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Ask HN: Why won't your company hire remote workers? Why not work in an office?
15 points by JoeCortopassi 969 days ago | 11 comments
This last set of "Who's Hiring?"[1] and "Freelancer? Seeking Freelancers?"[2] threads made me realize that there are two main groups that can help each other, but decidedly won't. It seems there is a large group of qualified and willing workers that have a strong desire to work from home, and another separate group that wants qualified workers to work in the physical seats that they provide. The other interesting wrinkle in all this, is each side is usually willing to compromise on other important things, just because of the physical location of where the work is done. On the side of the companies, there is a large unmet demand for skilled workers, to the point where compensation packages spiral out of control and barely qualified people get treated like royalty. On the freelancer side, people are willing to work oddball hours, at significantly lower pay, to have the freedom of sitting at home to work.

So my question is two parts: 1) If you work in an office, why won't your company let workers telecommute full time? 2) If you telecommute, why are you unwilling to work from an office

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[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4857714

[2] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4857717




I think the bigger and more established the company, the more willing they are to allow telecommuting full time. I know people who work for Bank of America and IBM and they have never been to the office. Those companies have tens of thousands of employees, and the math just makes sense for them. Each remote employee is money saved on office space, parking passes, pots of coffee, etc.

For smaller companies, it seems to be harder to accept telecommuting. It could be that in smaller companies, the focus is growth, which is often aided by the type of face-to-face collaboration you get from having everyone in the office. Or it could be that bosses just don't trust what they can't see, and in smaller companies, they are in a better position to regulate it.

The strange part is, I am many times more productive working from home than in the office, and I have demonstrated it on many occasions at multiple companies. Sometimes I can get a whole week's work done in a few hours at home. Other times I sit in the office and surf the 'net all day, not getting any work done. The bosses have never complained when they catch people goofing off at work, as long as they put in a full day, but they are always suspicious of people who work from home, requesting email updates throughout the day.

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Dedicated to telecommuting here, for so many reasons that I hardly know where to begin:

* I don't want to lose 2h/day to unpaid work (i.e. 1 hour commute each way). That's 500 hours/year if I take two weeks vacation, or a little over 60 8-hour workdays per year -- time that I'm away from my loved ones and from my work -- what a waste!

* In an office environment, especially the now-trendy open office plans, it is difficult-to-impossible to manage interruptions and actually get work done efficiently.

* Most of the better jobs in my areas of expertise are outside Indianapolis, but I'm committed to staying here for family reasons.

* By working from home I avoid the tendency to eat poorly, the inevitability of getting trapped in close contact with smokers who set off my allergies, and don't bother people when I need to get up and move, which means I do that more: all things that improve my health.

* Working from home means I don't have to take time off if my kid is home sick from school or has a day off, I don't have to stick him in day care, and I can keep a more stable work schedule despite the furnace guy coming or a package being delivered or whatever.

* Working from home means I can manage my work space the way I want, complete with one standing work area and one sitting, a loud-as-heck metal buckling-spring keyboard, country-western music (yes, you read that right), fountain pens, and a steady stream of oolong tea.

* I think better when I work from home, because I can step away from the keyboard and run kata for ten minutes when I'm stuck, grab the laptop and sit outside or at a local coffee shop for a change of pace, or whatever I need to do to get my mind churning.

* I have useful things like email and chat logs to help me make sure I know what's going on, as opposed to someone waylaying me in the hall on the way to the restroom and assuming that I will accurately remember what they wanted when all I really want to do is pee.

* Remote work generally comes with more flexible hours than in-office work, which means that I can accommodate parent-teacher conferences, my karate schedule, etc. while still working full time.

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The short answer for why I work 100% remote? Because I can.

That's really the single greatest feature of being a developer today. You can do your thing from pretty much anywhere in the world with no reduction in throughput.

I can (and have) set up shop for the winter on some remote Central American surf break. I can (and have) moved my main residence to a small village in the French countryside where the quality of life is good and there's enough bouldering to last me a lifetime of afternoons off. I can (and have) simply packed my whole development world onto a 12" Thinkpad and headed off on the road for an entire year.

And all those places have wifi. And I can work there. So I do.

So even if I found a company that did happen to have an office right next to that perfect left reef pass off the coast of Sumatra, I probably still wouldn't want to commit myself to working there full time. I already have an office there. As well as everywhere else I'd like to be.

It didn't used to be like this. And it still isn't for most professions. But it absolutely is for software. As a developer, I think you'd be crazy to pass up on it.

So yeah, that's why.

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Aside from the "I need to see you working" aspect, which reflects not only on bosses but also investors (have to justify that schweet loft in SOMA that's costing an arm and a leg), there's also the concern of IP leakage- code can be copied by a competitor, server access can be gained, and sensitive company activities are harder to keep under wraps.

Doesn't matter that these are probably just as if not more likely to come from the office itself than from a remote worker.

I think in the end it comes down to access; if the server barfs or the CEO wants to know why X is X and not Y, they highly value that in-person access, dispatchable in seconds rather than hours or days. They want a living, breathing being to do XYZ to. Employee productivity takes a backseat to pointy-haired-boss productivity (and that of their cousin, pointy-haired-investor), and since the employee isn't signing the checks..

I think it'd make an excellent thought experiment, particularly with bay area rents being what they are, to try to launch a company where all staff must reside in the same structure but don't have to work from there (or are even expressly forbidden from doing much work there). Instead of "you have to work here, where you sleep isn't our problem" it could be "you have to sleep here, where you work isn't our problem".

Employees' rents tend to drive company's cash burn far more than meets the eye (An $800/mo. bedroom, plus 50% for state & fed income taxes, plus ~25% for payroll taxes, ends up socking a business' bottom line for almost $20k, when the business could spend half that directly for the same effect), and an employee will get far more use out of a bed than a desk (since the desk can be their lap, coffee shop, public park, outside, etc.).

Why won't freelancers work from the office?

1) The office is 1,000 miles away and you have ties to where you live now

2) The office is in a country you don't qualify to work in

There are philosophical reasons why some freelancers choose to be freelancers, but I think most choose the role because it's the only one possible given where they live.

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I really wish I could do both. I've been telecommuting for almost 5 years now and I'm about to go insane (not to mention that its not a good way to make lasting connections or learn from your peers, among other reasons I dislike telecommuting). On the other hand, I remember working in an office and being 'forced' to be there every day at a certain time is anathema to how I think programmers should be treated. I'd like it if the entire staff comes in about two days a week and can otherwise use a shared office space whenever they want. In fact, I think there's probably a business opportunity there for co-working space owners.

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This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

In the employer/employee relationship, I think the balance of power has tipped too far towards the employer. I'm supposed to show up at their office for eight hours a day, five days a week, fighting serious traffic both ways, which saps a lot of my energy. Leaving for any reason other than lunch is frowned on. I won't have any control over other people interrupting me and making noise. I'm left with no choice but to structure my entire life around the job. I'm more than willing to work hard, but that's too much to ask.

By working at home, I can take a nap when I'm feeling unmotivated, take two hours off on a nice afternoon to walk my dog and then make up the hours later when the sun has gone down, be at home to meet the repair man, and so on. My quality of life goes up by a lot. This is so important to me that I'm willing to take a serious pay cut to get it.

My experience is that working for a company that merely allows remote workers isn't enough. If the majority of the company works in a central office, you are at a constant disadvantage. It's not that your coworkers are conspiring against you, they just aren't going to include you in every hallway meeting that you might have otherwise participated in. So if you want to be a full-fledged team member in good standing, but still work remotely, you almost have to work for a company that is 100 percent remote.

I am fortunate enough to have just such a job, right now, working on iOS apps. Boy, do I ever love it. I can only hope that it continues to work out for me, for a long time to come.

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In the employer/employee relationship, I think the balance of power has tipped too far towards the employer. I'm supposed to show up at their office for eight hours a day, five days a week, fighting serious traffic both ways, which saps a lot of my energy. Leaving for any reason other than lunch is frowned on.

I agree this is usually the case, but I don't think it's tipped towards that: it's been like that since at least the 19th century, and is basically what mass employment in companies looks like. If anything, the employer's control over working habits is somewhat more relaxed now than it used to be, especially in tech. Programmers in 1960s IBM had to follow dress codes, and had to be in the office at 8am, whereas most tech companies today are pretty relaxed about both dress codes and shifted work schedules (e.g. 10am-6pm).

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I'm a full time remote employee in a company where 90% of the staff work in office. And I do miss out on a lot.

Fortunately I have a few close friends I've made there who keep me filled in on the dirt.

As a side note. Product management often throws me time sensitive projects and are amazed at how fast they are done with a high degree of quality and complain about how long it would have taken to get done through the proper engineering work flow. I attribute this to being away from a lot of the shit that goes on in any office that just wastes developers time.

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For (1), from a young company's perspective, I've found it much easier to communicate and steer in the same direction when a teammate on a project is in the same room. As another person pointed out, face-to-face collaboration is vital at the growth stage.

As for (2), I sort of telecommute (work from a cafe or public place) sometimes when I need to work on an individual task that requires some creativity or sustained concentration. Changing my physical environment from time to time also seems to help stimulate creative juices. During those times, the office environment can be detrimental.

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I hate working in an office, I don't know why I've been trying to find a small space to rent myself.

So far I'm loving working remotely when I can get the peace to do so - we have a 1 year old and my soon-to-be wife is out Monday-Friday. There's nothing better than making money while sitting in your house coat :-)

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Hiring a new employee to work remotely requires employers to give a lot of blind trust to someone that is a stranger. I think trust should be earned not given so I would not let someone start off by working remotely.

The company I work for has been burned several times by remote software consulting firms (some well regarded) that created garbage applications. They now require all work be done in the office, and (speaking on their behalf) the difference is very significant. Communication is the key to success, and remote work really complicates things unless you work hard to have a great communication infrastructure in place.

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