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Fog Creek’s Remote Work Policy (fogcreek.com)
91 points by MattRogish on Sept 13, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 124 comments

"You still have stuff like chat, commit messages, code reviews, cases, Trello boards, etc. Be a little paranoid for this time about showing your work. It will help you feel good about your time, and us feel good about granting it."

Run through a de-weaselizer, this reads:

"Be a good little pet, and do an extra set of tricks when we take you out to the park, so you feel good about running around in the park and we feel good about granting you the privilege to go out once a week."

Yeah, bullshit. Place where I work operates on a culture of complete trust, period. Example: Once, a guy on my team had to go to his parents' house out in the country and was stuck with a slow internet connection. No problem, he did some stuff, stuck it out for as much as he could and then shelved it. I bet he enjoyed his time there much more than he would have sitting in a bunch of chatrooms anyway, and he did it on company time. He was much happier when he came back, and probably did twice the usual amount of work when he did on average.

As his co-worker who was working when this guy was at his parents' house, did I feel slighted or angry at him? No, for heaven's sake -- he was seeing his family, and enjoying a few choice, uninterrupted hours with them. Webapps can fucking wait. I was perfectly happy doing his share of the work.

The culture in the American software industry glorifies ass-in-seat hours (directly or indirectly -- this notion of "exhibiting your productivity" is just another version of ass-in-seat hours) at a cost to actual productivity, happiness, and general well-being by waving the distant promise of some sort of vague payout in front of you, and getting you to constantly compete with your co-workers at "putting in more time". Reject this sort of rubbish unconditionally if you have even the slightest choice.

I feel like these rules are direct results of frustrations experienced in real life and trying to put them down in a shared manner.

I know, because I've experienced about 70% of these frustrations. I usually ignored them, and thought "whatever, I'm sure things are fine," and then I realized my views of remote work are impacted negatively by these slight annoyances.

Maybe if people had that slightly better headset, or a connection that doesn't piss you off due to choppiness, hey, maybe it would make things work better. I think it might help. These aren't bad suggestions taken at face value.

Codifying them as rules is a bit harsh-sounding I agree, but it seems like they're just Things That Work, and in the sense of Paying People Real Money For Doing Things, they might as well be Things That Work, and not things that are just annoying and less functional, even if, as you say, in the unmeasurable ways they are beneficial (which I still think is true).

It sounds like they're not trusting people. I don't like that part, and I don't think it's effective to reduce autonomy like this. Maybe they need to work on the wording, or the philosophy, I don't know.

They aren't a bad set of suggestions (although apart from the headset bit, the rest are fairly obvious and I try to implement them anyway while working remotely. Yeah, I need a decent up bandwidth for Google Hangout. Where do I sign up for the newsletter?)

What I don't like is making them into a "remote work policy" rather than "here are some things which might make your remote work more smooth for your team". That basically means (as you said) that there is a lack of trust amongst your team members. And lines like the suggestion to "Over-communicate and over-deliver." are just plain Microsoft-management-style bullshit which prevents anyone who is actually working remotely from enjoying their day.

> Maybe they need to work on the wording, or the philosophy, I don't know.

Probably both, the post would be pretty good as a set of suggestions without the hubris, and if they actually gave technological suggestions that you might not know off the bat. A set of scripts that makes remote VPN login seamless and smooth? Perfect. A set of things that sounds like Captain Obvious combined with some pseudo-motivational nonsense from an IBM manager training session? Probably not so much.

clearly you've never had a coworker that pitched a fit when it was pointed out that watching his kids (and trying to hold meetings over their screaming and racing around) is many things, but work it ain't

Yeah I feel like these rules were the result of someone who ruined it for everyone. Trust has to go both ways.

> Maybe if people had that slightly better headset, or a connection that doesn't piss you off due to choppiness

As a remote worker: I wish my main office wouldn't use shitty conference speaker phones and actually had an internet connection half as fast as I do. :-)

(Seriously, just today I sat through a WebEx conference call with six people in the room and six people online--all our devs are remote--and ghhhhh mumble mumble mumble ghhhh was the order of the day.)

As Fog Creek's first full time remote employee[0], I fully disagree with your assumption. Coming from Fog Creek, that statement has no weasel words in it, it's a genuine sentiment.

Back when I was working for the company on site, my father had his leg broken by an out of control snow boarder right before Thanksgiving. When I was home for the holiday, I realized he needed help around the house, so I asked to work remotely for a week to help him out. Joel and Michael gave me the time and told me to do whatever work I could, but not to worry if it was less than usual. I fully expected to sacrifice a vacation day or two, but they made it clear that wasn't necessary, even though I spent half of my time helping my father.

And what did I do while I was working? I wrote longer commit messages, checked in on chat, and updated my Fog Bugz cases because I didn't want to feel like I was taking advantage of my company's generosity.

It's also important to remember, in most industries, trust like this is totally unheard of. We are very fortunate to work in an industry where it is a more common practice.

[0] I left the company about 18 months ago to pursue my own startup.

It's also important to remember, in most industries, trust like this is totally unheard of. We are very fortunate to work in an industry where it is a more common practice.

You should probably work in more industries. There are plenty of industries where workers have to roam (like high end sales or service) and have to be able to manage their own time effectively.

Roaming, if I understand what you mean by that correctly, is not necessarily the same as working from home. My dad works in sales and travels a lot. He's got to get from point A to point B, and they might be separated by over a hundred miles. And he might have to do that a few times a day and definitely a few times a week. So his time management, although technically under his authority, is really dictated almost completely by where he has to be.

Both sales and service completely lack the trust I'm talking about. There's even more oversight and micromanagement. Are you making your numbers? Are you doing the required number of cold calls per day? Do we need to take away some of your territory?

And there are pleanty of industries where you have to clock in at the start of the day so they can record exactly when you start working.

I think the concern though is that the policy doesn't tie with the attitude you have experience of. The company I work with wouldn't have a problem with me going somewhere and finding video didn't work, so stepping down to audio, then IM. And if that wasn't sufficient, then not booking the hours. Having to Google Hangout with some random where you've booked a room is virtually saying don't bother asking to work remotely.

I'd rather pursue my own startup than have to do Google Hangout checks everywhere!

This is clearly targeted at more permanent remote work. Shorter stints are much easier to work around.

Thanks for a better perspective on the situation.

Your case does sound like a fairly decent work-at-home case, which would have turned out around the same at the place I work. And you working half as often, but a lot harder also tallies with the things I said.

I guess the only things I had a problem with from my original comment are:

a) Putting it into policy that workers have such-and-such a setup. People who work in this industry tend to resent rules and replace them with common sense. I mean, sure, if a person is not getting a good connection or a decent headset, talk to them. Don't make it into a bloody policy document that is fodder for HR.

b) It should be an implicit gesture of faith on your part and trust on theirs that you worked harder for the short time you were working remotely. Having it spelled out in policy like that somehow makes it feel rotten.

a) Fog Creek doesn't have an HR department. At most, it's been the two office managers dealing with incoming resumes, booking travel for candidates, and scheduling interviews.

b) If you step back and imagine taking a non-cynical view of this, it really is just a simple suggestion. "We've found everyone's happier if you try to do this." Add to that the fact that it is under the huge header that begins with "Suggestions..." and you might actually believe it is a suggestion, not a policy.

Stockholm Syndrome obviously, right guys?

Clearly. That's the only explanation for a happy employee with such terrible rules.

In your opinion would it be safe to assume employee morale at Fog Creek is low due to working in such an obviously tyrannical environment?

Employee morale at my local McDonald's is tremendous. They also have tons of these micro-managey rules. Does that mean you would instantly want to work there?

Well, if I was working at a low morale Taco Bell, then yeah, I think I would want to work at your local McD's.

Otherwise, asking someone who works in technology if they want to work in fast food is kinda pointless.

> Well, if I was working at a low morale Taco Bell, then yeah, I think I would want to work at your local McD's.

Yes, if you work in the industry equivalent of a low morale Taco Bell (dunno, Oracle?), Fog Creek sounds like a great place to work.

Ok, I'll bite. I work in a place with high morale and I'd still LOVE to work for Fog Creek.

I've used Fogbugz for years, have been a fan of Joel Spolsky's writing, and I'm pretty familiar with what he has strived to achieve with his company in terms of creating a great work environment for developers. From everything that I know of Fog Creek, it is a good place to work.

Oh the self confidence of the young. You'll cringe some day.

> Does that mean you would instantly want to work there?

I really don't understand the point you're trying to make. Personally, I don't prefer micromanagement, but it doesn't make me unhappy if other things are being run productively.

> Personally, I don't prefer micromanagement, but it doesn't make me unhappy if other things are being run productively.

What is this I don't even. So you don't prefer to be micro-managed, but you're fine if other people are? It doesn't work that way. This is a pervasive company culture. Either your company has these rules and everyone is micromanaged, or no-one is.

Hows about you stop and consider that you don't know everything, go back and read what was said in the thread, and think it over again.

At the very least, you have poor reading comprehension. You are not trying to understand what I'm saying, you are deliberately taking the worst interpretation of what I've written, to the degree that you're literally attributing to me things that I didn't even say.

Humility, civility, understanding, thoughtfulness, etc are very valuable and somewhat rare traits in the technology industry.

I would assume the nature of the staff naturally adjust to the nature of this kind of micromanagement.

People who don't need/want this bullshit leave, don't get hired or decline, people who need hand-holding stay.

Management-style is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is not a tyrannical environment. A tyrannical environment is one that makes you clock off to go to the bathroom.

At some point firms grow from "Trust everyone" to people wanting to know what the shared expectations are. This appears to be an attempt to define what the shared expectations are.

As teams and companies grow larger they typically get dumber and become more focused on increasingly more trivial issues. It's the classic "streetlight effect". It's always easier to prioritize things that are easier to measure or more highly visible even when those things are fundamentally less important.

> I bet he enjoyed his time there

We call this "vacation". Our leave policy is plenty generous to take things like this into account (unlimited sick, unlimited unpaid, and 4-5 weeks paid).

This policy is about long-term remote work. For short-term things like that, it's not worth the hassle of working at all.

The problem is not about the other person enjoying vacation. Its about you not being able to enjoy your work day because of their absence.

Read my comment again. I did not mind working a little extra because my co-worker had a bit of a problem with a slow internet connection when he was working remotely. I was confident he would more than make it up later. I did enjoy my work day in spite of his absence.

This seems like a lot of rules... and kind of unfriendly. Especially for just a short stint working remotely.

Whats the worst that could happen if one of the workers has a less than ideal setup while temporarily working remotely for a few days? Would it really affect company outcomes? If not, I think developer happiness would be improved by having a more laissez-faire attitude from management.

If you ever own a company and you find yourself writing a salary check to somebody who you suspect did jack-shit all week - it's kinda amazing how difficult it is to not go into Ebeneezer Scrooge mode. Even if you know that people are not "on" 24/7. It can be tough to walk by somebody's desk and see them screwing around on Facebook instead of working - when you are the guy writing the checks. It takes a lot of faith. This is the same whether they are working on site or remote. It's easy to talk a big talk about what a generous boss you would be - but it is very different when you are responsible for meeting payroll week after week. I would challenge anybody to try it.

Joel's rules strike me as a little more specific than necessary, but I can very much relate to his feelings. I have experienced devs "working from home" who disappear all day and hold up the whole team because we can't find them to ask a quick question. The point is that when you say you are on the clock - then you should be working. I personally wouldn't care so much about the exact specifics of your internet connection or whatever. But, if you tell me that you're working then I expect that you're actually at your computer working and not laying by the pool or playing video games.

It's equally easy to say that you'd just fire somebody who you did not trust to work at home with no rules. But, as with many things, it's easy to take this hard line approach with your imaginary company and theoretical employees - quite another thing in reality though. Some people are very productive but maybe not so disciplined. A few sensible rules and expectations can prevent problems.

Somebody not actually working at work could be due to many different factors. Yes one could be that they are lazy and half-assing their job, but it also could be that they just aren't motivated. Maybe they don't feel connected with their job. Ideally, an employee is motivated to to a good job for reasons other than its a daily grind and its what they have to do.

The HR industry terms this "Employee Engagement." If I had to guess, Fog Creek has quite a few "disengaged" employees.

Absolutely a great manager will inspire and motivate the team,. But, it is called "work" for a reason. Its a two way street. The employee has to put forth some effort as well. Your manager is not there to entertain you. At the end of the day you are there to work.

To me this isn't about seeming friendly or unfriendly, it's about defining boundaries of what is vacation time and what isn't. It's about saying "No, what you're doing isn't working from home, it's vacation. Don't feel guilty about not getting anything done, just go and have a break." Compare that to being fuzzy about it - you're not really having a decent break (because you're trying to get work done) and you're not getting any work done (because your 8 year old niece is pulling on your shirt, your brother wants to go golfing and your dad has the TV up extra loud).

That's why a good manager should define goals of things that need to get done. As long as the goals are being met, management should allow their developers the freedom to choose their own work environment and hours, within reasonable bounds. Demanding that your employees have headsets at home is called micromanaging.

>>That's why a good manager should define goals of things that need to get done.

Good managers are nearly extinct species, whom you encounter once in a while in years. The remainder get to become managers by their political work and a results oriented work environment is something they will never build. Because if we were to measure progress by results, those managers will be the first to be fired.

>>As long as the goals are being met, management should allow their developers the freedom to choose their own work environment and hours

Their goals are very different than our goals. The goal of leaders is to produce results. The goal of management is to keep the wheels running, regardless of whether the running produces any results.

A good manager is automatically a leader.

But it's not! If you're trying to maintain the communication benefits offered by an office structure, while also allowing WFH, his reasoning is actually pretty good. Laptop speakers are annoying, and hearing every key stroke from your laptop's keys is even worse. A headset is not even $20 - and a directional clip-on mic is even less.

Further, their goal is to encourage good work/life separation even when working from home. If you can't maintain that separation, it seems FogCreek would rather you clock it up to 'life' time than blur the lines. That's just good management - working with distraction is going to result in poor output. Goal oriented management in this scenario, particularly when this may not be a normal part of the workers routine, could result in stress and poor work. Far better that if you can't have a good work environment then you just take a break and increase your output when you get back.

Yeah, it's an insane number of rules. (is video chat required? why video chat?)

Down the page they mention The burden is on you to show that you’re being productive. -- that just sounds outright authoritarian and demeaning. Strict policies calling people out as "do this ... or else" don't exactly engender trust.

I think they cover most of our complaints in the poorly worded Known availability and overlap with your team section.

Most places have three levels of "work from home." There's full speed "work from home" where you're getting more done because you're not distracted by office shenanigans. There's half speed "work from home" where you're not plowing through, but you're keeping up with all communications/chats and fully available if anybody needs you. Then there's fill-in-the-gap "work from home" where you're checking into work systems in the morning, getting some things done, going to an intermediate step in the middle [an appointment at the house, going to a doctor on the way to work at 11am, going to the DMV at 10:30am], then going into the office for the rest of the day.

I think they're saying all of the above is okay, just communicate what your availability will be up front (which seems to go against their other policies of "work in a nuclear fallout shelter away from all distractions and you better have no other responsibilities at the same time either — we own you").

> Yeah, it's an insane number of rules.

I think this is hyperbole. They all basically boil down to: if you work from home, please work from home. And keep in touch.

I work from home. As a rule, the best-running projects are those with daily video meetings. The 2nd best involve phone calls. The worst involve emails.

Faces have enormous bandwidth. Voices a bit less. Email has bugger all for the things that matter.

As a rule...for you and your team. Companies like this don't pay developers for face-time, BS meetings just to "check in" (which is the vast majority of all face-to-face meetings), and so on. They pay us for our expertise in writing software or doing other similar technical work.

If a company offered me the choice between working from home under the conditions listed for Fog Creek or not working from home at all, I'd choose the latter and consider option c) quitting to obtain employment with a company that recognizes I'm not in kindergarten anymore, and don't care to be treated like I am.

> Companies like this don't pay developers for face-time, BS meetings just to "check in" (which is the vast majority of all face-to-face meetings), and so on. They pay us for our expertise in writing software or doing other similar technical work.

They pay us to make business problems go away. It just so happens that our tool for that is usually software.

A major insight of agile methods is to put the developers close to the coalface, because infrequent or indirect contact leads to the wrong thing being built.

I frequently find while working with customers that we have entirely different mental models of the project. And I only find that out because I am constantly asking them questions about their business.

Working from home also means: less stress because you don't have to be constantly "on" and playing the visibly social game eight hours a day (or pretending certain morons in the office aren't morons), slightly less availability (or non-interruptable availability on your schedule, not theirs) to get more focused work done, and no pants.

Perhaps "insane number" is wrong. I probably meant "insanely specific requirements."

The 1 wasn't even running to rector st this evening, so I couldn't get to work even if I wanted to.

if you work from home, please work from home.

Do they have a "if you work in the office, please work in the office" list of rules?

My experience has been that most people "working" in an office aren't working at all for the overwhelming majority of their day. But that's just office life and it's just the way it is. Marissa Mayer wants everyone in the office because she wants to set a "good" example: businesses like Yahoo absolutely depend upon vacuuming away the activities of people sitting in droll offices.

An explicit one? No. But it's not needed, because there's a social pressure to be working. People can see you not working in the office. But if you're at home, no one knows if you're not working. So some guidelines are put in place.

I get the same unfriendly feel from this piece, but I guess this is a company in transition from not allowing remote work at all to allowing it now. Hopefully, as it becomes more common, they will relax the rules a bit.

Indeed, this piece was obviously written by a bunch of greenhorns.

For their sake I hope they take some of the sage advice offered in this thread from the numerous people who have run profitable businesses with multiple employees for several years.

How is this a lot of rules? As far as I can see, it boils down to three:

1. Be able to communicate with your team.

2. Have a place where you can work, distraction free.

3. Get approval from your team lead. (This one barely counts, since the answer would never be no.)

> 2. Have a place where you can work, distraction free.

From working remotely for the last year, I've found that basically any table is a fine remote work spot for me. Kitchen table, Starbucks, whatever. I have learned that I don't get appreciably distracted by ambience or even really by light conversation[1] (unless doing something particularly out-of-the-ordinary in terms of difficulty, in which case it's lock-the-doors time); if I did have concentration issues, don't you--y'know--think that I wouldn't do the things that triggered them. Because I'm an adult and I'm competent? The assumption that people aren't is why, to me, these edicts read as kind of wacky.

[1] - Hell, I'm getting a coworking space because I find that that ambience and that light social friction makes me better at what I do. =)

#3 then becomes the worst kind of rule, one that is no only under unanticipated circumstances which are not going to be covered by rules, by definition.

Seems targeted at people who are remote long-term. Maybe a little more reasonable in that light. But for short-term people,

>Approval from your team lead. Basically, just tell someone well in advance if you’re going to be altering your work arrangement, temporarily or permanently.

seems counterproductive. Sometimes problems come up and you suddenly need to be at home tomorrow to meet the cable guy, who has committed to come between 6 AM and 9 PM, but will only be there for 15 minutes.

I think "approval" is less formal than you might imagine for a company like Fog Creek and most startups. Sending a quick email to let the person in charge know that you're going to be some place unexpected is totally reasonable.

Your point is right on, but I think Fog Creek has been around long enough to no longer be considered a startup.

Then why call it approval?

Well the real reason is FogBugz doesn't know how to predict productivity for remote workers.

Seem like too many rules for you?

Use this as a reminder about why it's important to ask probing questions whenever you interview for a job. Find out what the culture is like and if it is a good fit for you. I know several developers who thrive with the environmental conditions listed here and would love having the company have rules to enforce these conditions. I also know several developers who would burn out.

It's vitally important to find something that's a good fit for you. No need to hate on their rules if it works for their team.

Edit: Also, if you don't like this list, what would rules does your team have in place to ensure an effective, productive remote work policy? Does it scale up with the team?

After looking at it again, it isn't a crazy number of rules (some are overly demanding, like video chat), but the rules seem to exist because they are trying to codify behavior of people not completely gelled into their teams.

When I've worked with teams where everybody gets along, there's always updates or chats flying around with everybody telling everybody else when and where they'll be doing what for how long without any guidelines, prompting, or pompousness.

Video chat seems trivial, but we found out the hard way it's pretty important for team communication.[0] Think of all the impromptu meetings you have on site, just popping into someone's office to ask them about something, pulling someone else in, and ending up having an important design discussion. It's much harder to do in a chat room.

[0] As mentioned elsewhere, I was Fog Creek's first full-time remote dev.

Yay for context switches. Because we all know how much developers love being interrupted for something that is probably documented - if it isn't probably should be.

>at Fog Creek, it’s sort of assumed that everyone’s working steadily and diligently. In the absence of new information, the assumption is that you’re producing.

Well that's a dumb assumption. The managers at Fog Creek don't do code reviews, don't look at commit logs, don't look at the features that developers have built? They just assume that everyone is being productive because they are in the office.

>When you step outside the HQ work environment, you should flip that burden of proof. The burden is on you to show that you’re being productive.

At my job productivity is shown by the code I commit and the features I build, not the time that I visibly appear to be typing away at my keyboard. Apparently Fog Creek does it a little differently. I'm glad I don't work there.


It’s because a few normal ways of staying involved (face time, informal chats, lunch) have been removed.

From experiences of my own and from stories of my co-workers', this is the most brutal part of WFH. It takes a lot more of yourself to work diligently when you're alone and don't get the same face time, and this is about, frankly, stating how to achieve the same advantages in the next best way. Your co-workers may not know how to get that face-time back from you either; you need to initiate.

> The managers at Fog Creek don't do code reviews, don't look at commit logs, don't look at the features that developers have built?

Correct. The only managers are the founders and maybe one other person. Everyone else is part of a dev team. The managers trust the teams to do what they need to do.

> At my job productivity is shown by the code I commit and the features I build, not the time that I visibly appear to be typing away at my keyboard.

What gives you the impression that anyone is counting time at the keyboard? Having been both an on-site employee and the first remote dev, I can tell you it was very much about getting your code written, nothing more.

After decades of successful remote work on both sides of the paycheck, I find this recent trend pushing against it with formality and micromanagement pretty revolting. There are jobs that require specifically to-the-second availability called "customer service agent" or "receptionist," and timeliness is their whole point of existing and they pay a lot less which tells me that just being there isn't worth all that much.

Otherwise, wherever and whenever you're working, you should be judged on the outcome of those projects for which you're responsible, nothing else. If collaboration is required, your smart people (you hire people that are smarter than you in their field right?) will know they need to deliver their best in order to keep their jobs so they will work it out themselves. How that's going to happen, whether if it means getting together in an office, temporary conference room, Skype, or google hangout they probably know more options than you do. If you want to reasonably keep status on them, hold a standup once a day. Anything regularly beyond that specifically for no other purpose than management is telling them that you don't trust them and therefore they shouldn't trust you.

This reads like yet another autocratic, micro-managing HR document. "Have a room with a door that shuts." Seriously?

How about this: hire smart people you trust, give them whatever tools and support they need to do their jobs most productively, then get out of the way.

One co-founder of Fog Creek has this to say, as a goal for the company [1]:

"* great work environment, with the goal of every engineer having an office with a door that closes"

And, in an oft-cited "Joel Test" [2]:

"8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?"

Furthermore, the company itself says [3]:

"The average Fog Creek developer has 694 square inches of screen real-estate, 2 desktop computers, and an Aeron chair. Most have private offices with windows and doors."

Googling for "Joel on software door that shuts" will turn up similar results.

A shutting door is clearly important to the management, remote or no.

[1] http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000038.html

[2] http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000043.html

[3] http://fogcreek.com/about/

From reading the comments in this thread, I don't think very many people in this thread know who Joel Spolsky is.

Or the alternate explanation, most of the people in this thread disagree with Joel Spolsky. Given occam's razor and his fairly high profile, which is more likely?

Disagreeing with Spolsky's writing is one thing, but unless you've seen or heard a lot of Fog Creek employees calling it a horrible place to work, then I would say that any speculation about how horrible a place Fog Creek must be because of the tone and content of the OP would suggest that Mistermann is right.

> Given occam's razor and his fairly high profile, which is more likely?

I'll hazard a guess that you're "older", like me. I don't think Joel Spolsky has a high profile at all with forum active programmers, I mean, when did he drop out of public writing, it was many years ago.

At least to me, most of the criticism here is generally of the nature "you're wrong"....not subtle, considering the variety of things involved, just that programmers are, without exception, incredibly productive, and all work should be able to be performed asynchronously (or you're doing it wrong).

I just don't find the comments in this thread very reasonable, it seems like a bunch of young and very smart/competent kids assuming everyone is as smart and competent as them.

Do you get a sense of humility from very many of the comments here?

Fair enough, i certainly fit in the "older" category. I find it less than intuitive that those active here don't know the co-founder(and current CEO?) of Stack Exchange, or the team behind Trello. But i also accept I am not the target audience of HN and times perhaps have changed.

I also spent three years recently working for a company with < 10 employee's and no office, we all worked online from around the world. I don't think we followed any of the listed requirements. No video chat, no headsets(just text communication, same as how we developed open source software). Team members took care of their children whenever necessary and we did not have specific start/end times to our day. Some days i would take off for a 3 hour "lunch" (really an energizing ride through the mountains) and no-one ever asked about it. I believe they never asked because I was judged by my deliverables, little else mattered. We also didn't have any specific "work hours". Having team members from both coasts of America, Brazil, Bulgaria, Zimbabwe and the Philippines meant time of day meant rather little. Not having a specific start/end of my day often meant i worked much more than a 40 hour week, but it was a labor of love anyways.

Is he wrong? Hard to say, many different things work for different people. Is it right for me? Certainly not. Do the other people in this thread saying he's wrong believe they work better in alternate conditions to the ones proposed? Probably.

But what's the point of having a door if you're constantly chatting or video conferencing on Google Hangouts?

Rules like this usually exist because there were people who did the opposite at some time in the past. It's a simple enough requirement; isn't having it better than disallowing remote work, or disciplining someone for problems created by not having a door (kid runs in in the middle of a staff or client meeting) when no such requirement was previously specified?

I would say one of the tools required to be productive as a programmer is a focused work space. You can give that tool to people who come to the office. But if someone works from home, that's the one tool they have to provide themselves.

> "Have a room with a door that shuts." Seriously?

Yes. Seriously: http://www.dorsethouse.com/books/pw.html

> How about this: hire smart people you trust, give them whatever tools and support they need to do their jobs most productively, then get out of the way.

Good idea: http://www.dorsethouse.com/books/pw.html

I don't understand -- if you could give some rational, reasoned argument or study that shows that smart people are very less productive on an average if they are working remotely instead of repeatedly chanting the link to a book whose reviews read "Bill Gates has built a company full of managers who read Peopleware" (that is supposed to be a plus?), your argument might make more sense.

Firstly I was pointing to the origin of "a door that shuts". It's not an example of micromanagement, it's an example of a finding from a study performed by IBM that programmers in private offices were more productive on any measure.

Secondly I was pointing out that the same book also tells managers to recruit bright people, give them goals, enable their work, and then go away.

I suspect Peopleware is the most widely not-actually-read book in this industry.

Do you really think this is a literal rule?

"Can I work remotely?"

"Will you have a room to work in?"


"But does it have a door?"

"Well, no, it's a desk in the living room, but I'll be home alone all day."

"Sorry, no door, no remote work."

Consider, Fog Creek has spent substantial funds making sure that their on-site devs have offices with doors that close. Is it unreasonable, then, to expect a remote worker to have a distraction-free work environment?

Well said!

This is true old school thinking at its worst. If my employer is going to put up all these rules and barriers maybe I should put up a few of my own. I bet the managers or whatever they fancy themselves to be at Fog Creek have very little appreciation for all of the small yet tangible things that employees go out of their way to do for them. Things like answering important emails in the evening, especially when it is for a high profile client or partner. Staying late when critical bugs come up. Etc. I bet all that kind of stuff is just expected of the employees.

I'm just picking your comment at random out of this thread...do you know Joel Spolsky who runs Fog Creek? I'm reading all these critical comments in this thread and reconciling it in my head with what I know of him (from his extensive blogging and podcasting) and I'm thinking, have so many years passed that no one knows who this person is they're criticizing?

For example:

> I bet the managers or whatever they fancy themselves to be at Fog Creek have very little appreciation for all of the small yet tangible things that employees go out of their way to do for them.

I simply can't imagine any reasonable person who is familiar with Joel writing such a thing.

This blog post was not written by Joel, nor does not sound like Joel. I think the comments are justified; the blog post feels quite abrasive to me. It's a little hard to put my finger on it, but the repeated distinction between work and vacation is a bit grating. Contrast this with a company like Netflix that don't count vacation days, and that assume that it their job to ascertain the productivity of their employees. I don't know, the whole post just doesn't sit 'right' with me. It's sort of "I bust my gut for you, I even try to work while I'm visiting with family, and you put me down for not having a room with a door that shuts and tell me I'm on vacation?!? (expletive deleted)" That's probably not at all how it is as Fog Creek, but that's the feeling I get from this blog post. Probably just unfortunate wording.

>> Probably just unfortunate wording.

Yes. People sometimes spend too much time parsing tone of written text (hmm, I wonder why the OP talks about using video for face-to-face communication?).

I can't tell you how many times I've told people working for me to stop spending time parsing the tone of an email from a coworker or client and just pick up the phone and call them. Most of the time, any concerns with a poorly worded (or angry-sounding) e-mail are cleared up with a 2 minute conversation.

It's HR policy document! Which part of any HR documentation isn't abrasive?

Very well written negative critique.

I totally agree. Fog Creek are incredibly transparent, both internally and externally.

There are quite a few negative comments in this thread that I just can't understand.

Fog Creek are transparent on who earns [1]what. For those who have complained in this thread, I'd love to know how much more you are earning, and can I have a job there too!

[1] http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000038.html

I don't think anyone needs to know anything about Joel to criticize these policies. Having an opinion about Joel should really have no bearing on the discussion.

Certainly it does. If the tone of the message is inconsistent with his many years of writing, then you should suspect that there is a high possibility that the message came out wrong, or you misinterpreted it.

I worked from home exclusively for about 6 years (this year is the first time I've been back working at an office), and admittedly, my work almost never involved other people (except for clients, who are remote even if I was in an office, as the majority of the application testing I've done was remote testing), so I'm certainly outside of their demographic.

But the one thing which just seemed weird to read was that it gives the impression of everyone being constantly chatting and doing video calls at a moment's notice, which seems to run counter to the "give every developer their own office" and create a distraction-free environment for programmers. I think I would feel constantly interrupted working in that environment, which seems counter to Fogcreek's whole persona as a place that's "developer-oriented".

One of the biggest hypocrisy that exists here in India at least with regards to 'Remote Work' or 'Work From Home' policy is how late night and after office-hour work hours are handled.

While companies come up with all sorts of reasons to deny work-from-home during the day, they some how assume all those reasons(which they them self give) will magically vanish while employees reach home in the evening and now employees should be able to work late nights from home.

How does this work out? During the day you don't want employees to work from home, telling them they won't be productive and after office hours you expect them to be most productive while working from home?

I don't think I would enjoy the work environment here, and it's not because of the rules or whatever. Good development seems to me to be a very solitary activity. The more people you involve, the more friction you create, the more time and energy you burn in meetings, the more you end up arguing about things you really shouldn't be arguing about.

I'm the sole back-end Rails developer at my company and I like it that way. At my last job there was one other guy I could have been working with, but it was much faster just doing everything myself. (we weren't just coders) When I freelanced, I ended up having to run a front-end guy off a project because his work wasn't good enough and it was holding everything up. Once I redid his work the rest of the job went swimmingly.

I'm the kind of dev you can hand a vague idea to and leave me for three weeks and I'll come back with a finished project that's exactly what you were looking for and more. It just seems like that's the right way to make stuff, and I don't think I could work any other way anymore. I couldn't work at Fog Creek because I can just tell I wouldn't be half as productive there.

However, if you really "click" with another developer, you can achieve more than double one person's output by pair-programming (if you also take quality into account). This can't work by pairing any two developers arbitrarily.

Seems pretty micromanagey and harsh. Why so many rules? I work with tons of remote people and appreciate the headset and bandwidth requirements, but it could certainly be phrased better. How about like this: "All new hires are given a nice headset, please use it, no one likes static or echo."

I think these are reasonable expectations. Working remotely does not imply that you get to set the boundaries and rules of employment. It merely allows you to work from another place. I have been working remotely for the past 4+ years, and actually do so in the way they describe. I have an office with a door, do not babysit or have people around during work hours, let people know (family included) that I am at work, and make sure to communicate a lot with the team.

You can't take your child to a non-remote job, you can't have your friends or parents dropping by, and and can't isolate yourself from others. It is strange that working remotely would allow for those things. Not really. Less so when the work is programming. Which requires a good amount of concentration and quietness.

Their ideas are actually good but I think phrasing it in a tone of "do this or we will think you are a slacker" is counter productive. A better approach would be to say "if you are working from home, here are some ideas that we highly encourage to make your work environment better."

Good point. I did not think the tone would create that impression in others. One point in your feedback I might be confusing is the following. Seems that some people might believe that working remotely allows them other freedoms. Am I interpreting this incorrectly? If not, may you ( or another member) elaborate more?

Yes, working remotely allows many more freedoms. For example, you can work in your underwear if you want. You can play your music as loud as you like. Most rules a company may set for your home work environment can't really be enforced, so I think that by allowing an employee to work remotely you are automatically trusting them to get work done without supervision. If you feel you can't give them that trust, then don't let them work remotely.

i work from home and all the advice here is sensible, and describes how i work (except that you don't need that much upstream bandwidth for google meetup).

yet, as others have said, there's a bad vibe to this article. i do these things because they make sense for me. maybe they make sense for many others too. but what i expect from an employer is the trust that i will know what works for myself.

working from home depends completely on trust. if you need rules like these it sounds like you're either making bad hires, or you have control issues.

couldn't you replace them with: "you can work remotely, but it's your responsibility to make it work"? and if you really must, add "here are some things you should probably consider: good bandwidth; remote desktop access; time zones; ..."

As someone who works remotely, I think the really key things are institutional, rather than individual. They discuss moving everything to online, and that's essentially the biggest part of what you need. When "showing up to work" no longer includes going out to coffee in the mornings, but instead means logging onto the chat room and wishing everyone good morning, you've achieved a measurable step.

Isolated office space, all those things are nice to have, but without having everything available via TCP/IP, it's a nonstarter.

I've worked from many an airport that essentially fits none of these criteria without too many problems aside from reliable power supply - the nice thing about working remotely is that you can tune your environment to your own tastes.

I concur. I think another useful strategy is to treat all employees as remote workers even when at then office. This way there isn't as big a context switch and you can more effectively work from anywhere.

I actually don't think these rules are unreasonable at all for permanent remote work (though they seem a tad stringent for ad hoc temporary remote stints). I mean, is it seriously asking that much for you to get a good headset and have a room for working? Working from home at all is a tremendous privilege, and these strike me as relatively minor requests over the long run. If it was requested that you dress up, then yes, that would be ridiculous.

However, the tone of this post honestly sounds a little frustrated with remote work rather than supportive of it, and I think that is what is leading to the comments here. After reading this, my impression is the author doesn't trust remote developers (despite a claim to the contrary) and that he generally looks down on remote developers. I would worry that remote developers are not seen as first-class citizens of the developer ecosystem at the company.

In short, even though I agree with these rules for the most part, remote development is something that needs to either be rejected or embraced, not regulated. There's not much middle-ground, because that's going to lead to micro-management.

I was excited about reading this, but came away very very disappointed. I guess I was expecting Fog Creek to be a lot more gung-ho about working remotely and they weren't, but it wasn't just that, but the fact that they sounded the way the large companies I have worked with sound about remote arrangements ... like they're doing you a favor, instead of giving you a way to be awesome.

To be fair,I have never run a company of any appreciable size, so I really can't argue with the way Fog Creek chooses to run things (they know what works best for them) ... but it just left me a little dismayed because either all the aspirational ideas I have about work will eventually be dashed when I do get to a position to run a company of my own, and I'll have to write things like "The burden is on you to show that you’re being productive" in the company handbook or Fog Creek just stopped being a company I looked up to in terms of company culture, neither of which is good.

Fog Creek had a long standing no-remote policy. The first experiments to change that started about two years ago, when I moved away from New York and started working remote. They are still getting the hang of it, these policies seem to be another step in that process.

It's not just cheap internet access that has slow upstream. I have the second from the top tier of service from the fastest ISP in my area (a major and very affluent suburb of an extremely large US city) and my upstream is only 2mbps. Moving to the top tier, which costs over $100/mo, would only get me 4mbps. It's annoying for sure. But, that said, I do video conferences on a regular basis from my home office and it works perfectly fine. I feel like that guideline is both unrealistic in the US market, and also unnecessary.

I am just curious what is the impetus to all these rules. To me it seems the system has been abused until the management decided to define boundaries.

In fact, these rules make sense, to the point if one could be hired by FC, they have no reason not to know these. If rules need to be explicitly spelled out, I am worried the issue would be far more subtle than written rules can address. (hint: cancelling WFH by Yahoo)

I am. At least partly. I was the first remote dev at Fog Creek, and I can see very much where some of these rules came from.

There are essentially two main themes here. The first is communication. When I started work, we hadn't been doing video chats, since everyone was on site. A lot of communication happened in HipChat and everything else was either at the weekly stand-up or impromptu meetings between two devs. However, once someone is offsite, all of the in-person communication is cut off. This removes context from the chat rooms, and filling in that context over chat is often more difficult than just explaining it. In our case, this was compounded by us being forced to abandon our chat software to find a new system and going through two inferior systems, which cut me off even more from the teams. If regular video calls had been policy, it would have been much easier to work out the chat situation.

The second is distraction-free work environments. Early in my remote work, I went to visit my significant other in another country for several weeks, working remotely while she was at work. Unfortunately, there was a problem getting her internet installed before I got there, so I spent the first week working from a McDonald's (it had the most reliable wifi). I know my productivity suffered for it during that week. Fortunately, we got internet working and I had a better environment to work from after that.

I left the company about 18 months ago, but from what I understand, none of these policies are due to any intentional abuse of the system, but more from experience with the difficulties of remote work in a company that is used to having everyone on site.

As an IT worker with no possibility for remote work currently I would happily agree to this policy which other posters (who presumably do some remote work) seem so unhappy about.

No thanks. This is all completely the opposite of how I want to work and I would never ask my dev resources to work like this. I wouldn't employ anyone that thought this was all a good idea and can't think of a single high quality dev that would accept it.

I work remotely exclusive and the list present here doesn't seem that bad to me. I do feel it's a slight bugger to have to constantly ping someone that 'I'm here!'. The submitted commits and code reviews should be plenty for that.

The place I work has similar guidelines and we communicate via Skype instead of Google Hangouts - and it works very well. There has to be _some_ interaction between team members, otherwise you're just a code-spitting robot, no? I enjoy the daily meetings as it lets me see what everyone is up to and let's me share what I've been doing as well.

I guess I like working in a team that talks.

They pretty explicitly call out "chat, commit messages, code reviews, cases, Trello boards" as ways of pinging the rest of the team.

often, even though I normally work in my office, I will take a few hours to go work under a tree in a park. I used to worry a lot about my wifi hotspot situation but I've found that sometimes, not having the internet at all is good to get you ultra-focused on the task you are working on, especially when you've got your entire dev environment on your laptop. no coworker interruptions, no HN, no Twitter, not even if you wanted them. Also, being in real sunlight (although in the shade) & outside is great for the mind.

I think the only thing that would dissuade me from working at this company is the poor communication of these rules.

There is an easy way to communicate clear goals and principles without sounding passive aggressive and authoritarian. This writer obviously wasn't aware of it didn't care. I can handle high expectations. But I would be miserable somewhere where poor communication was the norm.

Seems ridiculously anal to me. Our only policy is:

a) Make sure your team knows where you're at.

b) Get the job done.

No approval, know anal micromanagement about how you do your job. If you can deliver whilst sitting in the garden watching the kids, kudos to you.

Not coincidentally, the same policy applies to working in the office...

I have been working remotely for 7 years now.

What made it possible:

1. Strict work hours - I must be online at 0900 and respond on IMs and such until 1800. You can work outside of that time if feeling like it and the occasional long lunch break is not a problem as long as you have a phone with you.

2. Fast broadband.

3. Dedicated room.

This sounds awful to me. I get that you're writing a paycheck and you want people to work, but that's got to get done on the hiring and firing end of things. Hire good workers. Fire people that don't work out.

>Be a little paranoid for this time about showing your work. It will help you feel good about your time, and us feel good about granting it.

The last section is just ridiculous imo. If someone is doing their job, you should know it. If they aren't doing their job, you should know that as well. Being paranoid about my job is not going to help me feel good about my time. Promise. It might make me start looking for a new place to work though.

Can someone explain to me why this page starts with a picture captioned "know thyself" of a cow reading a placard about cows? Just when I think it makes sense...no, I'm confused.

Because Reddit front page

I was Fog Creek's first full time remote dev. I left the company about 18 months ago to pursue my own company.

There seems to be some confusion and questions in this thread, so let's do this:

AMA (Ask Me Anything)

I'm kind of surprised that remote working issues haven't been completely solved at this point and it seems like there's still a big opportunity there to start a business in that space. There are a lot of cultural barriers there I think that still need to be overcome.

What if your company gave you 2 options: 1. Work in the office. 2. Work wherever you like, but let us install software on your computer that will monitor what you are doing at all times.

Would you be offended? Would you consider the work from home option?

Being able to participate in a video conference usually means at least 5 mbps up

Bollocks. Just bollocks.

All of these things make sense to me.

BTW are you guys using reportsfortrello.com yet? I think it would help with your "Team Awareness" rule since it allows you see all of the recent activities of other board members.

full disclosure: I created reportsfortrello.com.

Can anyone recommend a good wireless headset for this?

I found that a previous job where I could work remotely here and there, I was extremely productive. So much time is wasted on the getting ready to go out (more than just grabbing a shower and throwing on some jeans/shorts and a t-shirt), doing the half hour or more commute, "settling into the office" (chitchatting with your co-workers). And then I was ready to blow that taco stand by the end of day. While at home I tended to work longer hours and sometimes twice as productive.

But remote desktop just sucks no matter how fast your connection is.

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