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Remote work brings hidden penalty for young professionals, study says (nytimes.com)
268 points by aarghh 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 442 comments




As a remote, older professional now, my career nevertheless supports the premise of this article: in-office was beneficial when I started out.

My first job had a strong lunch culture, providing an environment for serendipitous conversations, daily. Over time, I bumped into folks I never would have met in the normal scope of my role, across finance, legal, SRE, support, sales, data science, etc.

In turn, as a young professional, I was able to develop a mental model for how businesses "work", why they're organized how they are, and how (good) culture can bind everyone together towards a profitable outcome. I made some friends and acquaintances that I'm still in touch with to this day.

As a remote, older professional now, I don't necessarily "need" these serendipitous conversations anymore, although I miss the general socialization. But I do feel like they're an essential "ladder" that every subsequent generation of professionals should be able to access, and that it's a moral obligation for me to "pay it forward".

For remote work to be "fair" to young professionals, its systems should facilitate the same career benefits, with the same effort.


I think leadership at many of these companies have their wires crossed in terms of messaging but also expectations and ideas about what they want to extract out of employees

They always start with return to office = productivity, which people push back on, because the office is full of 2 hour lunch breaks and water cooler discussions about fantasy football. Then discourse gets worse when CEOs talk about the "overemployed" and people running errands during a work day. If we're talking lines of codes written nothing beats working at home for most

But you're right, there is a ton to learn during those 2 hour lunches, pulling people in to impromptu meetings, and socializing as a whole

The messaging needs to be fixed, expectations adjusted, people should be empowered to both work heads down at home, and do less head down work at the office


There's another problem in that the modern office is not optimized for the really valuable interactions. There is some idea way up in the clouds about free communication and sharing ideas that manifests as open floor plans. What we really need are small quiet areas to focus and do work and separate large areas for socialization and collaboration. The modern office doesn't actually facilitate any of this.

When I was a newbie I sat in a cube across the hall from my boss' private office and next to the kitchen. It was actually really nice. I was in a quiet corner of the office and had full height cube walls with bookshelves and a big whiteboard all to myself. But I could turn around and ask my boss a question or walk less than 30 feet to talk to any of the senior engineers, who all had private offices which doubled as collaboration spaces. The spontaneous interactions happened around the espresso machine. In hindsight it was wonderful but if you looked at that building from the outside you might think it was an outdated dump. We got bought out by a company in silicon valley and they moved us to a new building with an open floorplan and sat us next to the sales team. It was big and bright but we lost all our collaboration space.


I would love a private office. It wouldn't need to be very big - and it wouldn't even need a door. Just a door frame without a door on it would be fine. I guess it's not even private in that sense, I just don't like people standing behind me.

Quite often in online discussions I notice people mention the move to open plan offices. I'm 31 and I've never known anything but open plan offices (apart from WFH).

When did the switch to open plan offices happen? Did people have private offices before that or was it only cubicles?


I actually had a private office with walls and a door for about a month. We moved to a new building and picked our own seats in a pre-determined area in order of seniority. Being a former boy scout I oriented myself to the map before making my selection. For whatever reason the map was oriented with north to the left. None of the people in front of me noticed this and picked desks on an undesirable side of the building. That left an office available to me, a junior engineer. My manager was unhappy with his window looking at a brick wall instead of the lake and was especially unhappy with me having an office and not him. So he put in a maintenance request and had my office walls torn down and converted to a open cube.


Wow, a similar thing happened to me in one of my first jobs as a junior. We moved office and could choose our seats. Because I hate having people behind me (mentioned above) I chose a seat with my back to the wall.

The managers clicked on to what had happened on the first day and moved me. Infuriating! I am much more confident now but I just accepted it at that time.


> Because I hate having people behind me

Anyone who has read Dune should feel this way - leaving your back to the room/door is how the Harkonnens get you!


My first job out of undergrad was doing CAD stuff making like $12/hour and I had an office. I don't remember if it had a door that shut, but it definitely had 4 real walls. I didn't know it then, but that was the best work environment I've ever had. That was about 20 years ago.


From 1993-1994 and 1997-2002, I had private offices, one person [a few doubles] with a real, solid door. I’m class of ‘93, so this was most of my first decade with everyone having them.

I then went back to private offices for most of 2009-2016, but that was as a Director/plus with devs in cubes. After 2016, even VPs went into cubes, which I hated.


I would love to know more about this trend. It fascinates me that we have settled on something that is so widely hated.

It seems correlated with the decline in UI design. 30 years ago we had ideas of how people interact with computers which we had built up over decades. What appear to be dated UIs like Windows 3.1 or even XP actually had a lot of thought and care put into them, with sound reasoning. The modern take seems fixated on minor details without any holistic vision or even reason.

How did we get so bad at decision making? It seems like we stopped valuing insight in favor of data. But without insight we just chase the data we have.


Something which is hated by the not-decision-makers but costs 25-40% as much of a big number will be overwhelmingly chosen by the are-decision-makers.


Yeah, this reinforces another perception I have. Which is that we have lost any concept of opportunity cost. We might save on commercial real estate but what is the cost in productivity, innovation, and ultimately profit?


Those metrics demand a much deeper and proper investigation of data to materialise into a quantifiable way for management, management is pretty blind to anything that isn't easy-to-crunch numbers. Probably due to education in most MBA curricula.

Everyone who has worked in an open plan office knows the pains, the constant interruptions, not only from chatter or shoulder taps but the incessant movement of people around, the alertness of being aware of people behind you, so on and so forth, but those are not easily quantifiable. Much like UX, to build a case for something that empirically most of us know is better takes a lot more effort than some bean counters/MBAs pointing to a number in a spreadsheet.


Those “metrics” require good instincts. The kind that justify the eye-watering compensation packages that upper management demand.

I’m a data engineer but even I think we worship data instead of understanding it as part of a larger decision making process.


Opportunity cost is a concept from microeconomics, a field completely alien to the vast majority of the managerial strata, in my experience; any lingering principles from microecon 101 having been long since replaced by MBA dogma.


> It fascinates me that we have settled on something that is so widely hated.

It's not obvious that it is widely hated. You can find people who hate it. But that's true of everything.


I've seen the transition from offices to open space in Microsoft first hand. The management basically made this same argument - "sure, you might not like it, but we did studies and most employees who participated in them think it's better! give it a chance!"

Somehow, those happy employees were never in my circles. Or in my colleagues' circles. Like, pretty much every time this subject come up in any context, the overwhelming sentiment was that there's no way the purported upsides are worth the obvious and unavoidable major downsides.

They moved ahead with it anyway, of course. And it sucked as much as everybody was expecting. Out of several dozen colleagues, I think there was a grand total of two who didn't mind it, and they were already doing the whole "roam around with a laptop" thing anyway.


I don’t know anyone who likes it. Where are the people who love open offices? They probably exist but I have never met one.


They exist. They want to feel the pulse. The same persons that like bars where you have to scream to have a conversation I guess.


Nobody likes that either, at least not sober. But that's where the music is, the people are, the dancing is.

source: bartended in a VIP space in a casino while doing fiber splicing on the side. the number of people who bought into the VIP "because it's not as loud" was very high; I heard some permutation of "it's nicer in here, quieter, I can actually talk to people" every shift.


You don't think you might be seeing some selection bias in your sample of "people who paid to be somewhere quieter"?


I like socializing in bars with people and I like doing work in quiet isolation. I also sleep in a bedroom but cook in a kitchen. There’s nothing inconsistent about that. Different settings are appropriate for different things.


I like them personally, or at least don't dislike them. I don't have the issues others talk about because I can just put airpods on


What a strange take. So you derive no benefit but still like it. Would you dislike an actual office with walls?


No, i'd probably be fine with that too. I just can't relate to how passionate people are about this issue i've never really cared


Cubes are a luxury. Now all you get is a 1.5m tall panel in front of you, if you're lucky, and rows with 4-6 coworkers next to you and the same number behind you, and probably 30+ people in the same open space.

I would have killed for actual cubicles at my past... 5 jobs.


Yeah. At the beginning of my career I had full height cubes. Now I don't even have an assigned desk. It's all first-come-first-serve "hotel" desks with short partitions on the desk itself in an otherwise open workspace. Strangely we also have lockers for personal items, like I am going to pack up and redeploy my pencil cup and succulents every day.


> It's all first-come-first-serve "hotel" desks with short partitions on the desk itself in an otherwise open workspace.

Honestly I hate those 'partitions'. Why bother? They're so stupid and pointless. It's ironic because they actually hinder collaboration and pair programming since they're never removable lol.

If we're going to all sit together at a big table we might as well see each other lol.


They are usually removable by loosening some clamping bolts that are hidden somewhere. Where there’s a will and tools, there’s a way…


Many companies don't look kindly to unauthorized changes to their office infrastructure, even more so for agile desks.

And even if the relevant people are ok with you, you might piss off a power hungry middle manager that doesn't like someone standing out (had that happen to me).


As a peer please don’t fuck with our shared environment. You’re just going to make it worse.


I like them because I don't like people seeing my screen all the time. I like the sensation of privacy.


Those lockers are great for ergonomic keyboards, but I don't think I've ever heard of someone using one for anything else.


Do you have a dedicated desk? When I stopped office work in 2012 that had pretty much gone. First come first serve


I used to have one up until the last company, in 2020.

But I did have an episode of about 1 year of flex desk before that.


> There is some idea way up in the clouds about free communication and sharing ideas that manifests as open floor plans.

It's just bullshit covering cost cutting. Same for flexible/agile desks.


That seems incredibly short-sighted given the price in (ironically) lost productivity.

Is there some new school of philosophy among the management class that doesn't believe in spending money to make money? How exactly do we create value without investment? I think there's an enormous opportunity out there for a company that actually treats their employees with respect and pays attention to their needs. That includes saying "we are big enough".


> Is there some new school of philosophy among the management class that doesn't believe in spending money to make money?

Yeah! Your salary scales with the number of underlings you command while the number of underlings depends on what task was assigned to the department. You can't add in some fully unproductive people nor can you assign someone to be unproductive thus therefore and so on the hip choice is to gradually lower everyone's productivity. You might see a pattern of counter productive measures if you look for it.


Woah. This… actually makes sense.


I work in an environment which has rooms for 3-4 desks, maybe 2 or 5 in some. This results in good communication and collaboration within a project team without the excessive noise of a full pen office, and if you have just a couple colleagues there then you also get a "feel" for when they need to focus and when a discussion would be good.


I agree that "in office" culture implicitly values informal, face-to-face interactions that happen "for free" if you are in office. The problem, in an increasingly globalized world, is that it's only "free" for the company - the employee commutes (and buys lunch, etc).

I also find the casual interactions in-office valuable - but I'm not going to "eat" the cost of enabling them for the good of the company. If someone actually offered me an in-office position that took the time I spent enabling those interactions seriously (i.e. compensated me for them) - I would be a lot more receptive to returning!

Instead, companies tend to want it both ways: they want their employees to donate the time to get the benefits of working in-office, then they want to use the same employees lower raw productivity stats to fire them down the line. I'm old enough to recognize such an obvious trap.


>The problem, in an increasingly globalized world, is that it's only "free" for the company - the employee commutes (and buys lunch, etc).

Maybe this needs to be changed then. Employers should be paying commuting expenses anyway: here in Japan, this is the norm. And large employers could also be providing free lunch as well.


Having a free zone between home and work was somewhat of a perk in Tokyo, but I don't know if you can really quantify it as a perk anymore now that WFH is common and you don't have to waste time on a crowded train.

Maybe pay a higher salary to compensate for time during the commute as well as the paid for PASMO.


In Brazil transportation and food allowances are also pretty common benefits (at least for office workers). Back when I worked there it was transitioning from paper tickets to cards.

It's so common to the point where an employer not offering those are seen as extremely cheap ones that you should avoid.


This is what cost-of-living salary adjustments are intended to address.


In conversations I've have, cost-of-living is generally described as a way of adjusting your pay to "keep up" with overall inflation. I've never had a conversation about how onerous it is to get into the office and how expectations or compensation might be adjusted in response.


>The messaging needs to be fixed

The present messaging accurately reflects how managers are seeing the situation (they think employees goof off when they aren't being watched, and don't have the metrics necessary to tell that's not true), replacing it with "messaging" about career development is essentially lying just to get people to go along with RTO. If they really cared about young professionals that wouldn't be "changing the messaging."


I goof off a lot more working from home through the day, but at the same time I get more done at night and on weekends. The best part about working from home is that I don't have to sit in front of a screen from 9-5 from Mon-Fri, I can sit down anytime I get the motivation to do so and get my work done. I guarantee that if I were in an office, I would have been burnt out and quit my job by now, but instead I'm able to just not work much for several days if it doesn't suit me, then finish up my work in a 20-hour blast on a Saturday. What's it matter to my boss or company when I get work done as long as it is complete prior to the due date? Probably those managers that hate "goofing off" don't realize that's not the same as not doing your work. When I was in the Navy, my sailors would goof off all the damn time, but I let them because telling sailors not to goof off goes against their nature! They still got the work done.


The 2 hour lunches are actually useful once a week. Sitting at your desk is even less a guarantee anyone is working. Its a fools errand to try to micromanage that.


> Then discourse gets worse when CEOs talk about the "overemployed" and people running errands during a work day.

They completely lose credibility when bringing up those points. Errands are nothing compared to the ~2h per day of commute people save.


I'm an older professional now working in a hybrid arrangement, but I very much concur with the parent comment. I can't imagine how my early career would have gone without being able to put in the time in the office. Its a cliche, but work culture really does exist, and it's about social cues and rules of courtesy. These mores are not taught in school but are absolutely essential to working effectively in an office. I would suspect this socialization is even more important for people who perhaps come from families where no parent was a white-collar office worker. I was lucky to start out at places where it was common for teams to eat lunch together. These unofficial interactions were just as important as regular work interactions in helping me to understand the psychology of my more experienced colleagues, what was polite, and what was taboo.


Managing remote workers is a skill that many managers are finding out they don't have right now. I wasn't in the same office as my manager when I started out. I was lucky to have good managers over time who were able to foster these types of discussions you're talking about, without ever being collocated with everyone involved.

It's kinda sad, because this isn't a new problem. Whether you're remote because you're working from home, or you're remote because you're in Belgium and the rest of your team is in North Carolina, the managerial issues are roughly the same, but we've had multinational companies for a while now...


Managing any workers is a skill that many managers have never had, especially in companies where the only way to progress (in terms of salary and status) is to become a team manager.


But there exists 100% remote companies, even before Covid. In such companies this “lunch culture” doesn’t exist (never existed). We should learn from such companies because I think remote work is more about finally putting more emphasis on the “life” part of “work-life balance”


I’ve worked at many styles of company, including 2 that were fully remote pre-Covid.

The secret to success is, we have like a 8-1 senior to junior ratio. That’s the only way they get enough specific attention to stay effective, not get lost in the shuffle, get the training they need.

The company that I worked at which transitioned to remote during Covid… didn’t go so well


This is what I have observed when I was looking for remote jobs before covid. They all had extremely high standards and wanted people who could just work solo without any learning required.


I work for a (pre-covid) 100% remote company with a decent company culture. What worked for us is two whole-company meetups per year plus some smaller trips for teams and departments. It really boosts the team spirit to spend a week somewhere nice with plenty of time to just chat to mates and random people that I wouldn't otherwise meet.

We also have some online social activities during the year but it doesn't work as well. The participation is low. Teams have regular online (paid-for) lunches together which is nice but a bit awkward. People generally prefer to focus on getting the job done and having a good work-life balance. This works as long as we get to see each other in person a couple of times a year.

That said, with the recent economic down-turn, the company meetups got put on hold. The company grew and it's now very expensive to organise transport and accommodation for everyone. I can already see the negative effects of the decision.


The benefits of remote get lost when you have to fly around the world twice a year. I'd rather show up locally once a month for all hands


,,For remote work to be "fair" to young professionals, its systems should facilitate the same career benefits, with the same effort.''

If you are older and more experienced, you should know that life isn't fair.

But at the same time I see lot of young people want to start working remotely and want to do software development _because_ it can be done remotely, but fail to understand that it's an advantage for them.

Sadly social media is full of good sounding bad advice for young people.


I am totally for remote work but this is absolutely a real problem, and I see my junior engineers suffer tremendously from it. One asked me what made me so successful at my job, and there were many factors but being in the office really did help me. Success here doesn’t just mean solving chunks of problems from jira tickets but creating entirely new products and solutions which have then gone on to become important parts of the organizations offerings. This was only possible because of my initial years where I was constantly absorbing and brainstorming with folks in the office on a daily basis. We really need to find a way to replicate that magic in the remote environment.

One of the ideas I’m thinking about is to hire only within a metropolitan area, but keep remote. Every month we just organize a 3 day retreat where everyone’s expected to attend it, which could be in a resort or a hotel even. This might satisfy the interaction and brainstorming itch while still keeping everyone happy with their remote arrangements.


I saw similar results when we first started hiring after moving full remote.

The group that had worked together in the office handled remote work spectacularly. New hires tended to flounder a bit compared to what we were used to.

We achieved some better results once we realized this and started putting some more specific mentorship time in with new hires.

Like in the first week their manager/lead should be meeting with them multiple times a day, then ramping down to at least once a day with screen sharing / pair programming etc. when they have questions. Plus inclusion and involvement in meetings that help provide a bigger picture of how the product works, customer needs, etc. And making sure they are introduced to many team members and know where to ask questions for the best feedback.

Of course this depends on the team, the new hire, and how things are going. But it seemed like the default case for many people was to spend hours silently not progressing when they were stuck on a problem, from dev machine setup to their first assigned tasks. Getting dumped into a Slack instance with dozens of channels and hundreds of people can certainly be overwhelming and being guided through these first steps seemed to help a lot.

I think it’s completely possible to give a new dev the same kinds of experience and mentorship, but with remote work that has to be done more deliberately. In a close office environment a lot of that happened via natural interaction and osmosis without anything needing to be scheduled on a calendar.


This is the main thing I've noticed - the people who talk about how there is something lost in how work gets done haven't changed how work gets done.

You can't just move to being remote without rethinking how you do everything. People were forced to be remote with COVID, but corporate essentially just tried to port the way things were done to remote, and on realizing it didn't work as well, want to move back.

A few places are doing things correctly and building specifically for remote work.

I honestly believe this is why we have such stark disparity in studies.


100% this. I've been remote since covid. First job was transitioned and I mentored and onboarded people. It was alot of screen sharing, and messaging back and forth. This was no different (but better) then onsite where they would cram into my cube and try to take notes. Remote made this 100% better. Next company, I was the new guy and there were issues getting up to speed. Nobody really owned the onboarding process and this "remote first" environment had alot of technical debt and poor documentation.

Now I'm at another remote first company, and it's great. I know who to ask and I get answers real-time or asynchronous, depending on what needs to happen. People are responsive and regular meetings keep us on the same page. Documentation is stressed and kept up to date.


We're 100% remote and this is absolutely key. You need to be deliberate about designing your operational processes around remote work. That means when you onboard someone you don't just dump them in a slack account and tell them to follow a doc. You pair them with someone until they're ramped up.


Personally, I grew up on the internet, learning from people in chatrooms and forums which were strong communities where most of my personal adult relationships have come from (many of whom I've not met in 20 years of knowing them).

From what I've seen, if your seniors and your juniors are both from this era and culture, your remote team will excel without missing a beat. I think it's the people used to the "old ways" that will suffer, for having expensive requirements like an office to capture the same value.


On the other hand, plenty of people going through college are exposed to a culture that you should work on a problem set for a good long time before resorting to the professor's office hours (which are probably only once a week anyway) and that asking a peer is practically cheating.

And indeed, when filing bugs in open source projects - there is often a culture that you should have exhausted every other option before bothering the nice volunteers.


I also grew up on the internet, but disagree strongly: the challenge of onboarding remotely is real, and more challenging the equivalent on-site experience.

And to be very precise: I don't think that remote vs in-office onboarding is simply different, or even that it simply requires more intentional efforts, but that it is on the whole entirely more complex in non-trivial ways (in time, effort, and attention by all parties - aka: more cost).


hehe - just go ahead and say it... if you grew up on irc, this is your natural habitat.

many people who never irc'd have adapted just fine, but those who struggle with typing at 100wpm+ are obviously going to hate remote work.


that is an interesting connection, the habit of chat in general. I never considered my days in the chat rooms as prepping me for life in chat. I occasionally see various critiques and complaints at work with some folks getting disoriented and frustrated working in slack and I never quite get where they're struggling or coming from. Could it be just general inexperience in chats like AOL, IRC, yahoo, MSN, hangouts, or whatever the medium was. Keyboard chatting is definitely different from mobile chatting for sure with the keyboard and speed. Maybe individuals haven't spent earlier years in their youth in the chatrooms quite possibly.


Yeah this is so true. I casually type like 110-130wpm and didn't think anything of it... it wasn't until I got into the business world that I realized this isn't too common, even among other career programmers. Huh, didn't everyone stay up until 3am chatting on [IRC/etc.] and then fall asleep in class the next day? haha ;)


> Huh, didn't everyone stay up until 3am chatting on [IRC/etc.] and then fall asleep in class the next day? haha ;)

Chaotic many-users chatrooms (including, but not exclusively, IRC) and text chat in video games. You have to get fast at typing to use either—in the former, if you're too slow, you'll drop out of the flow of conversation, and in the latter, speed is key because being slow makes you vulnerable in the game, and if you're not pretty damn fast you can't really afford to use it at all.

I learned the basic mechanics of typing from Mavis Beacon, but I got fast because of those.


I'm somewhere around 30~50* wpm with maybe 80% accuracy and I max out around 700 words per hour (12 wpm) when writing fiction.

I've never had an issue participating online, including IRC.

*: Not for lack of trying. My brain has trouble doing language operations in real time. I'm just grateful I can touch type!


Right? If you can learn how to get good at Elden Ring from a fan wiki and a couple YouTube videos, I’m pretty sure you can learn how to do most office jobs with basic documentation and some video chats…


Funny thing is, promotions in your career are very rarely about your pure skill at something. Hard pill to swallow for the Just Log On And Deliver crowd but it's more like (skill * how much your boss likes you * social connections in the team where others vouch for you).


Which some of us are way better at making online text-only relationships than face-to-face ones, which is how my career accelerated, and where most of my closest and longest lasting relationships in life have come from.


I wonder if there might be some asymmetry in how others perceived those online-only relationships? I think it's probably true that some manager might feel a person is more "the right one for this post" simply because they've had in person interactions, for example. Whilst those who, perhaps, find online or IRL engagements to have a similar worth might not perceive that there is an asymmetry for others.

Find you niche and none of that matters, I imagine.


Would it not be better if promotions were made on the basis of skill and accomplishments instead of looks/talks like/kisses the ass of the boss? You’re essentially defending an arcane social hierarchy where you have to sycophantically jockey for your position. If remote work demolishes even a small part of that, all the better.

But I also got a promotion last year that nearly doubled my pay by just logging on and delivering, so I admit to being a little biased.


You're thinking of the worst case. The reality is, in a large company, every promotion probably has 2+ people who have the skills and accomplishments. The determining factor ends up being if your boss likes you/wants to work more closely with you.

Yes, there are terrible managers and nepotism type environments, but on par most bosses wants to look good to higher ups which means promoting skills which helps the boss look good. Exactly what happened in your case.


> most bosses wants to look good to higher ups which means promoting skills which helps the boss look good.

…which is how you end up with stagnant cultures like Meta and Google, who just sit around and wait for their lunch to get ate by their competitors. If you instead reward delivering the goods in whatever context, you don’t run into these problems! The company should maximize for being a successful business, not stroking its managers egos.


Not just promotions, but jobs. After my second job, every job I've ever had I got because I knew someone who liked working with me and could vouch for my ability. I've never taken a coding test as part of a job interview. I did have to take one on the job once when a new manager came in. I left that job fairly soon after, as I found the whole process and attitude around it to be insulting.


On face value you'd think that but you also remember the rest of the team and the manager also has to spend hundreds of hours a year with that person so it's way easier if you like them and enjoy that time rather than someone mega skilled who causes you stress and you don't like being around.


Video Games are environments that are designed to teach you how to master them. That includes very hard video games; I don’t feel like video games are a good point of reference. YouTube is also pretty good at teaching you how to change the headlights on your car, but it’s not so good at teaching you a foreign language. I’m not sure where a basic office job like programming falls on that continuum.


>Video Games are environments that are designed to teach you how to master them

…and any decent workplace should be the same.

>YouTube is also pretty good at teaching you how to change the headlights on your car, but it’s not so good at teaching you a foreign language.

YouTube is fantastic at this and used by language-learners all over the world.


> Video Games are environments that are designed to teach you how to master them

Pretty much every workplace?


I also grew up on the internet, most of folks at my workplace grew up with the internet and... everyone noticed that during covid you miss out on a lot of growth and interesting conversations from unplanned meetings, I think it's a bit silly to assume there's nothing to gain from having a shared space at the office, the same way it's silly to think there's no cost in having to go to an office either.


What you say is true, but on the other hand remote work (usually) brings benefits to your “non-work” life. I definitely wouldn’t like to trade the niceties of the office (not many, but not zero either) with the niceties of remote work (which are many, from my point of view). So, honest question: you wouldn’t mind trading them?


> So, honest question: you wouldn’t mind trading them?

Hybrid is obviously the best of both worlds? I'd never want to work fully remote, there's a lot of benefits both for me and for the company in having in-person time.


In an ideal world, yes hybrid is the best. But hybrid becomes easily non-realistic when 99% of job offers in country X come from city Z and you live in town W (which is not close to Z).

In an ideal world, I would love to go to the office every now and then, just by crossing the street. In the real world, it’s either moving to the city and paying a high price for a tiny apartment so that you can go commute once or twice per week to the office, or it’s living in a big house in a decent town working 100% remotely. There middle-point options, of course, but those are rather less likely to occur.


The internet has existed since before I was in college, so I also "grew up" on the internet. But you're vastly overestimating what you can learn from randos in chatrooms and forums. Most of the best, highly experienced people in this industry never post in chatrooms or forums. You're getting a biased sample, and don't know what you don't know.

Will this work for low-value piecework, or learning how to use an API? Yes, for a while. But this will only take you from absolute noob to moderately competent junior. In order to grow in your career, the broader context, business knowledge, connections and intangibles you gain from being around senior colleagues are invaluable.

I say this from hard experience. At the start of my career, I thought I could learn everything I needed to know on the internet. I was wrong. Even if most of the technical details were there (they weren't) and correct (they aren't), in every career, your accomplishments are based on your personal relationships. Always. I can't emphasize this enough.

It's hard enough to make those relationships, even when you're in the office every day. Trying to do it all by video call is just living life on hard mode.

---

Edit: people seem to keep interpreting this comment as "it's impossible to grow in a remote career". That's not what I'm saying at all. I'm just going to respond once here:

a) I don't know if it's "impossible" to form strong personal relationships remote-only, but it's much harder.

b) Obviously, everyone defines success differently, and maybe your definition is different than my own, but

c) In my experience, all other things being equal, the more time you spend around other people, the better your career will be.


Can you please edit personal swipes out of your comments here? You triggered a bunch of people unnecessarily by failing to do that with this one.

I appreciate that you do this less than you used to (thank you!) but it's still a problem.

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the intended spirit of the site more to heart, we'd be grateful.


I didn't make a "personal swipe". I assume you're speaking about this?

> But this will only take you from absolute noob to moderately competent junior.

I was referring to myself here, which I elaborated in the third paragraph.

> I say this from hard experience. At the start of my career, I thought I could learn everything I needed to know on the internet. I was wrong. Even if most of the technical details were there (they weren't) and correct (they aren't), in every career, your accomplishments are based on your personal relationships. Always. I can't emphasize this enough.

My comment was made in good faith.


I was referring to "[you] don't know what you don't know." It's patronizing and comes across as dismissive to tell someone what they don't know.

Re-reading your comment I think you perhaps didn't mean the "you" as specifically the person you were talking to. So I can see how it wasn't intended as personal attack. Unfortunately it ended up coming across that way both to the GP and to me when I first read it, so probably to others as well.

On the plus side, I appreciate that you were simply trying to share your personal experience and the conclusions it has led you to. That's totally valid. On the minus side, you reacted to people objecting to what they felt was dismissive in your comment by getting into a flamewar-style spat about what you did and didn't say. That kind of thread just slowly degrades.

As you know, I've been asking you to adjust to HN more in the intended spirit of curious conversation for years now. I genuinely appreciate how much better your comments have gotten at that. You contribute a lot of good things when you do. But if you could calibrate say 10% further in the same direction, that would be helpful.


I grew up in a small dusty town in the middle of an African desert. I taught myself everything I know from the web, IRC and forums. I was top of numerous IS and CS classes at university. In my professional career, I've learned the most from colleagues who happened to be overseas. I almost never do video calls.

I make sure to spend a lot of time mentoring via screen share and encourage recordings (many times this is way more useful than an in-person session where the details are forgotten).

High quality learning relationships can be entirely remote and text/screen-share based.


I agree with this. Screen sharing is a very effective way to transfer knowledge — I have had a lot of success by hopping onto a screen share and walking others through things. There is lots of room for questions and they can record/review the meeting too.

However, this requires a culture where impromptu calls are expected and normalized. The more friction there is from scheduling, waiting for people to respond, etc the less likely these kind of fast information transfer sessions are to happen.

Tldr, I think people can learn very effectively in a remote environment, it just requires that people put the same kind of time into communicating that they would in an office.


> Most of the best, highly experienced people in this industry never post in chatrooms or forums. You're getting a biased sample, and don't know what you don't know.

With all due respect, you're just projecting your own experience and being dismissive in the process.

A ton of foundational work in modern computing was done in a distributed fashion and continues to work that way. In fact, open source software development hinges on distributed development.

Now, what I do agree on is that interpersonal connections with other, more experienced folks, is key. Most engineers seem to quickly plateau on their soft skills. I always say that coding is the easy part of software engineering. You can teach anyone to code. It's strategic and critical thinking and how to present and communicate those ideas that make you stand out.

However, it's very much possible to get those connections in a remote world. But it means deliberately operating in a way conducive to getting that face time. I wouldn't say it's much harder. But the company needs to actively focus on this.


> With all due respect, you're just projecting your own experience and being dismissive in the process. A ton of foundational work in modern computing was done in a distributed fashion and continues to work that way

This has nothing to do with what I wrote. Whether or not people work "in a distributed fashion" is unrelated to whether or not those people have a team they see in person on a regular basis, contribute to public forums and chatrooms, or advance in their careers via collaboration with colleagues.

For what it's worth, most professional developers don't contribute to open-source on any regular basis. The ones that do often work in big companies, which then choose to open-source their work. Regardless, working in "a distributed fashion" is not the same thing is posting to forums that other people can see. And it's a rare company where everything you need to know is captured in public code. Usually that's just the table stakes -- the most valuable engineers are walking around with encyclopedic business knowledge in their heads.

The core fallacy I am rebutting here is that everything you need to know is just out there, freely available on the internet. Even in the open-source world, that isn't true.


This actually has nothing to do with public forums. That was your insertion. The point is that the way we interacted with public or private niche communities on the internet informs how we interact with our private always-online work-chat. We're learning from and working with highly qualified coworkers aligned on the same problems, not randos.


> I grew up on the internet, learning from people in chatrooms and forums which were strong communities where most of my personal adult relationships have come from

^ you. I didn't "insert" it. You're saying that most of your "personal adult relationships" came from chatrooms and forums.

Now, OK, maybe your point really was that you're somehow better at all of this because you "grew up on the internet" and the rest of us didn't, but I'm just going to go back to what I originally wrote: I also did that, and still, all of the best things in my career came from seeing people, in person.

There's no magical set of forum skills I'm lacking that makes up the difference; it's just a case where the camaraderie of working closely with someone, in real life, outweighs the virtual.


Sorry for any implied snark. I don't think it's a special set of skills, just a different default and preferred mode of experiencing human connection that some of us ended up with.


Your take is very dismissive and does not align with my experience. We work on complicated technical high value things and my juniors are very fast learners. And we learn from each other and not necessarily from the internet.

We also don't need video calls. I have never met them, and rarely have I seen their faces. Kind of like my life long friends on the internet, we didn't have video calls then either. We can connect through text just fine. We sometimes play games together to blow off the steam, and we collaborate on meaningful work problems.


> Your take is very dismissive and does not align with my experience.

It's not "dismissive" to tell you that I think you're wrong. I'm trying to explain something that you clearly haven't experienced yet. There's no way to do that without actually saying that you haven't experienced it.

I understand why you believe what you do. I believed the same things, but I was wrong.


I'm 55 years old and I have _never_ been mentored in person by a co-worker, despite having spent most of my career working on teams, and despite _trying_ in many different workplaces to set up mentoring relationships. For neurodivergent folks - who probably make up the bulk of programming teams, if we're honest - the camaraderie and team-building and all that is a mythical thing that normies experience, but we don't, and it's also a minefield of things that can go wrong because the norms of social interaction sometimes elude us or we simply can't play-act them (I'll never forget being told by my boss that it always seemed like I was lying because I didn't maintain eye contact well). Remote work levels the playing field, and normies hate it because they can't bully and abuse us as easily online as they can in person.


Normie here, and I've always thought this was the biggest benefit of remote work. No more emphasis on what you look and act like. Only the value you add counts.

This has got to be good for racial, gender, etc forms of discrimination. In a wheelchair? Black? Female? Ideally nobody would care because they wouldn't even know.


I'm a couple of years older than you and I agree with most of this. Never had a "mentor" though lip service was paid to the concept in a few places, it never really happened in the tech positions.

"Team-building" stuff -- outings, retreats, games, that all the business folks seemed to love were painfully awkward experiences that seemed to be totally contrived. I tried to fake that I was enjoying it but pretty sure I never pulled it off very well.


I’m shocked that people worked in an office together and the junior person never got mentored.

It seems like if that was your goal that you’d have to go well out of your way to avoid accidentally mentoring someone. “Oh, here’s the trick I just used in the debugger.” “I’ll sketch the architecture change I’m proposing on the whiteboard.” “Why don’t you shadow me in this meeting or interview or presentation?”

I can’t imagine how I’d setup an in-person work arrangement to avoid mentoring.


It's easy:

> “Oh, here’s the trick I just used in the debugger.”

Don't ever talk to one another during debugging sessions. Pick up your bug ticket, fix it, close the ticket. Everyone else has their own work to do so they are not interested in watching you pilot your heavily-customized IDE setup, and the boss doesn't make them.

> “I’ll sketch the architecture change I’m proposing on the whiteboard.”

Don't have whiteboard meetings about architecture. If you must, definitely don't invite juniors. In fact, nobody actually writing code to implement the change will be in the meeting at all. We are architects and managers, they are merely developers. They'll write what we tell them to write. In many organizations, even the people called "architects" are left out of these meetings, and probably even line managers. These are Director Level Decisions, after all.

> “Why don’t you shadow me in this meeting or interview or presentation?”

Easiest of the three. Just never ever have anybody "shadow" anyone for any reason. They have their own work to be doing.

I'm not saying these behaviors are good, but they are pretty much the default behavior in corporate jobs AFAICT.


It’s the normal, default state of affairs when you have seniors and managers who feel they are competing with each other and so hoard knowledge and techniques, and assign themselves all the interesting work while juniors are left bored doing rite work. In several workplaces when I’ve tried to organize shared spaces like a commons, lunch-and-learns, etc., management had been actively hostile. I had one asshole manager who would even shut down any water-cooler conversation. I finally wound up mentoring a co-worker who needed help with C++ entirely off-site during lunches.


I mean...there are a lot of anti-social developers who truly want to believe.

But really, people are just going out of their way to resolve the cognitive dissonance: they know that important intangible collaboration is lost in a world of remote work, but they prefer it anyway, so they convince themselves that the human aspect doesn't matter.

Also, don't forget that HN is filled with junior engineers. It's true that a lot of what you do when you're a junior engineer can be done in isolation, and when you get to a self-sufficient junior level ("senior engineer" in modern parlance; achieved in about 3-5 years), it's easy to ignore all the times that someone with more experience made a one-off comment that saved hours of labor or headed off a thorny problem. They forget the number of times that someone wandered over to chat, "interrupted" them, and changed everything.

The sibling comment is a great illustration. I can't tell if it's parody, but it reads like it: "just don't have whiteboard meetings about architecture," indeed. Whiteboard diagramming obviously never happens at every company, ever.


I had a boss order me to take down a whiteboard I set up in a common area so we couldn’t discuss code during work.


I can see that because I've experienced it. That said, at most places I've worked at over the decades, there was a lot of mentoring, both formal and informal. One place I worked at, however, was just depressing. No one communicated except via emails. Informal discussions about how the system never happened. No one even went out to eat together No one was hostile... it was just... cold. To me, it was just weird and I got out of there ASAP -- but I suspect many there liked it that way.


> For neurodivergent folks - who probably make up the bulk of programming teams, if we're honest - the camaraderie and team-building and all that is a mythical thing that normies experience, but we don't

Please don't speak for all of us. I used to think exactly like you, but turns out I was just on bad teams in bad companies. My recent teams have mostly been composed of and managed by like minded programmers and the camaraderie, lunch conversation, and ad hoc collaboration that ensue massively help both my happiness and productivity. I'm as neurodivergent as you will see in public.


Fair enough - I’m 55 and describing the bulk on my career to date. Lately the culture of a couple companies I’ve been in have been much more welcoming to neurodivergent folks but this is post-COVID. I’m not planning to do in-person work in the near future; I already have long COVID and risk factors that make me want to make sure my family and I never get infected again.


I've a little younger than the OP and I've never had a proper mentor either. I had one guy I argued with a lot that I learned some tricks from that I use to this day, but that's about it.

I've never worked in a company with any type of formal mentoring that everyone talks about. The "let me take you under my wing and show you the ropes, kiddo," never existing in my world, it was sink or swim. I spent countless hours reading books (I'm old) and scouring the web for solutions. If I could debug it, I could figure out the problem, I just didn't always know what it was supposed to do. I did all this because I didn't want to fail. Do junior people still do this, or is it more, "I can't figure it out in 5 minutes, do it for me."


There are also plenty of us who struggle to reach out and benefit _greatly_ from a slow build up of relationships that form from in-person interactions, facilitated by coworkers.

There isn't a single remote versus meatspace answer, and it's incredibly frustrating to hear almost everyone pretend that there's a Single Right Solution and that anything chosen will be easy to implement.

> they can't bully and abuse us

Without at all denying that this happen, this is still a gross (in both senses of the word) generalization and insult.


>> Remote work levels the playing field, and normies hate it because they can't bully and abuse us as easily online as they can in person.

I'm not sure how remote somehow replaces social interaction in your world, but it sure sounds like you might have other factors at play as well, like categorizing every who's not in the group with which you identify as an abusive bully. I've never worked with you remote or in person, and the only conclusion you've let me make is you're difficult and unpleasant.


Your comment crossed into personal attack. Please don't do that on HN. It's not what this site is for, and destroys what it is for.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


[flagged]


Yikes - you can't post like this here, no matter how provocative another comment was or you feel it was. Please don't do that again!

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the intended spirit of the site more to heart, we'd be grateful.


Wow, that was unnecessary. But sadly supports GP's conclusion rather than refute it. :(


Read this again:

> the only conclusion you've let me make is you're difficult and unpleasant.

Is it, though? The _only_ conclusion? Really? And not that I’ve often had terrible managers and worked in stressful, toxic workplaces with self-serving co-workers, in work cultures that did not allow collaboration or mentoring to take place, and even wound up with PTSD?

My conclusion is different: that OP read about someone being bullied and did what so many people do, and concluded: "it must be your fault."


Your explanation is not much more than "trust me, I'm right". That is quite dismissive. Maybe you if you were in person you could give him examples or a better explanation of why he's wrong. /s


The irony here is that asserting that nobody else can be correct if they don't "validate" you is the definition of dismissiveness.

I have actually done what OP is proposing, and found it to be inadequate. I tried to explain why.


Others are saying "This thing works for me."

You are claiming "This thing never works (and therefore your own experience is wrong)."

The person making a categorical claim has a higher burden of proof than the one making an individual one, especially when the former is attempting to invalidate the lived experience of the latter.


> You are claiming "This thing never works (and therefore your own experience is wrong)."

I am literally not doing that. Go back and re-read my comment.


You may not feel like that's what you're doing, but lines like

> you're vastly overestimating what you can learn

> highly experienced people in this industry never post in chatrooms

> don't know what you don't know

...are all very condescending and attempt to generalize your experience to infinity. They absolutely attempt to invalidate other people's experience—they're not even just saying "what you're saying is impossible"; they're outright saying "(unlike me, who's smarter and/or more experienced) you don't realize that the learning you claim to have gotten was crap."


Well, you're misquoting me. Here is what I actually wrote:

> You're vastly overestimating what you can learn from randos in chatrooms and forums. Most of the best, highly experienced people in this industry never post in chatrooms or forums. You're getting a biased sample, and don't know what you don't know

These are simple facts. They're not "condescending", and more importantly, you wouldn't know if you were wrong, because you're getting a biased sample. That's the point. You don't see or hear from the people who don't post.


But, see, here's the thing: you also wouldn't know if you're wrong, because you'd be getting just as biased a sample, only from the other side—if you're just in the wrong chatrooms and forums.

Furthermore, what you are doing is absolutely, unquestionably, telling other people "I don't know what you learned from these people, and furthermore, I don't have to know, because my experience, which is universal and unassailable in all possible ways, tells me that it must not be enough. If you think you learned enough from these people to be a good mid-to-upper-level programmer, you're wrong. No one can learn to be that good from this. Again, with the only evidence given being that I was unable to do that in this way."


> you also wouldn't know if you're wrong, because you'd be getting just as biased a sample, only from the other side—if you're just in the wrong chatrooms and forums.

Of everywhere I have ever worked and everyone I have ever worked with -- including some big, extremely well-known names -- only a tiny percentage of those people were active contributors online. Moreover, the most experienced, productive, highest-ranking people contributed less, for a variety of practical reasons, ranging from "PR risk" to "I don't want to get fired from my job" to "don't have the time".

This is consistent with an entire career working on the web, where the pattern is always that the vast majority of people lurk.

Could my sample be horribly misrepresentative? I suppose, but it isn't likely.


And if you were coming into a discussion with people saying "I think this thing happens", and you said "No, I don't think this thing happens, based on my personal experience," that would be one thing.

You're not.

You're coming into a discussion with people saying, "I have experienced this thing happening to me," and you're saying "I don't think this thing happens, based on my experience", which means you are trying to use your non-universal experience to tell other people that their experience didn't happen.


> and you're saying "I don't think this thing happens, based on my experience"

*often


That says more about you and your circle and what you know about them. Many of those people could be contributing but not sharing at work.


The impression you gave me matches that quote you dismiss relatively well.

Perhaps you should also re-read it, you may have carried less of the nuance you intended into the actual text. What you wrote suggested that one can only attain a moderate capability without in-person mentoring from experts. If nothing else this heavily insinuates those you're conversing with are incapable and inexpert.


> What you wrote suggested that one can only attain a moderate capability without in-person mentoring from experts.

Like I said, it's hard to frame "you don't have this life experience yet" in any other way. I did use these words:

> this will only take you from absolute noob to moderately competent junior

...in reference to learning stuff online. I stand by that, because even if you are fully remote for your entire career, you're going to need some level of mentoring to level up. That's just a fact. Reductio ad absurdum: suggesting that you can become John Carmack or Jeff Dean by reading Stack Overflow.

But I also explicitly put an edit on the end of it where I disclaim the generalization you're making -- before you made your comment.


You can become better than Jeff Dean or John Carmack without mentoring in fact mentoring is negatively associated with self learning which you will need to blaze a new trail.


I personally have experienced it, but my team has only seen greater success since going remote, and filling our roles with good remote fits.

I might say if you haven't experienced carrying a meaningful text-only relationship over years or haven't treated it equal to your "real life" relationships, then you can not know the effectiveness that comes from it


Been there, done that, both 12 years ago and again during the pandemic. I loved it at first and later grew to hate and resent it. The advantages are immediate and the disadvantages take a little while to manifest.


> I might say if you haven't experienced carrying a meaningful text-only relationship over years and treated it equal to your "real life" relationships, then you can not know the effectiveness that comes from it

See, this is dismissive. You're assuming something about me. I'm not assuming anything about you -- I'm just saying, you clearly haven't been bitten by this yet. I have, and I'm trying to share that experience.

When I was younger, just like you, I thought I had discovered a new way of working. To a certain extent, that was true. You can do a lot of things remotely. But the best things in my own career, without exception, have come from in-person relationships.


Well, I am sorry for that.

But just to add - it's a misconception to see remote work as a "new way" of working for someone like me. For someone like me, who used chatrooms and forums to collaborate with people on programming and similar projects, remote work is returning back to my natural way of doing things. Going to the office for 10 years was unnatural. We have now cut out a lot of overhead of learning how to manage office life, which is only relevant if you have an office, and which was a hard part of my life (I'm ugly).

And my experience is simply the opposite of yours. My strengths and my teammates strengths have only come to shine since going remote. I only became a Team Lead and then Engineering Manager since we've gone fully remote, and I think it is largely in part thanks to the speed and effectiveness my remote teams achieve in on-boarding members, collaborating, and delivering valuable work. Every retro my team members put "Great teamwork!" on the board, and this only started since we've gone remote.


> And my experience is simply the opposite of yours.

We keep talking past each other. This is the last reply I'm going to make, but hopefully it will add something: please consider that your experience is not opposite of mine, but instead, that you haven't run into the problems yet.

Maybe, for all of your success and advancement, you haven't yet reached the limits I'm talking about. Just consider it.


Fair enough

I'll also ask that you consider the possibility that you haven't experienced overcoming this limit yet. After all, what do we need to learn about our work that can't be represented as text

Or that this limit might be qualitatively different for different people, and that some people are better at online text-only relationships than face-to-face ones. Our teams may have faced limits in real life that only got solved by going remote. (For example, I do believe that when we were in person, we wrote lower quality software, less well-tested, with less communication and collaboration, at a much slower pace, than we do now (you can imagine why - likely we used to rely on informal processes more than we thought or wanted to))

I did mention that I've seen other teams (anecdotally, on less technical areas of the product) face problems with being fully remote- but that was usually fixed with staffing... or a remote leader inheriting the team... We've had many people in our org exclusively remote for the last 20 years as well - these people became the remote leaders on our teams and led by example. It all depends on the remote fit.


"Most of the best, highly experienced people in this industry never post in chatrooms or forums."

Chatrooms, forums, IRC, and mailing lists are how the vast majority of open source software is developed. Usenet used to be big for this sort of thing as well. Most of the people working on open source are also employed in the industry.

Are these people going to spoon feed you everything you need to know? Of course not. The vast majority of insightful information I've learned about software engineering has come from books and people online. My current employer briefly employed some well known people in the Ruby community, but for the most part, most of us work with people who just see this as a job, and these sort of people seem determined to relearn every lesson and reinvent every wheel.


In remote work environment you're not learning from randos, you're learning from the same experienced colleagues, just remotely.


Maybe, but it's so much harder. Even now, after many years of doing it, I find it much harder to connect with people whom I only see online.


You know what is so much harder than that?

Putting millions of people within driving distance of one another, and then jumping through various hoops to make that ridiculous urban plan work, and demanding people spend 5-15 hours a week commuting in unhealthy, dangerous, dirty, and expensive ways.


"Maybe, but it's so much harder... for me".

Fixed that for you. For people who lean towards an autodidactic approach, this might not be as universally applicable as you make it out to be. In my experience, remote code pairing sessions can be even more productive because each dev has their own dedicated screens and don't have to look over one's shoulder.


I never was able to make a clean experiment with the same people in-person vs remote, but subjectively I didn't find it harder. It might even be easier to have a one-to-one chat with a person you want to chat to in the remote environment than in a chaotic open space office. Not to say remote work gives you exposure to people you might not have exposure to in your country/city at all.


This is a you problem. It is not an everybody problem.

Sure, there are other people who struggle in the same way, but your experiences are not universal, and you are arrogantly preaching at people as if they are—as if because you couldn't do this, obviously no one can.


You can absolutely do better than "moderately competent junior" from online learning. I feel like you're ignoring huge swaths of high-quality technical education that is available online. Not to mention the numerous open-source projects you can learn from and contribute to, which are essentially "fully remote" distributed teams that have been working effectively for years. The larger open-source projects can also be great for networking through their forums/chat rooms/online discussions. Those "randos" are building software that is literally the underlying infrastructure of almost all commercial software being built today.

And, anecdotally, a lot of software jobs are building generic CRUD apps, and a lot of "senior colleagues" are not necessarily great teachers, or even great developers. In scenarios like those, you can do a lot better teaching yourself online with lessons or learning/contributing to the aforementioned open-source projects. It's not just about in-person vs online, but the quality of the team/project you're learning from.


> You can absolutely do better than "moderately competent junior" from online learning. I feel like you're ignoring huge swaths of high-quality technical education that is available online.

I am not, but my definition of junior/senior/whatever is likely different than your own. At the risk of a truism: can you learn technical things online? Yes, absolutely. It's the kind of things you can't learn from a web forum that make the difference between junior and senior.

Just as a simple example, most stuff you'll read about conflict resolution (people, not code) online is superficial and trite. You can get maybe a bit more from books, but to really learn how to do it, you need to spend time watching someone who is talented at managing interpersonal conflict. I'm not great at it, but I've had the good fortune of spending time with people, in person, who were truly gifted at the task. It completely re-framed my expectations for what is possible.

Maybe there's a way to do this by video call -- but it's harder -- and you're definitely not getting the human experience by reading or watching a video.


If you read Oracle's "Ask Tom" entire comment section history you will pick up more senior tips than you ever would working in person.


I'm curious, did you grow up on it? Or was it just there?

Of my good friends, a majority of them were met online and very rarely have we met in person - maybe a couple dozen times over the past 25 years.

I don't particularly care which way companies go since there will always be remote-first options: there were many before the pandemic, and there will only be more after.

But from my experience a large problem is companies just aren't used to doing what it takes to help relationships develop in a remote only environment. They aren't used to it because when you co-habitate with people it happens more naturally. But it takes more deliberate choices for it to happen remotely.

I wouldn't point to this to call remote "harder". Just different. There's also all sorts of other difficulties with respect to being in an office that you don't have to deal with remotely.

And ultimately, some will prefer one or another. Which is fine.


Connections/network are indeed fundamental to career growth and learning, accomplishments, etc.. but those don't have to be in-person at all. I mean, I have been learning, building new things, making connections with new people, and I've been 100% remote for the past 3 years. There has been no discernible adverse effect on any career-related criterion I can think of. The literal only downside for me is not being in the super-awesome building I got to work in before, and maybe random off-topic chatter with people. I have that "off-topic chatter" on chat/videocall now, which is just fine anyways. And I don't have to donate 1-2 hours a day to my employer by driving to/from an office.


> Most of the best, highly experienced people in this industry never post in chatrooms or forums.

And yet here we are on a public forum where the brightest minds on our industry regularly post.


Is the “being in the office really did help me” because you were in the office so figured out how to be successful in the office?

I look at GitHub and I see thousands upon thousands of highly successful highly complex software written by all levels of experience collaboratively without an office environment. I got started with open source in the 1990’s and it was amazing how fast we wrote stuff, and the level of mentoring I got was amazing. When I started working in professional office environments it was amazing how little could get done in such a long period of time with so many people, and mentoring was something I had to eek out of people who were too busy meeting and jockeying.

I think folks see in office as necessary because it was their experience and they don’t have a frame of reference for any other way of career development. That’s simply an emergent reality, not necessarily the singular reality.

Investing time in juniors is a conscious decision. It’s just as easy to ignore a junior developer in person than it is remotely. But I firmly believe asynchronous work habits lead to the best mentoring possible - juniors can ask their questions in slack or whatever, and seniors can answer as they have the chance to. Soft skill mentoring happens just fine over zoom, and that stuff is better scheduled as a private convo.


Open source is an interesting subject to look at. Obviously it's possible to build software without an office environment, but when you look at most of these projects, they have 1-3 main contributors and others who submit a single patch and leave. I've tried a few times to contribute to OSS projects and found it to often be an impossible barrier to get over. I'm decently experienced with 10 years programming experience across a few jobs, and I just have not found a good way to get all the required knowledge to start contributing to a project. I quickly build up a list of questions and the only channel for asking them is usually IRC where no one responds.

Meanwhile I get up to speed super fast in an office/work environment where another dev will sit with you for a chunk of time and show you the ropes. So much faster than floundering around the codebase making assumptions.


OSS is hard mostly because there’s an enormous number of zombie projects out there and you need to find the one that fits you. Sort of like, say, a job. I’m mostly in the rust world, but try these crates: ratatui-rs, nushell. Python: cadquery, build123d

They’re active, the contributors and maintainers are helpful, and are doing interesting (to me) work.

My point however wasn’t that open source monolithically solves the problems. My point was it can solve the problems that an endemic to office culture, and I’ve rarely found office cultures that solve these problems. My assertion was that the modalities of OSS work can apply to corporate work, with strong effect, but only if people are committed to making it work and invest in each other. The same is true of in office, but I hold that the asynchronous style of work is inherently more efficient due to the fact that asynchronous work in general is more efficient than synchronous.

In my career I’ve seen a lot of fads including importing OSS style work into the office. These were done by cargo culting- using pull requests, open code base, etc. The real magic behind OSS is that everyone works asynchronously - irc, slack, discord, mail lists, Usenet, uucp, etc except for when it’s absolutely necessary to stop the world and synchronize. This is intuitively more productive, or at least as an engineer you should see clearly how that applies to computers, programs, logistics, and every every production process - why not to software development?

The primary “why not” is “I like working in an office with people because after college I’m lonely.” But that’s just because you’ve not re-adapted to living in your community. Before the automobile and it’s associated infrastructure most people worked from home, or extremely proximate. You can have friends again outside college and without an office. It’ll just take some adapting to being human again. The human hamster wheels aren’t necessary.


Very much agreed on this. One of the key things in me being where I am now is spending a few years working for an ISP staffed by technology nerds in my early 20s, where I'd spend all day surrounded by people who knew what they were doing, and then spend several evenings a week in the pub with the same people. Its possible to get the same experience remotely - I got started in the industry via open source work, where mailing lists had a similar atmosphere, but it is so much easier if you can just bounce ideas around.

I love the idea of regular 3 day retreats, but being in my late 30s with a child now doing them anywhere near that regularly is a non-starter for me. Maybe quarterly, but even then you're going to have to really sell it for me to commit to all of them.


Imma be honest, if it was not explained to me during hiring that mandatory "3-day retreats" were part of my job on a quarterly basis, I would be finding a new job before the next one.

Some people care about their "careers". Other people care about paying their rent and see jobs as the only tangible way to meet that need. I will never give a fuck about being good at my job, only competent. I am currently at that competent level and have had this actively avoidance mindset since I got into the tech space. I'm very curious, love learning and have a ton of hobbies...that have fuckall to do with converting my time on this planet into profits for my overlords and financial crumbs for myself.

The Career people seem to think, falsely, that the Job people can be coached into changing. Some can, but some of us will fight the happy hours and the retreats and the optional mentorships.


I can't stress enough how refreshing it is to see this take on HN. The usual rise-and-grind crowd always seem to dominate the discussions - likely because they have that investment (emotional and professional) in the first place; I don't want to invalidate anybody by saying this - so it at times feels alienating to read these threads.

I don't want to be friends, I don't want to constantly be growing and mastering my field, etc; I want to be good at what I do, fulfill my objectives for the day, and leave it at the desk when I go home.


Why are you not able to bounce ideas around in a text chat room, audio chat room, video chat room, 2d/3d/VR shared space? Why is it so hard for you to do it unless you are literally in the same physical location?


Because we are human not machine.


It’s 3 days a month though, and to clarify my thoughts are that you still go back home every day. How would that be a problem?


I guess it depends where the retreat is held. And how long the commute is to get there.

Taking my house as an example - I'm ~1 hour from the city center (assuming no major delays). If the retreat ended up downtown, I'd hate that. If it was on the far side of the city, I'd want to stay overnight. But, if the retreat was at the corporate office, I'd love it - as that's one mile down the road and I can walk.


This is the exact reason executives favor return-to-office. Asking remote employees to assemble just 3 days per month becomes a major hassle, see above. If a job is work-from-office every day, the employees will either figure it out or quit, any other arrangement and the logistics of when and where to meet becomes a major distraction.


Traveling every day to the office sounds like a much bigger hassle than traveling three days a month.


That's the whole point. The executives offer remote + 3 days together, and employees like alistair complain about the 3 days as opposed to the benefit of working from home the rest of the time. So the execs say fuck it, ok just come to the office every day.


Then they can't find workers


Straight up just get everyone to bring their families. Head out Friday afternoon, back Monday morning. Two days of work kinda lost, but the weekend is for hanging out and chatting about work stuff -- both structured and unstructured. Go to family friendly places; let the kiddos play together. I love it already.


Or…

Just have optional office hours, Slack huddles and mob sessions every few days.

Some of my engineers…

- have a open huddle for a few hours a day where anyone can drop into their project while they work

- others make use of our scheduled themed mob sessions (ie. Maintenance Mondays, deployment Thursdays). have a problem, idea or just want to hangout then come by?

- ICs & seniors are required to host at least a weekly office hour to assist juniors or teach something of their choice.

The default doesn’t always have to be return to office for a physical meet.

There’s lots of other options.


There is absolutely something that gets lost in virtual meets. It’s not just for within team discussions. It’s also about discovering colleagues in other teams across the org. Tools like Donut help a bit but the magic is still lost.


I think the biggest issue is people who claim it can't be done and that the only way to accomplish this is to physically meet.

I feel like the biggest hinderance to making the most out of a remote option are the ones who prefer going to the office or explain all kinds of issues with "it's because we don't meet in person".

One just have to embrace and apply the mindset that it is possible. Different, surely, but still possible!

I'm not saying there is something WRONG with going to the office, it is lovely to hang out in person with lots of people, but it is very limiting in many ways as well. Just limiting in other ways than remote. You learn to deal with both, when you need to, though. The issue is mostly that people deal with the office-problems but don't care much about dealing with the remote-problems.


that's an interesting angle, I wonder if this pattern of defaulting to "because we don't meet in person" is that a giveaway for some lacking of communicating in writing I wonder. Just people who can't get an idea out effectively in textual form for complex ideas on a repeated basis and chalking it up to needing that in person outlet. That's curious, does being face to face elicit other modes of communication and ability to articulate and connect things. Maybe. But I suppose it could also be an opportunity to lean on the "see what I mean", "do you know what I'm saying" and allow body language and other social lubricant type bits and pieces to smooth glossing over when another doesn't follow or see what they mean.


It always struck me as strange that corporations rely on chance for people to connect and understand what other parts of the org are doing, to find synergies* and suchlike.

That feels like something that absolutely can and should be operationalized* if the success of the company relies on it. Build in easy ways for people to join other teams for a quarter (or whatever), ensure that areas of effort are communicated horizontally and back down in minimally invasive, synchronous manners, have clear domain ownership such that it's easy to know who to reach out to, etc.

It's absolutely bizarre to me to pin success on "employees chatting by the water cooler" or whatever the expectation by upper leadership is when they claim stuff around in person. Don't get me wrong, I like seeing coworkers in person now and again, but I explicitly want to do it just to meet them for socializing and team building; not working.

*(buzzword) Bingo!


lol, those mythical magic moments collaborating in the abstract, you never know where they're going to happen. It could be at the water cooler, or over that off color patch of carpet over there.


Honestly, most of my work experience has been those mythical magic moments just led to a decrease in morale. As a remote worker I am not as invested in the company, and that's a feature, not a bug. I'm doing my job, I'm actively looking to do it well, but frustrations I can't control feel further from me.

I remember distinctly overhearing our internal devops at one place (that was pretty fragmented) talk about how their mandate was to get people only 80% of the way there, that the teams were responsible for getting 100%, and it pissed me off no end, since one of the reasons my department was doing our own devops was that there was no way to take what the devops department was putting out, and leverage it to get to what we wanted (i.e., no path to go from the 80% they provided -> 100% of what we needed). We had tried numerous times to talk to them about it, but they wanted to decide things in isolation and tell us what to do, rather than listening to us. I tried figuring out who was in charge of that group and reaching out to them, and managed a meeting, and they heard and acknowledged the need and agreed change was necessary, then nothing happened with it. Etc. None of that helped my morale, and I ended up leaving that company, not because of that, but because of a number of places where I simply could not affect change.

As a remote employee though? Don't care. As I said, that missing cultural buy in is a feature, not a bug, and it benefits everyone involved. I'm still raising concerns, still trying to reach out for solutions, but invariably when the business prevents me from fixing things I'm not stressing, and am so less likely to leave.


yah I can see that as a feature. Reminds me of stories I heard from people at google who preferred the contractor/contingent-worker lifestyle over permanent employees for the sake of avoiding all the HR rigmarole and office politic drama, perf review busywork, etc etc that adds questionable value to ones career.


For me it’s always been when going up on the elevator between floors 2-4. That’s why I take the stairs.


But they are operationalized, organizing such things is part of what managers are taught to do and what large organizations specifically budget activities and events for. Perhaps it's not operationalized well, but organizations are trying to do that.


> Tools like Donut help a bit but the magic is still lost.

You can keep your magic, I'm gonna stay in my home office.


Personally my team does stand up meetings weekly on Mondays. This is mostly to allow folks (and force a few) to think about their tasks and goals and organize them into "what can I accomplish this week" style bullet points.

But then we also have a Teams channel carved out to "watercooler" or Daily meets.

These are non-structured and you are free to come and go as needed. But its a place for folks to hang out and verbalize their tshooting or seek advice/help/opinions on problems etc.

For some, its a good place to listen and be a wallflower. For others, its a good place to bounce ideas. If you are trying to focus you dont join.

If someone specifically wants to bring someone into the fold they are free to ping them and just say "hey im in the daily, could really use your help when you get a chance". Sometimes that person can join immediately. Sometimes they may sit for a bit working on other things until the person they wanted to ask has the time. Sometimes that person just says "im busy, lets schedule a time or catch tomorrow".

Its worked....okay enough. And was specifically setup because I had several FTR guys well before COVID that specifically stated they felt distant and out of touch with the pulse or overall goals of the department.

Frankly I am in them so much I have a small Amazon Basics conference mic with a physical mute button and a blue/red indicator light.

The only habit that can be "bad" coming from it is sometimes folks will have an affinity to "rally the troops" and engage multiple people on something they themselves havent spent much or any time chewing on first because it can be perceived as easier or quicker to a resolution. This is especially true with "fires". But I have seen the same in person as well. Especially with teams of weaker IC's.


I feel like random teams chat just died the day they made channels threaded. Now writing a message feels like a newsletter rather than a chat.


Yeah we use a group chat for normal day to day chatter.

Teams channels are for topic specific content and comments that will likely need to be tracked/re-referenced down the line.

The sole exception is the water cooler meeting channel that is just a channel to host that meeting.

Overall teams is awful for searching though.


We basically do your idea at my current company. All the engineers have to be within traveling distance of London and we are all expected to be in the office together on the the same day every month. One day per month, that's it. Some are in more frequently but that's the baseline.

You can live wherever you want but you have to travel to London once a month and if that takes several hours and costs £100s, that's your problem.

It works really well. We do our retros and other group sessions in person, eat lunch together, chat with other functions, go for a beer or play a board game after work, etc.


The problem with in office work as an IC is that all day is spent helping other people and then you have to do your own IC work in the evenings.

The problem with remote work is the constant slack interruptions to help other people and you have to do your own IC work around that.

We have essentially a documentation, coordination, and communications problem that nobody has figured out how to solve in a remote first world. I'd be interested to hear people's solutions to this.


You have to communicate with people that you need a block of time without interruptions and that you only have a certain amount of the day to dedicate to things that aren't your own work. Your manager has to be on board and enforce this.

Otherwise you need to get another job.

To be fair I do get interruptions from Discord for my website that aren't related to other projects but I usually deliberately prioritize them because it's my business and no one else can provide support for it.


I agree, although I will add that one of the biggest breakthroughs I came up with was when I transitioned to remote when most other people still worked at the office (this is long before covid). I changed something so that I can use it remotely, and that had a profound impact down the line -- it coincidentally fixed some licensing/piracy issues we had and made the product better in several ways.

I think the moral of the story is that more diversity, in as many ways as we can apply that word, is probably a benefit to most organizations.


IMO, just make that 3 day retreat during work days so you don't require people to work weekends. With that small change I think this would be great for software teams. Perhaps too, every month is too often for anyone with a family. Consider making the interval larger.


I think the word you are looking for is "osmosis".

People learn faster when they have someone to teach them in a multi-modal environment. Videoconferencing is only a shadow of this, and everything is scheduled. There is zero chance for spontaneity with such a sterile structure.

I'm nearing the end of my career, but I certainly would not have learned as fast as I did without many, many mentors. Just reading the internet, especially when the technology is cutting edge and not even ON the internet, would have left me far behind. And if everyone falls behind, the company falls behind.

I think companies that mandate some amount of in-person time will have less risk of falling behind than those that are 100% remote.

I don't see how all of those junior 100% remote engineers will keep up. Maybe they are all just very very very smart.


My company has three days in office each month, and it’s during a week specified by the company so that you synchronize with your team. Very similar to what you’re talking about.


So, no one in your company lives in a city far away from the office? If so, how do they handle it? Imagine having to drive 6h to get from home to the office. Suddenly, your 3-days/month become 4-days/month plus accommodation.


It’s implied and assumed that you live nearby. See the response to other comment for more info.


How do you feel about it? Any feedback?


Love it. Privately owned company (doesn’t have to conform to shareholder wants) with good leadership; lots of the policies resonate with the employees. I’ll admit: I’m particularly extroverted, and this makes the in-person days more enjoyable. I get much more work done at home, and I generally enjoy life better working remotely. I thought I would have preferred full remote, but I have no desire to leave because everything else about the company is ideal.

My understanding is that they have, before and after the pandemic, drawn a connection between remote work and attrition. Their hybrid policy is based on this, and they have found it solves the attrition issue. We could theorize all day as to exactly how/why :) Some combination of forcing people to be geographically located, see their teammates face to face, and then giving employees the majority of the time to themselves seems to work better for keeping employees than being fully remote.

My personal theory is that, counterintuitively, just about everyone actually ends up feeling/doing better if they have a bit of in-person interaction. I was staunchly in the camp of full-remote even before the pandemic, yet I don’t have any desire to change companies. It’s just a great place to work, and 3 days a month is extremely manageable. I have lots of connections at Google, for example (good full-remote options) and I could get an interview at the drop of a hat. I have no interest in this right now, though, even with much lower compensation.


To support your theory, I am an extreme introvert managing a fully distributed team. Yet I choose to regularly come to the office for a bit of in-person interaction (mainly social since my direct co-workers aren't based here).

I should mention that I live within a ten-minute walk to the office. For example, I can easily walk there for lunch and then walk back home. If the commute was much longer, that would significantly change the calculus. A pleasant half-hour train ride? Maybe, but not very frequently. An hour drive? No way I'd go unless I absolutely have to.


It boils down to work culture. Everything you can do in person, you can do remotely, you just need to ensure the company enforces a culture that embraces the tools required to make that possible. Pair programming? With modern tools it's trivial to do. Discussions? Start a call or use a channel. If anything, remote work forces you to better document what's going on, rather than some poor junior having to hunt down the right guy the office to help them figure something out. A junior suffering due to remote work is a junior whose company has failed them.


> One of the ideas I’m thinking about is to hire only within a metropolitan area, but keep remote

How does everyone being in the same metro area help? The idea of working remote is being able to choose where you want to live?


That's part of it. The main part is working at the physical location of your choice, usually home, and not having to commute.


The physical location in many people’s circumstance is far away from the high cost of living area that the company is located. “Working remotely” and still having to be in a designated city really doesn’t help much for most people.


This is less of a problem if there's a culture that provides positive & honest paired programming w/o judgement on a regular basis. I try to do this, not just to glean business context from other engineers, but so I can learn from others.

For this to work well, toxicity needs to be nonexistent. I would even advocate for a "no tolerance" for toxic comments/behavior from peers/colleagues.


I'm at a fully remote company and I hate our onsite team retreats. A waste of time and money.

Apparently I'm not the only who thinks this.

https://nypost.com/2022/06/15/companies-are-shelling-out-for...


I just don't buy into the idea that it's impossible to effectively "absorb" or "brainstorm" over the internet. It sounds like a lack of effort and/or knowledge of how to use the tools.


As someone who was still a junior employee at the beginning of the pandemic and has been remote work the majority of my career, this does not match my experience. Perhaps it’s the organizations I’ve been at, or the field I’m in, but I have had no issues getting feedback or up to speed on things. Stuff like code review, which the article mentions, benefit in no way from in-person vs remote work set-ups. Feedback in general doesn’t benefit from in-office scenarios in my experience, so long as the junior is proactive. The only junior employees that I’ve seen struggle in with remote work are those who

1) are woefully under-skilled, even for a junior level employee

2) don’t even attempt to solve a problem on their own. If something doesn’t work their first impulse is to ask someone else to fix it for them (which leads them to never fixing problem 1)

3) Always waiting for someone to tell them what to do. It’s easy to ask for feedback, or for problems that you can work on, or if you can pair with someone else on a problem they are working on so you can get some experience. None of that is really enabled or disabled by working from office/remote.

If I had to guess, I think it might be related to people’s experience in school/college. There are students I knew that were successful using resources that aren’t handed to them, like the internet. Others seemed to exclusively study via study groups, study guides, and going to the professor/TA during office hours, and without these. Once you enter the work force, the second kind of student has those resources pulled out from underneath them and very quickly has to learn to be the first kind of student, or they will struggle. I think remote vs in office doesn’t make much of a difference for the first kind, but in office feels more like a stop-gap for the second kind until they become more senior and acclimate. That’s just speculation on my part though, and is exclusively based on my limited experience and field.


As a manager, it's not the day-to-day that concerns me the most.

It's the loss of water-cooler chat with people not on the junior employee's team. Not the random "did you catch the game yesterday" stuff. But, the "team x started using tool Y" or "we're using ML to solve for Z" - the little tidbits that might spur a curious employee to go do something unexpected.

Edit - I can't really quantify the above, so maybe it's not really a thing. But, personally, I miss those conversations and worry that new/young employees aren't able to have them.


> It's the loss of water-cooler chat with people not on the junior employee's team. Not the random "did you catch the game yesterday" stuff. But, the "team x started using tool Y" or "we're using ML to solve for Z" - the little tidbits that might spur a curious employee to go do something unexpected.

I've worked in the tech for more than 2 decades, in different countries. I've worked for startups, for FAANG, and for companies of different sizes in between. I've built successful projects and saw my share of failures.

I've never saw this water-cooler experience you mentioned. It's always small talk of the "Did you see the game yesterday?" sort.

This "water-cooler effect" myth that is repeated often as if it was fact, and that completely puzzles me.

Those important conversation you mentioned, for me, always happened online even when I was in the office, normally through slack discussions (or email threads in the old days).


> I've never saw this water-cooler experience you mentioned. It's always small talk of the "Did you see the game yesterday?" sort

Does not match my experience at all. Depending on how you approach the water cooler you will get :

- People going to the water cooler to get water. And go back to their desk asap to stay focused (which is fine)

- People who go there and wanna have some chit chat about whatever interests them. Sometimes that means the game and sometimes not.

But yeah; but if you go in asking "what did you do this week end"; I have some colleagues who will happily jump in to say "I tried playing with Haskell, but those monads thing are are to fully grasp".

Never ever in my life, have I described my week end on slack. If I am going to be sitting in front of a screen and worsen my carpal tunnel syndrome; it's going to be for work related stuff.


I'm sure there was a time where people "never shared their weekend through text" either. I remember those types "I only use a phone for calling." Most of them are long gone now.


The water cooler experience extends beyond the actual conversations occurring to encompass a general camaraderie that gets built being in proximity to others. Schools had the same effect happen in over lock down - students weren't sitting next to other students and overhearing projects they were on, general grievances with school work, or miscellaneous "the game last night" stuff. Without that sense of community, you can really feel alone and things like imposter syndrome have a chance to creep it.

Obviously, I'm in the camp that thinks the water cooler myth exists. It can extend to just learning colleague Z has 2 kids. Things that can happen online, but also might not since small talk and casual conversations might not occur as often. It can happen more naturally during periods of "waiting" - like waiting for a class/meeting to start vs everyone logging into Zoom at exactly the start of the meeting.


This isn’t what was being argued. What was being argued is product development decisions being greatly enhanced from water cooler talk.


Inevitably when you go out with co-workers or industry colleagues at a conference, you will end up talking about work. That is the one thing you for sure have in common (while someone may not even like sports), and it's an easy topic to fall back to.

But FWIW, I also think the small talk and getting-to-know your colleagues is valuable. Some of my deepest and longest-term friendships have come from former co-workers, former classmates, etc. While it's possible to cultivate a friendship via remote work, it's a lot harder.

Coworkers often share birthdays, weddings, random trips, and enriching experiences together that are not very easy at all to replicate over fully remote work.

I've noticed that as my career has gotten more remote, it's harder to even count on making new adult friendships into my 30s. I'm like a stranger in my own town, unless I really intentionally take the time to join clubs/groups outside of work. That's not a bad idea on its own, but it does take intentional effort and some degree of consistency that just sort of came automatically with working in an office. And some young people with less overall confidence / social experience may not even know how to go about that.

I think all of that def takes a mental toll. We're social creatures, even the introverts among us.


I have had some great friendships form at work. But I've also had really difficult situations. I've seen friends form and then become bitter enemies, transitioning from workplace disagreements to personal disputes.

The fact is we aren't in the army. This isn't band of brothers. Some people don't want to know anything more than how you're helping them finish some task for their job. There are going to be varying levels of motivation, care, etc.

> I've noticed that as my career has gotten more remote, it's harder to even count on making new adult friendships into my 30s. I'm like a stranger in my own town, unless I really intentionally take the time to join clubs/groups outside of work.

I think you should explore finding friends outside of work. I've seen many go down the "friends only at work path." Then they retired, switched jobs, and moved on, and that friendship faded just as quickly. It's amazing how many people will be your friend when forced to be with you (e.g. gotta go to work) but given the choice they aren't choosing you.


Yep. For me work is work and friends are independent of that. In 30+ years I have never had a friendship at work that exended to doing stuff outside of work. There were people at work who I was friendly/sociable with, of course, but at 5:00 we went all went home to our separate lives.


Totally opposite of my experience. I do an annual ski trip with some of my old coworkers from 5+ years ago (from a company not many of us work at any longer). I have been invited to weddings from coworkers I worked with 10+ years ago. I am still great friends with dozens of people I went to community college and university with. But since going remote it is far more difficult to make the same connections.


I'm still friends with old roommates from school too. That's different in my mind anyway -- I lived with these people, saw them naked in the shower, etc. It was a level of personal contact that was much closer than anything that has ever happened (or I would want to happen) with someone at work.

YMMV though, if you make friends at work that's cool, just never seemed natural or obligatory to me.


Wow, that sounds like a bummer -- I can't imagine spending a significant portion of my life working on something and never establishing any meaningful relationships with the people that I worked with.


Not everyone feels the same way and that's the point. Some people want deep relationships. Others want to get their job done and go home to their family. Others are so stressed out with this office culture worship draining them with a 2 hour commute that they'll go home depressed with no friends.

But statistically Americans have had a significant downward trend in the number of friends over the last decade (yes, before COVID). The office culture was always there. It definitely isn't helping.


I think there's a lot of lonely people out there today that don't realize the disservice they are doing themselves by being intentional shut-ins.


The key for me is spontaneously reaching out to coworkers who you like. Invite them to parties, or to disc golfing, or a brewery, or whatever fun activity you do that needs additional friends. I find that if a coworker comes with me to these activities regularly when we work together, that the activity and the friendship can continue after we no longer work together. You need to develop the out-of-work relationship early and acknowledge that you like each other's company even when you aren't forced to be together. YMMV


Again - yeah sure, there are communication benefits to general proximity.

But the idea that this literally happens "at the water cooler" (or from bumping into each other in the hallway) to a significant degree -- such that it's worth dragging people into their cars for a 90 commute each way, on top of the obvious productivity-killing effects of the vast majority of office spaces, these days, just to benefit from these wonderful and sublime interactions -- is just nonsense.

Or like another commenter put it: one of these things people hear and like to repeat, without checking whether it has any grounding in reality.


Nevermind the number of businesses that don't give a shit about your creative, new ideas you had at the water cooler, they know exactly what they want and they're not interested in what the grunts have to say about squat.


>While it's possible to cultivate a friendship via remote work, it's a lot harder.

One of the problems that I feel is only going to get worse, is how remote work is entirely on record. To make real connections you have to be able to talk somewhat freely. With Microsoft going full steam ahead with AI built in to teams for auditing and summarizing, you just wont be able to talk and build friendships like you can irl for fear of being flagged for inappropriate speech.


I've seen it. But, it never seemed to make any difference to what I was actually given leeway to implement on the job.

It's like sideprojects and github repos during a job search - everyone says they are important, everyone thinks they are important, but at the end of the day, very few decision makers are willing to put in the time and risk of involving them in the process of their work.


I have seen it on more than one place. Interestingly, all those places are research-focused universities. (And no, mere research institutes don't seem to enable it.)

In retrospect, it is quite obvious why that happens. Just for a start, if your place is such that a high-level executive announcing a layoff would lead people to believe in him, instead of reacting like "what is he talking about? is he crazy?", then you have no chance of ever getting productive water cooler conversations.


Certain teams thrive off of word-of-mouth data flowing across. I've experienced both type of work environments.

Usually, people may casually walk over to the area where the office gossip happens to get some info. It doesn't have to be a magical hallway or a water cooler.


I've never saw this water-cooler experience you mentioned.

Oh I've seen it, but I'd say it's very rare - I sometimes do pick up useful snippets of information (so-and-so is working on X) while grabbing from the refrigerator, etc.

Like, 5 percent of the time. The rest of the time it's at best definitely tangential -- and sometimes outright nonsense (people talking at you for the sake of having someone to talk at) that grinds my gears and objectively disrupts my flow.


Well, I've worked in tech for half a decade, and I experienced plenty of it in my first job. It benefited me tremendously to be able to get context from other engineers and even people outside of engineering.

And I had none of it in my second job before covid. It's not a guarantee. But it's weird to me that people are going their whole careers without seeing it... maybe I was really lucky at my first job.


Just because you haven't observed doesn't mean it's a myth.


Bah. That is what hackernews/the internet is for. I learn more about new tools and stuff that other companies are using from seeing other companies/employees talk about that online than I do talking to co workers. Most of the time co workers are not talking about new cool tech, we are talking about life/bullshit because we are not robots.


Open Google Calendar or Office 365, create a meeting once or twice a week for 30 minutes and call it "watercooler chat". Make sure staff know it's an open forum, and that anything can be discussed safely. People that want to show up will. People that don't wont. Modern problems require modern solutions.


All of which can be done online. If you can talk to your friends via facebook messenger or whatsapp to stay in the loop so can you with your colleagues via teams or slack.


Some people flourish anywhere, some do so at home, some need closer supervision to do their best. I don't think anyone needs watercooler idle chat to get them to do the best they can.


If this is true, this is a really simple problem to solve. Organize cross-team show and tells. Past couple organisations I worked for did this successfully.


Eh? We kind of make sure to discuss all those things on Teams too (or only, really, since 80% is still remote).


I’ve been mentoring and TLing junior employees remotely and it matches your experience. Self starters are fine, people who are not self starters or need lots of help are not doing well.

That first group is able to (IMO) progress just as well as they would in-office because they know when to reach out for help, fix things on their own without help, etc.

The second group may or may not be better served by in-office work. In some cases there are language barriers that make things challenging and I expect more in-office communication would reduce these. But I think a much bigger help would be for these people to be able to watch more experienced employees work and operate (both in terms of learning specific tools/processes for doing things, and the soft skills like when those other workers reach out for help, how they do so). Both of these assume they want to do better though; I don’t think WFO would help truly disengaged juniors.

So basically, I completely agree with you and I think the distinction is important. FWIW, I think people who progress in their career and become valuable employees quickly tend to almost always fall in the first group anyway.


> Feedback in general doesn’t benefit from in-office scenarios in my experience, so long as the junior is proactive.

In your comment you say you haven't worked in-office much. So, genuine question, how do you know feedback doesn't benefit from being in-office?

I think this relevant because in my experience (1.5 years remote because of COVID), the benefits of being in the office often aren't apparent when you're out of the office. For example, in work I regularly overhear O(2 minute) conversations in which co-workers talk about edge cases in our system that I didn't realize existed. If I wasn't in the office I wouldn't even know I had missed these conversations.


I worked in-office for about a year and a half. Then I switched fields and companies right before the pandemic hit, so I was effectively starting over again. I did not find being in-office vs remote to be particularly impactful on my ability to be effective, get feedback, and get up to speed. Obviously this is a very small sample size based solely on my personal experience.


>For example, in work I regularly overhear O(2 minute) conversations in which co-workers talk about edge cases in our system that I didn't realize existed

Counterpoint: there are types which really like to insert themselves in every conversation or discussion. To the point it hampers not just their own work, but the work of everyone else. Taken to the extreme, they even create a state of helplessness in others, where these individuals become a funnel for all others to ask questions and obtain knowledge from. This is without accounting for all the noise pollution it creates.

Opponents are very eager to pull out these 'what about the office talks?' arguments, but whether the benefits even outweigh the downsides isn't obvious at all.

Heck, most developer work cultures use Scrum, and they can't even work through a single item on their retrospectives. Surely a bit of skepticism is warranted.


>> For example, in work I regularly overhear O(2 minute) conversations in which co-workers talk about edge cases in our system that I didn't realize existed

> Counterpoint: there are types which really like to insert themselves in every conversation or discussion. To the point it hampers not just their own work, but the work of everyone else.

That's not really counterpoint, it's just a occasional problem behavior of some individuals that remote makes more difficult, like someone humming at their desk.

It's sort of like someone who writes a bunch of useless unit tests. The solution isn't for the team to scrap unit testing, it's for that person to be coached to not do that.

One big problem with remote is that it makes a whole lot of stuff that can happen organically in an office into intentional practices that require discipline, which means they're a lot easier to neglect.


>That's not really counterpoint, it's just a occasional problem behavior of some individuals that remote makes more difficult

Yet anecdotally, it has occurred in every open office so far. Managers were also eager to applaud this behavior rather than berate it, while at the same time looking at the actual work performed, scratching their heads why nothing was happening and then giving said individuals special treatment. I'm not alone in experiencing this, either.

>One big problem with remote is that it makes a whole lot of stuff that can happen organically in an office into intentional practices that require discipline, which means they're a lot easier to neglect.

"That's not really a counterpoint, just coach them not to do that." If your argument against my point is 'well just teach people differently, also it doesn't happen that often at all (despite it being a common complaint on the internet)', you'll also have to argue why your point is special enough not to deserve the same response.

Companies relying on a lack of documentation and individuals using said documentation is a humongous risk even outside the remote debate, and that's most of the requirements for remote covered. Those 'organic intentional practices' don't seem so great when 80% of the seniors on the team leave without a paper trail and the remainder knows zilch.


> Yet anecdotally, it has occurred in every open office so far.

Open offices are terrible, by the way. They provide few benefits, and their main effect is to magnify the downsides of in-office work (at least for software development). They just happened to be trendy and enable lower real-estate costs.

> Managers were also eager to applaud this behavior rather than berate it, while at the same time looking at the actual work performed, scratching their heads why nothing was happening and then giving said individuals special treatment.... you'll also have to argue why your point is special enough not to deserve the same response.

Many managers are not great.

A busybody is undermining team productivity without adding value is a management problem focused on that individual. Remote work introduces more systemic communication and training problems.

> Those 'organic intentional practices' don't seem so great when 80% of the seniors on the team leave without a paper trail and the remainder knows zilch.

My experience is remote work isn't leading to any special emphasis on documentation. And in any case, any reasonable level of documentation isn't going to make up for all the experienced people leaving.


>If I had to guess, I think it might be related to people’s experience in school/college.

I am not so sure on that. But I have seen similar throughout my years. More and more I am coming to the conclusion this is one of those "some people are wired a certain way, others are not". I have seen plenty of highly "educated" folks lacking terribly in skillsets. I have seen the same for those with no education.

As an instructor as well, it skews similar with the students I have seen. Some just have a "fire" and work through issues, others will just give up at the first sign of issue (I am talking "I couldnt figure out key based auth, so i did nothing".

I have tried to get folks to take personal ownership in products and deliverables, to varying degrees of success. In the past I was ardently against "silos" of responsibility but ultimately this led to some taking no ownership stake in any products. So we have had to transition to "assigning" primary, secondary, tertiary responsibility to services/products. This helped a little bit but also led to some then just bringing in personal excuses.

Ultimately I have come to the conclusion that folks have varying capacity for load/projects and how much they are simultaneously work/support. As well as varying capacity to be able to work indepedantly vs need more guidance/check-ins on stuff. I try and cater to whats needed to get the most out of them and understand not everyone is a rockstar that can just take a challenge and come back with solutions. Even still, it can be tricky managing that withing intra-team dynamics.


The idea that you can make up for being remote by being proactive proves the counterpoint.

You seem to be a top performer— the kind of person that someone higher up but perhaps not directly related to you -would pull to the side and have you work on something more important, if you were in the office, because the office is where non-organizational-chart-directed-actions take place.

It can even be as simple/stupid as an idiot in a suit asking “are you good at computers” while in an elevator. You fix their idiotic excel problem that they could have googled, then you end up in charge of some thing they want to build.

I understand that this represents a bit of disfunction - but I believe this is reality.


For 3) the difference with in office work is that the manager can passively check in on how someone is doing. Just casually checking someone's posture from across an office you can tell if they're struggling or not.

Forcing a video call is a lot more formal and just doesn't have the same effect. People will attempt to present a cool demeanor.

Someone who's doing great and is fully self sufficient in office can probably crank out code form home just fine... its the cases where people are struggling or need to collaborate in an non-formal way that I think in office helps the most.


As a junior that also just started before COVID forced everyone into remote, my experience has been that team culture is the deciding factor. I've always been extremely vocal in communicating ideas, acquiring feedback and asking for help digitally, but my experience has been split for the two teams I've been yet.

The first team was just set up as the pandemic hit and thus had all collaboration happen online. This created structures that fit a remote-first approach and even worked after work got hybrid again. All important discussion happened online, we had ways to spontaneously get help and enough formats to get creative. And it worked, I never felt left out, all blockers for everyone got cleared as fast as you would expect and feedback cycles were good.

I can't say the same about my second team however. While it's officially hybrid, I'd say 70% are coming into the office every day, while the other 30% (me included) work basically exclusively remote. And it isn't working well, the office people just have their own bubble. They exchange ideas and communicate offline and it's hard to be part of that. I tried integrating digital tools, I tried talking about it, but it just doesn't work. I can plant seeds for new ideas, I can ask for feedback, but the second I communicate it to the office bubble, I'm not part of it anymore. This isn't intentional obviously, but when they talk about stuff at the coffee machine or during lunch, the idea will start developing by itself, while I have no way to take part in it. And who can blame them? If you have a good idea during lunch, why should they not talk about it? And who wants to provide an official protocol for the remote workers about lunch discussions? And then when I then try to talk about the idea a few days later, I always notice that it advanced without any possibility for me to participate. This sucks obviously, because it massively diminishes my influence to bring in and grow my ideas. And while I do get feedback when I ask for it directly, I have noticed that barely anyone actively informs you about the small 1% stuff that you can improve. Which doesn't sound bad, but if you miss an 1% improvement every week, even in a year it will amount to a big enough sum to matter.

And I think these 2 things do massively influence a career. You need to be the face of a bunch of good ideas if you want any kind of soft power. You do need the small informal feedback someone gives you when getting a coffee, if you want to be the top 10%. And in some hybrid organizations, you will miss out on that.


The office people here actually are actively politicking against the remote people whether they realize it or not. If you were their boss they would have no choice about keeping you in the loop on lunch conversations.

This sort of thing is definitely a problem with many "hybrid" situations.


> are woefully under-skilled, even for a junior level employee

> don't even attempt to solve a problem on their own. If something doesn't work their first impulse is to ask someone else to fix it for them (which leads them to never fixing problem 1)

> Always waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

The issue is with hiring. When hiring remote junior, you need to look out for above average communication skills and debugging abilities. That's often not present for a lot of new grads entering the market because of a lack of experience or relevant work. Think of three month bootcamp grads where each week's assignment was spoon fed by the instructors who themselves are students who couldn't get a real job.

Some places that hired from that pipeline are finding out it's simply impossible to bring these programmers up to speed, but places hiring real engineers have way less issues (because a serious program will include challenging work and select for people capable of debugging and reasoning independently).


It is culture in about every form. Education isn't actively made to teach people to be independent. Work culture for the past X decades has been pushing people to be dependent on each other directly. Social culture has pushed people to be dependent on work to fulfill various needs beyond a paycheck.

And despite us catering towards the open office for multiple decades, we are still seeing it is barely on par with an ad-hoc WFH call while other things are going awry. Anyone with any kind of perspective can tell these comparisons aren't remotely fair.


As a business owner it’s just so much more economical to hire remote. No office expense, the pool of talent is so much larger, no relocation expenses, people are happier with the flexible schedules.

Entry level employees need to learn how to succeed and grow in this environment because economically it is just so overwhelmingly better for me, the business owner. I predict a surge in downtown living within the next 5 years as offices are converted or destroyed and rebuilt as apartments and condos. Young people will live there and WFH but get their socialization from the critical mass of young people living around them, learning how to make friends post-college outside of work (which is way healthier as well).

It’s way easier to figure out new mechanisms of working to mentor and grow junior employees in a remote environment than it is to fight economics. The economics are just superior and you can’t fight that.


You’re business owner. But there is whole cohort of middle managers, that need to justify their existence walking in the office and watching over the shoulders as well as asking project status reports. Corporate world also needs to build offices or architectural monuments stating, they are very profitable and can afford that. See it’s lots about egos and not always about economics.


> You’re business owner. But there is whole cohort of middle managers, that need to justify their existence walking in the office and watching over the shoulders as well as asking project status reports. Corporate world also needs to build offices or architectural monuments stating, they are very profitable and can afford that. See it’s lots about egos and not always about economics.

There are also a lot of arrogant American engineers need to justify their inflated salaries compared to Indians, Eastern Europeans and other offshore workers. With the rise of remote work, we should hopefully see those inflated remote salaries settle to the international norm.


As an Eastern European: it went largely the other way and I'm happy that it did.

I mean, I don't make American money - just 50-70% of that, but I also don't have American expenses - especially not on the level seen in SV.


There is an actual difference in quality (though not as much as the salary differential).

Not in small part due to a significant percentage of the best engineers originating in those regions are already here in the United States.


I hire US and Canadian engineers. Canadians working remote aren’t any cheaper when benefits are included than US employees, at least the quality I hire. European engineers are good but the time difference is literally the problem. 5 to 8 hours makes it impossible for me. All in costs are 150k for junior and 280k for top tier including benefits. We have equity but it’s not liquid. If I could hire Indians I would but simply put I have found them to be quite poor quality over many experiences, I assume the good Indian engineers are already employed by solid satellite offices of major US companies or have emigrated.


oh lord... $150k for junior?!

Italian me with 15 years experience and struggling to find a €50k job..

there are platforms like remote.com or deel.com for companies wanting to hire in jurisdictions they don't have a subsidiary in.


Benefits are actually quite generous and expensive when you want to hire top-tier talent. If you factor in good health insurance, payroll tax, 401k match, yearly bonus, various things like cell phone and internet paid for and random free stuff, someone costing 150k cost to me is more like a ~115k salary depending on the region, and of course taxes and retirement expense to the employee will reduce it to more like $70k take-home. But yes, still sounds good to Europeans.


> There are also a lot of arrogant American engineers need to justify their inflated salaries compared to Indians, Eastern Europeans and other offshore workers. With the rise of remote work, we should hopefully see those inflated remote salaries settle to the international norm.

As much as I support remote work, what you suggests is not the norm. Mainly because companies hire much more employees than contractors. Companies cannot just hire employees from dozens of different countries (unless they have branches on such countries or they hire an intermediary company to handle the taxes/health insurance stuff). Companies cannot just hire people who are +-6h away from their timezone.

Companies usually hire remote employees within the country they operate. Which is nice because you can live in a modest town around the nature and work for companies who have originally emerged in the capital.


"unless they have branches on such countries or they hire an intermediary company to handle the taxes/health insurance stuff" is a big caveat - for any non-tiny company it's not a big deal to hire an intermediary company, such companies are readily available and the overhead is small compared to the salary differential; it's not a serious obstacle because you can simply buy a solution to that.

But that's not the case for time zones, of course.


There are a lot of tax complexities around hiring outside the company's country, so I don't think this is going to be as common as you'd like it to be. And if I were you, I would reframe the monetary compensation, rather than saying Westerners are overpaid, perhaps it's non-Westerners who are being underpaid.

I don't understand this weird thought process in the software industry where a certain contingent of developers seek to undervalue their own skills against their self interest...


> Entry level employees need to learn how to succeed and grow in this environment because economically it is just so overwhelmingly better for me, the business owner.

As a business owner, you need to teach those entry level employees to succeed in the remote environment, or your remote hiring is going to get a lot less economical for you in the future.

> I predict a surge in downtown living within the next 5 years as offices are converted or destroyed and rebuilt as apartments and condos. Young people will live there and WFH but get their socialization from the critical mass of young people living around them, learning how to make friends post-college outside of work (which is way healthier as well).

That's probably wishful thinking to a large degree, especially the part about making friends. Some people will figure it out, but many will founder (which IIRC, is borne out in loneliness statistics)


> As a business owner, you need to teach those entry level employees to succeed in the remote environment, or your remote hiring is going to get a lot less economical for you in the future.

Hum... The GP can't solve this problem, and it is a certainty that business owners as a collective won't be competent enough to do it even if they try.

IMO, that looks like a job for a government or something similar.


Huh!? Why can’t business owners find a solution to increasing collaboration and mentorship? It makes zero sense to involve the government in employee training.


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