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The work-from-home future is destroying bosses' brains (ez.substack.com)
559 points by zikduruqe 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 490 comments





One of the interesting things that happened at my company is that productivity instantly doubled when we started working remotely. The reality at my company is that people are only getting 20 hours or so of work done in the office - the rest is socialization, pointless meetings, lunches, or trying to look busy. When we went home for lockdown and kept working 40 hour weeks, not only did productive output double, but everyone burned out in a few weeks.

In my opinion, the reality of working from home is that 20-30 hour work weeks need to be acceptable and we should use the rest of our time on non-working things, just like we did in the office, but now that time can be more meaningful to us.


Pointless meetings have multiplied for me in the remote world as they are no longer constrained by conference rooms. Also since it’s so much easier to get away with multitasking, you have engineers who are ostensibly in meetings all day still checking in code like everything’s fine.

I think the ability to maintain a convincing presence in all-day Zoom while still getting your work done is the new meta-game for engineering. And I hate it.


I’ve been doing fully remote teams for years and one thing that took about 2 years to get used to is how to utilize meetings differently than in person.

Some of the biggest disadvantages of remote work is that it is harder to “just grab someone”, social isolation, and communication isolation (ie- people not talking to each other.) Meetings can partially solve all those issues and get used as such. However, because they are such a useful tool they get over used and I had to figure out how to say no to meetings, how to end meetings early if they’ve accomplished their purpose, encourage people to leave meetings if it turns out they aren’t needed and how get better at ad hoc remote communication without pulling together a meeting.

It took a while but I think I’m actually spending less time in BS meetings then before because there is much less pressure to stay or preserve a meeting no one had to walk to or book a conference room for.


One of my pet hates is meetings without an agenda, or that don't stick to the agenda.

If you're done with the agenda, then the meeting is finished and everyone can leave. If that happens after 5 minutes, then that's good.

I have been in meetings where the organiser has said "well, we've finished, but we've got this room for an hour, so let's just hang out for the rest of the time". That can be tough to respond to. Just saying "Sorry, but no, I've got work to do" can be offensive (though it shouldn't be).


Then how about: "Thanks, I'd love to hang out but I have something I'd like to finish"

Frankly I think people not being immediately reachable is the big percentage gain of remote work. That's it. They've finally got the space to go and get on with the actual job.

And management hate that.


Many meetings only require a low level of attention. 90% is 1 or a few stakeholders discussing things, and the rest are there for occasional input. In a good chunk of my meetings I find myself actually tuning out too much, where I miss some important nuances because it was buried in the rest of the shit.

In an office you are forced to pay attention (laptops away…). It’s a new skill to balance between paying attention to irrelevant shit and missing the important details


My solution has been to take nearly every meeting possible outside while on walks. It helps me focus where I would otherwise not be able to focus, and acts as a good way to get some additional exercise throughout the day.

Don't you need reference materials and so forth?

Modern smart phones are computers which can for some (read: most) meetings be good enough. The multitasking features in android are helpful here, with things like split-screen and picture-in-picture.

If the meeting calls for it, I take it on a proper computer. Most meetings don't, in my experience. Just a lot of listening and maybe 5 minutes of talking.


I would love to do this, although I usually demo new features. Maybe I should pre-record them

Brilliant!

I've found that my remote work meetings neatly break down into 3 categories:

  - direct engagement -- 2-4 participants
  - broad forum -- 5-12 participants
  - fly-on-the-wall -- any number, but my contribution will be 0-4 sentences
Of these, the broad forum has the least clear attention level requirement. The usefulness of these meetings is determined by the skill of the moderator, to steer the conversation flow towards the primary subject and ensure the relevance to most attendees. Unfortunately, many colleagues are still reluctant to have their cameras on, which makes gauging the interest level very challenging for the moderator.

I can frequently take fly-on-the-wall meetings (and sometimes even broad forum) while out walking, which is a nice plus.


that's a good idea for fly-on-the-wall ones! Will think about that

Well I find this really good. Maybe because I am younger and used to multitasking. But before pandemic just sitting in person meetings and trying to focus for 2 hours to not let my mind wander was really exhausting. Not since everything is remote I can also do some work while 2 hour meetings are being done. And afterwards I don't feel as tired as I did when we had physical meetings

Multitasking is just rapid attention change, and it can be jarring going from rapid changes in focus to lower stimulation and longer term focus, but both frames of mind are valuable, situationally. You might get more value multitasking but you might also bring a lot more value to some meetings by staying deeply focused, and I think that highly focused, high participation meetings are the ideal. Other communication can happen other ways. To help me with long & deep focus, I've found that reading novels or other long form writing helps me tame the impulse to bounce around so much, somewhat.

That's the case in traditionaly organised meetings, where I work we pull people in and kick them out pretty quickly. Meetings are 2-5 people max, everyone is contributing, and you get told you can leave if the topic pivots to something that doesn't apply to you.

nobody has ever had a laptop away at any company i’ve worked at in meetings

Urban Airship meeting rules. Don’t just mention them or be inspired by them. Just… use them as you see fit. Walk out on meetings, or decline them, if they don’t benefit you or your work. Don’t tolerate meetings that could have been an email (or equivalent communication). Don’t fill the time. Don’t repeat things that were already communicated.

"Don't repeat things that were already communicated": This sounds good, but it takes several repetitions for information to sink in with everyone everywhere I've worked. I don't know a way around this.

Lots of egregious violations of #4 and #5 where I work. Leaving a meeting or not even showing up to one even if only to just "observe" comes off as passive aggressive.

Spread this in your org, it's amazingly pragmatic and eye opening:

https://codahale.com/work-is-work/


>I think the ability to maintain a convincing presence in all-day Zoom while still getting your work done is the new meta-game for engineering. And I hate it.

The other side of this is just doing minimal work but being "available" which I've heard from plenty of friends & acquaintences


This is highly dependent on output expectations. I can see this being the case in large corps and FAANGs but not in many startups

My first few months WFH was like this so I hear you. Since then however I've been more proactive about declining attending meetings or dropping off if I am required, which has made a massive difference.

Did it really double, or did boundaries erode? My company has been very clear in that they are measuring our productivity and also our working hours. Managers are being instructed to be very clear about establishing work/life boundaries (with the specifics being based on individual need). We similarly saw an increase in productivity, but the increase was far smaller once normalized for hours worked.

I'm surprised this perspective is not made more often. It's now much easier to work past 5 or 6pm or whenever you would normally end. Needing to return home to your family is no longer an excuse to stop working because you can be with your family while at work. All it takes is one developer on your team working evenings or weekends for the other developers to feel like they need to be working late too. There's also the fact that managers right now are more concerned about whether their team is working enough, rather than being concerned about their team working too much.

I find myself doing the opposite. It's much easier for me to step away at 6pm sharp knowing that if anything happens I can jump back in an instant, vs the worry of being the first to leave the office, and being stuck in a train for a half hour.

Funny how different people are on this.

When I worked in an office I never worried about being the first to leave, and didn't even realize other people do.

For me, the biggest downside of working from home is how easy it is to get distracted by non-work. I go grab a coffee and end up putting dishes away, cleaning up, etc. and next thing I know an hour's passed by so I'm working late or feeling guilty.

I've been working on my time management, in general, and that's helping.


> For me, the biggest downside of working from home is how easy it is to get distracted by non-work. I go grab a coffee and end up putting dishes away, cleaning up, etc.

Sometimes taking a short break like that is the best way to make progress on a difficult problem though. Realistically we probably get 2 or 3 hours of actual work done in a day. Everything else is a bonus and it comes and goes over time.


I've been running rescuetime on my computer for most of a decade, and "my developer time"(time on terminal, few documentation sites like SO, editor etc...) goal was initially 1hr 30 minutes, but nowadays it is stuck at 3 hours.. and been not filled except for rare days.

> When I worked in an office I never worried about being the first to leave, and didn't even realize other people do.

A lot of it is scarcity vs abundance mindset. Many people are quite scared to lose their jobs. I know people making six figures who would be in deep shit if they had a month of no paychecks while switching jobs.


I've seen both responses from people I know. One person has always been a bit of a workaholic, and used work as sort of a coping mechanism for anxiety. As one might imagine, they started working much much longer hours. Another person I know got in the habit of working from about 10 to 3 or so, to the point where I was worried for their job. I think the lesson is that people's relationship with work is just a highly individual, and people will have very divergent outcomes.

Both of those are rational responses to the modern work culture.

The two extremes are: 1. Working as hard as possible to get a promotion over the next person working as hard as possible. 2. Doing the bare minimum to not get fired.

Anything in between is, logically, irrational, because you're doing more work than necessary.

Luckily, companies have found the levers for most humans and tend to get them working in between the two extremes.


I liked the fact that when I left the office it virtually impossible for me to jump back into anything until I got back to the office the next day. Now all my work is just sitting there in the next room just waiting for me to jump back in any time 24/7.

Completely agree. It helped that I have a recurring meeting in Outlook that starts when I leave work, and goes for an hour. I find that this block prevents people from scheduling surprise last minute meetings, and keeps me from working longer than 8 hours a day (I start at 8 AM and go until 4 PM).

> knowing that if anything happens I can jump back in an instant

That’s the unfortunate part.

WFH at large can only sustain if that hard line is drawn - end work day for good, disconnect, connect back tomorrow morning!

No fluid working hours and being ready to “jump back in”.


It's just the feeling of not making yourself unavailable during what are still working hours for others, not about being available after say 7pm. And I haven't actually needed to do that more than once or twice.

As someone who has done full time WFH for more than 5 years one skill you need to pick up is the ability to shut down around 5-6pm and avoid work on the weekends, which actually takes some self-discipline.

And that needs

1. Understanding colleagues

2. Sane boss and sane company

3. Similar culture - company wide

Otherwise you’re just buying another recipe for stress and in some cases confrontations as well.


In other words, things you should probably expect at a place you would want to work?

Well yeah if the whole company is doing remote first, everyone is going to be in exactly the same boat, problem sorta solves itself.

Your family must be very different to mine, because when mine are around my productivity is strictly zero.

Same here. That is why my wife's office is on a main floor of the house and mine is in the basement. She's been remote for at least 10 years I think and I ran my own product development business since 2000.

its only an issue for my girlfriend and I when we're both on calls at the same time. I use a wireless 2.4Ghz headset so I can go outside on the patio - solves the issue nicely :-)

> It's now much easier to work past 5 or 6pm or whenever you would normally end

It is much easier but I also believe it's something people will get out of the habit of (or at least I hope). It really isn't a difficult habit to break.

Since working from home I do exactly the same as I would in the office: At the same time every day I close the laptop and put it away.

It's actually easier for me to get away because no one is stopping me on the way out to ask me some questions or to just have a quick chat.


"Needing to return home to your family is no longer an excuse to stop working because you can be with your family while at work."

If you have young children or infants you can spend your time caring for them and worrying that those with older kids (or no kids!) will judge you.


Productivity at my workplace went significantly up (and stayed up), but management has been clear that personal time is sacred, and I hardly ever see anyone on slack after work hours.

Honestly, the biggest impediments to productivity at my workplace have nothing to do with where we work and everything to do with management style (heavy-handed Agile/Scrum, micromanagement, the works).


Well then the flip side is that we're also no worse off working remote.

Would anyone like to expound on how productivity is being measured? What metrics are used? What unintended consequences come up from the metrics? Can they be gamed?

It's pretty easy to game "working hours" when you're remote. Even an always on camera probably isn't enough and I wouldn't want my team to work under those conditions.

I'm also curious what productivity measures are being watched, especially for developers.


> 20-30 hour work weeks need to be acceptable

Yes, yes, yes. I am totally convinced that we can all start working 20 hours per week starting next Monday and the world will just keep going as normal. Only we will be healthier, happier and richer.


This is a very HN comment, because it ignores that a lot of people are paid for being physically present somewhere (not for their output).

I love the idea of a 20 hour workweek, but I also understand that the harsh reality is that it would make things like construction, building security, janitorial services, etc. 2x more expensive.

I personally think that would be a boon for society, but given how much everyone is worried about (largely transitory) inflation today, IDK how willing they would be to accept that inflationary pressure.


> a lot of people are paid for being physically present somewhere (not for their output).

Right. A FireFighter or an on-call IT Tech are excellent examples of how we can have 40 hours of presence while only requiring 20 hours of work. Making it acceptable for people to read a book if working 40 hours makes things better.

> love the idea of a 20 hour workweek, but I also understand that the harsh reality is that it would make things like construction, building security, janitorial services, etc. 2x more expensive

I'm not sure that's true. As I understand it, a lot of construction time is spent dealing with looking busy because of blocking tasks. But if we transition those jobs from hourly to piece-rate it solves a lot of problems.

Even building security only doing rounds/checking tapes 1/2 the time seems sufficient.


Funny that you mention it - piece rate in construction means 60+ hours a week. The more you do, the more you get paid and there's always work available. Not in all cases, but definitely a lot of them. As a contractor, you finish on one site/job, you have six others lined up.

I want to make sure people can live comfortably on the money they can earn in 20 hr/week. If want to work 60 hr/week for 15 years and then retire early good for them. I just want to make 20 hr/week the norm.

It doesn't work like that... many of life's biggest expenses are priced based on market rates (e.g. housing). If more work is available and some people choose to work more hours, they will be able to outbid tier who don't and drive up the cost of living.

Nurses, firefighters, and military already work unusually bad hours but they don’t seem to be especially well-paid.

One thing that the pandemic lockdowns have revealed in glowing detail is that the vast majority of the most critical and important jobs in society are among the lowest-paid: retail and foodservice.

> the most critical and important jobs in society are among the lowest-paid: retail and foodservice

Pay has nothing to do with how critical or important a job is. Nothing.

Pay is determined — like everything else — by supply and demand.

Nails are the most ‘critical and important’ component of a house. They are also the cheapest. Because the supply is endless. The chandelier in the entryway, on the other hand, is neither critical nor important, yet it costs a great deal more than a nail.


Nah, it's status. We have a teacher and nurse shortage in the US, they're critical professions, and they're super underpaid. Supply and demand doesn't explain the low wages.

You just described supply and demand.

If the wages are too low, you’ll have a shortage.

To remediate the shortage, wages must increase.


Yeah but step 2 of that is "wage increase" (then step 3 of that is "either school A increases wages or school B increases wages and gets all the teachers, etc.) You can't arbitrarily pick a point at which you stop making an appeal to authority to Econ 101; it's all or nothing.

The point here is, the situation should make us ask ourselves "huh, I wonder why wages aren't increasing." But I can save you some time and tell you the answer is mostly we don't think those jobs are high status enough.


Comparing people to nails is a new one! I'm not sure I find it apt, though.

>Pay has nothing to do with how critical or important a job is

Well yeah, that's the observation I was describing. The difference is that I think that's a bad thing.

>supply and demand

We aren't describing free markets, so you're going to have to fill that out a little bit to meet reality.


In the US, nurses (at least RNs) and firefighters are well paid, but military are not. I imagine the well-paid jobs vary quite a lot per nation.

As a member of the military:

I'm compensated fairly, and my pension makes it actually quite well compensated. The career does suck and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but for someone needing mobility from generational poverty it can work.

The career opportunities upon retirement are nothing to be trivialized either. Compensation there may not be SWE level, but it's WELL above median.


Military isn't paid too badly once you factor in pensions and benefits. The amount of salary that you'd have to save to construct something similar out of 401ks is... high.

I don’t think many people understand just HOW high.

Aside from monetary compensation (which can range widely, and typically is made up of 25-50% tax sheltered disability pay) there is health insurance at a maximum out of pocket of $3600/year for a family ($600 premium plus $3000 catastrophic cap), tax free shopping, discounted fuel, free flights, remarkably cheap lodging all over the US and in allied countries, and the list goes on.

The last calculation I saw for an average Senior Enlisted retiree was that you would need a lump sum of in excess of $3 million to hope to compare, invested at a decent return. Albeit that’s not completely accurate, but it’s as close as we can get given such different financial vehicles.


The downside is that you have to serve in the military.

Serving ain't the bad part. Dying would have sucked.

A lot of firefighters are volunteers

The military seems to pay pretty well considering the requirements.

That's because one of the requirements is willingness to get shot at.

It's more like the requirement to do the job without being able to quit for at least a few years (and then they can call you back anytime for another few).

For me, at least theoretically, getting shot at is not as bad as having to kill others.

A lower chance of getting to use the pension means better benefits. Actuarial math.

Yeah, but if you decided to pay nurses/firefighters the same salary for putting in half the hours, you'd have to hire twice as many to cover the same shifts. Net result is your labor costs would double.

Probably more due to people overhead.

>This is a very HN comment, because it ignores that a lot of people are paid for being physically present somewhere (not for their output).

Are you saying you think most people on HN do piecework? Because I sort of took for granted they were salaried.

At any rate, different companies within an industry area can be quite different.

I have had jobs involving programming that were:

  - salaried
  - hourly, with overtime
  - required time entry of billable/nonbillable projects worked on in 15 or 6 minute increments
  - required using a time clock (but not intraday time entry)
  - union
  - non-union
Only the time clock one (salaried, non-union) was primarily focused on "butts in seats". They also had something in the orientation about sleeping at your desk not being allowed.

A friend of mine was about to interview at a company when he found out from Glassdoor they required salaried engineers to swipe in and out (among other micromanagement). Cancelled the interview and the recruiter was really miffed and acted like punching a clock is normal for software devs.

Some people did dislike it enough to leave online reviews about it.

But everywhere I'd previously worked, I had to account for every minute of the day so clocking in at the beginning of the day and out at the end was a million times less micro-manager-y from my viewpoint.


Exactly. Like fire fighters. They spend most of there time doing nothing.

Or secretaries. Or HR.


I was a part-time, paid firefighter in Woodinville, WA for seven years. That was about twenty-five years ago now.

I worked twelve hour overnight shifts about ten times a month, supplementing the full-time crews (24 hour shifts.) I was a signed off as a firefighter, driver-operator, EMT Basic, and acting lieutenant.

Maybe it's different elsewhere, but in our city no one spent their time doing nothing. There was always training and drilling, classes to attend, physical training, station, rig and equipment maintenance, and usually, a few calls to run.

Most people were friendly most of the time.

We did usually watch a couple of hours of television or a movie most nights before we racked out.


Secretaries aren't an obvious case in my experience. A good number of them appear to me to work as hard as the boss they assist. And in some cases they appear pretty much as capable (but they never carry anything like the same responsibility).

I think it came with an implied /sarc tag

A Big Mac doesn't cost any more in Denmark than in the US, but the workers make twice as much.

This is not true. Not only is the Big Mac in Denmark nominally more expensive, but so is almost everything else. Actual purchasing power after taxes is not necessarily higher, but it also varies with the city.

For example: Seattle vs Copenhagen

https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_cities.jsp?cou...


Per https://www.economist.com/big-mac-index, in December 2020, “A Big Mac costs DKr30.00 in Denmark and US$5.66 in the United States.” Using the listed exchange rate of DKr 6.12/US$, that’s $4.90 in Denmark, so in fact somewhat less. Which implies that the DKr is undervalued vs. the US$, at least for this particular one-item basket of goods.

On one hand, sure but if your take home pay after taxes is also less, than it's affordability (cost/income after taxes) may be lower.

After reading your comment I want searching around the nets - and discovered this: https://www.economist.com/big-mac-index . Hilarious yet insightful.

Really? I was under the impression from a Danish person that fast food and other leisure type activities were quite expensive like they are in Norway.

All the Scandinavian countries have high cost of living. Go to one of their supermarkets, you will be shocked. I think on balance they are better off though.

I was really surprised how expensive basic food is in New York compared to UK[0]. Things like fruit, veg, cheese, cereal were more than twice the price. The only things that were cheaper were hotdogs and hotdogs buns. Eating out is very expensive in scandinavia but I don’t think supermarket food is expensive compared to the US.

[0] Prices at the large supermarkets don’t vary much if at all between shops across the UK


I had the opposite experience. I suspect people spending time abroad temporarily, but long enough to go grocery shopping, tend to arrive at the most expensive grocery stores during their temporary stay.

I'm not talking about Wholefoods, that's overpriced here as well. I'm talking about a slightly grubby supermarket in an unfashionable part of Brooklyn about 5 years ago. Maybe food prices vary a lot across the US, they don't really in the UK as the big 4 supermarkets all advertise their offers nationally. Smaller supermarkets can be more expensive, but an extra 20% not 300%.

What??

Yes, yes, yes, yes! I've been doing 20 hour weeks (on average) for the past 1-2 years and I can say with great confidence that I finally seem to have achieved a sustainable work/life balance. And of those hours worked there has practically been zero waste.

20 hours at 100% efficiency is so much better than 40 hours at 60%, for all parties involved. Even if the latter has slightly higher overall output, when you look at it long term (health/happiness) the former wins hands down.


This is probably true - the problem with modern post-industrial economies is weak demand, not supply. We've juiced supply to the absolute hilt, but people are too busy spending their time at jobs and not consuming. We could easily scale down to 20 hour workweeks and the economy would keep on growing.

It's a prisoner's dilemma situation though, as others point out. Some people are going to insist on wasting their new extra free time at another job. The solution would be to put a hard cap on labor hours per person, mandating an overtime pay requirement that follows the worker from job to job.


> people are too busy spending their time at jobs and not consuming.

You are sitting on a trillion dollar marketing opportunity here.

The problem is that our culture does not strongly encourage consumerism during work hours. Beyond a couple of decorative trinkets on the cubible walls, people don't spend much on or at their workplace.

Capitalism teaches us we must fix that glitch.

The right solution is to create a culture of "office bling". You don't want to be the only person in your office without a gold throne, do you? Are you really writing on the whiteboard with a fucking Expo marker from Office Depot when you could show your worth by using the new $17,000 Montblanc Whiteboard Excelsior? Oh, you had a Starbucks latte on your break? Plebian. I had a flat white made with kopi luwak and gold flakes.

Why should we only burn cash distracting ourselves from our miserable home lives, when we could also burn cash distracting ourselves from our miserable work lives too?


My point is that we don't need to waste irreplaceable moments of our lives so heavily focused on production in service of a consumption side that is wildly out of balance. We can produce far more than we can consume, and cutting back on labor would restore some balance and arguably increase prosperity and happiness across the board.

office bling is a good idea. But the problem is that usually the company pays for any expenses you have during work hours.

How about..a salary based on the resources you need/want to survive...so that those who work less (indirectly contributing more to society by sharing their job, childcare, volunteering or just being mentally healthy enough to think of the"next big thing" and directly by ecologically diminishing consumption) get paid more ...? Tax the higher earners and subsidise the "work less" ...then suddenly wages and automation go up as businesses have to compete for a diminishing work pool...

> so that those who work less (indirectly contributing more to society by sharing their job, childcare, volunteering or just being mentally healthy enough to think of the"next big thing" and directly by ecologically diminishing consumption) get paid more ...

Yeah, several of my friends “indirectly contribute” with their extra free time by smoking pot and watching youtube and Netflix. They don’t really consume less ecologically either since they drive around more with their free time. This is not something I see paying off as a societal investment.


Sorry to hear that, it's anecdotal evidence, seems very cliché too..... I guess the question is how would one set up a system of checks and balances...in the case of your friends, sometimes pot is a good phase to go through, it certainly helps the informal economy....and driving ...well seems like they're bored..maybe need more likeminded "friends" to do something creative?

> seems very cliché too....

There’s a reason for that. Would it also shock you to hear that drunks make bad drivers?


>> Yes, yes, yes. I am totally convinced that we can all start working 20 hours per week starting next Monday and the world will just keep going as normal. Only we will be healthier, happier and richer.

Well no. Because some people will use that to work 2 jobs and make twice as much money. Then inflation will take that into account, prices will rise, and everyone will end up working 2 20-hour jobs. If you ever want to work significantly less hours I suspect it will require laws forbidding people to work more than X, and even then people will take that second job under the table.


I used to work 60-80 hours a week in the summers and 60+ between a full credit load and a couple of part time jobs. I went to bed twice a day for a couple of years because I was working swing shift and going to school.

I now have a 9-5 office job. I am apparently capable of working at least twice as many hours but I choose not to because I don't have to.

There are already people making twice as much (and more) than I do in as much or less time.

I don't think a 20 hour week for knowledge workers would have the effect you claim.


This is called the hedonic treadmill, and is why we don't have a more leisurely lifestyle in general.

John Maynard Keynes famously predicted something like a 10-20 hour work week by the year 2000. You can actually have that today... if you are willing to live at the standard of living of someone in the 1930s.

That would mean a much smaller house, much less technology, a very cheap car or public transit, vanilla food, only a few suits of clothes, and bare bones health care.

Instead we tend to use our gains to get more space (houses today outside dense cities are huge), more tech, more education, better health care, designer hipster food, more entertainment, and so on.


Living in a 1930's home with a 2010 Toyota Corolla in the garage I somehow doubt that. We're talking (where I live) $600-1200 before tax income. In the dead of winter the utilities alone can be close to $500.

Your 1930s house is almost certainly not typical of the median house that people lived in the 1930s. One third of Americans didn’t even have full indoor plumbing in 1930.

For one the fact that it’s preserved likely means it’s one of the finest homes of the era. Two it’s heavily updated inside. Air conditioning, modern appliances, high capacity electrical circuits, fire safety, better windows and insulation, etc.


> For one the fact that it’s preserved likely means it’s one of the finest homes of the era.

Well put.


In 1930s people wouldn't heat the whole house and wouldn't heat it to 70 degrees in the dead of winter. People would heat one room to 50 degrees and stay there most of the time, and put on a jacket. Walking around in a t-shirt in the dead of winter is a very modern thing. You don't realize how much higher your standard for comfort are.

As I pointed out elsewhere, the utilities were just an example of cost. The mortgage is about double what I would make with that work schedule.

In the 1930s you would have a wood burning stove for heat and, if you were outside of a city, possibly limited or no electricity. Almost certainly no phone or a party line.

You can get those utility costs down by living right. :)


That's true, but the more than $2000 / month mortgage isn't something that's so easily overcome.

You comment implies that utility costs would be significantly lower if OP used 1930s technology, but I’d assume that using a wood burning stove to heat their house would be much costlier. Modern technology typically allows one to use resources much more efficiently, even if we tend to use much more of those resources.

The key is to use anything not just efficiently but sparingly. The heat may not be on at night, you can use thicker covers.

But the cost of wood isn't bad. The worst winter bills appear to arise from heating oil from what I've heard anecdotally, which is common in old houses in New England.


Your comment assumes heating an entire house to 60-70 in winter was normal.

I have stepped off the hedonic treadmill. I prepare nearly all of my own food and I eat extremely well. Ingredients are cheap. I don't live in the USA so my healthcare is unaffected. The internet is a thing so I can (and do) continue to educate myself for free.

But yes, I don't have an extensive wardrobe or a large house. So what?


What be gone further. Live on a sailboat. I be free electricity. All I pay for is the gas for cooking, and a bit of diesel. Anchoring is free. And it’s paradise. No cars. No pollution.

You could also do that if corporate profits were lower. Worker productivity has far outpaced compensation for 50 years: https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-6/understanding-the-labo...

If corporate profits were lower, you wouldn't have the giant companies of today pushing USA' economy so high, and pushing the wages to the highest in the world, bar some tiny states.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_income

When looking at those tables, keep in mind that taxes in most of those countries (except maybe Switzerland) are significantly higher than the US taxes. In fact, the US median wage earner pays almost no income tax, only payroll.


Corporate profits are after wages. They could have the same profit before wages - but if the share was distributed more evenly, overall profit would be lower, and the worker would be better off.

It's not like this would've affected companies at all. R&D is at an all time low compared to profits. It's not like they couldn't afford to invest in R&D to keep an advantage if workers were getting paid more.

Seeing as inequality is higher than during the Bell Epoch in France - and any other time in recorded history, this doesn't seem preposterous.


> It's not like this would've affected companies at all

How can you be so sure? Tens of billions of profit every year/quarter make these companies very appealing for investors, allowing them to spend unlimited cash to expand their business.

A well run company that has limited profits and expansion will then in turn have less R&D. Think IBM, Oracle - they haven't kept up the pace and got seriously behind MS, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google etc.

Not only the companies in this list https://spendmenot.com/blog/rd-spenders/ spend the most, they also offer really high salaries, because they are successful.

I don't have a crystal ball or a degree in economics, but to me it's pretty clear that a successful company will make life better for everyone, including R&D and menial jobs. Say what you want, but Amazon warehouse jobs are better than other no skill needed job in their respective areas.


This isn't how investing in an established company like Google today works (where most people invest most of their money). When you buy Google stock, it almost never affects their R&D budget.

You could argue that startups wouldn't be able to raise as much money, sure. And they DEFINITELY wouldn't be able to if interest rates were higher.

But the America of today (>95% of corporate profits) came from companies that weren't able to raise ridiculous amounts of money because of low interest rates from the last decade.

Startups from the last 10 years might have a lot of market cap - but their profits are very, very small compared to just FAANG+M - let alone the rest of the S&P 500.


> if you are willing to live at the standard of living of someone in the 1930s.

So you'd have to live like it was the worst period of global economic collapse and hardship in modern history?


> That would mean a much smaller house, much less technology, a very cheap car or public transit, vanilla food, only a few suits of clothes, and bare bones health care.

I'm not too far from this, 30 square meter apartment, no car, make most of my own meals, have only a few inexpensive clothing and don't have private insurance (because universal healthcare is better). I have a fair bit of technology but that barely makes a dent in my overall budget, in the last couple of years it's just the internet and the electricity to run them.

10 hours a week (assuming I could get divide my current salary by 4) would barely pay the mortgage/rent due to inflated housing costs. With 20 hours I could pay food/water/electricity and probably have enough left over for some indulgences.

So this is feasible for me, but I just creep into top 10% income bracket in my country, it's definitely not achievable for most people.


People lived at 1930 standards of living because technology at the time only gave them 1930 levels of productivity.

Hedonic treadmill is different. This is about labor flooding the market and driving its price down, and auction-priced (supply-constrained) goods being bid up in price (like housing).

| a much smaller house, much less technology, a very cheap car or public transit, vanilla food, only a few suits of clothes, and bare bones health care.

You would have to be highly skilled to do that, the average worker couldn't get anywhere close to that lifestyle on 10-20 hours a week.


At least I don't think so on the jobs that would actually allow you to work 10-20 hours a week.

Problem is that if one company works 20 hours a week, and another works 40 hours a week.

The 40 hour/week company will get more done.

Also, imagine if your doctor only worked 20 hours a week.


By that logic, you should be enforcing a 60 hour/week, to achieve even better goals.

The problem is that job != job, because different jobs have different requirements.

A doctor needs to be available continuously, but he doesn’t necessarily need to be working continuously. An on-call doctor needs to be available 24/7. A general practitioner may only need to show up for scheduled appointments in strict timeslots.

A programmer on a long term project needs to eventually put in hours, but precisely when he puts in those hours matters less. A senior developer is productive anytime he’s available for advice (and there are others working to be advised — with off-shore resources, this can mean extended availability)

A warehouse worker is productive only when he’s explicitly doing labor. Being available for labor, but not doing any, is worthless.

A programmer on a short term or last-mile phase of a project needs to put in the hours, but on a strict timeline — there’s no room to skip a day and make up for it tomorrow.

Companies already acknowledge this, albeit implicitly. The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more valuable your availability and the less your labor. CEOs don’t get to have strict no-work vacations, but they also don’t have strict 9-5 work/life split, because they need to be available all the time. At the same time, they can go normal days without any real work to do, because they aren’t needed for anything.


You're kind of begging the question when you take "The 40 hour/week company will get more done" as a given, because that is exactly what's at stake here, isn't it? People upthread are theorizing that those extra 20 hours a week really don't make us get more done, because (to quote one of the comments above), "the rest is socialization, pointless meetings, lunches, or trying to look busy"

I can't remember the last time I saw the phrase "begging the question" used in its traditional/philosophical form — how refreshing!

Why 20? Why not 10? or 5, maybe 1hrs a week some how people will magically get more done than 40hrs a week.

I used to think this. But, I've learned that it assumes a bunch of things that aren't really true at many, many companies:

- Clear goals that the team is bought into

- Productive people who can sustain emotional enthusiasm for extended time periods

- An environment where intrinsically motivated people can thrive, and/or incentives for extrinsically motivated people

- A healthy feedback loop so people know when they're improving and are rewarded for it

- etc

Looked at this way, a team of 5 people working 20 hours per week in this type of company can vastly outperform a team of people working 40 hours per week at a company that lacks the above items. (And I'm probably missing some)


That isn't how comparisons work though. You can't compare a 20-hour/week company with good culture to a 40-hour/week company with toxic culture. You have two variables uncontrolled in that comparison.

Compare both companies at 40 or both at 20. The good-culture-40-hour would outperform the both the good-culture-20-hour and bad-culture-40-hour so why wouldn't all companies aim for 40/hours with a good culture?

It could be argued that it is impossible to have a good culture and 40 hours, but that needs a lot of analysis.


You can compare apples and oranges just fine.

(You are working to argue that the comparison being made isn't useful and haven't gotten there. For instance, if I was going to build a company, I'd certainly want to know what parts of a culture were important to a company that compared so well against the longer working company)


I'm saying if you have the above items checked off, then you're ahead of many, many teams. (It feels to me like 99% of teams but that's just looking out my own eyes)

> Also, imagine if your doctor only worked 20 hours a week.

That would be fabulous. Much better than doctors working to a regime designed by a cocaine addict that sees them punch-drunk from a lack of sleep by the end of their rosters.


I've come to believe that big software projects are like a marathon. Burning up your maximum energy every step of the way simply isn't going to yield better results. You need to create a pace and keep to it. Sometimes you speed up, sometimes you slow down, but saying 60 hours/week from start to finish is gonna be counterproductive.

I remember reading some studies on this, I think it was in the world of game development. 60 hrs/week delivers more than 40 hrs/week for the first few weeks, but then it reduces and after about 6 weeks, you're delivering less working 60 hrs/week than you were at 40.

Of course, there are lots of related issues, like are your employees getting enough sleep? Very varied work might tax employees differently. Is 8hr days, 5 on, 2 off necessarily the optimal pattern? Can people work more efficiently for longer if they're working on something they truly believe in?


> Also, imagine if your doctor only worked 20 hours a week.

I rather imagine I’d have two doctors.


Given how many people die from medical mistakes, many of which can be traced to fatigue, maybe we'd be better off with two doctors instead of one tired/exhausted fatigue zombie.

Why would I care about my doctor only working 20h a week? He could work 1h a week as long as he delivers what I need.

This is the same problem as people working 40 hours a week have competing with people working 80 hours a week have; they mostly can’t. Even if the last 20 hours are so marginal that really, you might as well not have bothered the person who worked 80 hours a week got 1.5 times as much done, and in any job that isn’t totally routinised the knowledge and skills gained from working compound. They compound faster for those who work more hours.

> Also, imagine if your doctor only worked 20 hours a week.

The reduction in misdiagnoses and straight up practical errors might give them better throughput overall?


I think the point of the original post in this thread is that 40 hour weeks are in reality 20 hour productive weeks. So a company working 40 hour weeks where 20 hours are productive have the same output as a company working 20 hour weeks where 20 hours are productive.

your assuming that these 20 hour will be 100% work which is unlikely

This is such a silly thing to say. By that logic, our companies would be driving us to work as many hours as possible.

The fact is, most (white-collar) places just don't have enough work to consume people for 40 continuous hours.


I doubt that. The point is that 20 hrs a week * 100% ~= 40 hrs a week * 50%. And most people top out at a few hours of productivity a day.

Beyond that, we solve that problem with government regulation. If companies really need to run 24/5 they can just go to 6 shifts instead of 3.


But isn't 20 hours/week or 40 hours/week a negotiated agreement when you got hired? If you want 20 hours/week, get paid less and stop whining about companies should pay more for less amount of mandatory work hours. The discussion should have been more like employees should have more options on choosing how many mandatory work hours they are willing to offer a week when signing agreement with a company. I am utterly surprised, though not all people here are from the capitalism driven world but majorities are talking like they are living in socialist world.

I think he was being sarcastic.

Yes. But then, people who work 40hours produce more then those who work 60, but it is not stopping teams overworking people.

Meaning, productivity is not only factor.


I can't convince myself that would work. What if it isn't that people hit a peak of productivity at 20 hours of work per week, it's the minimum they try to do and still be acceptable to their boss. This could happen if bosses just assume that people work close to 90-100% of the time during working hours. I am sure no one is honest about it.

If 20 hours were the new weekly target instead of 40 it could negatively impact people if productivity declines on crucial things. That could happen if the new minimum acceptable amount of work to management were, say, 10 hours. So people would similarly spend 50% of their 20 hour working week avoiding work. So there could be a temporary shock throughout the economy as supply of things decreased until things adjusted.


Your hypotheticals seem stretched; I see no reason they should apply. Let's try it and see?

My company’s core philosophy is that there are only 20 productive “creative” hours of coding in the average week. We employ our devs and ask that they aim for 17 hours of billed time to our clients; the remaining 3 hours is spent on our internal sync and calls with clients. The rest of the week is theirs: if they want to keep coding, do it; if they want to mow the lawn, that’s great too.

After almost 8 years with this model, I think the evidence is overwhelming that we maintain somewhere between 85 and 90% of the productive output of our 40+ hour/week counterparts.

I’m excited at the prospect of a positive shift in work/life balance coming out of the massive WFH experiment that’s happened over the past 18 months.


This sounds like a fantastic place to work.

Seconded. I've never had a place where I wasn't supposed to bill a full 40 hours and it's hell. Any distraction or disruption ends up eating into your not work time, or you fudge the numbers and bill for work when you're not working. I could absolutely be fully productive and provide the most value to the client for 20 hours a week.

It's ok. The workers refuse to unionize though, which is a real problem.

Can you elaborate, what do you think a union would provide that's missing?

Also, are you in management there (and thus more pro-union than the rank-and-file which is quite remarkable)?


I’m a cofounder. At a surface level this is a running joke between me and my team: they won’t unionize no matter how many times I insist they do.

More fundamentally I come from a strong Union family. My father is a professor, my grandfather worked for petrochemical companies after the war, his father came from West Virginia and so on. I think that the high salaries and plentiful amenities gloss over the need for a real strong union presence in software. It’s exactly when workers have the power that they ought to capitalize to entrench that power. All we have to do is look at how companies like Amazon churn through H1B workers to see how brutal dev work _can_ be. While development skills are still a relatively scarce commodity we owe it to the next generation of bit pushers to create a strong voice for the rights of labor. Our power as a workforce can then be better leveraged to improve conditions for workers everywhere.

Unions are not — and have never been — perfect, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to fight for fair labor practices in every industry.


> they won’t unionize no matter how many times I insist they do

Wow ... I would think if management is convinced it would make life better for the workers, management could make the case, bring in the organizers and get it done. There are definitely some ripe topics: H1Bs as you mention; age discrimination for sure; wage fixing. Of course the labor-friendly status quo disincentivizes "job security" but I'm sure you agree that's not the only or even primary reason for a union.

I'm not trying to imply it's simple or easy -- I'm pro-labor, a founder, and a dev, and I'm _very_ confused about what unions mean for us and would like to build a cohesive narrative.


Is your company hiring?

Not at the moment. We always post in the Who's Hiring thread when a position opens.

I worked in similar company, I could do all my weekly work in 10 hours. But company did not like my side projects.

We _love_ side projects --- that's why we started our company, because we didn't want Bezos to own our zombie card game.

I worked at a company where the support team was moved temporarily next to the HR team.

Someone in HR somehow found a way to complain that "they're not very social and they're always at their desks working".

I was kind of blown away that somehow that could be a thing to complain about.


The opposite happened in mine: people missed socialization so much that the number of pointless meetings exploded.

I just checked and I've been on the phone for 19 hours last week (out of a 35h work week), and I'm only attending like half of them that are actually related to work, i.e. skipping meetings that are just for coffee and talk, lunch break videogames, and whatever they do in the discord (yes, they created a discord to "keep in touch").

The best was last summer when we had a 2/3 office/home split, which left people happy in terms of social contact and at least I could work from home without nonsense for 3 days.


Remote work productivity mid-pandemic won’t necessarily translate post-pandemic because in the pandemic the other ways we could spend our time were so limited. In contrast, right mow I could be at the gym, having a long lunch with a friend, doing errands… The new freedom and temptation to do those things will gradually undermine the remote option, until bosses finally tire of the cat and mouse and everyone must go back to their cubicles.

>>Remote work productivity mid-pandemic won’t necessarily translate post-pandemic

None of the 'problems' you mention will necessarily come to pass either. Unless you have a crystal ball, you're future is no more likely then any other...

Having worked from home for 20 years now, I can tell you that hasn't been my experience.


Don't forget commute times, which can be bad especially in high cost of living cities where you have to live really far from things to afford a decent place.

For us it saved everyone an average of 1-2 hours per day.

Also consider the energy savings. Commuting by car every day uses tons of energy. Of course this is somewhat offset by more HVAC being consumed by houses, but I highly doubt that totally erases the savings from not driving so much. Cars are very energy intensive.


What percentage of your company had parents of infants/toddlers at your company? Is it very diverse?

Childcare was practically nonexistent during early phase of the pandemic.


And it's crushingly expensive even in better times.

> One of the interesting things that happened at my company is that productivity instantly doubled when we started working remotely.

It is well established in literature on workplace studies that any major change to a workplace results in short-term productivity boosts.

Some changes result in long-term productivity boosts.


I don't think this is well established at all, despite what Peopleware said about the Hawthorne Effect - see the criticism section: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect#Interpretatio...

That’s interesting, I’d never heard that before. Where could I read more about that?

Start with Wikipedia: novelty effect, Hawthorne effect.

> the reality of working from home is that 20-30 hour work weeks need to be acceptable and we should use the rest of our time on non-working things

Privately this is what I end up doing anyway, and it works out pretty well


This is a refreshing perspective that takes into the reality of what humans are able to do, over time. Quite a good idea as well, why not spend some time taking walks, doing housework, and being in nature rather than standing and chatting by the watercooler/coffe machine, having meetings with no benefit or trying to surf the web without anyone noticing.

I've worked remotely for years on and off from the past two decades and I understand that you can't just work remotely. You have to socialize as well. Many companies think 'remote work' is about work, and that is far from true. Every aspect of 'work' needs to be done remotely. If you're not socialising and doing fun things remotely then people will grow increasingly isolated and eventually quit.

How does your company measure productivity?

Probably with their guts.

At my previous company this was only true for a week or two. Then some VP discovered how to use MS Teams and the daily two hour meeting started.

You can have pointless meetings remotely. Actual socialization seems to be the more difficult (and desirable) thing to reproduce.

>productivity instantly doubled

Looks like the 'science' of in-the-office productivity needs some new theories.


This sounds like complete bullshit. There is no way this is true. What are you measuring??

I would love to be proven wrong.


Not the person you asked, but work has objective measures of the organization (bugs closed, number of commits, etc), and those doubled.

Then management said they thought planning and roadmap would implode, but those also (subjectively) went much better than usual this year, with written down decisions, and discrete decision points instead of useless repeated verbal syncs.

Also, it seems as though fewer high profile things slipped than usual, but that’s hard to measure year-to-year.

Finally, surveys say a large majority of the employees strongly prefer indefinite part or full time work from home.


> the rest is socialization, pointless meetings, lunches, or trying to look busy.

The parts that for me made the job bearable. The rest is legacy support for CRUD apps. The office is a perk for people with few other outlets.


So yes, as a "boss", the work-from-home future is definitely and absolutely destroying my brain, but I think the whole discussion around control in the article completely misses my point. I couldn't care less about control and never cared about seat-in-the-ass time before.

But as an engineer become manager, I can absolutely feel both sides here:

While everything development is massively more chill remote (no interruptions and hey, just go fill your dishwasher while stuff compiles), everything about managing remotely completely sucks for me.

Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people. What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done now takes eternities and every meeting is an energy hog.

Honestly, I really enjoyed being a leader for a technology organization, but right now, I absolutely hate it. There seem to be others who cope better, but it's certainly not for me.

I'm pretty curious on how all of this will turn out.


Hopefully leaders can learn some empathy from this pandemic.

> everything about managing remotely completely sucks for me.

As an engineer, everything about working in-person completely sucks for me. I hate being around people, I hate hearing people, I hate interacting with coworkers face to face, I hate sitting in office chairs and desks, and I hate commuting.

> Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people.

Again, these all completely suck for me in-person. I'm an introvert and I hate having to put on a happy face for the manager (my resting face looks anywhere from tired to murderous), I hate "sitting in a war room" pretending to focus while my time is just wasted by people talking, I hate traveling and waiting in a lobby for interviews when I'm already nervous, and I hate having to mime the emotions and interactions that leaders think are meaningful but that I just do because it's part of office politics.

Maybe you're an exception, and it would be great if you are. But I've had deep and meaningful relationships with people, fully remotely and text-based, since I used IRC as a teenager. I think in 2021 it's fair to raise the bar and expect managers/leaders to learn basic online communication to the level that teenagers were doing like 10-20 years ago, rather than shackle everyone to the office and commutes because leaders can't learn how to use slack/zoom


I understand most of your point, but the end of your comment shows a real lack of interest in and understanding of what people managers are paid to do. The job is to align a large groups of people on tasks while maintaining coordination with other large groups and keeping morale high.

All of that requires tremendous amounts of communication, and communication over Slack and even Zoom is very low bandwidth compared to communication in person.

Consider this: if your home had only a 56k dialup modem and your office had gigabit fiber, would you still prefer to work from home? Because that’s kind of what covid-remote had been like as a people manager in a larger org.

To make remote management work you need to not just “learn how to use Slack and Zoom,” you need to fundamentally redesign your entire org for extremely low social cohesion and low bandwidth communication. It can be done, as evidenced by many successful remote-only companies, but it’s not simple or easy, and it’s brutal to be a people manager in an org that was designed around office work and leading through the conversion to remote-only.


> what people managers are paid to do. The job is to align a large groups of people on tasks while maintaining coordination with other large groups and keeping morale high.

And if WFH improves output and morale at the cost of more difficult management, isn't that absolutely worth it for managers? Their entire effort is dedicated to enabling contributors, if a policy does just that then they should push for it.

I do mechanical engineering, we design stuff for our manufacturing operators and our customer's operators. Whenever some amount of effort on my side may reduce the operator's burden over the life of the product, it's absolutely worth it. I'm not going to make a subpar design just to save myself an analysis, that's the job.

So if WFH requires more management effort, and results in better output for the team, it should be pushed by management. Managers shouldn't compromise their team's output and morale just to save themselves some remote meetings.


Your conclusion is trivializing management and missing the big picture.

1. Not all workers productivity goes up when working from home. During COVID about half my team of ~35 told me they hated working from home and felt their productivity had fallen significantly.

2. It’s often the case that things which are optimal for one team are not optimal for the organization as a whole.

Those two points don’t mean that moving to work from home is never the right decision, it can be the right decision and it can be worth the effort. But it’s just not as simple as most work from home champions like to imagine.


> During COVID about half my team of ~35 told me they hated working from home and felt their productivity had fallen significantly.

It’s pretty common for people to say what the boss wants to hear. It sounds like you like in person work. So I wouldn’t base too much important decision making on your straw poll.

Also, self reported productivity is a terrible measure unless you specifically want to measure feels.

For management decision, you should have some reliable basis that works to control for your biases.


I appreciate this insight

As an engineer who transitioned to p eople management pre-covid, then back to engineering during covid (after burning out HARD), I gained a ton of empathy for my managers.

It's really shocking just how complex and demoralizing mid-level management can be, especially-so in the remote world.

After seeing just how hard it can be to simply know what your team is doing on a given day (let alone to align them to some vague OKR passed from on-high)... Let's just say it's made me want to adopt some practices that make me easier to manage.

At the very least, I'm putting more effort into keeping my tickets & PRs up-to-date and easy to understand at a glance.


> and keeping morale high.

My morale has never been lower than when they moved us into an open office where I had to hear everyone jabbering away (plus it was in another state which more than doubled my commute).


> Consider this: if your home had only a 56k dialup modem and your office had gigabit fiber, would you still prefer to work from home?

Perhaps you underestimate how much I hate being outside of my home. If given a realistic choice, there is no situation where I would ever prefer or enjoy the office. Nothing is worth it, and most of it is an active detriment to my quality of life, especially the people. I'm not asking for everyone to be remote, unlike the many people who want to force everyone to be in-office, I just want the option for myself and others to be remote based on preference.

> it’s brutal to be a people manager in an org that was designed around office work and leading through the conversion to remote-only.

It's brutal to be an introvert/misanthrope forced to sit in a chair 8h a day, and the point is that it's not necessary. Let people who want to be in-office do so, and let the rest stay home. I still haven't heard a convincing or legitimate reason why things should be otherwise except for people who are stuck in the 1940s office mindset.


But you have that option. Remote work is available and plentiful, now more than ever. So work remote if that’s what you need. It sounds like that should be non-negotiable requirement number 1 for any job you consider.

All I was pointing out in my original comment is office work is not a conspiracy by management to torture you: it’s by far the best work environment for many people and many kinds of jobs. If you could understand that - while also understanding yourself and that it’s not a fit for you - you might be able to let some of that anger go and find a more comfortable fit on a team.


> It sounds like that should be non-negotiable requirement number 1 for any job you consider.

You're right. Thankfully I'm finally in a position where I can do that moving forward. Before my current point in life, I was more in a position where I had to take what I could get, which is where the lack of flexibility became very frustrating. Just like we let engineers listen to music and wear hoodies, I think it's reasonable to let engineers work from home or the office as desired.

> office work is not a conspiracy by management to torture you: it’s by far the best work environment for many people and many kinds of jobs. If you could understand that - while also understanding yourself and that it’s not a fit for you - you might be able to let some of that anger go and find a more comfortable fit on a team.

You're right about this as well. It's not a conspiracy to torture, and office work is best for some people. But again, I think people underestimate how much people want to have the option of working remote, and overestimate how important in-office presence is for a huge majority of cases.


And so instead of the managers adapting, the engineers have to adapt to the 56k equivalent by being in the office?

That’s a disingenuous interpretation and not what I said. Good managers work hard to try and help everyone on the team do their best work. Just keep in mind that the overall team optimum may not be the individual optimum for you. It’s basically impossible to create a work environment that is ideal for more than 3-5 people. The more people you add the more you need to balance everyone’s preferences.

But good management can and does create a work environment where everyone feels things are pretty good.

As for me, the biggest takeaway I have from COVID life is that open office designs have to go, and possibly that hybrid remote work has some answers for how to make that possible. Open office is fine for some kinds of work, but ruins deep work. I think most people who are having an epiphany about work from home either had a terrible commute and didn’t realize how much it stressed them out, or had never gotten to do deep work before and didn’t realize how valuable it was. Those are important things for all of us to learn.


Exactly. Leadership/management love to complain about how they want to be in office because it's better for them, but then couldn't care less when people work better at home.

Only terrible management fits this description. Good managers care very, very much about what’s best for their people, and are willing to sacrifice a lot to help them achieve.

You are right. Unfortunately in my experience the average manager averages closer to terrible than good, let alone great.

Funny my managers often wanted me to be more "flexible" to meet absolutely non-flexible deadlines.

I certainly won't mind if my manager has to adapt for once (and don't tell me they adapt to each of us and all situations and that's already taxing)

I'll happily turn the tables.


> I hate being around people, I hate hearing people, I hate interacting with coworkers face to face

It's a reasonable way to feel, but I don't think the majority of people are like this. People who feel this way should definitely seek remote work.


Hate is a strong word, but if you phrased it as "would prefer not having to be near people, listen to people while trying to focus, or be forced into unwanted face-to-face social interactions" the percentage would be fairly high, especially among developers.

That’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re talking about people who prefer office vs. not.

Its exactly what is being talked about. All of those things are things inherent to the office experience that go away when working remotely.

Those are only the negative experiences. Many people do not like those things. But there are positive aspects to being in the office that you misleadingly did not list.

The more extroverted among us get emotionally charged by parties and social interaction.

The more introverted among us get emotionally drained by parties and social interactions.

For the introverts, the draining effect is much less pronounced if the party is among a tight-knit group where being conscious of social norms is not needed.

After a large gathering of people I am not emotionally close to, I need a couple hours alone, without human contact just to decompress.


Based on your description I'm an introvert, but I still need WFH in my life for the social stuff and structure. I guess it's a continuum. I'd go crazy without at least 2 days a week in office.

Just because someone is introverted doesn't mean they "hate interacting with coworkers face-to-face", though.

Majority I would say is anecdotal. People have other lives and priorities. I would rather see my family 40 hours and work.

> Maybe you're an exception, and it would be great if you are. But I've had deep and meaningful relationships with people, fully remotely and text-based, since I used IRC as a teenager. I think in 2021 it's fair to raise the bar and expect managers/leaders to learn basic online communication to the level that teenagers were doing like 10-20 years ago, rather than shackle everyone to the office and commutes because leaders can't learn how to use slack/zoom

With all due respect, I‘ve been chatting on IRC since the birth of Undernet, but some people I thought I had meaningful connections with I should have better not have met IRL. These days I prefer to make my connections in meatspace.

I introduced Slack to our company and am fully able to use Zoom, but there‘s a difference between four Zoom calls a week and four a day (yes, you do need to manage up and to the sides as well).

You might hate your manager, but so far companies don‘t work without leadership and coordination either.

I hope we can find something better going forward together.


I don't feel the WFH pros/cons align perfectly with engineer/managers either. I know many managers who are very comfortable with managing a geo-distributed remote team. Mine in particular is quite good at it.

I sometimes wonder if software developers who share these sentiments are often disappointed by the way things work in the industry because they expected to be coding/interacting with machines and toys the whole working time but in reality there is a lot more to building software that solves business problems than just coding.

I can only speak from personal experience, but yes, it was pretty crushing. I knew interacting with people would be required, but I did not foresee the full on panic attacks in the bathroom, trying to calm down so I wouldn't just run out the front door and never come back.

Ditto. I haven't had the same intensity, but I always take office lunch in isolation somewhere, take a lot of bathroom breaks where I'm just sitting on the toilet, etc, just to get some solitude. It's a real drag having to interact with people

> But I've had deep and meaningful relationships with people, fully remotely and text-based, since I used IRC as a teenager.

Me too, but I think perhaps that you and I are several standard deviations above the median in terms of reading comprehension and ability to write clearly.

Not everyone is capable of this, as I learned when I tried to run a whole-ass engineering org like I previously ran more informal teams on irc.

Most people are bad at reading comprehension. It's why they tell people to repeat and rephrase their points when communicating, to give their readers a second chance at getting it.


Perhaps, but how is this different from any other soft-skill? A manager with poor reading comprehension who can't do their job unless they require every single person they manage to be physically available seems to be just as ill-suited for their job as an engineer who is incapable of working on a team, or data scientist unable to present their results in a comprehensible way to stake-holders.

Seems to me that remote-work has been a bit of a reckoning for managers, in the sense that our societal work environments have been tailored in a way that unnecessarily hampers employee well-being and productivity, all to cover up the fact that many managers are lacking in some soft-skills that are critical to actual management.


Couldn't have said it better myself. The shore went out during the pandemic and we saw how many managers and leaders have been swimming without swimsuits. And unsurprisingly, you see a lot of them making excuses rather than finding ways to evolve and grow the way individual contributors have had to do this whole time: adapting to cubicle life, adapting to desks instead of cubicles, adapting to shared workspace, adapting to flexible workspace where you don't even have your own assigned workstation. Meanwhile Mr. Manager in his corner office loses it if he has to make a zoom call

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Hiring, especially at larger scale, is a matter of constant, neverending multidimensional compromises.


There is also the aspect of being on the record in corporate chat. There is way more on the line when everything is recorded than informal in person talking. People also 'have to be there' with their jobs, doing something they necessarily do not enjoy. On IRC in the 90s when everyone was anonymous and nothing was on the line, you had the social freedom to be more open, and the people who wanted to be there didn't have to be paid to be there.

Yet another good reason why corporate chat message TTLs should be no more than 7-14 days.

(Another is that the default of "forever" in things like Slack and Mattermost means that a compromise of a single user account gets to see every DM (including sensitive stuff DMed like passwords or PII) ever sent or received by that user. It's insane. It's also able to be subpoenaed. Expire your messages!)


People get really annoyed that they cannot find answers to previous questions, and if you have q&a website to get around that, your just moving the chat goalposts around. Not to mention its a higher friction process, so people go ask questions anyway on the company slack.

Also screenshots are a thing and easy to do in secret impulsively, recording stuff when your talking in person has a much higher threshold, and far less people are typically listening.

Also once you get to a certain size, there are legislative retention requirements and legal holds.


I would humbly agree, and you make good points. I never thought about why repeating points is so important. I have often wished to some extent that the bar for communication were higher, but I guess that's something most workplaces would rather just plow through than try to really improve.

Hiring is hard enough without chopping off 50 or 80% of otherwise-qualified applicants because they have gone their whole life without reading things very carefully.

You really think your peers are going to appreciate your attitude?

Don't take this the wrong way but I think you need to think about Therapy.


It’s not clear what exactly you’re referring to by “attitude” or how you think “Therapy” will affect it.

On the other hand, I can easily see how the sort of non-constructive verbal lashing-out demonstrated in your comment could be a problem in the workplace, and a behavior that one can learn to avoid through Therapy.


"I hate being around people, I hate hearing people, I hate interacting with coworkers face to face, I hate sitting in office chairs and desks, and I hate commuting."

That is asking for your employer to say well none of your coworkers want to work with you "total break down in trust" bye bye

Which was my point the person does need to understand that he has to work with other people other wise they will be fired.


But he’s not saying he doesn’t like working with people in general, or even that he doesn’t like the people he currently works with. Only that the previously enforced method of interaction isn’t his cup of tea. And for all you know his co-workers feel the same.

Thanks, that's right. I actually am grateful to have a team that I like a lot at the moment; I just prefer working fully remotely and my coworkers happen to feel the same way, in this case.

He plays the game in office. But it’s exhausting and pointless. The only benefit I see of being in office is not having to compete with others around the world for jobs.

Concise and correct. The latter is probably one of the few benefits I've seen to being in-office, but even then I think it depends on your country. I don't think it's easy for foreigners to get an American remote job, for example.

Maybe you missed the parts where I mentioned acting/miming. I'm not so oblivious as to be a grouch at work lol. That's y whole point: I _have_ to exert effort to be friendly and likable and get along with my coworkers. It takes effort because it's not something I enjoy or want, but is essentially necessitated by any job. I don't like working or coding that much either, but I still put in the effort to do a good job because that's what working is: work. It would just be easier for me and people like me if I could take out the unnecessary stuff like being in an office, just like employers generally pay for air conditioning so you don't have to try working through heat stroke during hot summers.

> What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done

As a person who at a previous job was often pulled into said "war rooms", we almost never "got that hard problem done", but we did always make management feel good about not being able to fully solve hard problems. Mostly these "huddle-work" scenarios created more problems (long term) than they solved, because people weren't motivated to solve the problem, they were motivated to leave the war room. I do my best work when I'm not constantly distracted by others, but many managers simply can't understand this and instead hamstring their employees by having "war rooms" and white-boarding sessions and stand-ups and deep-dives and all the other nonsensical ways of preventing people from actually focusing and accomplishing a task. Good riddance to the on-location office and all the hot garbo that comes with it; the rest of us will be quietly humming away, getting tasks done and solving major problems without such managerial hindrances.


There are entire classes of problems where a group of n persons working effectively together will produce a much better solution than 1 single person on an island (where n > 1).

In those situations, white boarding and deep dive are useful activities.

Business owners would absolutely love it if you could just run a complex (high value-add, high margin) business by only getting a bunch of commodity developers just pulling JIRA tickets from a heap, quietly humming away.

Reality is that, collaboration is important and is required in order to create non trivial products, and thus the margin to pay for the “people doing real work”.


I agree collaboration is very important. What's interesting to me though is that very early in my career (pre ubiquitous video conferencing), I worked for a large multi-site corp. Me and another developer were the only developers in the local office, yet somehow we were able to collaborate using phone calls and email to build some pretty cool software with other team members in various offices around the US.

I'm not saying that digital tools are always perfect replacements, but there is a large gradient between a single person on an island and sitting shoulder to shoulder at a fold out table (which I have also done).


This claim is commonly made anecdotally by extroverts, but I've never seen real evidence that it is true.

I'm at least 50% convinced that there is a natural selection where managers are the people who like that stuff but people who stay developers hate it. I totally agree with you, from the moment I step into one of these rooms with my laptop in hand I just want to get out of there and back to my chair, my monitors and time to think things through.

"war rooms" are excellent in three cases:

1) creative brainstorming (ux, ui, branding, early architectural decisions) to ensure everyone can present and validate their ideas, and people are more on board with decisions as they saw democratic backing (or, at the very least, feel that objections they raise were heard!)

2) bringing staff that would normally be spread across multiple buildings and units together - the bigger the org and the more stakeholders involved, the more important a common space for (at least) the leadership team is, especially to cut through red tape and organizational barriers.

3) when you have an immediate problem (outages, GDPR incidents) to solve and secrecy is involved - no need to take care about people not in the loop, seeing stuff they are not supposed to etc.

What "war rooms" often enough end at, unfortunately, is cramped chicken coops. Not enough space, sales/PM people directly sitting and blathering in their phones next to developers, ... for months. That's a farce.


As a cynical take: Often the real purpose of a war room is not to actually solve the problem, but to provide visible evidence of Serious Business™ Happening, even if it's all just performative. A product owner calls a war room to visually show higher-ups that things are happening and people are nebulously doing things and looking very serious while doing them. It's performance art, but it is re-assuring to the people paying the salaries.

Oh, never think that you can get away just because you are remote. Now we just have multi-hour ‘this is a war room’ meetings, where the entire team is trying to get work done while connected to a permanent zoom session.

Arg. Screw that noise. I refuse to join these "co working zoom hours" where everybody is on the same zoom call. Or zoom happy hour. Or any of that. That stuff is dystopian as hell.

Remote work is great if you are a contractor with well defined scope. In fact it is ideal. You can set firm boundries with your client.

But being an employee who isn't just a cog in a machine, remote is rife with pitfalls. You lose connection with the greater company. People you used to work with on other teams. New hires. There is no doubt a huge chunk of people within my own little org that were hired over the last 1.5 years that I don't even know existed. I've lost complete track over the greater org.

Naw. A year from now it's gonna be almost exactly like what it was like in 2019. There is a reason why we didn't do this pre-lockdown and it wasn't just because of "micro managers" or "the suits justifying their work". FAANG companies pour huge amount of "HR marketing dollars" into their office environments. It literally helps them attract new talent.

I really just don't see these "hybrid" things panning out long run. We'll revert right back to 2019 before anybody knows it.


I agree with "war rooms" not being as effective...but whiteboards, standups and deep dives personally can be helpful.

I think the key thing for me is that I never force people to sit in on these.

When an employee starts a large piece of work they don't understand that I feel have some knowledge on. I ask if they would like to whiteboard a solution with me...or deep dive something in the code, or do daily standups just to talk about w/e is on their mind

Doing these remotely is totally fine, but I do feel these activities...or atleast whiteboarding and deep diving is nicer in person for me


Agreed. I think people don't realize how much WFH sucks for people who are not ICs (or don't care). Pre-pandemic, I was pointing my career in a management direction. I enjoyed both development work and managing and they both took advantage of different skill sets. However, in my mind, management had more upside in the long run, and if I was going to be going into an office every day anyway, might as well keep at it. So at the start of the pandemic I was doing remote management of a technical team. And all those negatives you mention started to add up. In the last few months I got a different job as a senior developer to take advantage of the unbelievable W/L balance of permanent WFH. I decided "being a developer remotely" >> "being a manager in the office" >> "being a developer in the office" >> "being a manager remotely".

On the other hand for my partner who is non-technical and squarely in management, WFH is an endless nightmare of virtual meetings with no breaks. Hard to read people, hard to get people engaged, nonstop pings preventing what little focus time she has left. She wants to get back to an office ASAP, and I don't blame her.


> I think people don't realize how much WFH sucks for people who are not ICs (or don't care).

yeah it probably sucks for managers to see huge parts of their jobs & supposed value-add automated away or otherwise proven unnecessary


I think this kind of attitude says more about the person expressing it than it does about the value good management brings.

yeah it says that the person expressing it has worked with managers for years and years now and even the good ones' biggest value-add is just telling the bad ones to fuck off

those managers are great for a remote IC. makes my life easy so I can minimize my hours and increase my effectively hourly rate


Why would those pings stop in office?

They don't necessarily stop but they're...different, I would say. For one thing, if someone is grabbing your attention in the office for a "quick question", it's easy to make a clean break from that interaction and move on. Verbal communication is just more efficient, and it's obvious when you have a legitimate conflict and need to move on from the conversation (On my way out the door, to lunch, to a meeting, etc).

It's also harder to get multiple "quick questions" at the same time, because in office people see when you're physically occupied. And it could be just me, but WFH I've noticed there is more psychological pressure to respond quickly to chats. Don't want people to think you're lounging off! A red "busy" indicator can mean a lot of things, in contrast to someone physically seeing you in conversation with your laptop closed in a meeting room.

In theory you should enforce boundaries "I'll respond to all questions after this virtual meeting is over" or "I have a firm cut off at 5PM and will not respond after that". But that becomes tough when leadership, who should be setting expectations on this stuff, breaks it's own rules and multi-tasks during meetings or has unrealistic availability. Definitely a cultural thing that heavily depends on your exact role and the organization norms.

TL;DR For "Zoom calls and text messaging" are not a drop in replacement for physically talking to someone, especially for people who spend a lot of their day having many small, ad-hoc conversations.


> Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people. What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done now takes eternities and every meeting is an energy hog.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but, you're doing it wrong. As a leader you should be adjusting to the dynamic that ensures meetings respect your teams' time, have clear outputs and follow-ups, etc. As someone who has been, and will continue to be, remote for many years in a leadership capacity, it's not the attendees of a meeting's fault if the person putting it on doesn't respect their time.

The reality of remote work being forced in the office crowd that I see is a reckoning of where mere presence was taken for value. I would never expect to get the best work out of someone by sticking them in a dungeon for a week. Let them walk in the sunshine with a headset, sit in the shade with their laptop, or take a breather to enjoy their own safe space while exploring new ideas.


> What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done

What would you say exactly, you "do" here?


Sorry to hear that.

This was a real jolt to read though. I've been really bullish about WFH or hybrid work for the future, since as an IC I've seen nothing but the benefits as you mention. I never thought of the stress of remote work in a management role though, so thanks for sharing!


Don't forget interns. Those poor souls are absolutely screwed by all this. In no circumstance can I see mentoring an intern working remotely. At least not nearly as effectively as in person.

There's entire class of remote internships like Google Summer of Code, ESA Summer of Code, etc. Everyone doing just fine - mentors and interns.

Google measures intern productivity each year and this year remote has been within the amount of typical variation.

When the pandemic started, I was working as a manager. It was my 6th year in that company. I thought, working remote is the best that ever happened to me.

Now I changed my job three months ago and remote work is killing me.

I realized that managing remotely it’s easy if you already have build strong relationships while in the office. You know how to approach each team member, who you can trust. It also takes much more time for people to trust you.


People will trust you if you demonstrate leadership.

Ah, depends on the audience.

A good portion of the workplace population seem, to managers, to be unmanageable. Another good portion seem, to workers, to be unable to manage. It will take real skill to ameliorate that remotely.

Perhaps "remote leadership" is a new skill, a growth area to be exploited by the talented?


> A good portion of the workplace population seem, to managers, to be unmanageable. Another good portion seem, to workers, to be unable to manage.

Seems more like theory of mind deficiencies as opposed to anything real


> Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people. What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done now takes eternities and every meeting is an energy hog.

Being in any meeting or war room is also an energy hog. I do understand what you're saying though. What worked before, doesn't work anymore. Remote means management has to change. IC work for the most part was easy to move remote. Work that involved coordinating people and communication is going to take longer to figure out. It can be done, as many pre-COVID remote companies showed. But, it takes work to adapt.


I think some of the reason that so many workers welcome this change is that they have had bad managers (which it sounds like you are not). For my self I had a on-site manager managing a team of 6-7 people out at a customer, however he failed to pick up on my detoriating mental health which lead to a severe case of burnout and me leaving the company. The signs was there, and I am still baffled what on earth he spent 8 hours on each day since the didn't do anything to stop that (at least for the sake of the company - I was not productive to say the least). Given that experience there is nothing gained in having a manager that I physically meet. Interesting to know if the different feelings people have regarding this is due to their experience with different managers.

I hope that you find some way to adjust for the new way of working, if it is having regular workshops, having workers come in regularly, or if it all blows over and thing go back to normal.


"six people in a war room for week"

This sounds like hell, stop doing this to your employees.


> Honestly, I really enjoyed being a leader for a technology organization, but right now, I absolutely hate it. There seem to be others who cope better, but it's certainly not for me.

Managing people in-person requires you to develop certain skills. Managing people remotely requires an overlapping but different set of skills. It is not harder or easier, just different, and like any skill, it can be learned with practice.


I'm curious if/how this could be addressed with better collaboration systems.

E.g., suppose everyone's WFH office had a Google Jamboard and high-quality videoconferencing system.

If it addressed your concerns and per-employee cost was $10k initial + $5k/year, I would think it's still a win given the typical total-comp cost of a U.S.-based software developer.


This is an organizational problem. You should not have that many meetings. People need to learn how to write. I manage people and we work fully asynchronously by using gitlab to its full potential. I have close to zero meeting a week. Everything is in writing. We write epics for new features and discuss there. A

I've worked in organizations that were from ~20% remote to ~90% remote (for the teams I worked with), and while I've never been the boss - never had more than a couple of people reporting to me - I observed that somehow the bosses' work was getting done, and the organization has not descended into chaos any more than usual. I have to conclude from that that there are ways to run a remote engineering org, with results no worse than for a meatspace-local one. Maybe you're just about to discover them.

As a manager, how would you feel about a hybrid setup with people in the office say two days a week?

Would it recapture a substantial portion of the benefits, or do you think you find that the manager utility of each extra day in the office doesn't diminish much?


Thanks for asking.

Honestly I would like to be in the office as little as possible. I get knowing a person face to face has value, but having a fixed schedule of this would feel artificial and more draining.


> Reading emotions and connecting to people.

Literally every day of my life with autism.


This is a great point. For the most part, I love working from home, and will never go back to an office if I can help it. But I completely agree that these aspects of the job are much harder, and the perspective of someone who has never had to do them is going to miss some important things.

> I couldn't care less about control

...

> just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done

Sure, it is not about control, yeah yeah.

Good riddance.


no you don't get it

if they don't get those 6 people in a room, then they'll just solve the same problem in the same time remotely and mr manager won't get any credit!


> is an energy hog.

Now you know how introverts feel about in-person meetings


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