used to it" thing. I've been doing it for more than a year now.

I think video should be opt-in, but unfortunately I'm forced to turn on the camera at work.


If you know everyone well, sure. But often videoconferencing in larger institutions involves at least some strangers.


Does it really matter?

I've had call conferences with people I've never seen, and it really hasn't been a problem.


With a group in a conference room, it can be hard to tell who's talking. Because you don't know their voice. Or there are several people, and you don't know which new voice is who's.


Oh yeah, conference rooms are annoying (for multiple reasons). We don't really do that, everyone participates using their own device, and the tools then show who's speaking.


... so? I work in an org that's spread across the US. I work with people on the opposite side of the country who I've never met in person and I have no idea what they look like. I also don't care.


You don't care who's talking?


I don't care what they look like. After talking to them once or twice on the phone, they're completely recognizable by voice alone, even on our terribly antiquated conferencing system.


I had a guy I've worked with for the past year finally put a profile picture on his account, and I saw his face for the first time. Was a bit of a shock, since it wasn't what I pictured from his voice. But it's no big deal I pictured someone that looked a bit different.

I barely think about what people look like now at my job, even the people I used to work with every day in person (when we still had an office); they're mostly just distinctive voices to me now.


If the video works well, I think it can be useful, especially when there's only a few people per camera -- watching people's (well synchronized) faces while they speak helps with comprehension, and watching faces while you speak helps confirm if what you said was understood. If the video isn't working well, it's definitely distracting and not very useful.


I'm honestly flabbergasted that so many people on HN take video as a given. I don't even have a webcam at work, and I have no desire at all to get one.


Also, some of the conferencing tools take it for granted. My work laptop has a camera, and it always activates by default when we start a call, and I have to manually turn the video feed off every time. Browser asks for permission to use the camera, but if I deny it, the application refuses to work at all!


Except that then I'm surrounded at my desk trying to concentrate and work while everyone's talking on their headsets around me. Ugh.

No: if you want to be part of a meeting, everybody should be going to conference rooms or phone booths.


Everyone should have an office. If you go remote, that kinda becomes affordable.


No kinda about it. The cost savings is huge. I'm cheering for the bean counters to overrule the PHBs on this one.


A lot of people spend a large chunk of their days on the phone. Having to find a room for every call isn't practical. Companies should make an effort to segregate roles that involve lots of phone time with roles that tend to value quiet. But unless a company is giving everyone an office it's probably not reasonable to expect people not to be talking around you.


One of the teams I work with has a rule that everyone is in a conference room together or everyone is on their own laptop.

It's a pretty good rule though it's probably harder to convince people to follow it if it's a single person who is somewhere else.


It would seem that much of this problem could be solved with microphone arrays and software. Bandwidth isn't that much a limitation, but latency is.

I'm not sure of the state of the art in 3d positioned sound in a data format, but you could do that pretty easily.

I thought of a startup back in 2016 for selling auto-transcripting, voice-signature tracking, meeting logging microphone arrays for businesses. Never had the capital to do it.


Beamforming is actually already implemented in commercial products (both for microphones and speakers). You can look at the phones from a company called Invoxia. I know voice-signature tracking was also in R&D a few years ago so it might be available too


> much of this problem could be solved with microphone arrays and software

That's how it's done already. Beamforming mics have been around for a few years. They're definitely better, but still far from perfect. Because signal processing just isn't perfect. Incredibly smart engineers are doing their best on this stuff.


Was just in a Zoom call that covered US, Europe and Japan. Didn't notice any delays and sound was clear. We were using screen sharing but not video.


This is absolutely incredible, unless it was a very presentational meeting. I can't remember ever having an overseas conversation without there being perceptible delay, regardless of transmission medium.

You need under 20ms latency to be truly imperceptible, and probably under 150ms to avoid scenarios where people are often talking over each other. I wonder what their routes look like to make this possible?


It's pretty much not possible. Their perception of delay is just not that sensitive.

A transcontinental link might just be fast enough for 150ms, but stack on that all the buffering, codec delay, etc. and it's night impossible to have imperceptible delay.


I'm not saying that there were no delays, just that they didn't stand out as interfering with the discussion.

This is a group that has worked together for a long time, 30 years for some of us. I'm guessing there is an element of knowing each other's speech patterns from talking face-to-face that will help with knowing when to contribute.


bandwidth != latency


Yes, in particular, you can't just buffer ahead with a voice call, which is something you can do with a Netflix stream.


They can suffer orthogonally, but when it comes to realtime, how much bandwidth you have compared to the data you want to carry absolutely matters for the latency you'll see.

If a 10K "hello" voice sample (that takes 2 secs to be spoken) needs to pass through a 1Kbps bandwidth line, then it would have lotsa latency.

In any case, we stream 4K movies with not much buffering (as evident by the ease of skipping ahead at random points). One would expect better audio latency based on that.

And we also stream 4K video games as video streams (or Google claims so).


To be fair, latency isn't a problem at all for streaming 4K movies.


The funny part is that mic-ing a room is a solved problem. It just doesn't look invisible enough for "enterprise" deployments.


Can you elaborate on that?


A typical boardroom running remote video chats in any corp. buildings I've been in usually get outfitted by Cisco or someone and want something like this that ties everything together in a nice, neat little package with terrible microphones:

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fw...

A lot of pro-audio companies also make boardroom devices but there are huge compromises because of the form factor—usually companies want their audio to be as invisible as possible.

That and acoustic treatments. So many "teleconference" rooms are half glass. That's going to add extra noise. Hell for a 20-person meeting you might do a lot better with a few SM57's slung from the ceiling or standing on the desk and a few baffles.

Pitching that would probably be disappointing, though.


It's a no-sell because in-person offices are still the main push and people want to be able to enjoy the slick meeting room thing. If remote work was pushed to the fore / was the main effort, I think they'd care less.


Big giant plus one on this whole comment


How about treating commute time as hours on the job? It's not free time for you. So if an employer feels that it's very important to see your face in person, they should compensate for that privilege. And yes, commute should factor in as overtime as well.

Imho economic incentive is best incentive. If employers saved money by not paying you to sit in a car 10 hours a week, it should make a compelling argument to try minimize commutes.

It's a shame society can't bill them for the emissions & congestion & noise & other harms too.


Speaking of incentive, though, this sets up a bizarre incentive to live further from the office, rather than closer. Right now avoiding a long commute is one of the reasons people are willing to pay more to live efficiently (closer to the office). It's also why companies are more willing to spend more to be in the middle of a city - it helps them attract talent.


It would probably balance out with companies not wanting to hire workers who have longer commutes.


In that case would a standard part of the interview process become asking the candidate for their home address and calculate how much their commute will cost the company? (Assuming that some companies still have offices and want staff to show up.) Would it be a valid factor in making a hire/no-hire decision? Or picking one candidate over another? What happens if you move during your employment? Would you have to ask for permission since it's going to cost the company money? Or potentially be fired because your commute becomes too expensive?


Why would you not treat your commute as time on the job?

People just trade their time for money, preferring to live farther away from work


If you're not clocking time, it doesn't matter.

In Europe, tracking hours is common and in many cases mandatory. Unfortunately you can't clock in the moment you step out of your door for your regular commute. So it's not counting towards your contractual hours or overtime compensation.

If you actually track the hours and include commute, the incentive should change for the employer to minimize your commute time (because it costs them money). Of course there's a risk that they'd try to weasel out of it by a corresponding reduction in your base salary, so some additional checks would be needed for this scheme to work.

I don't think people really want to trade time for money as much as they do when it comes to long commutes. I'm pretty sure a lot of people would choose shorter commute any time if given the choice, but right now the onus is on them to leave their nice home and find a more expensive (and probably tight) apartment in congested downtown if they want a shorter commute. It's all on them, and not on the employer to find a way to reduce commute.


The employer has an incentive to reduce commute times - when I was talking to recruiters I had a hard "_MUST_ be within a 30 minute walk, on a light rail line, pay X more, or 100% wfh" requirement. X was, for the market, a pretty high number.


We'd need to make "neighborhood of residence" or "commute time" a protected class... Or that will lead to minorities being legally discriminated against for living in poor neighborhoods.


It is treated as time when you are salaried.


The company I work for is distributed. We don't have a central office. I work from a shared office space and share a room with people in a variety of industries, and so I get my daily fix of "people" through that.

I'm also in the lucky position that I can work from home if I choose and in a particularly lucky position that I live on a boat and so am able to move to different towns or cities (in the UK) and work from there, which I've been doing over the course of the year. Currently my boat is moored right outside my office so have a 0 minute commute.

We have a daily standup where I get to talk to my colleagues, we have a monthly get-togther where we work together from a rented office and have a social time in the evening.

It's not for everyone but for me I can't imagine working in a different way.


> I work from a shared office space and share a room with people in a variety of industries, and so I get my daily fix of "people" through that.

I did the shared coworking space a lot. People are nice, but it's hard to have calls discussing PII with folks from different companies, even different industries, around. Plus I can't really build any shared commonality with them in a work sense.


Maan you make the best of it


Yeah I don't care for beaches in third world countries. This right here sounds like the life.


Optimizing my work-life to just sit at home alone all day sounds dystopian.

I like biking to work, and meet my colleagues and have some kind of social contact during the 8 hours. If anything, one could optimize for remote teams, not everyone has to be in the same building. And not all companies have to have their office in the same street down town.


You don't have to be alone! Coworking spaces are there. Personally, I hang out with my kid on my lunch break and that makes a big difference.


You’re not alone. Lots of people and lots of companies just like working in the same room. There’s nothing wrong with it, just as there’s nothing wrong with distributed companies and remote work. Choice is good :)


Governments should offer tax breaks for every employee that works remotely, part or full time. The more remote work, the bigger the tax breaks. In addition, for employees that could work remotely but don't, there should be additional taxes. With a structure like this, every company that can have remote workers will. When the idiot managers' ideas of having everyone onsite for their own perverse pleasure of feeling in control and no other reason (as there is no other reason for workers who can work remotely to be in the office) is overridden by financial (and indirectly environmental) concerns, the companies may finally find that many of these middle managers are disposable baggage that were just eating up resources for no reason. Even if they don't, at least perverse power of control will be removed from these people that generally just abuse it for their own perversions to the extreme detriment of the company.


Even though I commute to work on most days, my most important meetings are still videoconferences that span nine hours worth of timezones. I often join these from home anyway.

This is a bit paradoxical, if not downright stupid.


I truly believe that the only reason most SW developers aren't full time remote is because of some archaic sadistic attempt to maintain control over employees mentally and emotionally.


But I love my 20 minute bicycle ride to work. Gets the blood moving...


Working from home doesn't stop you from doing a 20 minute bycicle circuit around your house. The same can't be said about companies that have mandatory physical presence in the office. For example here in France public transport is partly stopped but my company still want to see my face at least 2 days per week, for no particular reason.


A plethora of local work-friendly coffee shops within biking distance keep me doing that as I work remotely.


If you work 100% remote with the option to fly to meetings, remember to buy carbon offsets for your flights. Its quite inexpensive.


Better yet, try to expense them so your employer knows at least one person isn't thrilled about contributing to climate disaster.


Thank you for the reminder! I think finding cost-effective ways to decrease the world's carbon production / offset it somehow is super important: interventions / offsets likely vary by order of magnitude when it comes to effectiveness.

Best resource I've found so far: https://founderspledge.com/stories/climate-change-executive-...


Maybe we could spin it in terms of how much a company is willing to pay to "smell" you - since for many knowledge worker jobs, that is maybe the only part of a person's presence that can't be communicated electronically. (For jobs with a physical component obviously that is different.)

So if a bay area company is willing to pay $180,000 but someone would be happy to do it from Minnesota for $70,000, maybe they are paying $70,000 for the work and $110,000 for the chance to smell the employee in person every day.

what do you think? Could that drive the point home?


It wouldn't work. Most of the companies are hiring on prestige more than anything. They want to show that they have "the best." If companies in SV were really price sensitive, this region wouldn't exist. You wouldn't see engineer compensation regularly over 300k/yr.

Companies here believe strongly that being together in person is very important and so is prestige. Nothing is going to change that anytime soon.


"How would you describe his 'whiff' factor?"

"Moderate. I think he'd rock the boat a little with the local team"

IT/Dev is the only white collar professional field where you can make this joke, too. I can't imagine lawyers rocking up to court in a baggy Aerosmith t-shirt and reeking of grease and pepperoni.


I am hugely in favour of remote work and, in fact, work remotely from a field in the middle of Ireland (so it could help with rural depopulation as well) but it's also worth noting that building a decent bike network - like the Greater Dublin Area Cycle Network, which was supposed to be started in 2010, would do a lot to address this too.

Of course, the source is the IrishTimes and Ireland has pathetic provision for cycling (aside from the odd greenway which is great for recreation but not transport).

Dublin seems hellbent on being 20 years behind other cities.


I was also going to note that this article is in the Irish Times, so a lot of the author's perspective is based on that country.

In Ireland, there's far less commuting than in the US simply due to the size of the country, and the Irish economy has a different mix of sectors than the US, so the types of jobs are different.

You can tell from the fact that the author targets commuting as a greenhouse gas source that he's talking about commuting by other means than walking. 44% of Ireland's population lives in a single city, so "going to work" may well consist of walking or public transportation.

He makes a number of points which probably only apply to the situation in Ireland, and which would be impossible in the US (despite the enthusiasm on HN) because of the size of the country, the types of employment available, and the fact that the mix of people in the US is simply socially different from Irelend.

Offsetting greenhouse gas use in Ireland by working from home or a shared workspace may well be a workable proposition in Dublin, but it's a complete impossibility in the US, for very many reasons.

I wish it was otherwise, but the US and its economy are built around use of vehicles... it's a big country.


I have the benefit of dual perspectives, having lived my first 30 years in the US (California) and my most recent 7 here in Ireland.

Ireland and the US are both quite auto-dependent. Commute times are similar

44% is only true if looking at the broadest possible definition of Dublin, and most of those places are not well-served by transit, bike infra, etc.

https://www.visualcapitalist.com/average-commute-u-s-states-...

https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-cp6ci/p6c...

Most people do it by car, too, though not quite as many as the US (63%) https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-cp6ci/p6c...

The US is indeed low density, but this is generally _because_ it's built around vehicles, not because the country is big. The older cities were built before cars and exhibit pretty high densities.

The density of the country as a whole doesn't really matter, anyway. After all, it's not like someone said "we just added Alaska as a state, let's start downzoning Los Angeles for lower density".

"Offsetting greenhouse gas use in Ireland by working from home or a shared workspace may well be a workable proposition in Dublin, but it's a complete impossibility in the US"

This is surprising considering how many of my colleagues work remotely from the US.


I've worked at home since October of 2001, with a brief 6-month interlude in 2004 when I joined a startup that had space in a high-tech incubator near my house. We quickly realized the office served no purpose, so we went virtual.

For the last 12 years, I've worked for another 100% virtual company. I have 3 co-workers I've never even SEEN in person. I see my boss -- the company owner and the person i work most with -- in person only about 2 times a year, at the two big industry conferences we do.

My wife works for a conventional company in downtown Houston. We live close to downtown, so it makes the most sense for her to take the bus. It's just as fast, and much lower hassle, than driving. Her employer pays for her pass.

As a consequence, we have only one car. This is nearly unheard of for upper-middle-class Americans outside of a few very concentrated urban areas (ie, more than Houston -- think NYC, Washington DC, Chicago) with more substantial and pervasive mass transit.

And this car only gets about 7K miles a year of usage, which is a little over half what is considered "normal." Over 1000 miles of that in any year is trips to visit my family; there's no other way to get there easily or economically.


I'm certain that if some natural disaster suddenly made all the roads impassible, "business" would very quickly adapt to remote work for all employees.

Yes there are edge cases - roles that require physically manipulating stuff that isn't accessible remotely - but a vast number of roles could certainly be moved remote.

The usual arguments against remote work would either be discovered to be not actual problems (such as the fear that remote workers won't actually do their work) or business/workflow systems would be implemented to resolve the new problems.

Business is traditionally very slow to adapt to changes. That's why big laggard companies get little done and make few innovations, but they buy startups that took risks and did new things. (Now unfortunately, they often absorb those innovative young companies and crush the soul out of it, leaving just another drone department.)


Said the employee who will never get very high in the management hierarchy.

Why should someone want to climb the hierarchy? Well, we are not all satisfied with being paid disproportionately less in exchange for the meager luxury of being largely left alone in the quiet amusement of being a coder, only to be shoved out of a job when you hit 40. Earning a living does matter in life, whether we like it or not.

In the broader context of society, what this person is asking for is the dissolution of the City and a return to rural society. That is not ever going to happen, baring a catastrophic global failure of human civilization. Even then, if any humans remain they would quickly form into villages instead of "remoting" to the village.


My old commute was 30 miles each way. I've done the commute three ways. Here are the emissions comparisons using https://calculator.carbonfootprint.com for reference:

* Full-time remote, monthly trip to NYC, 5544 rail miles: 0.06 - 0.42 metric tons of CO2, depending on whether you classify the Acela as a "long distance" train or a "local/commuter" train

* Drive to the train station, take the commuter rail five days a week: 3k miles of driving and 12k miles of rail travel for the year: 2.39 metric tons of CO2

* Drive 60 miles round trip five days a week: 7.83 metric tons of CO2


I think this could also be applied to education and not just working in due time.

Obviously for labs and hands on experience you will still want to go physically to your university, however I envision a future where all you need to do to go to class each day is pop on a pair of VR glasses and you are in a hall with all the other students listening to the professors lectures.

Granted there are self learning / online courses already to mitigate commuting to learn, however I believe the next step in education should be a VR college.


A mile of air travel is surprisingly close to a mile in car travel in terms of emissions. Air travel used to be worse but only recently got better - about 10 years ago for short haul flights and 3 years ago for long haul flights.

Working internationally and flying in 4 times a year is probably worse than living locally and driving in 5 days a week. Assuming you fly 16,000 miles or would drive 12,0000. Living locally and working from home a few days a week is probably the best compromise.


What about using public transit systems?


Not economical in most of the US. This is a great thread for the Bay Area: https://twitter.com/paradosso/status/1081717461148266496


I can't public transit from NYC to Stockholm. Parts of the way, sure, but ain't no public cruse ships.


I've been working from home (as a software support engineer) for 9 years now.

I love it. Conferencing software makes meetings normal and I think I have access to everything someone on a campus would. (Well, ok. I miss water-cooler discussions and whiteboard explanations. But otherwise, it's all good!)

It's been great. I wish more jobs offered remote work.


I work about 3 minutes walking from home and it's amazing. Just move close to where you work!


Yeah, because that's a solution that will work for everyone. The majority of people do not have that option. Saying "Just move closer" is reductionist bullshit.


OK, I meant "Just move closer to where you work, if you at all can". Of course it won't work for everyone but what does. Find a nice work you like, move close to it and keep doing it for 10 years


If you mean "if you at all can" you should probably specify instead of sounding ignorant to the fact that few people can actually just up and move closer to work on a whim.


Tell that to all the postdocs how it's impossible to move every 2-3 years with a family


Kindly tell me how postdocs is a superset of literally everyone.


If only it was possible to have a family with three kids anywhere near the office. Instead, decades of bad planning policy have jacked housing costs beyond all reason, forcing people like me to move very far from work.


I have twelve kids just 0.9 miles from the office. Between home and office I pass houses on 0.25 acre lots that go for about $250,000. That is paying a premium to be by the ocean. Just a few miles away, where there are more jobs, similar houses go for about $150,000.

Choose a small city in a low-cost state, and you can have this too.


I work to live, not live to work. Jobs change and move offices around, but my heart is with the places where my family and memories and good scenery is.

I'm glad that remote work is an option today and I can choose to live where I want.

One day, hopefully, it'll be out of town and I have my own quiet little garden, with apple trees.


I once worked about 3 minutes walk from home. That was five job-location changes ago.


Are you suggesting that we should move whenever we have a new job? What about people with partners who are also working?


I would say so. It works.

Partners working is not always a profitable endeavor. People often forget to include housing costs in the calculation. If you are forced to live in a large city, your costs go up.


A reminder that remote work != work from home.

Obviously in many large cities people live in small apartments . It wouldn't be crazy to assume someone would work out of a Cafe, Co-working space, or Library.

So you can still do a small commute with a bike or etc.


I don't see that scaling very far, if I take Berlin as an example there is absolutely no way to find a library/coffee shop spot for even 10% of the IT workers. I'd reckon Zalando employees alone would fill all the coffee shops of the city.


Coffee shops & libraries are also only good for certain types of work, too. If I need to have a 45+ minute strategy call, or discuss the "secret sauce" of our solution, I'm certainly not doing that in public.

Likewise, they're often loud and hard to focus in when doing detailed, focused work.


We 've been saying that for quite a while(1). As much as 41% of CO2 is spent on commercial and transportation activities. how much of that could be saved if most of white-collar work (i.e. computer work in this day and age) is done from home or coworkin spaces where people can walk to? As a side benefit you would get total decongestion of busy "financial" districts and even a positive feedback loop, because decongestion would reduce CO2 emissions even more.

1) shameless plug: we are making a community for remote workers @ https://reworkin.com


Getting money into smaller villages should be reason enough.


I wonder if the author has ever been on a WebEx with 5 people trying to talk over each other.


so Is Ford going to ship workers their quota of bolts to tighten home and back or are we just rounding up the poors to lock them into manufactoring complexes forever?


Those workers have already been replaced with robots.

They can tighten them remotely via RDP ;)


I work in an industry where client coaching and teaching is critical to success. It’s amazing how much impact a 30 minute face to face has compared with the same (or far more) time via video chat or phone.

Offline, unplanned conversations often yield incredible insights. I have the option to work from home on Friday’s, but find being present with others gives me a far better understanding of what’s happening in our office.

Remote work works in a lot of contexts. And in many it doesn’t.




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