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Why Working from Home Will Stick [pdf] (stanford.edu)
383 points by troydavis on Jan 23, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 548 comments

I've been 100% remote and run remote teams since 2014 and I promise that it won't stick for the broader society. Here's why:

1. Socializing is the primary activity that happens at work for the vast majority of workers. The gal or guy coming by your desk to "check in" or "see how your weekend was" etc... is literally where they find their social outlets and personal connections.

2. Managers like to be able to watch their direct reports because it makes them feel more in control than they are

3. The commuting routine, even if it's a nightmare, offers a sense of normalcy that most people have gotten used to and in a weird way rely on for grounding.

4. For a huge swath of Americans at least, work is an escape from the drudgery of the home.

To truly work from home 100% of the time you have to be a master at controlling yourself and your ability to be distracted. Most people don't have this control and need a framework to insert themselves into. Add to that the contextual dimension of an "other" place that is a world apart from your home life and you have something that allows for a depressurization for most people.

None of these tackle the one aspect that trumps everything else in the corporate world. Is this better for the company?

Even if the majority of companies see things this way, they will return to the office. But those that succeed, survive, thrive or dominate a market will do whatever that makes them successful along the way. It doesn't matter if people like routine if the other guy beats you on revenue, time to market and profitability. The people that win in their market segment are not "most" people.

Until it is confirmed that 100% remote, with workers distributed all around the world that can be the best at what they do, or are cheaper or are capable of being trusted to get the job done without someone breathing over their shoulder are worse at competing than the status quo, the jury is still out.

Broader society? When has that mattered in the face of disruption? Until the day remote working gets outright banned, this game has yet to fully play out.

> Is this better for the company?

Yes. Key positives for a company are reduced cost of office space and ability to draw upon a wider, cheaper pool of potential workers and increased employee satisfaction (for some, not everyone prefers working from home). Key negatives are reduced productivity due to lack of supervision, difficulty of face-to-face meetings with clients, difficulty of training younger staff.

Its a tradeoff and I think different businesses will fall into different buckets and there will also always be some inertia to change. I do think that the 'new normal' is neither 5 days 9-5 in the office OR complete remote work but something more like a couple of days in the office and a couple at home every week for most staff. But this wil probably be a plurality of the workforce only, with substantial numbers completely remote or close to, and substantial numbers also still in 5 days a week.

>Key positives for a company are reduced cost of office space and ability to draw upon a wider, cheaper pool of potential workers...[real dollar values]

>Key negatives are reduced productivity due to lack of supervision, difficulty of face-to-face meetings with clients, difficulty of training younger staff.[hard to measure]

Just throwing this experience of mine out there, when faced with actual dollar figures and hard to measure, vague outcomes, companies that I've worked for have nearly always acted on the dollar figures.

Good management will look further than the balance sheets. If the numbers look good, but the company culture is fading away due to employees only interacting with each other through a computer screen, they should be able to recognize that and take appropriate measures. (because in the end that will most likely also impact the business).

Depending on how your company works, the short term positives could be nothing compared to the problems that will arise when everybody becomes an anonymous cog in an invisible machine.

Yeah, then why not fire everyone? Reduce salaries to 0, all the work is hard to measure. Or why have we all not been remote for a long time, instead of squeezed into high cost locations?

When it comes to their core business companies have a decent belief in what it looks like.

> Or why have we all not been remote for a long time, instead of squeezed into high cost locations?

Playing a little bit the devil's advocate here:

Risk aversion and general tendency to apply gradual changes.

Would you bet your company to run an experiment almost no one else is trying? Perhaps letting your workers work from home works perhaps you'll miss all deadlines and generate all kinds of drama.

An external factors kicked in and everyone was in the same experiment. Things were messy but not completely unmanageable. Some were even surprised things kept working as well as they did.

Now, the big question is: will this take a toll on people? Will companies that choose to continue with this work style be put in disadvantage as other companies switch back to on-prem?

I think that's exactly right and I've even heard CIOs use the term "forced experiment." A lot of things companies have done which have turned out more OK than they necessarily expected were probably on some "Interesting idea. Maybe we should try this out in some indefinite future" list.

>why have we all not been remote for a long time, instead of squeezed into high cost locations?

Because it seemed impossible, until now.

I mean, corporations do regularly offshore as much work as they possibly can and build new plants/offices in low cost locations. Obviously, they need employees, but it's not as if companies don't already do everything they can to reduce the cost of labor.

> Yeah, then why not fire everyone?

That would make the ones doing the firing redundant too. You want as many employees as possible as cheap as possible.

Another big negative is the sunk cost fallacy of acquiring and/or owning office space. If you have all this space, you need to fill it with people. Ritualistic behavior isn't only exhibited by rank and file employees.

I wonder whether WFH will make work more ‘marginal value-add’ - it’s probably far easier to hire/fire someone remote than an office setting, for instance. Maybe some work will start to resemble Uber more than traditional work?

If I understand what you mean I totally agree; remote work isn't good for say developers who mostly got by by being good politicians. We probably all worked with people like that. You will be judged more by your actual output than by how well you give presentations or get along with bosses. On the other hand it's terrific for people who got pushed out of the job market due to ageism or other biases. It matters less who you are now, and matters more how well u actually get the job done.

In theory, I think this is a plausible positive scenario. In practice, however, I've never seen it play out like this (huge anecdata here).

I've worked remote most of my career, and in my experience, the politics and work theaterisms are still there, just different.

For example, someone's perceived level of "effort" often becomes a function of how responsive they are. Do they respond to Slack messages at random hours, when team members in different time zones/aggressive managers ping them? Do they frequently communicate with the team via video calls and Slack discussions? Just like in normal office politics, their actual productivity or work quality is assessed less than their appearance of engagement.

That's just an example, but my experience in general has been that remote doesn't change anything about the cultural of management at a company. Whatever metrics mattered in person, there will be remote equivalents to replace them.

The positive here is that good leadership is still good leadership, remote or not. The negative, obviously, is that remote isn't the balm for poor leadership that many hope it will be.

Being judged by what kind of output? At my current employer it matters very much that you get stuff done. It matters to a much lesser degree whether what you got done is actually (as opposed to being perceived to be) useful or impactful.

I agree but thats a different problem.

Yup. You mean UpWork, or companies like it.

The sunk cost is meaningful for a company randomly choosing to switch to work-from-home. However, currently Covid restrictions in various countries have pushed companies to work from home long enough that the leases are running out and they can reduce (or already have reduced) office space without losing any sunk cost.

Most companies I've worked for don't see WFH as a cost saving initiative but as an operating productivity initiative.

I don’t think it is.

The high performers work better, but half of the rest workers are doing nothing. I’m aware of people getting canned for stuff like outsourcing themselves, accidentally having sex on an open mic, illegally exporting computers to countries with export controls, etc since COVID.

Work at home is great for people with tangible outputs. I don’t want my salesmen fucking around in the office. But many workers with less well defined outputs are going to be harder to manage, and being in the office kept distractions away.

I would think the fact high performers work better remote though is what will be a competitive advantage for a 100% remote company at some point in the future.

I am way more productive remote and it isn't even close. While I do like the social aspect of the office, it is such overkill.

To me post-COVID, the whole country is open for business. I want to join a company that values high productive remote workers and sees the massive opportunity this is going to create.

The reality is that for most companies the average performers do most of the work. Even in brilliant environments most of the work is drudge work.

Lol, this is exactly the strategy of the business I’m running. We started in March, have a team of 10, and are remote first in our DNA. It’s so much easier to hire that you can build a team of top performers fairly easily and evaluate them based on output.

> I am way more productive remote and it isn't even close. While I do like the social aspect of the office, it is such overkill.

I agree with this viewpoint, and (post covid) there are options for replicating at least some of the social aspects of the office.

Unhappy and distressed worker is a less productive worker. Some forms of unhappiness and distress may be applied to increase productivity, like deadlines and fear of being fired. But for most people who can even work from home their needs to concentrate and to communicate are way more important for productivity.

I'd trade 20 minutes extra socializing at my first place with the people I love or my third place with the people of similar interests for an hour of socializing with people talking about a sport I'm not into or their kids. I also find that having to do more stuff over email, messaging and zoom has been great for reigning in an overly narcissistic manipulative coworker because their actions are much more record-able now.

I recognize I'm not the norm, but working from home the past year has been amazing for my introverted personality. To imply that the office is a necessity for removing distress is an overly broad brush to paint with that does not apply to everyone.

> ...do more stuff over email, messaging and zoom has been great...

WFH forces the kind of auditable accountability upon everyone I've taken for granted as necessary to thrive as a consultant. This popularizes communication modalities into the open long overdue. Use of more granular project tracking has gone up considerably as a coordination point to communicate early and often between teams, purely to reduce meetings only to where exploratory work has to be performed between multiple people/teams.

I'm seeing in my clients a lot of the big-talkers-little-execution ("all hat, no cattle") staff members get identified and tracked into more tightly-focused work efforts, leading to less stress upon the staff who usually bear the brunt of picking up the slack. The staff who typically thrive in this environment are highly systematic with their work, take notes instead of relying upon just memory, and effectively coordinate and work with team members in decision-oriented meetings.

Management is much more open to spending the necessary time to ramp up automation, simply because the effort leaves behind far more obvious artifacts, as opposed to pre-pandemic, where shockingly many clients still had armies of staff performing everything by hand "because we can't afford DevOps".

I still predict however a lot companies and people going back to offices post-pandemic. The socialization aspect is poorly addressed with virtual happy hours, or other tactics put on by really good leadership. We don't have the tech cost down enough yet to pull off the kind of virtual office that can replace that yet. I imagine "yet" as way better than Cisco Telepresence-grade AV (8K tiled video, full phased-array directional two-way video, latency management), floor-to-ceiling scale, in everyone's home office, that can reproduce say, a small open office with a central virtual conference table surrounded by virtual doors to virtual private offices that look into people's home office when their virtual door is open. Our species aren't built for the kind of intensely-close face-to-face contact all day long that is involved when web conferencing with each other over laptop cameras, so current web conferencing solutions cannot substitute for high-touch interactions that many managers and staff crave.

Personally, I'm less effective when physically at an office as I can't be as systematic handling the flow of work coming across as a stream of text. A large proportion of workers still vastly prefer speaking than typing, and I end up transcribing a lot of that walk-up verbal interaction myself and then following up in text format anyways, which is a big factor in the efficiency differential.

>I still predict however a lot companies and people going back to offices post-pandemic. The socialization aspect is poorly addressed with virtual happy hours, or other tactics put on by really good leadership.

I think a lot of that can be addressed by having in-person social events once it's feasible to do so.

I spent many years as a consultant for several different large consulting firms. If we were productive, we were generally at client sites most of the time.

That meant we were rarely together as a group while working.

In order to promote teamwork, camaraderie and make sure we knew our peers, superiors and subordinates well, at least at the well-run organizations, we'd have regular (semi-monthly) team get togethers and at least quarterly office get togethers, either in the office or at a public venue.

That sort of thing is much less costly and since it's outside of the regular work routine, socializing and building relationships doesn't negatively impact productivity.

Whether or not WFH+regular get togethers is a good solution depends on the organization and its dynamics. But it absolutely can make a big difference.

I suspect that many here, especially on the technical side and especially in smaller companies, see there being this dichotomy between being in an office or being by themselves at home or wherever, with maybe the sometimes happy hour thrown in.

I'm normally almost 100% remote but the past 9 months have still been rather isolating because normally I'm traveling about 1/3 of the time including to industry events and internal meetings where I meet among other teams members and other people from the company. Honestly, I go into our local office these days and I might not run into anyone I know because we've grown a lot and my direct team is very distributed.

> Whether or not WFH+regular get togethers is a good solution depends on the organization and its dynamics. But it absolutely can make a big difference.

Agreed. I'm hoping this does become the new normal, but it is a difficult balance to strike for leadership. There are different types of personalities, lifestyles, and life stages within any employee base, and there absolutely is a human need for connection even at work, which for some people can only be found in their specific circumstances in physically going butt-in-seat.

Hey there, I'm working on an app that helps guide people new to remote work to using something very close to the style of working you're describing here. If you'd be open for a chat, I'd love to get your feedback about how we could improve based on your experience.

The lessons going into it now come from my experience at an all-remote unicorn, and your consulting based viewpoint would be valuable to hear.

Hi Jason, looks like you are asking about AsyncGo. After reading your Remote Work Hub interview and poking around the docs, I think you have a very viable product for teams that are already highly text-centric. Teams/Slack/etc. are terrible for the exact fit you are aiming at, which I think of as "structured, directed chat". I don't know what your go to market strategy is, so I have no idea if you are aiming at any of these issues I immediately thought of giving a quick once over the aforementioned materials.

Voice-centric. This is very difficult to internalize for those of us here who cut our working lives upon text. We literally live in a context cocooned in text: email, chat, complex application UI's, web pages, editors, calendars, and terminals. But we're vastly outnumbered by most people in the world who get activities done by interacting largely by voice or near-proxies. Whether with peers, direct reports, managers, stakeholders, assistants, or any other relationship, the majority of interactions are transacted over voice, snippets of text so brief they might as well be voice, sometimes highly-structured apps (like truck dispatch apps) that might as well be snippets of text, pictures (still or moving), and rarest of all the kind of text we deal with in our industry.

This is text that sits in unstructured form until it is internalized and cognitively, actively modeled. Even highly-structured code with strict AST's counts, because unless I've read the code before, it comes at me as a blob until I've applied cognitive effort comprehending it. If it wasn't this way, the majority of advertisements would be in long-form text. There is a highly specialized area of marketing that does do exactly that, but the overwhelming majority of advertising functions on this predominantly-voice ingestion pattern.

If your product market fit is outside of the group of people who are used to transacting in text (and even then, even inside tech companies, there are tons of people who still vastly prefer voice, even modulo the social dominance hues using voice to convey requests brings to the picture), then I don't know how to solve that problem without Uber-scale buckets of money.

From recording to synthesized structure. This is the passive inscribing act going through the converting process to active internalization gap to produce decisions and results all tools in this genre aim for. You cannot make people cognitively apply themselves to taking raw information, internalize it, and then offer synthesis. Watch a lot of meetings for the following: how many people are regurgitating the recorded/known data or only first-order consequences in their own words (thereby typically cementing their understanding), and how many summarize into choices, tradeoffs, and synthesize a proposed solution that take into account second- or even third-order effects? A great number of tools in this space fall into the recording trap. "Here, I enabled you to record this phone conversation, that web meeting, whatsit email. Now go make something of it."

We're still missing a data auto-editorial function not just in this toolspace but in general within the civilization. The Big Hairy problem space isn't recording, as much as accurate, precise, fast synthesis. We have too much recording as it is. We lack correctly finding the valuable parts of the recordings. As much as people like to dump on Palantir here, they're tackling that synthesis problem head-on; they're basically indiscriminately spraying a firehose of money at the problem, and they're chipping away at it through a lot of brute-force (which I suspect is the only way initially). This is why you see people asking each other over email for the same information they just emailed each other about last month instead of searching the email archives. Associative importance-based memory beats search beats raw data.

What is interesting to me about all this is we aren't even widely supporting interrupt-driven annotation and organizing, even though our biological hardware is optimized for that modality. Vision keying on motion, audio keying on differentials breaching background noise (and said background is cognitively processed, not just a decibel threshold), pattern recognition, and so on: our hardware platform is primed for an interrupt-driven existence, yet our SOTA computer interactions in the workplace are primarily batch-based. It is no wonder Instagram is a smash success, and Outlook having been on the market for a magnitude longer is "just" a square office app, despite one user of the latter conveying far more information in a day than in a week on the former.

To bring this into the concrete, for example we can attach video to a topic, so an even better interrupt-friendly interaction is being able to comment directly into the video, either by typing or talking into TTS/video-over-cam, and have that emerge into the topic alongside the video. That's half way there to summarizing with low effort by the users. As much as I like Markdown myself, unless I'm working with a developer-centric organizational culture, I point teams towards rich text editors (which are free to encode into Markdown). Organizing topics will become an issue, especially in cross-functional teams who are nearly guaranteed to have differing taxonomies and even ontologies. Coercing them all into a One Tag Cloud to Rule Them All seems to discourage adoption rates in my limited experience, which I suspect is due to some kind of conceptualization/modeling impedance mismatch between teams. With cheap storage and processing these days, I'd like to see the results of interrupt-driven, search-history-directed, team-oriented-categorization organizing. Build the associative net based upon what people say to remember about a topic, what they search for and linger upon the longest after apparently pausing their search, and what ML-identified commonalities they share with other team mates (relationships pulled from a directory service).

That's my off-the-cuff reaction.

What a great perspective, thanks for sharing. Going to give it some thought before replying further.

Does socialization really matter to management and the business profits at large though?

When you know your collegues and their circumstances better it is easier to create a work environment with less friction. In the worst case you see your collegues as some abstract force that constantly makes your day worse, while you yourself wouldn't even go an extra milimeter to make things clear, easy to parse or simply less pain in the ass for the next person.

Knowing the people you work with can make these relationships less abstract and more emphatic.

In the worst case interpersonal communication in the workplace is all about who tends to offload work on whom (e.g. the manager who records a 15 min voice message where precisely one minute matter to each of the receipients offloaded the effort of sorting and parsing to the recipients. This manager wasted then 14 minutes times the number of receipients time, just out of pure lazyness).

Remote communications makes this worse, because every email that leaves open a questions takes time/energy as it goes back and forth.

Sure it does. The economist did a piece on just this when COVID first struck. There are very real implications when people lack social interaction beyond business talk (so called water cooler time) and the five minutes of you and coworkers pretending to care and asking each other basic questions doesn’t cut it, either,

That's the problem though. Other than companies founded by introverted nerds, most of the corporate world is led by extroverts who set the norm and it won't be working from home.

> has been great for reigning in an overly narcissistic manipulative coworker because their actions are much more record-able now.

What? What kind of workplace do you work at that you need to resort to recording your coworkers to get to the bottom of conflicts?

When I was at the office, there were always two or three people who stopped by my desk every day, and just wanted to talk about some BS thing. Now with work from home I never hear from them. Because they realize that this was non-work related and if they send me an email or chat, that is going to be on the record

I think you're pretty much correct. What will stick for any given company is what makes them more money.

Working together in person has to be 10 times more effective. Major doubt that anyone thinks remote working is actually more effective from the companies perspective. The only argument I ever here is that antisocial people prefer not seeing other people and getting their work done alone.

My productivity probably doubled when I moved to remote working last year.

In the morning, I don't need to commute an hour to the office, giving me an extra hour of sleep. My workspace is also superior to what I'd ever get in the office.

But the biggest boost in my productivity has come from the lack of distractions when working from home. If I'm trying to focus on something, I can set my status as busy and mute notifications, leaving me to work in peace without interruption.

> My workspace is also superior to what I'd ever get in the office.

An interesting factor is how this is dependent on how confident we can be to continue WFH.

Like many people, I'm nowhere near prepared to have a good home office, the house is way too tiny. Which was fine when I didn't WFH more than a few days a month.

But I could easily solve that by moving to a cheaper area where I could get a house with enough space for a dedicated home office. But to do that I need to be confident WFH will continue. Hard to predict what to do.

(So what I've done in the interim is lease a small office walking distance from my house, lots of vacancies right now.)

>An interesting factor is how this is dependent on how confident we can be to continue WFH.

I had this problem and spent a few months working on the couch before buying a desk and office chair - I dropped a few thousand on these things alone. What gave me the confidence was the introduction of a WFH allowance and news a few people around the company had moved to the countryside.

A few thousand on just a desk and a chair? I’m left thinking that desk must be amazing!

Doesn't seem out of the realm of reasonableness. A top office chair will be $1400 or so new. (My Aeron broke fairly near the beginning of all this; took me a few months to be able to get a replacement.) It wouldn't be hard to spend the same on a desk.

I think we can safely assume a sizable percentage will allow WFH. I mean Facebook, Twitter etc already said this will go beyond covid, and many others will follow. But of course not everyone will be 100% WFH, many will do a combination probably.

I just can't disagree more. If you are a productive worker and very social the office is a huge negative. Because I am social everyone always wants to talk to me in the office. All remote has really done is given me an office with a locked door that I now control who and when I can be disrupted and distracted.

If you are a slacker at home I am sure you slacked in the office as well.

To me it all depends if we are talking from a middle management perspective or not. The company is better off but the redundancy of middle management is on full display right now.

There will be huge opportunity though for companies that get leaner middle management wise and poach high performing remote talent across the country. This to me seems very obvious.

Not to mention, it is not like you are going to have the luxury as a company of cutting remote cost post COVID. Remote cost is sunk cost for the remainder of my working life.

I assume the biggest factor right now with how the company spins the narrative with remote work has to do with what things look like with the timing and length of the office lease.

At some point in the future though, the cost of the office will become a competitive disadvantage.

I'm an engineering manager, and I can say my teams are just as productive today (100% remote) as they were pre-COVID (100% in-office). I do have very high performing teams, though, and I'm sure that plays a role.

I think one "secret" is that we have small-ish teams (3-5 engineers), each with a very engaged and technically savvy leader. I've known other managers to have up to 20 IC reports. I can see that kind of structure falling apart when remote in such a way that your underperformers start completely slacking off and you're too busy to even notice. It's way harder for that to happen in smaller teams where your team lead/manager is very engaged in the team's work and your relative output is quite visible.

> my teams are just as productive today (100% remote) as they were pre-COVID (100% in-office).

How much of this is the result of working with an established team that existed before you moved to work-from-home? Do you think the same will be true for teams that are created in a work-from-home setting from the start?

I ask, because I am worried about training and retaining new people. A lot of work is not satisfying in itself. Part of my motivation comes from working together with a group of people I've come to known well. Often I care more about the people I work with than the problems I am working on. I consider this people aspect part of my intrinsic motivation to work.

I fear that once we're all working from home, our motivations become more and more extrinsically. After that, why bother working for THIS company or problem? Can I trust myself and my colleagues to be involved enough to finish anything in the long run? Or should I start to expect anyone to jump ship anytime?

Working remotely does not stop collaboration. I have been working primarily remote for the past 12 years. I meet with my team every day for standup and am in constant contact with team members throughout the day, sometimes pair programming or helping to debug issues.

This is not much different than working in a colocated situation, except my coworkers don't have to smell my B.O.

The tooling available these days makes remote work better than in person IMO.

As another person remote for 12 years exactly, I agree that nowadays we have nice tools, but some things are still better in person.

For example, walking to a whiteboard and sketching something is easier than doing the same in zoom, unless everyone in the team owns a wacom tablet, and even then, physical "big visible charts" generally work better than online ones.

I think the trade off is in favour of remote, for me, but it is highly dependent on job, person, team.

I've come around to thinking that regular shared docs work fine for most purposes (or even better than whiteboards). But to the degree that whiteboards really do matter, just give everyone whatever is the appropriate tablet and set up the software. The cost is trivial in the scheme of things. (I actually don't care for tablets that aren't an LCD screen. You don't get the direct feedback.)

Even back in 2000 we were using ICQ to chat with other developers sitting nearby. It was faster and less intrusive.

I worked at a highly successful all-remote company (pre-COVID) with over 1500 employees and it was certainly not filled with antisocial or otherwise damaged people, and it was clear we were just as effective there with complete freedom to work on our own schedules and from wherever we wanted.

Not sure where you came up with this, judging by the number of product announcements on HN in the past year people seem pretty busy.

Did anyone have a choice in the matter?

Post COVID WFH and flexible in office work weeks are the norm now at least in the Bay Area. I'm sure being in person is 10x more productive for some fields but software engineering is not one of them. If it were we wouldn't have had a year of tech companies performing exceptionally well.

That depends on your personality. I am way more productive working from home.

I'm not sure the numbers agree with you. Check out this recent survey: https://www.livecareer.com/resources/careers/planning/is-rem...

In particular, scroll 3/4ths of the way down to the "Remote Work Prospects and Employees' Expectations" section. 61% of now-remote workers say they want to stay remote. 29% say they'll quit their jobs it they're forced to go back. And few want to go back 5 days per week.

A year ago, I would have agreed with your analysis. Few would have chosen to go remote. But now inertia works the other way. After a year or more of not commuting, what's normal is staying home. Managers have gotten used to managing remotely. To switch back, managers will have to get 100% of a team to return to the office, which is going to be very challenging. People will quit. People will have specific needs where a manager will have a hard time saying no. And if one person on a team is remote, it'll be very hard to hold the line at one.

I think people will solve the rest of it on their own. Some will renovate or move, setting up better for working from home. There will be a rise in third places like cafes and coworking spaces, so people can leave the house but not have to do a full commute.

So my guess is that we'll see a permanent spread. Remote working will continue to be much more popular than before the pandemic. Many companies, including major ones, will drop the expected days/week in the office below 5. Those who go down to 1-2 will downsize office space, shift to desk hoteling, and treat offices more as places for meetings than work. Some companies will try to return to the old paradigm, but many workers will complain bitterly, and they'll have ongoing trouble with recruiting and retention.

I guarantee that 29% of employees will not quit their jobs if forced to go back; that number is way to high.

Sure. More people always intend a thing then actually do it. But I think it's indicative of their feelings. What they will do is complain bitterly, and if they see an opportunity to go remote, they'll take it. That's a great incentive for managers to keep hiring remote.

Given if the alternative is that they can get a remote job elsewhere easily, why not?

I had been working remotely for a startup based in the bay area for a couple of years prior to the pandemic and living in a low COL area for a year of that experience.

I promise you it is much harder to find remote work than otherwise; even during a pandemic. I ended up relocating back to a high COL area because of this difficulty(among a few other things).

Once you realize you have to take a 50% pay cut to work anywhere else(or find another high paying remote job- good luck, everyone else wants one too!) remote work becomes a very tight, and scary leash.

There for sure will not be that many remote jobs.

If it's evident that being remote is just as effective or more why wouldn't most companies start catching the eyes of their potential candidates with that?

That's what it would take for work-from-home to organically catch on. Either the delta is obvious or it isn't.

The delta is pretty obvious, though. Companies that aren't in tech hubs no longer have to hire from a limited local talent pool, and companies that are in tech hubs can save on both office and salary expenses by hiring across the country. I've already seen local companies announce permanent hybrid models due to the former and large Silicon Valley unicorns like Coinbase announce permanent hybrid models due to the latter.

And speaking very anecdotally, where I work we've done plenty of surveys on WFH and the results were very clear: not allowing any kind of hybrid model would've become a retention disaster over time. The desire for at least some kind of flexibility post-pandemic was overwhelming.

TFA implies that most remote work will not be full-time remote. Therefore many of the same frictions of changing jobs now will still exist.

My guess is that there will be more full-time remote jobs. But I do expect that most of the tech jobs being discussed will still be attached to an office with a general expectation that teams get together semi-regularly. So long as it's only one day per week or less, that gives people a lot of flexibility in where they live but it does mean they probably can't move to a ski town.

That's a pretty big given.

Anecdotally, I have been shocked to see managers in my department not understanding attrition due to people in IT quitting because they are finding new fully remote jobs because they didn’t like the constant “when we plan to go back fully in the office”.

Defaults are powerful. If I look at my journey to essentially 100% remote... I was already traveling a lot and working at home some days. Then I badly broke my foot and started working almost entirely from home and I never went back in that job. When I started a new one about 10 years ago, I went in more but I started traveling more and just went in less and less especially as there were fewer people I worked with around the office.

I think it's worth looking into "theory of the firm" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_the_firm

Why should employees even exist? Shouldn't firms just sack everyone, then hire contractors?

I often hear advocates of remote work talk about "presenteeism" and how managers need to just focus more on outputs. This is fine, but if they can do that why not sack everyone and just hire contractors and pay for the outputs?

The reality is, unless employees are micro-managed to the point of being basically robots, they're given a certain amount of discretion. If they are at work, and can't slack off, then they will use this discretion to create value for the company in ways that the managers don't always have time to exactly specify.

The slack and discretion in a "presentism" run office means that employees can make changes without having to always go up the chain. For a concrete example, let's say you think there's a major show-stopper of a bug. Your manager disagrees, and says not to worry about it, and will not budge. You have a few hours free in the week because you finished your work a bit faster than expected. You might look into the suspected bug (and end up proving it's an issue, or proving to yourself that your boss was right) if you're otherwise stuck in an office reading email to look busy, but not if you're at home and you can turn on the TV or walk the dog.

Based on the contractors we've hired at various points, you get what you give. Most of the contractor code worked, but had poor maintenance characteristics. Which makes sense: they weren't going to be maintaining it. Their job was to generate a lot of code quickly.

So, a future where that happens will require either very tight managerial oversight (pipe dream), or will lead to a bunch of stuff that is brittle as hell.

Doesn't mean it won't happen. But God helps us if it does.

I suspect that would lead to just subcontracting whole business functions to more stable vendors.

Excellent insight. And agree to your theoretical conclusion to some extent.

To share contractor perspective: a problem I've identified is ambiguous overlap of ownership/maintainer role of project code between contractor and contractee staff (or lack thereof). So a slightly alternate conclusion is that it's up to the contractor to exert authority over the code they provide to the contractee even if that means charging more to ensure said code shall be maintained well into beyond original production date; or doing the hard but necessary things like engaging directly with contractee and its staff at ground-zero and not-to-mention the customers said project serves so as to stay dialed into the picture for as long or as intimately as necessary to ensure optimal results.

It is not always a rewarding experience, and can be demoralizing at times because internal staff can often view contractors as outside threats to their own jobs (which is understandable; but actually is part of the value in hiring outside contractors from time to time as it keeps staff on their toes) and so you may often be feeling like you are on the outside knocking on the window just to get basic access to assets, servers, or people/gatekeepers responsible for granting you what you need to get said work done, yet...

if contractor doesn't exert this extent of dilligence, or lazily assumes the company will maintain said code by means of its own devices - it will become lose lose for both sides as the contractor will be blamed when things start to break or when internal staff eventually & inevitably are requested to introduce new features on top of the now outdated 'foreign codebase' they begrudgingly must now maintain - which can conversely result in long drawn-out 'new platform' projects that set back said company by months or a year or more resulting in yet more need for contractors to fill in gaps again and as such this never-ending cycle continues.

At the end of the day if you are contractor you are indeed expendable & temporary and so its best not to get emotionally invested; be results focused & get paid for your time, do your best and at the end of the day that is all you and your client need - at least until the next cycle begins.

In my experience, most people have just as much possibility of slacking off at the office than at home. We have colleagues to chat with, phones and even tablets with internet connectivity…

The main difference between employees and contractors are incentives. The contractor's goal is to get paid the most over the longest period of time. They don't care about your company's bottom line, they care about theirs, and the 2 aren't automatically aligned. The employees are more or less paid a fixed amount a month, their incentive is to stay around and get raises.

I've been working with contractors for years, and you absolutely need employees to ensure the contractor's output is aligned with the interest of the company, at all times and in detail.

> In my experience, most people have just as much possibility of slacking off at the office than at home.

I can confirm this because I've reached a point in my job where I am performing at most about 3 hours worth of actual work in any given week. This isn't because I'm so good at my job (I once was...) and things are running so smoothly (though they kinda are), it's because my current mental state prevents me from being motivated enough to do much of anything. Remarkably few people seem to have noticed and none have said anything about it.

When I was allowed to work from home because I had COVID (the entire IT department got it due to asinine butts-in-seats policy during a fucking pandemic), all that changed is that my stress level went down from not having to pretend to work most of the work day.

>I often hear advocates of remote work talk about "presenteeism" and how managers need to just focus more on outputs. This is fine, but if they can do that why not sack everyone and just hire contractors and pay for the outputs?

Why not do that anyway? The same reasons apply.

>If they are at work, and can't slack off, then they will use this discretion to create value for the company in ways that the managers don't always have time to exactly specify.

I've never been in a work environment where everyone is working at 100% all the time. Never. Have you?

Pure anecdote - while working remotely I've found that my team is bout the same productivity level, maybe slightly more productive; we've had people build internal tools in their spare time, people are focused on the task rather than wasting time and we've hired carefully and built a culture where people know they are trusted and needed to get the job done.

Yes, it doesn't work the same way in-person works all the time. You have to allow for more asynchronicity, but you can counter that in part by having the opportunity for scheduled check-ins.

In your example, by the way, the staffer has gained no favor from the manager by directly going against what they said to do. They might solve this bug and be a hero but they'll be likely to gain a reputation for not being able to listen to directions.

Maybe and maybe not. My underlying direction is “do what’s best for the company”. If I see things wrongly and give you a more specific direction that you believe contradicts that (“don’t fix that bug!”), it will be well-received when you fix that bug.

Even if you spend some time chasing it and come up empty, the story that you went above what was assigned because you were convinced I was wrong and hurting the company is still a good one.

Now, if you always act like an arrow without any feathers, we may have a problem, but I’d way rather have a bunch of engineers trying to improve the company even if that means proving me wrong than have a bunch of them waiting to faithfully execute my divinely-inspired direction.

> I've never been in a work environment where everyone is working at 100% all the time. Never. Have you?

Yes, (except mandated breaks) although they were all unskilled labor. Working in shipping/receiving, a warehouse, fast food (less so, there usually are lulls at certain times), a restaurant. Very little time not spent working.

In an office environment, though? Yeah, I've never seen it, except on the rare day when something major breaks and it needs to be resolved asap.

> Shouldn't firms just sack everyone, then hire contractors?

I mean, a lot of them are trying to do exactly that.

A lot of bad companies that don't understand the value of developing long term assets. :D

> if you're otherwise stuck in an office reading email to look busy, but not if you're at home and you can turn on the TV or walk the dog.

The opposite

Pre covid is occasionally go to “the offie”, usually for a big meeting and socialisation once a month, sometimes as I was working in the data centre.

During the day, interruptions would be so high that I wouldn’t bother trying to work between them - as bad as if I try to homeschool the kids.

Providing employees with a sense of ownership and belonging is a surprisingly strong motivator. People who feel they have a skin in the game will naturally work harder.

That's fine until that manager wises up and keeps a long backlog of things to assign to you so you don't have time to prove him (or her) wrong.

For me thinking about tech IS watching TV or walking the dog, which is hard to do in an open office. Meaning it's my work and hobby.

I definitely agree about the socializing. I miss seeing friendly colleagues face to face and having lunch with them. It's not just that though. I started a new remote job during the pandemic and... I feel like I really don't have the same bond with these new colleagues that I had with my colleagues at my previous in-person job. I genuinely feel like we would collaborate better, and be a better team, if we could hang out in person. There's a certain bond of trust that you naturally build when you just have lunch and casual conversations with people, that is very hard to replicate online.

As for the commute, I previously had a 15-minute walk to and from work before. I try to design my life so I can either walk or bike to work. I miss that too. I was more physically active before, and there's something meditative about walking, helps clear your mind.

When I was at the office I'd take a 20-ish minute walking break around the office block almost every day.

I don't know what it is about remote work, but even though I know the physical activity would be good for me, I have a hell of a time motivating myself to taking a walk around the neighborhood before/during work that I work only from home. And we started 100% remote before the pandemic, so it's not pandemic-related.

I think there's a couple of reasons for that, for me. #1, I don't really feel the need to escape home, where I had to get out of the office, especially with all the open office noise. I can just 'escape' upstairs and do some dishes to put some distance from work. And #2, my role is now a lot more on-call than it used to be, and a few times I've taken the walk during work I've had to double back and hurry halfway through, because I always seem to pick the exact time something breaks.

Sucks. I don't have a good reason to be in worse shape because of the pandemic but I am.

Part of it is putting on a mask and walking around (the city) where I live is itself a reminder of the situation we’re stuck in.

Did you wear shoes at work? Do you wear shoes at home?

Yes to both.

1. This is the main reason I prefer remote working. I don’t like socializing. I’m there to work, not to chit chat. You’re not my friend, your a fellow worker.

2. Time to get a better manager who trusts you.

3. Commuting is a waste of time. I roll out of bed and immediately start working. The company loses on time I could be working by having me commute.

4. Yeah, I definitely can’t relate to this one.

For something you're going to spend your life doing, it's a horrible prospect to not expect to make friends at work. As a child did you spend 12 years not making friends in school, since school is for learning and not socialization?

It's important to be _friendly_ at work but there's no reason someone needs to make "friends".

I've made lifelong friends at work but it was in a setting where it was a small startup and the entire company literally fit in one room. It was almost impossible not to form relationships just because we spent so much time together.

Getting older, having a family, and working for big corp vesting RSUs? No, I'm not likely going to be making any friends at work.

My experience coming from remote working for several years was I made friends in my neighborhood through volunteering and local places/events rather than at the office. In a lot of ways it has worked out so much better that way.

Of course all that is on hold with lockdown now, which I think is giving people the impression that remote working means no friends.

As much as I've liked the company of coworkers and been friendly with them, I've never had a coworker friendship 'stick' after they or I leave for very long.

The longest was a guy I used to meet up with at dog parks so our dogs could play together, or meet for a pint sometimes, and even that is looking like it's probably not going to stick.

The longest lasting friendships for me have been friends with a shared hobby. Like I have a lot of friends that are really into board games. Except for the pandemic it's been real easy to maintain those friendships, just organize a game night.

The average Millenial worker will job hop every 1-3 years. While it’s good to be friendly with your colleagues, you also shouldn’t build friend networks that get broken and reformed with such regularity.

That might be true for high earning, in demand programmers, finance types, or doctors, but I doubt it’s true for others, especially outside of large cities.

People find a place to work and then stick with it, out of complacency or other properties. It’s why employers famously provide minimal raises, and you earn far more if you change employers.

Employers are betting people will rather accept lower pay in exchange for less volatility and perceived risk, and they are correct.

A good friend and current roommate of mine has spent his entire working life doing menial work. Kitchens and factories mostly. He changes jobs just as often as your average resume-driven-developer. Not for raises of course, those don't really exist in menial work, he just gets sick of one place's shit and moves on to a different place with a different set of bullshit to deal with, just for variety.

This makes no sense. Just because you switch jobs doesn't mean you can never talk to people at your old job never again.

Meeting your former colleagues is like the high-school reunion that happens once per decade. It is too rare, and it is obvious that most of the things that connected you in the past are not there anymore.

Again, this isn't some law of nature. I regularly connect with old colleagues, we all went our separate ways and a lot of our commonalities changed, yet somehow I can still talk to them, see what they're doing, etc.

Of course it doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to those people ever again, but unless if you put in a lot of ground work to create a common connection external to work, most of those friendships will evaporate the moment they lose the shared experience of working at the same place.

Millenial or not, those friend networks are still how you'll be able to find the better jobs when you're older.

I've gotten better jobs through networking and none of them were friends. People should recommend others who are good at their job, not friends.

It's important to be _friendly_ at work but that doesn't mean someone is your friend.

I've gotten several jobs through colleagues, none of which were based on having made an actual friendship in the sense that I hung out with any of these people in my free time. It was more like networking and was based on professional experience and capability.

Imagine you're on a spaceship, say the Nostromo from Alien. And your biggest skill is making others do your work. I'd say you'd be the first in line to be spaced.

That's precisely why you want to make friends at every shop, since you'll all be rotating jobs and running into the same people in future jobs, sometimes hiring them sometimes being hired by them.

I wonder if that is skewed my certain kinds of jobs (Ex: retail and software) where a skill is broadly transferable to many many other companies.

As a fairly specialized electrical engineer, I could still find employment at several other companies which do what I do, but I'm not itching to move (been at the same company for a decade). Is everyone on HN constantly shifting jobs?

I'm not sure it's just specialization. Outside of hands-on engineering, there are a lot of roles in product management, developer relations, marketing, finance, etc. that are pretty transferable between companies. There's just a lot of job hopping in SV--especially between often short-lived small companies--that you probably see less of elsewhere. Personally, aside from one company that went pop in the dot-com era--I've never been at a job less than about 10 years on the east coast.

For the Bay Area specifically:

1.) Small startups die often

2.) People vest their RSUs and realize their employer doesn't value them enough for a refresh so they take a giant pay cut hence start the job search

> For something you're going to spend your life doing, it's a horrible prospect to not expect to make friends at work.

Yeah well, as they say, life's a bitch and then you die. On the scale of things that are horrible prospects "not making friends at work" strikes me as something very privileged to be concerned about.

Jesus that's dark. Everybody needs community, there's nothing privileged about that. Through the ages we have bound ourselves to our profession and the people we work with and for in our community. Is that some far-fetched ideal to strive for?

And I'm not meaning some buddy-buddy friends, but at least making good acquaintances. You can't really go much farther than that unless you have developed a good personal rapport and share some set of similarities.

Some people have very low social needs, very little desire to socially interact and are very picky. In that regard, I agree with GP. Personally, work is work and I don't go there to small talk with every single person who is incredibly unlikely to mesh well with me. Worse is when they come out with the "but you can change" arguments, when I'm fairly satisfied with the few great friends I have outside work.

I too find the need to be friends with everyone quite privileged, and worse, trying to force one's world view onto others. Some people just don't have the luxury of surrounding themselves with people of a largely similar mindset they can bond to in a work environment. Friendship is not something I wish to lower my standards for. Maybe the definition of what constitutes a friend is just different, too. I have high standards for a friend. An acquaintance, not so much. You could be an acquaintance just by saying 'hi' every week.

> Everybody needs community, there's nothing privileged about that.

It is extremely privileged to expect your job to provide that. Most people do not have that many different jobs with different considerations to choose from, and when they do choose they do it based on more important and immediate needs like working conditions and compensation.

Is it so horrible? I have friends outside of work.

I get on with my coworkers, we talk about non-work things, we occasionally do (well, did) social activities in the evenings or weekends... but if someone leaves I fully expect to never see or talk to them again, and the thought doesn't pain me.

> it's a horrible prospect to not expect to make friends at work

But I already do have friends, and I see no reason to replace them with my current coworkers.

For me, a horrible prospect is that a corporation could hold my social network hostage, so that if they fire me, I not only lose my income, but also my support group, on the same day.

(I am not opposed in principle to finding a friend among my colleagues, if we happen to click on the personal level. But I am not going to force it; my standards are quite strict. It happened twice in my life, and we meet regularly despite no longer working together. They have been upgraded from the "colleague" level to the "friend" level.)

Yeah, it’s probably just me. I did not have friends at school. I really did just go there to learn things.

The way children socialize compared to adults is completely different. So you really can't make a valid comparison between school and work in terms of socialization.

> As a child did you spend 12 years not making friends in school,


I never even had a single conversation in school

>since school is for learning and not socialization?

I did not even learn there anything. I learned basically everything at home from books.

> The company loses on time I could be working by having me commute.

Whoa, wait — why is it the company’s time to lose/gain back instead of yours?

It was your time, right up to the point where you pledged it to them as part-and-parcel of the employment arrangement.

If job A requires 10 hours of my day because of the commute while job B requires only 8 hours to accomplish the same thing, then employer A is paying me for all 10 of those hours even though they think they’re only paying me (25% more) for 8 of them.

Some companies will go out of their way to force remote workers to socialize. When your boss sets up an online game you can't really say no.

I have said no. I just say I have to help my kids with their virtual class or some other excuse to get out of it.

Most of the things you’re describing are actually the consequences of things being really broken. Some of that is obvious (e.g. point 2), but the rest is subtle.

My biggest concern is #1. While everyone has always socialized at work, it seems like modern Americans depend more on work for socialization than ever before. That is probably not a good thing, especially since modern professionals job hop more than ever. A world where more workers are encouraged to have friends and social circles outside of work is not a bad thing, in my opinion.

#1 is because Americans spend way to much time at work, so much time that it's difficult to find time to socialize out of work. People are social animals so they'll increase their interaction there (also lowering productivity in office).

I think WFH coupled with reduced hour days or 4 day weeks would be a much better combo for high productivity in the office.

Americans also start work really late. 9 to 5 takes up the whole day. Where I am at most start at 7 or 8.

> Americans also start work really late. 9 to 5 takes up the whole day. Where I am at most start at 7 or 8.

There are many places and jobs in the US where people start work at 8 or even 7. That seems to be functions of both industry and region.

The regional effects are strong. I’ve only done software, but even within that narrow domain I’ve seen a 4 hour difference. The west coast specifically seems to bias super late, and I was shocked when I joined $EMPLOYER that the norm was roughly 11am to 7pm.

Start at 7 means getting up really early, so for a good night sleep you have to go to bed halfway through the evening.

The hour you start at makes no difference to how much you work.

I suspect the issue here is schools. Most parents might work 9-5, but schools often start as early as 7-8am, which means the parents (or at least a parent) needs to get up early enough to coordinate for school and also work until 5pm.

Where is that? My only other living experience outside of America has been Europe, and Europe seemed to start later and stay later compared with America(sans SF, SF is a special place where everyone goes to bed early and wakes up late).

Also Europe but as the sibling comment said, this kind of thing is very region specific. Over here school starting at 7am is pretty normal. Probably more so than 8am and no one starts at 9am. Lots of jobs also start 7am. So people get up earlier. Even for jobs that are not as time sensitive as IT, people being at work at 7am or earlier is completely normal, especially if they have kids.

Plenty of places start at 8. I've worked at a couple. Sometimes got in trouble for being late too, since I struggle to get moving in the morning. I seem to work best when I get to start at 9:30 or 10am.

"9 to 5" kind of became the expression. The reality in maybe most places that have formal hours is 8 or 8:30 to 5 with "unpaid" lunchtime in the middle.

Sure, but I’d like to have friends at work and friends outside of work. Nothing wrong with job hopping either: if you make a good friend, you’ll keep on connecting even after you switch jobs.

I’m not sure why everyone is interpreting me as having said “having friends at work is bad”. That’s obviously a silly statement, which is why I didn’t make it.

Depending on work for socialization is bad. That’s what I’m arguing against.

Good point. Even pre-Covid, I think most people don't have much of a third place. It's work or home for the majority of socialization, and maybe the occasional hang out or outdoorsy activity with friends.

i think there's a balance. i agree that having friends outside the workplace is important, but i don't see why that means making friends in the workplace is bad. we have friends that we see during the workday and occasionally see outside the workplace, then we have friends for all the other time.

Making friends in the work place isn’t bad; I didn’t say that and such an assertion would be obviously silly.

Depending on work for social interactions is bad. That is what I’m seeing more of, and that is something I think should change.

SF Bay area, used to commute to SF. Interestingly, every point you said was completely false for me:

> 1. Socializing is the primary activity that happens at work for the vast majority of workers. The gal or guy coming by your desk to "check in" or "see how your weekend was" etc... is literally where they find their social outlets and personal connections.

Not for me, or most of my cowoerks at Google. We absolutely would be doing more work by WFH. When we indeed going to hang out in the office with coworker, that's because we are bored by the work at hands, and need some outlet or simply resting. Not that we desire hanging out with coworkers.

> 2. Managers like to be able to watch their direct reports because it makes them feel more in control than they are

I never was in a team that managers need to see their reports. Most of the time, I often want to see my manager(s) in the office, but they were enjoying their meetings all day every day through the week.

> 3. The commuting routine, even if it's a nightmare, offers a sense of normalcy that most people have gotten used to and in a weird way rely on for grounding.

This sounds weird. I absolutely hate the commute. I am pretty sure that without the commute, my work output would double. Just by having those commute time being actual working hours.

I dont feel commuting is normal. Commuting isn't ideal for anyone. That's an unreasonable idea to me.

> 4. For a huge swath of Americans at least, work is an escape from the drudgery of the home.

That's somewhat true.

I indeed felt relaxed in office without being bothered by my children.

But now after all of us get used to the mode where my closed door means I am not to be disturbed, I absolutely love working from home. For example, if I need a rest, I can grab my younger son, and play with my older daughter. Fantastic experience! I think WFH have reshaped my relationship with my daughter because of more time together.

>2. Managers like to be able to watch their direct reports because it makes them feel more in control than they are

Manager here. Initially, I had trouble with my inability to do this. Now that I've come to grips that I have NO idea if my team is actually at their computer, I now judge them based on if they actually get work done (vs are they "busy"). It has been a good shift, but not easy.

Well done. The problem with most managers is that they never learn to measure what is important (output) instead of what isn’t (looking busy/hours pretending to work).

These are simply excuses to support the wasteful pre-pandemic status quo.

The fact of the matter is that the tech is now fully in place to support remote work, and the pandemic has been both an infrastructure and procedure stress test, as well as a turning point for businesses.

Remote work isn’t going away.

> The commuting routine, even if it's a nightmare, offers a sense of normalcy that most people have gotten used to and in a weird way rely on for grounding.

You have obviously never been on the Tube at rush-hour in London. All it offers is a sense of stress and anger.

I can only speak for myself, but I miss my sense of stress and anger.

Any time I go to the office I hate it because I’m extra stressed out about sick people being on the train, but I cannot deny it gives a sense of normalcy to life that is otherwise entirely missing.


Weirdly grounding stress and anger

Undergrounding, even.

The 25 minutes of commute in NYC subway, even packed (but not London-packed, though) are my 25 minutes of uninterrupted reading, or thinking, or otherwise being alone and on my own, paradoxically. I miss it.

I don't miss shoving myself into a q train to stand there with no excess space for 40 minutes despite the fact that I got through a lot of podcasts that way. Especially in winter, where everyone is wearing jackets, the train gets super hot and you're just sweating next to some guy who won't take his damn backpack off. Oh, train traffic ahead. Great - now my commute's an hour.

I do miss the view in the morning and evening crossing the Manhattan bridge, though. That was nice.

While 3 is true, the tradeoff for not having commute vastly outweighs the normalcy of having a routine commute. Commuting is atrocious and not having to do it is wonderful.

When I moved to a smaller city for grad studies, I soon started missing the subway system. Crowded and dirty as it is, taking the subway was a constant reminder for me that there is life outside of my confined world and that alone contributed a lot to my sanity.

In the smaller city, I took buses or walked, but I noticed taking a bus still makes a difference, even though one might have to stand up a little. Just the idea of being surrounded by people, each with their own untold stories and problems, made me feel part of something bigger. I agree with the OP; commuting actually helped me feel like I belong to a community, even though I'm introverted and would never talk to any of the people that I would see.

Now with the pandemic on top of it, depression has kicked in. I sometimes play youtube videos with city/car/library... ambient sounds, just to get that feeling again. It does help a bit, but I can't wait for things to get back to "normal", whatever that means from now on.

We need to replace the "work as social outlet" with something else. It's not the office anyone wants, it's the connection, we're just lacking the connection part to make remote work... well... work.

I’ve been saying this for a while.. we are missing local communities in today’s society.

People used to go to church and do religious events and things sometimes during the week - this is all gone now, and I wish we had an alternative that didn’t rely on religion, just based on the local community somehow.

Community centers 2.0 or whatever, but a place where people have a reason to go. I can only think of classes which doesn’t quite work I think (hard to really get everyone there at the same time) but maybe it’s the key I have no idea!

Here's a random thought:

Community, in some ways, require some lock in (don't think in absolutes here but switching costs etc.). If you're locked in to the community you have to sort out differences and make it work. For religion and work the lock in is obvious. But outside of these we can easily chop and change our community leading to us not bothering about compromise as much and us missing out on the deeper relationships.

I think this is an important point. Recently I was reading a post that talked about how one belongs to a community. Which on one hand means you are accepted and identify with it, but also that the community has a claim back upon you. People within that community depend on each other and that dependencies offers opportunity to connect more deeply.

In the article he blocks out a longer excerpt from O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, with this bolded bit:

> Freedom so often means that one isn't needed anywhere.


I wouldn't say I was exactly _surprised_ by this dynamic in hackerspaces, but perhaps I was caught off-guard by how strong it is. The tools and projects really are secondary in a space that has a strong and welcoming community.

This next bit is extrapolation on my part, but I suspect the hackerspace demographic has particularly minimal church attendance, and that may contribute to our appreciation of "third place" dynamics elsewhere.

I've never been to one of those but it does sound great!

I'll have a look around my area and try one post-lockdown, although I feel like it'd be so much easier to join if I already knew someone who went...

I once lived and worked in the Midwest, in a medium sized city, and drove 30 minutes to work. Traffic was not bad. It gave me a chance to listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and sometimes just to think alone in silence. Now my subway commute from Brooklyn to the financial district on the other hand...

Both of those sound horrible to me. 5 to 15 min walk/bike is much nicer.

I agree with your sentiment. I encounter a majority of people in my workplace that say they really miss the chance encounters with people they don’t get to work with frequently - those chance encounter they say sparks something interesting. When I hear people vocalize this, they portray it as something of value and while I don’t doubt they value the interaction I do doubt that the interaction has created productive value. I think what they are really valuing is the social fabric of the workplace.

My theory is that as more of us have less and less social interaction outside of the workplace (especially in the northeast I think), people really value the social aspects of the workplace. The socialites among us will likely lead the way back into the office and drive peer pressure for the rest of us to return.

> those chance encounter they say sparks something interesting

Don't underestimate how many of those start from overhearing interesting conversations between other people.

Does that ever happen in WFH companies?

I really don't know how it's going to lean. Of course some will remain remote, some will return to the office.

The reasons are multiple:

-Some people are unproductive when working from home (for a variety of reasons)

-Some managers want to see their charges (open office panopticons)

-Some people are more productive working from home.

Companies and managers will have to weigh the positives and negatives. I'm sure they have enough data to determine what makes sense for certain roles and individuals within those roles.

Companies will save on real estate by offloading that to your home. But on average they will lose productivity from most people.

Stanford is special in that as far as I know are short on space for parking and for offices, so they will likely nudge some to work from home where it makes sense. So of course they go on their own propaganda to get their people ready for the shift.

1. I have friends outside work, I do not have an urge to socialize with people and potentially interrupting them from doing their job.

2. My manager has better things to do. Being in the office doesn't mean you are being productive. Sometimes you get distracted by noise, or some local office jerk, or some random event... e.g.: in a large company, every day is someone's birthday. Or someone wants to go for a walk and grab coffee...

3. I can live closer to the office and pay as much as twice in rent, or live farther from the office but have a larger place that my family can enjoy more, at the cost of spending more time away from home. If I work remotely, I have up to 2 extra hours every day. I can use that time sleeping, exercising, interacting with my family, cleaning, or do whatever needs to be done that is more useful than spending 2 hours stressing out in a car every day, polluting the atmosphere and congesting road infrastructure, or worrying about being mugged in a train.

4. Trying to escape from your problems won't make the situation better. You still have to go home at the end of the day and deal with your problems.

All that money wasted in a desk/cubicle/office, meeting rooms, cleaning crew, security crew, facilities crew... who do you think is paying all that money? your employer is. It's a lot of money that could rather go to something else, like your compensation, or hiring more people so you have less work to do.

If you are an engineer, offices = a lot of resources and effort put into making your life worse.

> Socializing is the primary activity that happens at work for the vast majority of workers. The gal or guy coming by your desk to "check in" or "see how your weekend was" etc... is literally where they find their social outlets and personal connections.

You have got to be kidding me.. You are at work because you have a contract to fulfil. You are not there to find your soulmate , stop saying things like "we are a family" , the second you get fired your coworkers will ignore you. Out of 99% of my interactions at work, maybe at best 1% of them even keep in touch with me, never mind actually building a deep connection.

Further if you are praising being in stuck for hours in traffic for a sense of "normalcy" , you clearly have no idea how frustrating and time consuming it is. I've been driving to office for years and the exhausting dread of wasting 3+ hours of commute time in traffic gives my anxiety.

Finally, your home is your sanctuary, if you are escaping from home, you have deeper problems, going to the office is not the solution.

Stop normalizing inefficient office-busy-work over actually being productive, getting decent sleep, having more free time to spend with your family and friends which are huge advantages of remote work.

I agree so much with everything you are saying. Your workplace is not your life.

Your analysis is way off

1)People hate small-talk $hit. They will not go back to work so they can small-talk

2)Like to - doesn't mean it's going to go back. Plus they can save by firing Manager who used to come and "check in"

3)People will find other ways to have normalcy - no one is going to miss commuting.

4)This is a toss up. I can see it going both ways. Going to work is a drudgery for a huge swath of Americans, too.

I think you are approaching this from your own particular, engineering and possibly introverted, biased viewpoint.

As a counterpoint I would say MANY MANY people love and thrive in small talk and as is referenced elsewhere in this discussion, particularly engaging in that at work.

I commute by bike and I miss it. I'm not motivated enough to just go for a bike ride around the neighborhood so the commute was really good at forcing me to get my daily exercise. I know this isn't everyone's experience but I miss my commute!

Different folks different strokes. I hate hate hate small talk. One of the guys who worked for me in the past loved it. He had a hard time working remote until he got a roommate he could talk to. A lot of people are probably somewhere in between.

Just because these things dont make sense to you it does not mean they are not true for many people.

What about those of us who hate small talk but enjoy being around smart, interesting, and fun co-workers? If your interactions at work amount to nothing but small-talk then you need to look for a new job

1 - typically not true. Maybe in engineering positions - but yes, there is a world outside of software engineering. Human beings are mostly social to some extent. Even the introverts I work with say they miss the occasional lunch.

2 - I get managers are persona non grata on here but get real. You still need people to make decisions.

3 - I miss commuting. I listened to music and I like driving, and it gave me structure to wake up at a certain time in the morning.

Only point 2 is from the employer's perspective, the employee has control over the others. While there is truth in those, I don't think people would naturally settle into a 5/7 day week just for those reasons. You'll see a spread with big differences in age groups/family situations, but the average days at the office will be much less than it was before.

> 4. For a huge swath of Americans at least, work is an escape from the drudgery of the home.

This is big. If I had a fancy apartment in a good quality building, I wouldn't mind.

But the place I currently reside in, is really frustrating to spend your whole day. I can easily hear my neighbours talking, their pets, screeching children or construction work many floors above. The ceilings are also quite low, which amplifies the cabin fever.

If I could escape, from time to time, to an office where my friends work, it'd be increase my life quality a lot.

And I'm saying this as a person who's not a fan of offices and forced asses-in-seats.

Obviously this isn't a permanent solution, but noise cancelling headphones have gotten really good recently. Sony xm1000 models and Bose could potentially go some way towards helping you deal with this.

I have good noise-cancelling headphones. They do very little for human voice and children shrieks.

My in-ear stage Shures with passive isolation work much better but spending whole day in headphones is neither pleasant nor healthy.

> 4. For a huge swath of Americans at least, work is an escape from the drudgery of the home.

Well for a huge swath the office and commuting is a nightmare. If this question is gonna run on majority vote I'm not sure at all the office will make a comeback.

Majority voting isn’t how anything works except democracy and civil war. The market will do its best to satisfy everyone at the same time, just as some office jobs have cast iron punctuality requirements and others are a great deal more flexible. Some people will trade money for flexibility, some jobs are unwilling to be flexible. The market clears in the end.

#2 is the biggest issue

Management and non-management have different subcultures. Managers need power meetings, lunch meetings, shoulder-taps, etc. They are tasked with watching you and making sure everyone is on task. Non-managers don't care about in-person other than for the socializing aspect (or maybe they want to get away from the house).

I think that non-management can work effectively remote most of the time (unless u need to be doing physical labor of some sort). I'm betting that studies are going to prove this out. However, it's not clear if _management_ can effectively function remotely. Management is heavily dependent on being both seen and heard and remote platforms make this harder not easier.

Many companies have 2 subcultures, the workers want remote and the management wants in-person. I think the conversation needs to be around how to get the managers to work remotely in order to succeed. This is a mind shift in how traditional management is done and will be much slower to adopt.

I think the big problem here is that most managers add zero value and if anything negatively impact velocity. Really all that’s needed is a project manager with a light touch to help the team know what features are needed by leadership. Then the team can use their freedom of direction to prioritise features along with existing technical work to optimise the technologies being leveraged to better position the business.

This is a ludicrous take. Read a book like high output management and learn what managers actually do and you might realize what value they should be providing.

But sadly accurate if you've never worked with a good manager. Good managers are rare, and people who have never worked with one err on the side of assuming all managers are pointless wastes of space.

Former software dev manager here. My job was split roughly into thirds - babysitting and mediating team issues, running interference to keep the executives out of my team's hair and bird-dogging HR and payroll issues. I would walk around sometimes and see if anyone needed me to expedite something or clear a blocker and I would go do it. (We were lucky in that we were working on something interesting and kind of ground-breaking so we didn't need a lot of "team building" rah rah to get everyone to work up the enthusiasm to work on a product nobody really cared about.)

Most managers are blissfully unaware how negative productive they are.

I feel the same way, it's very rare they add any value. especially the ones who aren't hands on, that's kind of highly paid secretary.

One overlooked aspect of 1 and 2: many founders are using their employees as a surrogate for healthy meaningful relationships.

And maybe the executives are actually just hanging out, from their perspective. galavanting around the city and schmoozing. having fun solving a problem they’re passionate about and having no negative consequence of having too much fun. hey as long as you’re only inappropriate with employees of another company in the co-working space the liability surface is limited!

so its not just about managerial control

but both of these kinds of people share the similarity of not being able to relate to the lower level employees

1. Is too static and assumes alternative outlets can’t or won’t present themselves.

2. Managers may need to adapt and give up being helicopter parents.

3. Same as 1

4. Again same as 1

Minus commutes, extra hours become available for other places like parks, actual friends rather than superficial friendliness of coworkers because life revolves around offices and we learn to fake interest.

I think this paper, and survey, in general, appears to be ignoring one very important set of people: job hoppers and new entrants to the job market (to be fair, I did not read thru the entire paper, just looked over interesting sections). These two categories of people will almost certainly not prefer working from home: for job hoppers, it is difficult or in some cases, impossible to on-board; for new entrants, they can't become effective without close supervision initially.

Imagine the average intern being able to put out good quality work with minimal supervision. I feel these two things require that companies or teams will have to reorganise in some fundamental way to account for these two classes of people joining them.

I see this a lot "onboarding is difficult remotely", but I don't know why. It hasn't been difficult at my last few jobs including the current one where many/most of us have been remote for years.

You get added to the email lists, the slack channels, the documentation wiki, and the issue tracker. Daily meetings at 10am. You pair up with one person for a couple weeks and then somebody else and so on for the first few months. You regularly have voice and/or video chats. You get, or create, a list of who to contact with different questions or problems.

If somehow all of those communication methods fail, I doubt that just being able to add a physical touch component would help much. Other than touch, the only senses that require physical proximity are smell and taste. If you're relying on touch, smell, and taste to communicate while on-boarding people, then maybe then it might be difficult, but that also seems a bit unusual.

Mostly I think companies that have trouble with on-boarding remotely have bigger problems with their communications in general.

As an example, being able to talk to the people who handle the coding, commit, build, and deployment, all in one place, is quite valuable and saves time. In many large and established companies, there is formal training that puts all these people in one room with the trainees, either because the company is already so distributed as to make this impossible otherwise, or because it's more cost-efficient to disseminate this info to a large number of incoming engineers.

In smaller startups and growing companies, where these things are changing at a high rate, it becomes even more valuable.

It's not that these things are not doable virtually, but it's something that will require deliberate rearranging of how people work. In larger companies, this type of stuff already happens, but not so much in smaller ones.

Engineering organizations can learn a lot from Sales departments in this area. Sales in companies that sell in various geographies (which includes even small companies that have gained traction and are beginning to grow) already functions perfectly fine with very distributed teams, and highly technical sales motions (think enterprise products).

Small, growing companies have big problems with communications and coordination in general. That's what makes the scaling stage challenging and full of pitfalls: many companies fail at this stage!

You're mistaking watching somebody on your computer as actually looking at that person. It's not and your brain knows this. It's very obvious that talking with somebody in person makes a huge, huge difference with the circuitry in our monkey brains. Listening to people on zoom calls is fatiguing and makes me feel like I have permanent brain fog.

> I've been 100% remote and run remote teams since 2014... To truly work from home 100% of the time you have to be a master at controlling yourself and your ability to be distracted.

You have obviously gathered a lot of remote experience. As someone who has always worked in some form of research lab and is now working from home, I am still achieving my objectives and deliverables but definitely feel a lot less productive without the 'positive' pressure of being with my peers. I am also fortunate that I work with very hands-off and mature managers even in this remote scenario.

What strategies can we create for better self-accountability and discipline when working on long running projects on our own? What worked for you?

Agree that socializing in person with colleagues is important for well being, particularly for people that don’t have roommates or a family at home. Depression and struggling with moments of existential crisis can occur as a side effect from total social isolation and mental health can deteriorate. Of course, some people are more adapt to remote than others and a good middle ground could be going to the office when desired like once a week if given the option.

Well people can easily get burned out and depressed by commutes or by petty office politics, which you have more of when everyone is physically in the office. Is there any evidence suggesting remote is a net negative over a net positive?

> 3. The commuting routine, even if it's a nightmare, offers a sense of normalcy that most people have gotten used to and in a weird way rely on for grounding.

While working from home, I’ve found it much harder to switch between work/free modes. It seems the daily commute has been an effective way to for me to either prepare for the coming day or settle my mind for non-work related activities.

I've found some success in replacing that with similar routines, for example walking the dog before and after work. It's a pseudo-commute that allows similar mental preparation/release.

This worked well pre-covid. Since covid hit ...overall I'm struggling with bleeding boundaries. The pandemic anxiety makes it hard for me to settle in my basement office, so I use other spaces around the house.

I’m fine with controlling for distractions, am 100% remote for the last year, but as a single late 20s guy in a new city you hit the nail on the head for why I’d like to get back into an office. I would like to not die alone because I’m too old to go out to bars for hookups without it taking a toll and tinder just isn’t my thing. Plus friends would be nice to have again at some point.

A close friend of mine has a coworker who calls them whenever they are not in meetings (shows up as online in whatever chat thingy their organization uses.) and wastes at least two hours of their time everyday.

Are there strategies that fully remote companies take to limit that type of time wasting?

Generally, remote companies prefer async work. GitLab has a great guide on how to get started, and I'm also building an app (https://asyncgo.com). Other founders are building different tools with different approaches but the same goal in mind as well.

Basically you want to move as much focused work as you can to async collaboration and save realtime for more freeform, relaxed communication. It's more efficient and also less draining to work that way.

The strategy is to not reply to anything they write.

Yep I met my partner and 90% of my current (now long term) friends group at work. And that also makes the work fun for whatever reason and makes me more productive. I have no idea how people are finding friends right now. WFH at best will become 3 days in 2 days at home.

Our company is 100% remote and we are genuinely truly friends on many levels, we have a core requirement that there is a base level of communication when at work and we have regular all-hands meetings with no agenda, using a platform suited to large gatherings. Pre-covid we met a conferences or when convenient and we have a few location-specifc gatherings when possible (currently on hold of course).

Being together in person doesn't give you the sense of companionship - we found instead that it's the act of building something together does that.

Rather than wishing for the commute, most of my team loves that they are spending more time with their family.

All four of these make it seem like work is being used as a salve to treat even more fundamental problems. Is it really that bad in some places these days?

I disagree with all the points, except (1). If one has a hard time creating a social life outside of work, working remotely is terrible.

Are work friends actual friends? Seems to me in the vast majority of cases once a person switches jobs he switches his work friends as well...which happens about once in 3-5 years...

This is my experience as well. Most "friends" only stay friends for as long as they share activities together, and if there is too long of an absence in activities, it will be harder to plan activities or reconnect later down the line. They'll usually drop down to acquaintance level and stay there. Goes for work, hobbies, and more. Friends who stick around for who you are, rather than what you do together, are exceptionally rare. Especially later in life, when everyone is "too busy" for activities outside what they already do.

I hope my experience is the minority, as the increasing loneliness that seems to be present as the younger generations grow older to me indicates the over reliance on work for friendship is the exact opposite of what we need. And on a much darker and more cynical level, it provides an opportunity of social manipulation for companies to keep one tied to their job at a lower wage, or risk crippling loneliness.

I'm pretty sure I could have become actual friends with many colleagues if we weren't colleagues, but I see that meeting them after hours always gravitates to talking about work. Some people are fine with that, to me it's depressing to have to think about work on my weekend.

It depends on how you define "friend."

I don't require that my friends have any interest in me outside of the contexts they wish to be friends with me in, though, and so I do consider work friends actual friends.

Same thing with cycling friends, childrearing friends, and hanging out and drinking friends.

Why should a friend share extra time with me for some reason? In any case, the more time you spend with contextual friends the greater the likelihood you will meet a lifelong friend.

It looks as if roughly 50% of workers prefer to work from home and 50% prefer to work in an office.

A good chunk of these get wiped out if you get remote social presence via VR or AR.

I disagree with #1. Companies do not want you socializing at work.

Sure, they tolerate the occasional chitchat, but only on a superficial level.

If you actually want to socialize with your coworkers, then you must do that outside in the smoke area, or during your lunch outings. But never actually in the office.

That is the taboo. And the moment you break it, then that’s when you’ll get a demerit from your management.

Remind me not to work at your company, sounds depressing. Most of the good work ideas I’ve seen come up, come up as a result of socialising at work.

The best way is to start your own company. That way you can define your own rules.

Maybe true for your company. Not true for lots of other companies.

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