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Coronavirus Forces World’s Largest Work-from-Home Experiment (bloomberg.com)
621 points by adventured 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 333 comments



Some outcomes of this morning:

1. Alibaba's teamwork app, Dingtalk, crashed around 9AM due to too many concurrent video conference saturate the server and bandwitdh

2. Tencent's for enterprise messaging app, Wechat for Business, crashed. Connection is extremely unstable

3. Baidu's office VPN was busy and employees are asked to stay disconnected to leave bandwith for sysadmins

4. Huawei's WeLink was unavailable for a while

5. Bytedance (company behind TikTok)'s Lark, an online office suite like GApps was the biggest winner, only had some minor issues.

6. Zoom offered a free version to mainland users and it's extremely popular. But it lacks non-video-conf features. e.g. simple daily poll to see if your colleagues were healthy or not.


I've created a temp account for this to be on the safe side :)

I work for a big (300k+ ) company with some tens of thousand office workers in CN We are preparing since about 2 weeks to upgrade our remote access infra in China with partial success as something which would be a soft upgrade everywhere else needs to go through various levels of local subcontractors and partners of our provider

On top of that because of the Internet situation in CN it is not practically easy to use remote access via another location with higher capacity - the performance gets degraded very quickly - or use resources directly over the internet eg. RTC which is not hosted locally

I doubt that local authorities will change something in the future because of this example but one can only hope


are you the same guy on r/sysadmin?

Try use MPLS. It's expensive but the latency and bandwidth is guaranteed.


nope, not the same guy MPLS is used for the office network anyhow, talking about remote access here


This "experiment" will set a new baseline on which management can act with the goal to satisfy such use cases and grant the necessary resources to implement them.


Well the clock is ticking for non-Chinese companies. When SARS struck in 2003, it took about four months for the total global number of cases to crest. Assuming the same sort of pattern here with the same WFH response, we will see peak VPN/remote usage in April/May.

....so get those requisitions in boys.


A paper published in the Lancet on Friday said that the peak infection is persecuted to be in April. But if more curbs on movement are out in place then the total infections will be lower, but the peak will be later. But this was based on a current infected population of 75k, much higher than the Chinese official figure of 14k people.

Source Dr John Campbell. https://youtu.be/z05ZrMfKUDc


I think your underlying point is correct - the duration of this outbreak is unknown.

Regarding the Chinese figure of 14k - it is only for "laboratory confirmed" cases. Given that Chinese hospitals are refusing any patients that aren't in serious distress, the "real" number of cases is likely already much much more than 14k.

There are also reports of death certificates being issued for "unknown viral pneumonia", because they don't have the time to test the dead.

This would explain why there are sooo many cases abroad - despite "only" a few thousand cases in China.

One virologist tweeted (can't find it now), that he believes 95% of cases are unreported in China.

We also have to bare in mind that most non-western countries do not have DNA test kits for this virus. When we look at the updated map of infections, there are glaring gaps in countries like Laos and Myanmar with ALL of their neighbors reporting infections. Those countries are, of course, not immune to the virus - they simply don't have the facilities to confirm cases, and have gov'ts that would rather hide the evidence so as not to disrupt travel/create panic.

I don't think we should OVER-react, but also we shouldn't UNDER react.


Imo the model of those Australian scientists from a few days ago forecasting 75k infections in China by Feb. 4th was pretty spot on.

Official numbers in China right now are 17k infections plus 21k estimated unreported cases.[1] Let's assume their numbers are a little too optimistic and there you go, 75k by tomorrow.

[1] https://news.qq.com/zt2020/page/feiyan.htm


Also, the 14k is over 17k by now.


Seems like the experiment was a success: systems have very low margins to operate.


We need peer to peer. These central hubs can’t hack the traffic.


Peer-to-peer has its advantages, but it's no panacea.

After all, practically everyone is behind NAT these days, and it's so rare for an application to ask you to open a port in your firewall, most users probably don't know how to do it.

And early videoconferencing was famous for its unreliability - even simple things like people being able to join calls. Particularly as users might be behind restrictive firewalls on corporate networks or cell phone connections. Video calling that only works 95% of the time isn't good enough for things like job interviews :)

And users don't only expect one-to-one calls - everyone offers multi-party calls. If eight people want to watch Bob while he's talking, you've got to find eight videos' worth of upload bandwidth from somewhere.

And there are far more people trying to video call from battery-powered devices and metered connections than there were 15 years ago. If your competitors' apps uploads one video stream and yours uploads eight at once, users are going to notice the battery and data consumption.

And if you only have to test compatibility between your server and every version of your software, that's a much simpler task than testing compatibility of every possible n-way call between different versions of your software. Especially as you'll have to support Windows, OS X, Android and iPhone at the very least.


Thats a pretty negative picture you paint there.

To me, those are fun things to solve.

The answer is to still have clients and servers, just that the servers deal with the grunt work of routing traffic and the clients just stream the data through a server.

Push vs pull, depending if you can get upnp to open a port to the client.

Skype was originally a peer to peer application, seemed pretty popular and while it still was p2p? It was written by the people who wrote Kazaa, remember that?


*> Skype was originally a peer to peer application&

Sure, but Skype adopted a peer-to-peer design back in 2005 or so when expectations were a lot lower - no smartphones, no group calls, no 1080p, no cross-platform, and if it's unreliable or needs some fiddling around to get it to work properly, such is life - because the competition was paying $$$ for an international phone call that wouldn't have any video.

These days if you want to compete with Skype and Google Hangouts and Discord, I expect my regular four-way video call between people using Windows, OS X, Ubuntu and ChromeOS to establish first-time with clear audio and video to all users.


If anything, P2P high bandwidth connections are often more reliable as your traffic likely stays on your ISPs network rather than needlessly hairpinning through a central server outside their network.

Hence why VoIP like WebRTC encourages direct media rather than wasting a trip to a server, the server's peering can often be much worse than a path between two users on residential ISPs.


For 2 users, fine. But the parent was mentioning 8 users. You can't have live conversation delays/asynchronicity that p2p'ing through multiple users would bring.


and one of the primary reasons Skype is no longer p2p is to violate user privacy not because of technical reasons


I think Ars Technica's take on this makes the most sense. Basically the new architecture might make violating privacy easier but they could do that with the old one too and there are legitimate improvements from the new architecture that are more than enough explanation for the switch.

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/07/skype...


The main reason was to make is compliant with the desire of US Law Enforcement. but yea continues to believe what you want. I really dont care

All of the performance improvements could have been done while maintaining the core of P2P, the ONLY reason to centralize it is to make it easy to tap, and harvest data from


You could still do opportunistic P2P to lessen server load. And NAT is an issue, but not insurmountable, perhaps both sides have IPv6 or one side has a router with UPnP, PCP or a NAT implementation that makes hole punching easy.


Here's a wish for rapid adoption of IPv6, where no one will be fored to use nat ever again

>If eight people want to watch Bob while he's talking, you've got to find eight videos' worth of upload bandwidth from somewhere. With p2p you may stream parts of the video from multiple clients


IPv6 is ancient at this point and we still don't have it deployed.


It's widely deployed in China - in households, Web and mobile services and applications.


I find that hard to believe. The last few times I've been to China (in 2019), none of the hotels I stayed in (all of them in Shanghai) had ipv6 for their guest WiFi.


I think it's a problem with the legacy infrastructure of WiFi hotspots in the hotels instead. And the final steps of the deployment were in October 2019, I think. Most mobile applications, China Mobile and China Telecom, both landline and mobile connections - everything works with IPv6 now. Even big corporate networks started to do the switch.


Over 1/3rd of Google's US traffic is IPv6, so it's not exactly rare.


IIRC IPv6 became a ratified internet standard in 2017


> it's so rare for an application to ask you to open a port in your firewall, most users probably don't know how to do it.

in home settings this step has been automated for something like a decade or more. One of UPnP or NAT-PMP are available on basically every router


UPnP is pretty much a security disease. Countless security holes have come from that protocol. Worse is tons of users are behind double NATs and carrier NAT.

Really we just need IPv6 where one app binds to one IP.


But are they enabled and working in the 99.5% house-holds, who do not have a professional Sys-Admin at home?


WebRTC is peer to peer and is supported in most major browsers.


From experience WebRTC starts to fall down in rooms of more than 8 people for video chat.

Meanwhile Zoom and Discord (who use servers) can achieve much greater so YMMV

That said p2p definitely has its advantages


Its just a case of p2p with people running servers (like bitcoint does) and differentiating between the two based on a bandwidth test.


Doesn't WebRTC need a TURN server to proxy traffic when you're behind a NAT? It's not really peer to peer when all the data goes through a central point.


TURN only proxies if it’s unable to make a connection via STUN, which requires the server to handle only a few packets when the initial connection is formed and provides direct peer to peer access after. Many home NATs only need the latter.


But then your data can't be taken and tracked and sold. Never happen.


If only we hadn't killed multicast.


It would be interesting to know where are the bottlenecks and how quickly they can be addressed.


I suspect that they might be addressed in time for the next epidemic


That's good to hear. Especially that last point: zoom has been repeatedly blocked by China. It would be interesting to see if they could keep those users


IIRC Zoom released a tailored "China" version.


My wife is a high-school teacher in Shenzhen and her school has suspended physical attendance thru Feb 17th, possibly to be extended until the start of March. However, they are requiring teachers and students to work full-time from home using online assignments and communications channels. It struck me that this is indeed a huge experiment in remote working, even for professions that don't typically have that option at all whatsoever (i.e. school teachers).


They have that option in the US, just not with public schools. I’ve been told that even public schools work that way in Australia under normal conditions.

Most people can’t work from home because of local tradition not because it doesn’t work.


I've heard from relatives that it is the same thing in Hong Kong. Last time I talked to them they said it has been quite difficult so far. I'm not sure if they have had any training to prepare for this at all or if they are just winging it.


Hong Kong has gone further - schools are closed until at least the first week of March.


Lack of space at home might also be an issue. Hong Kong flats can be pretty small.

Many homes aren’t really suited to WFH, especially regular WFH. They might be noisy during the day, lack space, lack decent network connections, etc...you also can’t really WFH from a quiet public space like a library (not that HK really has those).


Schools in Singapore are regularly required to practice the so-called "e-learning" every semester/quarter. It's quite common for richer Asian countries that had been through SARS to think of these contingency plans.

Also it was nothing fancy. Just recorded video lectures, and an online forum.


> However, they are requiring teachers and students to work full-time from home using online assignments and communications channels.

They did that 20 years ago during SARS, too.


interesting, I'm very curious which tools she's using for all this :)


they're about to start experimenting with Zoom, which should be super interesting especially with primary/middle school students. a lot of the teachers are quite unhappy about it


I am currently soft-quarantined by my employer in Hong Kong because I recently visited Mainland China, and will be working from home for 14 days, along with many others.

It's not going that well: from my subjective point of view, people seem to treat it as an extra vacation. They are often not online and will only complete a few small tasks per day, because there is no threat from the boss who sees that you are browsing facebook instead of working.

Even government employees are at home. Many people didn't get their tax bill so they don't need to pay tax for now. Sweet!

That experiment makes me think that perhaps work from home is optimal mostly for a small pool of highly motivated and talented individuals, such as the average person on HN who actually does feel more productive working from home. Outside of HN, work ethic could be different.


Well, of course you can't just switch to remote work overnight without any preparation, and expect everything to work well immediately! But, for example: how do you know those workers are treating it as a small vacation? You're not there to see them either! Managers can do the same, they don't need to know what the worker is doing instead of working; they can see the work is not getting done.


I would guess a lot are also not set up at home to work efficiently. I.e. proper desk in a quiet room etc. And if the kids are home from school as well, I assume it is very hard to concentrate on working from home.

Also if there is the threat of an incoming pandemic, then my priorities would be elsewhere than work. I.e. securing family, provisions, medicines, etc. And checking news sources about the epidemic every 5 minutes is not good for efficiency...


Especially in HK where people just don't have the space. Many people live with their families in tiny apartments for much longer in life.


I think one obstacle is that in practice, it is difficult to tell someone "your performance is bad today and you are not getting work done".


It's not difficult, though. It just takes practice. You use the same channels that you are using for remote work: chat, email, voice, video. I understand the desire to not put something like that in writing, but that's what voice and video are for.


I agree, but. People skills. Allegedly managers have them.

Plus until corps can fire and replace the slackers, they are not in danger. (Because it's unlikely to hire someone while the quarantine is in effect.)

But simply tying pay to daily performance usually works.


How do you set daily targets? All known measures (e.g. lines of code, bug counts) produce bad software because they are gamed.


I haven't said target. I said performance.

Working remotely both incentives and sort of mandates better visibility into one's working/thinking processes.

Writing, explaining, documenting, committing, pushing, testing one's work is important. It helps others know what you are up to, and helps you to be able to better show your work.


By reporting progress, daily targets should not be a certain tangible goal necessarily, rather than that some progress has been done and reported. This isn't perfect of course but I think it's possible to evaluate whether or not the tasks/progress someone has made reflects a days work.


Daily targets are a waste of time in my opinion. Weekly targets make much more sense. But as a team meeting, not for a performance evaluation.

That said, people constantly measuring performance should be replaced by productive people. It is always a management failure if your people are slacking off. Otherwise I would just do something that makes me look good on daily reports. That can have massive negative implications for general business interest. That creates the typical blinders that make large corps unproductive.

Daily targets make sense in production, but not for evaluating employees, but because you need it for other business processes to allow supply and demand fit the productivity.

The current trend for more employee surveillance is mostly a scam and doesn't even help productivity. On the contrary it tends to create unnecessary overhead, like daily meetings. It is one of the most non-creative employment of information technology.

That said, daily meetings can be extremely important for remote teams. But those are mostly about other topics anyway.


Daily targets can be okay as long reports like "I tried these and none of them worked for the problem I'm trying to solve." or "There is new XCode update which broke my build and I'm still trying to figure out why." are accepted as progress.


At the lowest level the team lead (you can call it manager or whatever) has to be accountable and needs a budget and the ability to freely hire and fire people to be able to meet objectives.


Giving first-line managers the freedom to hire and fire would be a stupid way to manage an organization. Most of those managers lack the experience, competence, and perspective to make that type of decision effectively. Which is why competent organizations support them with a surrounding structure of corporate policies, senior management, and human resources to (hopefully) prevent first-line managers from making too many mistakes.


If you don't have competent enough first-line managers to decide who they can effectively work with, your whole org will become a micromanagement hell. Which breaks down if you try to do it remotely.

Of course the implementation of hire/fire does not mean that the first line manager does the interview alone, without any help, supervision, oversight and support from middle management and HR. But if you have no say in who you manage, who you work with, it'll be very hard to get work done.

And in my experience this usually already happens informally anyway.


You appear to be unfamiliar with best practices in software project management. User stories (or change requests or whatever you call them) are either done or not done. Progress on tasks is meaningless: from a customer value standpoint either the functionality is ready to deliver or it isn't. If you ask for progress reports then developers will report a lot of "progress" but it's totally meaningless.


Naturally, you should break down tasks until you get max one day chunks. But estimation errors are common, so if you end up spending 2+ days on a "half-day task", then you should be able to explain why. GitHub/GitLab/JIRA/Phabricator/Gerrit/GoogleDocs/whatever comments, emails, commit messages, CI runs, are all manifestations of progress.


Task completion is a manifestation of time and effort, not progress. While breaking down user stories into daily tasks can be a useful crutch for newer teams that lack proper agile process discipline, highly productive agile teams find that administrative overhead to be a waste of time. In general incompetent managers tend to fall into the trap of looking at meaningless metrics just because they're easy to calculate rather than focusing on what really matters: sustained customer value delivery.


I don't really know what else to tell you, because you seem to insist on some magic definition of progress. I work with people I trust. Their competence, ability, and integrity. If I see them spending time on tasks, exerting effort on whatever problem at hand they are solving, I'm very much certain that's progress measurable in direct customer satisfaction/value.

(We are a full remote dev shop.)


I believe you are confusing best with common here.


For most modern work it's difficult to see if the work is being done, whether people are at home or in the office. For the stuff you can watch it's mostly impossible to do at home.


There is one major requirement for remote work, it’s called deadlines. Give people a paycheck, some requirements, and deadlines and I promise you the work will find a way to get done. They can browse Facebook all they want.


What about work that does not have deadlines, but requires constant attention? Like monitoring security cameras, or the status of a medical patient or a nuclear power plant..

These types of work have the added risk of unauthorized people, such as the employee’s kids or friends, snooping in on sensitive information.

That might be helped by the employer providing a dedicated computer for remote work, with screen-recording and facial recognition that locks the system if you’re not (the only person) in view.

Perhaps having always-on video and voice surveillance on that computer, and announcing that fact, would force employees to create a dedicated distraction-free work environment in their homes.


You do the same thing that you do in the real world. Have you ever noticed how sometimes security guards will walk around with a little key fob and touch it to a point on the wall? That's because in order to ensure they're doing their required patrols they physically have to log they've been to a point.

If you're requiring someone pay attention to a monitor you can do the same thing - for example put a square on the image and require the employee to click it. Obviously though, this requires someone to actually critically think about protocols for ensuring work is done to a standard.


The measure becomes the mark.

If touching points is all that's required, then that's all that will get done. The neural nets of all employees will eventually become trained to touch the points and not do the actual work you desire.

In the case of a security guard the 'real' job is to catalogue all things 'out of place' and then react if necessary.


One of the more interesting examples of this is the NYC subway operators pointing at signs to show attention:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9jIsxQNz0M


Reminds me of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14011793

“Why Japan’s Rail Workers Can’t Stop Pointing at Things”


So externalising office costs onto the workers - lovely

You might want to think about how this effects the housing market if this take off long term.


Every home of the future would/should have an office, with the kitchen evolving into a general in-house factory with 3D printers etc. :)

This would have the added benefit of reclaiming the space currently taken up by many office towers, reducing traffic and the associated stress from daily commutes, improving overall health, increasing leisure time, which in turn improves the economy, and so on.


So an extra room per home then is going to increase housing costs longer term to the worker long term is what I was getting at.


Why is this companies' faults? What can they really do anwyays besides giving a small budget to situate oneself?

All homes - should - begin to have offices anyway as people realize that physically going in to work isn't necessary to be productive.


If remote work became a norm, I'd expect housing market in large cities to sink dramatically. Why would one move e.g. to New York if their hometown provided same same job opportunities?


Why do you need an extra room?

Laptops can go anywhere, and my living room is empty until ~4pm when my kids get home. I've been remote for going on 5 years now and routinely take my work laptop to the kitchen or living room (though I'll concede I need a quiet room for some calls/tasks that involve PII).


There are ways you can 'force' attention. Things like semi-regular unannounced drills, audits, etc. I agree it's harder, and for things like the status of a medical patient or nuclear power plant the potential damage of someone going to the pub in the afternoon and missing something is far worse than missing a couple items in a sprint, but it is still possible to assess.


Those are the jobs that should be automated, and I imagine will be soon.


What stops people just watching cat videos on Facebook in those situations?


What stops people watching cat videos while walking around and touching their key fob against specific points?


Can't you walk around a familiar place whilst looking at your phone or reading a book? Been doing this for years on daily commute...


Yes but as a security guard, or someone monitoring patient vitals, you want them to actually pay attention to details, not reflexively act from memory


I understood that. I think OP was saying that forcing a path and specific, physical actions, meant the security guard will perform as expected. Which is... kind of not the case?


It doesn't work that way, because most work is at least somewhat collaborative and that means the remote worker is not solely in control of the pace. As a remote worker I can't meet with someone in the office who doesn't respond to my pings. I can't commit my code if reviewers only respond once per day. If people have an across-the-desk conversation without me that invalidates what I just spent a day implementing, I'm screwed - either by losing that work or by having to spend time (and become The Bad Guy) by persuading them back to the right path. The only way around these issues is to multitask more, which we should all know by now creates its own productivity problems. If you think deadlines alone work, you can't have tried it for any but the most trivially separable kinds of work.


What you've described are symptoms of an office who doesn't know how how to scale distributed work loads with remote workers. Across-the-desk conversations for instance don't scale to large workforce numbers.


Yes, they are symptoms, but the point is that "just give people deadlines" does nothing to address either the symptoms or the underlying problem. It's facile advice that doesn't lead to actual improvement.


Deadlines are the incompetent manager's virtual whip.


Exactly, and I'd argue the metrics you need to check that someone working remotely has been efficient is a much better business metric than ass-on-chair time.


I'm running a fully remote engineering team. There are plenty of difficulties and downsides unique to being remote, but one of the major benefit is that performance evaluation becomes much simpler, as you're not biased by seeing people sitting or not sitting at their desk.


Fully remote is very different than partial remote, which is the situation here and one that companies still need to learn how to deal with.


I think it's a misconception that remote work has to be async.

You can breath down people's neck just as well over a video link, and there are multiple apps to help scale that.

Whether that's desirable or not is another topic, but why not solve one problem at a time?


Are you saying manager oversight is what's keeping your co-workers from slacking off all day? Is this a place that produces quality of any kind?


I mean most people when they first start working remotely have trouble adjusting. After all, up until then their home is a place for rest, not for work!

It's probably that people are not accustomed to this flow


I work remotely but I still go to an office almost every day.


For many jobs that's how it works. A lot of work is not about quality, tasks just have to be completed according to schedule.


in which case it should be easy to measure performance


Could you give an example of a task where you cannot make a difference in quality? I have trouble coming up with any.


Any task that is a rote, skill-less application of a list of procedures. Success in that case is a binary "did you do the thing", not "how well you did the thing".


...such as? All jobs I can think of -- even the most low-status or menial -- requires a certain skill and can be done with varying levels of quality.

All jobs I can think of involve some sort of outcome that is desired by the one purchasing the work. Furthermore, that outcome can be of insufficient quality and therefore rejected by the purchaser, or at least not fulfilling the needs they were expecting to have fulfilled.


Remote work is a skill, it takes time to acquire, just like office work and barely less. (Have you forgotten how hard it was to stay put for 8+ hours in the same place? I still remember.)

My personal estimations -- it takes 18 month to work out an established routine, so any RW "decreed" on the worker before that time, is indeed effectively vacations.

The worst scheme is working from home 1-2 days a week, and coming to office for the rest. Beside the established routine it also requires adapting the sleep schedule (which is twice as hard if the RW days are floating, not fixed).


Why does working from home 1-2 days a week require changing your sleep schedule?


Because when one works from home, there is no need to allot time for commute. People with short commute times (==> no need to adjust sleeping schedule), are much keener to go work from the office.


But if I wake up at 7am to commute, I can still wake up at 7am when working from home. You don't have to convert commuting hours to sleeping hours.


Of course you don't have to. But, to be honest, waking-up at 7am spells "no commute" to me.


As another HKer, I just think that working practices at many companies in our city are not set up for remote work yet. There is a lot of reliance on micromanagement, paternalism and face-to-face communications. Working from home is too different from this.


I've also seen this in HK. The team I worked in, used to work mainly with people in Singapore, my local colleagues just didn't know what to do with their manager not being in the office with them. Half of the time they would just sit around and do nothing, until our manager explicitly told them what to do, and even then they struggled.


Sounds like the military.


I found it immensely frustrating, eventually my local colleagues got let go because it just wasn't working out (even though it's a HK office, we mostly worked with people overseas).

There were plenty of other reasons why it didn't work out as well.


They are often not online and will only complete a few small tasks per day, because there is no threat from the boss who sees that you are browsing facebook instead of working.

And I'm sure they're worried about their friends, family and relatives that might be sick (and they can't get to). That worry will cause a productivity drop BECAUSE WE'RE ALL HUMAN.

If I were an employer, I think I'd probably give folks a bit of slack for the next several weeks.


I think this is highly dependent on culture. If you have a strongly hierarchy based culture where the boss is breathing down your neck all the time, then people are not going to deal well with being given freedom.

I have seen this time and again as a Norwegian, when living abroad. I come from a culture where power hierarchies are quite flat and there is a very high trust level between people. Bosses don't breath down your neck.

I remember an Indian manager who had worked long in Norway remarked on the difficulty of going back to India. People there are used to be bossed around and micromanaged all the time. The result is that it is difficult for them to manage themselves when the boss is gone. He remarked on the frustration of having to be present all the time for work to get done. I had gotten accustomed to not needing that in Norway.

But you don't have to go as far as India to see it. I got family and friends who observed the same in the UK. As soon as the boss left everybody started chatting and chilling.

I could see similar things when I studied in the US. American teenagers were often quite bad at managing themselves away from home. When I stayed over at people's places I realized why. Their parents where far stricter and far more micromanaging than I was used to. Even on campus there was far more rules and control than what would be normal in Northern Europe.

Stuff like that gives short term benefits of people behaving. The long term problem is that people get little to no training in managing themselves and setting their own boundaries. Autonomy and self control is not something you are born with. You have to train on it and learn it.

I find Scandinavian parents are far more tolerant towards kids screwing up and wasting their time. Part of that I think is they know kids must learn to handle situations themselves.

My wife is Asian-American and I know from all the stories she tells me that in Asia where it is even more control oriented and more ambitious it becomes even harder. Parents and teachers make all the "optimal" choices for you all the time, to push for success. She has family members who never chose even what clothes they wore all through childhood. Parents made all the choices.

I had a friend from Singapore. She remarked on how difficult it was coming to the US as a teenager. Suddenly teachers wanted to know her opinion on a variety of issues and subjects. But nobody had ever asked her opinion on anything before.

So I can imagine that remote working in Asia is going to be a lot harder than for many western countries. Even within the West there will be big differences in how well it can work.

But just so it is clear. I don't think the ability to work remote is inherent in people. I think with training Asian societies and workers can develop a culture for more independent working and working from home.


There's another aspect to it.

People who slack instantly when the boss leaves, are only working because they're being driven before the whip. It's not lack of self management. It's being dragged unwillingly into a tedious hell. Refusing "autonomy" in the circumstances, is a form of soft sabotage protest.


Does anybody actually want to work though? Or simply to have the cash on hand to pay for things they actually want.

Serious question ^^

I personally find it rewarding to finish tasks & make things... being employed to do so is a luxury, but i still don't want to have a job.


Observe the existence of free webcomics and you see your answer. An awful lot of people will put an awful lot of work into things that enthuse them.

Least-bad capitalist employment piggybacks off that. You get paid for stuff you mostly like.

An awful lot of employment just gets in the way.


> Observe the existence of free webcomics and you see your answer.

Yeah... so, I'm coming to think of the difference as:

having a job = getting paid for spinning wheels you wouldn't other wise spin

working = doing things you enjoy, for a payoff.

By that metric... i guess i'd rather work, than have a job.


If I was forced to be at home, I would probably not work much either. My productive WFH days are when I actually want to be at home.


I think for most people makes job is something you have to do, you do it to make a living. Work is not fancy outside tech world: the pay is less, task is more repetitive than challenging, work is not dynamic.


Also working in HK, everyone is encouraged to work from home. I’ve been going into the office since my company issued laptop just isn’t equipped for software engineering. Our company VPN was also down the entire day, so not sure how anyone could’ve done any work.

On the upside, my commute to work has been quiet, and there’s no distractions in the office.


> from my subjective point of view, people seem to treat it as an extra vacation.

Every middle level managers job is depending on this belief. Once they accept people can work from home,their job becomes extinct its understandable but not true.


The fact that most people have never before had exposure to work from home (due to not being given the option until now) has to be taken into account. I doubt people would continue to treat it as an excuse to slack in the long-term.


Enforce the use of https://www.rescuetime.com/ may help.


Considering they might be worried sick about friends and family (and therefore using social media) this would be awful.

The world needs less authoritarianism and more compassion right now. We're all human.


no idea about HK law but in USA law not getting your tax bill has no bearing on your obligation to pay. Even getting bad info from the IRs does not give you an excuse to not pay it correctly and on time.


My employer, after some bad winter weather the last couple of years, has been hemming and hawing about a work from home policy. There's definitely a pervasive mindset that people are less productive at home which might have some truth for some roles at our company. At first it was a "use your judgement and talk to your team leader, but if your kids have off school, just take a sick day", then they started being more explicit about acceptable reasons. Then a few months ago they added a three day limit per year. But last month they removed the limit again and on our local social media there has been speculating/joking that it's prep for coronavirus.


Same here, we tried allowing work from home once a week but people just treated it as a free day off.

We also had to enforce starting hours, otherwise some developers would show up by 11:30 yet they will still leave work sharp on time.


If people treat it as a free day off, then it sounds like the problem is not allowing working from home but a lack of effective performance management, or problems like that would quickly stop when.


Unrelated, but this comment has a very nice HN id, 22222222 (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22222222). And that happens almost on 2020-02-02. Congrats.


Imagine I'm a manager with a light-touch approach to performance management, a team that spends 99% of their time in the office, and a team member who is perfectly productive while in the office but unproductive when working from home.

Should I switch to high-touch performance management all the time for all employees, just because of the 1% of one person's time spent working from home?


You should deal with the problem of the single person, in the same way you'd deal with someone who consistently delivers bad code, or someone who turns up to the office and smokes crack in the bathrooms.

I'm a strong proponent of allowing people to work from home, but I have also had conversations with people in the past about whether its appropriate for them. Ultimately it needs to come down to the question of whether people are getting the work they need to be doing done, and if not whether that's for reasons outside of their control. If people are delivering what they need to be delivering (whether that's in the way you'd typically expect or not), there isn't a problem. If they aren't delivering, that's the problem to solve, not the nuances of a work from home policy.


> You should deal with the problem of the single person, in the same way you'd deal with someone who consistently delivers bad code, or someone who turns up to the office and smokes crack in the bathrooms.

You think if someone is a good employee 99% of the time I should fire them on the spot?


If it truly is a case of them being a good employee 99% of the time I'd honestly take the 1% hit in exchange for a happy employee. I'm definitely not suggesting just firing them, I'm suggesting acting in proportion to the problem, but focusing on the problem being them not delivering as well as they could be, rather than the problem being specifically that they're working from home.


This sounds contrived to me.

If you know whether people actually delivers or not, this is an easy discipline issue: point out that you know, and that working from home is a privilege that will be withdrawn if performance slips.

What I tend to find is that managers often believe productivity is higher in the office because they see people engrossed in their computers, without seeing what people are actually doing, and believe they're in control.

If you think you need a high touch system to handle this, then it suggest you doubt your current systems ability to pick up actual performance vs. whether they look busy.


Maybe in that case the 1% spent at home shouldn’t bother you? I’m personally not really in the business of wringing 1% more performance out of my team.


Maybe a four day work week would be healthy and make for more productive workers.


I am familiar with the argument you are making, but I haven't seen that in practice. I noticed that if you give someone an extra day off or extra 3 days off, less work gets done rather than more.

Here in Hong Kong we have quite a few 3-day or 4-day working weeks (due to public holidays) and I have never once seen more work being done on those weeks.


I don't think doing it as a one-off counts. I think the argument is that an extended time on 4-day weeks would in the long term allow people to settle into a more well-rested rhythm.


I work sometimes a 4-day week because of Sweden's regulations after I have an on-call week. It happens quite often, every 3-4 weeks depending on our rotation and I can say that having a steady 4-day week makes me and most of my colleagues more productive.

So I have seen it in practice, as a counterpoint to your anecdote with another anecdote.


That's different. When you do a four day week it should be same hours, eg 40 hour week is 5 X 8 hour days or 4 X 10 hour days. Giving people a holiday and then expecting them to make that time up during the rest of the week is ridiculous.


No, that's not normally what a four day week means. It generally means less hours, but you also wouldn't normally expect moretotal stuff to get done, but you might expect a similar amount to get done (5 days worth in 4 days, not 6 days worth in 4 days!).

Now,if that's generally achievable is up for debate. I think most would agree 8 hours a day, 5 days a week is likely better than 10 hours a say, 7 days a week. But it's not obvious if a 30 hour week is better or worse than a 40 hour week.


Microsoft tried it and productivity shot up 40%. Yes, in Japan, but still.

After I took a solid break from work for 3 months, doing a full 5-day work week was torture. I am still not used to it, and I don't think I ever will be agin.

It all comes down to scarcity. Scarcity of time. Give me five 10-hour days and I will stretch them out by hanging out on Hacker News. Give me less time to accomplish my tasks, and I will be much better at managing a scarce resource. AND I will have a 3-day weekend to check out from work completely.

In the past it sounded very "socialist" and lazy to me, but I have come around to believe that, in the language of Mandalorians, THIS IS THE WAY.


Microsoft just tried it for a month in Japan and apparently found that people were more productive.


What about amount of work though? Did the velocity or quality drop?


This is key.

I worked a 32 hour week for some time and was nearly as productive (if not more) than working fulltime. The reality is after about 4 hours of flow, I'm pretty worn out. After 6 hours, I'm pretty much ineffective.

A full 8+ hour day is really only useful if I need to spend time in lots of meetings.


I wanted to reply to a comment you made on another post, a couple weeks back. Sorry for the thread hijack, but I think you need some advice, and this topic is much more worth commenting on that this latest fake virus scare:

> It's not just about traveling. It's just one of the components. This guy was a teacher, musician, maker and now DL expert. And it doesn't seem like he is settled on that yet. He is still exploring what he wants to do. Changes his life to match his interests. I lived some of my life like that. Took some non standard paths. But it is getting increasingly hard for me to do this. Not because there aren't opportunities for me, but because it's getting unjustifiable to "society".

> And I know the usual line about "who cares what others think" in the west. Although it's logical in the west its not so in South Asia. Even if you don't care, your parents will and you will care for your parents. So it's inescapable. By Western standards I should be a totally free person, I am not married, don't have any debt, a high earning job which I'm bored by only 50% of the time. But these same things trap me. Single status leads to public derision in social gatherings (also friends get married and it becomes increasingly hard to be the only single guy in the group), my insistence on not taking on any debt means I live in a small rented apartment which it hard to be accepted in the society around me, a high earning job means I can never just quit because then I will have no social support due to it being a bad decision.

> As I write this, my (admittedly limited) understanding of how Western society works makes me think these would not be problems but my biggest assets.

Let me just say first that your instincts are completely true and correct, and are leading you in the right direction. Trust them. Those peers you reference (the big spenders with credit cards) are going down a path that will end in disaster for them. If only they could be half as wise as you!

Are you tempted to become one of the hikikomori? I read a comment by a young Japanese man the other day which was incredibly insightful. He compared the hikikomori to Buddhist monks who disappear from public view for years, for the purpose of self introspection and refinement of themselves. He felt these two phenomenon are intricately linked. I made the same observation also. He thought that (paraphrasing) 999 out of 1000 of these people maybe weren't much use to anyone, but 1 out of 1000 just may be the savior of the nation. I cannot overemphasize how strongly I agree with this sentiment.

Ask yourself, why is there such a phenomenon of the hikikomori? Why are Japanese businessmen working and drinking themselves to death? What larger purpose does this server? Why is there so much pain and suicide and other terrible things in your nation? Why do you, personally, feel such an urge to roam? What are you searching for, exactly? All of these things have their explanation. It's important to investigate these things and understand them.

Also, what do you think will be the long term effects of things like Fukushima, to name a very large but hardly-acknowledged elephant in the room? Do you know that the radioactive material, with all of that water flowing over it daily, is located directly above a major aquifer that supplies Tokyo with its water? These things need to be studied and fully understood also.

You said you don't understand Western civilization, but you are very fortunate because I understand it better than most. Western "civilization" consists of several hundred million children who play-act that they are adults, when in reality they are children who have absolutely no idea what they're doing, or where they're going, or the total disaster that awaits them.

Western "civilization" for example extracts resources from the ground and wastes them at an appalling rate. Its hunger for resources is enormous and ever-growing.

Western "civilization" is controlled by literal psychopaths, people with no emotion, no heart, no soul; their leader is called Lucifer, "the light bringer" as he sees himself. His system is based on endless war around the world 24/7/365, to support said extreme rate of resource consumption and depletion, with the vast majority of the benefits going to the top echelon while the serfs fight over crumbs.

Western "civilization" conquered your nation, subdued it, redesigned your society according to its own vision--explosive growth and endless resource consumption--and for a few decades you "prospered." But then you ran headlong into the inescapable fact that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. It's the same wall that the entirety of the West is itself running headlong into, in slow motion; you just ran into it first because you are an island nation with more finite resources than the large continental powers.

This is why in the 1980s your economy crashed and never recovered...while your government continues to everything is OK. In 2008 our economy crashed and never recovered....while our government continues to pretends everything is OK.

I hope you will come to see these "peers" of yours in a new light. They have expensive cars and mortgages, while you live in a humble home and drive a humble vehicle, ride a bike, or walk? You are the true picture of wisdom and humility, and should continue doing exactly as you are doing. You will be rewarded greatly, whereas their lives will end in ruin. You suffer a small amount in the near term, but they will suffer much more in the long term. The truth is they are not your "peers" at all. You were born for higher things.

About your parents, of course their opinion matters, and you are a good son for respecting their opinion. But their knowledge isn't perfect, nor is yours. Here in the USA there are many "baby boomers" (the boom generation after 1945) who just can't understand this mysterious Millenial generation and why they act as they do. They blame the son or daughter, and have no understanding or awareness of larger things. In their mind we are still in the 1960s and they believe everything they see on TV. That's why the real world remains a mystery to them.

Many of that generation are extremely spoiled; I saw a van one time with a vanity license plate on the front, which bragged "I'm spending all my children's inheritance!" Can you imagine a Japanese parent behaving in such a way, selfishly, with no thought to their children's future? Actually the person is spending their children's, grandchildren's, great grandchildren's, etc future, as well as the rest of the world's future, for their own personal self gratification.

What is Western "civilization"? It's extremely sick and corrupt and should not be emulated under any circumstances. That's why your nation desperately needs people such as yourself, such as the hikikomori also, monks, etc who have the personal courage to 'ignore' the demands of society, to remove oneself from its judgment for a time, to devote one's efforts to thought and reflection and learning and wisdom and understanding--all of these things that the masses lack--so that one may become the true leader and instrument of change that your nation so desperately needs.

Your people are counting on you! Don't let them down.

I recommend to study the works of Masanobu Fukuoka, to name an example of one wise Japanese man who had the courage to travel a different road, and was well rewarded for it. His book "One Straw Revolution" is excellent and I feel "The Road Back To Nature" is even better.

There is much more that could be said here, but this post is too long already. I just wanted to reach out to you because nobody really gave you a good answer in that thread, but you deserve one. I hope this post helps you to continue on the right path and not be tempted by the ways of others.

Much love to you and to Japan, my friend, from the land of Dixie!


Hi! Pretty sure we have the same employer. I haven't seen those jokes, but I do recall the discussions around it. I wish the discussions were happening at work instead of anonymously.


Same here, unless the same exact pattern is happening across a bunch of companies. Deep Space?


I wouldn't consider my job mass transport but we're in the same city at least


This is a horrible "experiment".

Duuuude I was just asked to stay at home for 2 weeks because I might have coronavirus (I was in Shanghai "recently"). Sure as heck I'm not going to be productive. (I'm a software engineer in mountain view, and my company has asked me to WFH for 2 weeks)

Following reasons:

- Emotionally it's a tiny bit scary. hard to focus.

- I didn't have ANY time to setup -- a lot of my gear is still at work.

- My team didn't have time to prepare -- we still have daily standups which are hard to join from VC.


In a way that makes the experiment more interesting. You're kind of forced to try make things work under very sub-optimal conditions rather than some artifical text-book version of what we think work-from-home should ideally look like. I reckon that after a few days of poor productivity, you and your colleagues will find ways to be productive despite of these circumstances, and in fact the difficult circumstances might even yield new and better processes and habits.


I guess the only thing is it risks giving the panopticon micromanagement brigade an unfair point when some of these arrangements do go awry.


Depends how big the changes are. If you need to replace a whiteboard for task tracking with Jira, move your standups to a meeting room, and sort out the meeting room microphones that mean you can't always hear everyone well, the person might be back at work before you've finished all the reforms :)


> move your standups to a meeting room

Please don't do that. People should participate using their own PC (or phone, in a pinch). Meeting rooms make it worse for everyone.


They could priority mail you the stuff you need. They can add a laptop into someones hand or just make someone hold the phone for you to join the standup via Skype or something. The only argument I understand is the emotional one


Is this the google equivalent of “I went to a school outside of Boston”?


(Intuit also has a significant presence in Mountain View)


Perhaps but in this case I turned out to correct.

I’m disgusted at myself that I can’t say something similar about my employer.


Are you a software engineer? Just wondering what 'gear' you really need - as opposed to would like - to do your job.


I'm a software developer who maintains very strict separation between work hardware and personal hardware. I keep my work laptop at work and only take it home with me when I know I'll be working from home the next day. It's amazing to be able to commute with no bags or anything on the days I'm working in the office successively. If I was forced to WFH without notice due to Coronavirus and I didn't have my work laptop with me, I would not work at all. Someone would have to drive to my place with my work laptop or agree to pay for a new computer I'd buy for the purpose for those two weeks or so.


Every company I've worked at will not allow me to leave my laptop at the office. They all claim it's something about the office not being safe from theft in some way or another. My bet is it's just a lot easier to get people to be constantly connected if they have their work laptop with them at all times.


Dr is the big one I've seen, from an ops side. If anyone with a laptop that can work remotely takes it home and the building burns down, well your company can still mostly work until replicated.

Not my idea, not my decision, but someone must have weighed the costs of laptop w/docks vs desktops and risk of one site going offline for a few weeks and decided it was worth it. For a finance company, I guess those days could carry a lot of cash flow if not regulatory risks as well which could help push the laptop argument.

I really liked the model laptops we were deploying and how the push allowed us to clear out some real old desktops. It was helpful to be mobile but I did keep an old desktop at my desk with tools and more that I could remote to from another desk or from home to do things on site.


I believe it's partially with the quantity of theft/damage (i.e. a fire) that could occur if all laptops are left in a single location overnight.

A theft at the office, could result in dozens of computers going missing.

A theft a single employee's home, is likely limited to a very small amount of devices.


> Someone would have to drive to my place with my work laptop

If sending your laptop by taxi to your home would mean two weeks of work that seems like a very cheap solution.


I agree, I meant to address the point the grandparent made about what grade you could possibly need as a software developer which I read as implying that surely you must be good to go with just a laptop. And I wanted to bring attention to the fact that for many developers, "gear" would be that specific work laptop, not any given laptop. So it's not like there would be no disruption, you still need to grab it in advance to work from home.


Did the company mandate you to use separate laptop or you put your restriction yourself ?


I put that restriction on myself, a selection of reasons follows: I don't use AV software but my employer requires it on machines in its domain, I won't allow remote management of my personal hardware but my employer uses remote management for wiping lost devices, and it helps to maintain a clear separation between personal and work time. All of the requirements my employer places on its hardware are reasonable for work hardware and I'm not opposed to these measures, but that's why IMO work hardware needs to remain work hardware - you can't compartmentalize a single device so that say an accidental remote wipe only affects your work files on the machine / phone.


If you put your restriction on yourself then you are responsible on fixing the situation yourself. Its not acceptable to simply say 'I would not work at all'.


The "situation" here refers to having to work from home without notice due to Coronavirus. That's not a situation one thrusts upon themselves. I disagree that that's something one should be responsible for preparing for by always carrying their work laptop home. In fact, doing that puts the laptop at a risk of theft when in transit, which before the Coronavirus outbreak was definitely seen as more likely than a random epidemic.

This is no different from the office building burning down or having to close for a few weeks for a similar reason resulting in working from home without notice. In that scenario, I'm also not responsible for "fixing" the fact that some of my equipment stayed in the office and is now not accessible to me, preventing me from being able to work.


It's a really, really good practice, whether or not one's firm mandates it. An employer has every right — moral everywhere, legal many places — to monitor your usage of its hardware, software and networks, which implies that if you are doing personal things (say, your finances, or even social networking) that it would be exposed to your passwords and activity.

Meanwhile, you have a duty to be responsible with your employer's data. Your employer can secure its own hardware, but it cannot secure resources you own — which means that if you use your own hardware & software to work with your employer's data that any breach is your fault.

Given those realities, I prefer to use my employer-issued hardware, software & network for my employer's work, and my hardware, software & network for my own purposes. That way my employer is secured from my mistakes, and I am secured from my employer's mistakes (or nefariousness).


Even if "regular" productive work is hard, you could use the time to learn. Read books, build prototypes, think about the hard problems you, your team and your company are facing or will be facing.

This feel like a great way to get some thinking time!


It's horrible when the employer don't lower their expectation.

We had some campaign on remote working, actively adjust the toolset/processes/expectations, and we don't usually measure by output so it's a rather interesting experience for now.


Cant you get some one to have that gear sent to you


> Emotionally it's a tiny bit scary. hard to focus.

These are just excuses. If you were going to get fired for not working or someone gave you a bonus of half a million for two weeks of work you’d sure as hell focus.


What’s stopping it from being a no brainer at this point? This feels like one of those things where old school taxi companies just couldn’t see how fast stuff like Uber/Lyft was going devour them.

Remote work and distributed teams is basically like fate at this point. If our economy is prepared to build a whole car in different parts of the world and then ship it to the US, you better believe your little job tasks that can easily be sent in email is going to have to reckon with that.


I've gotten into remote work experiments (unplanned) and it hadn't been all rosy. The good things are huge cut on unnecessary meetings and great productivity but the bad things include much harder path to collaborate.

For example, if you are designing a very complex system requiring multiple participants then it's very very hard to communicate your ideas over video conferences - even when tech worked flawlessly. It's not because people are not able to articulate the ideas but there is a lot goes on in body language, facial expressions and quick back-and-forth exchanges over whiteboard. The high bandwidth of occupying same physical 3D space permits speedy iterations while low bandwidth constraints what you must express in given slot you are expected to express.

So, remote work doesn't work for all scenarios. It works well when everyone knows things fair bit, number of iterations during communications needed are small and number of ideas don't need huge bandwidth. It doesn't work as well otherwise. For example, early days of startup where the product is in embryonic state, everybody working remotely would not work out well. However, if product is mature and roadmap is well under control then remote team might work great.


Don't forget we've spent a lifetime learning and perfecting the use of things like body language in face-to-face meetings. You can't just switch to video conferences and expect it to be flawless without practice. But if you do it a lot, you learn when you need to verbalize things you'd rely on conveying non-verbally in a face-to-face meeting, such as when you don't quite understand something.

I supervised an entire PhD remotely many years back. We made it work, and learned as we went. Over time we got better as expressing confusion, double checking understanding, and all those sort of things where we use non-verbal clues in face-to-face meetings. It worked, but it wasn't an easy path at first. But there was an unexpected plus side - I'd learned to vocalize my doubts and confusion better, and to double-check we're on the same page. And so ever since I've found I'm more effective in face-to-face meetings.


> But there was an unexpected plus side - I'd learned to vocalize my doubts and confusion better, and to double-check we're on the same page.

That's funny but it reminds me of my relationship in the beginning. We didn't speak each other's native language fluently. Unexpectedly, harder communication had the effect of being clearer when expressing ourselves, and double-checking assumptions before reacting. It ended up very healthy.


And yet, startups have been started as fully remote. Stack Overflow, Zapier, Seeq, just off the top of my head. And there are countless of successful open source projects as well.

Personally, while I agree that the bandwidth is higher locally, I don't agree you are prevented from expressing what you wish by communicating remotely; it just takes a bit longer, which is more than compensated by the time saved on other things.


I work at a fully remote startup, after working at a mostly remote startup before.

Having an easily accessibly video conference software, committing to getting employees good headsets, and enforcing videos on/1 person per screen makes collaboration very easy.

----

The only thing that's missing is whiteboarding sessions (which seem to be more about fun than actual productivity). Instead, we typically ask a single engineer to write up a proposal doc then have everybody comment on that.

It requires a bit more lead time - write up, feedback, then finalization. However, the actual developer time is significantly less. One developer doing most of the work, with others chiming in periodically.


One day I hope everyone's equipped with a connected whiteboard (perhaps small enough to grab and take to the desk, but not tiny like a tablet) in their home office that works live in meetings.

But I'm not a huge fan of whiteboards in general. Of course one problem with offline whiteboards is that the information tends to get wiped away (unless someone's snapping and uploading photos), the other is that they tend to be messy and unsearchable and hard to edit & update afterwards.

IMO it's generally better to flesh out ideas in text. It's just that sometimes a figure or two, maybe a flow chart, would get the point across quicker. I haven't found software I like enough to consider it better than hand, but hand sucks too. I often brainstorm on paper, and run out of paper or end up having to squeeze stuff because I didn't start with things in the right place. A software solution would help.


I have to say, I've tried a digital whiteboard (Samsung Flip), and that thing was very cool. Wiping it (starting a new page) automatically saved the last into a history roll, and you could send them over email/network drive/etc. We made a draft design of a feature, then started a shared document from the uploaded picture made on the whiteboard. Worked quite well.

The main problem is the price, we can hardly afford one for each person, especially since it's not exactly something we use daily. Plus, even if we did, I'm not sure there's anyway to sync them in real-time.


It sounds like your taking your existing workflow and trying to virtualize it, this always fails. Remote work (especially with timezone differences) requires text based asynchronous communications, just look at large successful and international OSS projects, they thrived with mailing lists and IRC and this wasn't just because of bandwidth limitations.

IME unless your a particularly good teacher then your whiteboard isn't as high bandwidth as you think anyway. In face to face meetings everyone will just smile and nod because you have to go away and dig into the details to find issues. Put it in a graphviz drawing with the accompanying text and you'll get better results.


That is just the inability of the participants to think more than talk. For example Lisp requires more thinking, or chess requires lots of thinking.


The tasks are not the hard part. Alignment is a lot easier when you’re all close. I went from a distributed team (4 offices spread between EU and US) to a team that’s all co-located. The speed and quality of alignment is miles different.

There’s stuff we outsource (easy to describe tasks), but the stuff that needs tight iteration loops is so much easier when you can just get up, walk a few meters, and talk about it.


The Linux kernel is developed remotely. I'm tiring of hearing cat food delivery startups pretend it won't work for them.


The Linux kernel is willing to sacrifice the time of individual developers on the altar of project efficiency. That works for the Linux kernel because there are a huge number of prospective developers, and on balance the project doesn't generally care if any specific developer wastes some time or duplicates some effort.

That, by itself, isn't an argument that remote work for a given company will work.


Yacking wastes times of a developer any time of the day. Having to explain the manual to people who cannot read, doubly so.


Linux kernel is also famous for a ton of input coming in, of which not a small percentage is discarded. It's quite an expensive model. For any 'normal' software project you have single teams responsible for single features. Not tens of teams competing who gets to create the version which gets accepted.

I'm not saying it's not a good idea to have competing delivery teams. But it's quite expensive.


The Linux kernel as a whole is developed by people who rarely see each other in person, but there are several caveats that make it hard to generalize from that.

* Individual parts of the Linux kernel are often developed by people who do work together in an office (e.g. I used to sit with a bunch at Red Hat).

* Top-level Linux folks do meet in person fairly regularly, especially at LF events.

* Collaboration via email etc. is the primary workflow for the kernel, so there's no in-office cabal that has to learn new habits (and likely will resist doing so).

I'm also tired of hearing how silly startups can't do remote, but I don't think I'd hold up the kernel as an example that they could/should emulate.


A significant part of it isn't though. For example, engineers writing a device driver for a piece of hardware are most likely sitting with each other and near the HW guys.


What is your argument? Those sound like two very different types of product development that I would expect to work very differently in nearly every conceivable way.


My argument is: if a complex project like the Linux kernel, or MySQL, or CMake, or pretty much any large piece of open source software, can be written by remote teams, I don't see what's specific about typical corporate or start-up technology that would prevent that.


The difference is that, the developers are unpaid for the Linux Kernel.


Not true at all. In 2017, only 7.7% of contributions were unpaid [1], and it's been dropping for many years: "from 14.6 percent of contributions in 2012 to just 11.8 percent" in 2015 [2]

[1] https://thenewstack.io/contributes-linux-kernel/

[2] https://www.cio.com/article/2909736/who-s-behind-linux-now-a...


Maybe I should have been clearer. The payments to the contributors and the targets of their respective companies are not always identical. A team from redhat contributing to the kernel might not be remote and will have their own performance measurement stratergies.


Which makes wasting money on meetings over comms through text even more glaring.


I really think that in the future people will use something like holoportation[0] to work at home or remotely across the world. Because like you say sometimes it makes sense to be present with a person to accomplish a task. It is very hard if they are trying to describe something when it would only take half a moment to visually look yourself and understand the direction the person is coming from. Holoportation looks very neat I really hope I get to try it one day. [0]:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d59O6cfaM0


When I'm retiring, +/- 30 years from now, I'm going to put on my Virtual Reality glasses and never leave the house again.


Don’t underestimate humanity’s ability to adapt to staring at screens as the norm (on a societal level).


I’m sorry if I sound harsh. The problem is not a matter of better or worse “alignment”.

It’s just poor quality planning and execution.

Your team is just improvising, figuring out as you go, what is exactly that you need to build.

It’s not even Agile. Agile is about tight loop upfront planning, and avoiding last-minute distruttive changes and meetings...


> It’s not even Agile. Agile is about tight loop upfront planning, and avoiding last-minute distruttive changes and meetings...

That's an abomination definition of agile, probably influenced by scrum. In the agile manifesto it says nothing about "tight loop upfront planing", however it does explicitly say[1]:

> Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

> [...]

> Responding to change over following a plan

While that doesn't mean all planning is bad (it isn't and the manifesto acknowledges that), the planning is not the agile part, it's the leftover of the original traditional management, because it is necessary to a certain degree (e.g. for alignment but also for a lot of other business related tasks).

If you're running a pure kanban approach, you don't even plan in tight loops and I had much better experience with that (and a single team lead with a good strategic vision) than I had with Scrum. Scrum is just easier to handle for big (old) organizations and gives developers some protection from bad management.

[1] https://agilemanifesto.org/


> That's an abomination definition of agile, probably influenced by scrum. In the agile manifesto it says nothing about "tight loop upfront planing", however it does explicitly say[1]:

Sure it might be an abomination, but if we set the rhetoric aside for a minute we should consider the option that the context where Agile is applied isn't just RoR rockin' startups in the Bay. Lets call it dilution perhaps?

Besides, there's context. The Manifesto was drafted in a world still reeling in RUP and floor-wide teams marching towards quarterly releases.

That wasn't sustainable, but neither is "responding to change over following a plan" if that means moving targets every other day. That's a recipe for burn-out, and sprint commitments are sacred.

So yeah, context: respond to change means reassess every some sprint, not pivot 3 times a week.

/s (tongue in cheek people, life's too short for zealotry)


> It’s just poor quality planning and execution.

Potato potato. If you can get away with "poor quality planning" in person but not in remote, it doesn't matter what you call it.


You get 11 weeks until Demo Day. If you spend it learning how to plan better you've already lost.


Well, that's assuming you still don't already know how to plan or even put your thoughts on paper.

If that's the case, you shouldn't be in the business unless you're in a junior/apprentice position (which is fine, one has to start somewhere.)


Training new employees is still quite a bit lower friction with on-premise work. This obviously depends on the kind of work you do, but in my case the work is sufficiently eclectic that even very smart and experienced people tend to take a long time until they have a good level of understanding of the problem domain.

That doesn't mean I'm against remote work, by the way, we do a lot of it. But we need to be realistic about its limitations.


Easy, you have a mandatory 2 week in office period for training and then move to off site. Whichever employee that will be training you will also come train you. The company can even pay for a coworking space that's in between or closer to trainer so they don't need to migrate for the training.


Training a junior dev is going to take a bit more than two weeks.

I'm convinced that remote work is something that works only for some people and some kinds of tasks. Anything that requires a lot of coordination sucks doing remote.


You hit the nail on the head. These types of discussions are sensitive because remote work is sometimes considered to be an opportunity to improve working conditions worldwide and people don't take kindly to push-back on that.

Our startup has gone through distinct phases -- It took us years to find product-market-fit and with that our ability to work remotely has gone through distinct phases that were obvious to the whole team.

At certain points it worked great, but once we moved from the idea testing phase to execution, we wanted to be face to face much more so that we could coordinate our work. Also since new hiring ramped, we have to prioritize face-to-face training.


Remote work is quite reasonable for senior employees that have a demonstrated ability to work independently. In essence, some people are capable to be productive as "independent contractors" even if they're actually a full-time employee, self-managing their time, tasks and coordination with others; and some people can't (yet? is it a stage of career develoment or separate skills?) reliably provide the results that the company needs without a strong management structure doing that coordination, task assignment and information flow for them.


This will never work but if you can do it more power to you. Two weeks is totally insufficient. Then again training is a sucker's game. When they get good, I can just hire them, and not pay anything into training.


Remote work can be very effective but it's not for everyone, or at least not all the time.

We have a liberal remote working policy to the point where one of our team works from home almost all the time, whilst at the other end of the spectrum there are people who prefer to be in the office almost all the time, and then everything in between.

I fall somewhere in the middle. A day a week from home, particularly one with few or no meetings, can enable me to get a huge amount done. But I live alone so, whilst I am an introvert, I am not a misanthrope and need to ensure I get enough social contact.

Multiple consecutive days working from home can leave me feeling quite depressed and demotivated. I certainly wouldn't want to do it all the time.


I guess some people are more fit for remote work than others. I certainly miss day to day interaction with people, too.

I've had to do remote probably half dozen days in past couple of years. Here are some things I've observed:

1) As someone who do not regularly work from home, simply I'm not equipped well enough. I don't have extra monitors sitting around at home to hook up my laptop to give myself multiple monitors, for example, so I'm forced to work in a suboptimal setting.

2) Meetings can get tricky (Note: I also do language interpretation) I have mitigated this by hooking up my recording gear, which actually worked pretty decent.

3) Where there are clear objective for the day, it is relatively easy to handle. For anything other like supporting people who managed to show up at work remotely, was certainly harder part.

4) Everything becomes distractions. Something as simple as getting a cup of coffee. In other word I have to make one myself (or go out and get one myself) where at office I would have access to one close by or walk short distance to buy one.

I would probably sustain... maybe a week of remote at the most. Maybe regular remote workers have designed their life to work with it but certainly not for me. (Again, this also depending on the nature of tasks I need to get done.)


Except I don't have a suite of class A glassware, a dewar, liquid nitrogen, and semi-infinite fridge space at home nor have the infrastructure to provide them to all my people


I do miss that stuff.


Well for one, video calls don't really work, even with excellent internet connection. A lot of time is spent just trying to understand what the other person is saying and asking them to repeat or get closer to the mic, or mute themselves because we keep hearing their background noise.

Most importantly, distractions from family members and lack of a boss looking over your shoulder means most people's productivity will be perhaps 20% of normal.


> Well for one, video calls don't really work, even with excellent internet connection

I felt this way for a very long time. Then I switched jobs and realized (1) there are some very good video conferencing tools that work even on 1 bar of LTE (2) a small investment in a camera/headset/microphone goes a long ways.


Most family members can learn to not disurb -- but I do agree that young children are a problem.

Call quality is easy to solve with decent hardware, a quiet office and proper muting (I see this work all the time with 10 to 100 person meetings.)


Yeah, and there is definitely a huge need for tooling remote-first teams, other than yet another chat clients.


We use your standard common video conferencing and screen sharing apps (Skype can do this, but I’m sure there are better options) if we need a quick chat or need to pair program. People just ping each other and agree on a time to sync up (usually immediately if possible , otherwise after your standard human bullshit like ‘grabbing some lunch first’). Its felt pretty natural, but since we are a fully distributed team, we had no choice but to get over the conceptual hang ups of not physically being near the other person.

But I agree, better tools that integrate communication with project management is going to be a good space to try to build something in.


Certain things are just a lot easier when you are together. I have never had as constructive discussions online as I have had when gathered in a room with a whiteboard.


What kind of professional work lines up with the assembly line paradigm?


Ironically am sitting here waiting for some upstream fixes from a team on the other side of the planet before I can even start my work this week, it was meant to be done a few days ago. Perhaps some things are more assembly line than you might imagine.


Well, I don't work remotely but I am waiting on a task to be completed by another team for about a week now. It's something that can't possibly take more than one hour or so to be completed, and I even talked to them in person before submitting the task. That didn't change a thing about their deadlines.


When this happen do you literally just hang out waiting for that? Or do you work on other miscellaneous stuff in the mean time?


There's an unlimited amount of work to do but in an asynchronous development world some things require others to finish their projects first.


Web development


What kind? Wordpress, or large platform with many different features serving traffic at non-trivial scale (not necessarily google scale, but a few tens of or a hundred thousand requests per second)?


Yes, a lot of web related work is easily defined, encapsulated and distributable. But I’ll appease your indignation with the fact that most of us lowly Wordpress developers are not doing the amazing work you’re involved in.


For remote work, pretty much anything that's not done on an actual assembly line.


And once everything that doesn't require a physical presence (factory, warehouse jobs and so forth) worked just fine during all of this managers in more traditional companies all over the world are still going to find excuses why work from home is impossible for them. Because most of these guys just want to be able to control their employees.


They will until they don’t, right? These are the same people that will outsource entire teams offshore to complete things when it’s cheaper. There’s a lot of talk about worker productivity in this thread, but I promise you in several years when these companies are able to simply hire cheaper labor outside of tech centers, you won’t hear shit about remote work being unproductive lol.


If the productivity drop is less than the cost decrease and quality level/delivery dates are still met, definitely. I'd love my employer to pay my internet bill and let me work from home more often.

I'd need my employer to cover the bill because I'd need to bypass my IPS's 1tb cap and bump my upload speeds a bit to keep things working well. I do a lot of data transfers and archive management.


Yeah this has been my problem with the argument against remote work. Everyone at my old company always used to talk about how people needed to be face to face to get things done and collaborate. And yet we continued to hire and grow sister teams over in India that we worked with extensively for years, with no problems.


> everything that doesn't require a physical presence (factory, warehouse jobs and so forth)

I don't know what kind of fairy tale world you're from, but you need actual human on site to fix and mend broken machines AND broken operation processes, and also need managers to manage those men.

Also, employees are stakeholders, too, and it's often important to gather various information to gain insights into the operations of the company, so that they can speak up before it's too late. Being able to observe actual processes also helps managers to more precisely understand and analyze operations. (Not that these work as intended in real world, tho.)


> men. people

Otherwise i agree. Having just spent a week on-site at a client, you just notice a lot more problems (or start to understand the details of previously identified problems) that are in your capacity to fix.


Read it again. Those are examples that need a presence.


I expect a huge rise in depression the more people work at home. Some people are fairly isolated and get a needed portion of their interaction quota from work. Without something to fill the defecit they will struggle


Yes, working from home has some drawbacks. That, and also some guilt over the fact that your employer is doing you a favour. I work from home and tend to worry that colleagues think I'm slacking. I don't think they do but it put some extra pressure.


the more people work at home the more likely it is they will find ways to compensate as a group. stay-at-home moms must have been facing these issues forever.


> I expect a huge rise in depression the more people work at home

Offset by a huge fall in depression by those who are introverts and don't function well in open floor plan office environments. Workspace happiness isn't universal.


I am quarantined in a german military base after flying out of Wuhan with a german air force evacuation flight. We have wifi on the base, the backbone is struggling though - 120 bored people I guess...


according to media reports at least two of the 120 people were infected. Were they diagnosed before or after the flight? were they isolated?


we were only checked for symptoms before the flight. Nobody with symptoms was allowed to board (I think everybody boarded though). After arrival everybody went to a medical check and they took a saliva sample that was sent to a lab. So those confirmed cases went to the quarantine quarters first and only got taken out and brought to the hospital the morning after.


Did you notice when the flight was rerouted to Helsinki? How is living in quarantine? Which people do you meet during the day? Is it clear when you are able to leave (is it the standard 14-Day policy after you landed in Germany)?


Actually they already new just before the departure from Wuhan that we were going to Helsinki.

Living in quarantine is ok so far. I am in a room with my wife and we are urged to keep contact with other people as small as possible. But in principle you can talk to others.

It is assumed that we can leave after 14 days, but in case there is a new positive case within the group they might to decide to reset the timer.


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