Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Remote work eliminates the emotional content of the communication channel between workers.

That is bad for team cohesion and serendipitous collaboration. Humans have evolved a number of emotions that enable us to work together even when it's not in our immediate self-interest: guilt and shame to realize when we've hurt somebody else and discourage us from doing it again, excitement to pick up on and pile into promising ideas created by others, compassion to help out members of the group who have fallen behind, trust to suspend disbelief and commit to a direction without knowing exactly where it will take you. Teams that lack this communication channel tend to spin apart into little atoms each doing their own thing. Without feeding off each others' excitement, there's little common purpose. Without compassion, it's easy for some workers to fall behind and slow everyone down. Without trust, the team can never take on a goal where the outcome is uncertain or unknown at inception time.

Status-signalling is a byproduct of this emotional communication channel. It's people gaming the system to generate the emotions that the group needs to function without actually doing the work.

I'd love to see remote work become viable too, but it needs a viable way of solving the "presence problem", the need for emotions to come through remotely as well as pure factual information. Without that, you throw the baby out with the bathwater. I looked into this when I was searching for startup ideas recently, but all technologies I could think of were easily 5-10 years away from being viable.




I know it's not exactly a company, but the linux kernel (and other big open source projects) managed to do quite well with its "employees" being remote, which proves that a big project can be successful without face to face communication - and since you mention the emotional content of the communication, I'd say Linus is quite good at conveying that in his own way. IMHO the employees engagement to the project can be inversely proportional to the communication quality. If all the workers really believe in the project they are building, they won't need complicated process and will be fine working remotely and communicating by email. On the other hand, if the project is another cats picture sharing app...


Linus's big observation is that "debugging is parallelizable". Product development isn't, though - Linus had to release an operating system on his own before he could recruit volunteers to help with it. And many of the outside contributions come from corporations who would like to use/support Linux but need to modify or extend it in some way, and so they contribute the patch themselves.

There are big companies that work the same way. Cisco actively encourages employees to work from home. However, Cisco's product-development strategy is "buy startups that are already succeeding in the market", and so if you work at Cisco your job is generally bug-fixing and incremental improvements to existing products. If this is the sort of work you want to do, there are a bunch of options that will let you work remotely. I suspect that much of HN wants to develop new products though, and for them, empirically you need the team to be colocated in one location.


This really sounds like status quo bias to me. No one's going to tell you that face to face communication isn't an incredibly efficient medium, but that doesn't mean teams and companies built around remote work can't (and don't already) thrive. I would even hazard that your experience is possibly colored by the teams you've worked on and the companies you've worked for.


If there's a status-quo bias, it runs the other way. In college, I led a website rewrite with team members in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, France, and Australia, with the site owner in Florida. For my first startup, my cofounder and I usually worked remotely, though we were within driving distance so we could easily have meetings. I've worked on both distributed and colocated projects at Google.

My personal preference, as a developer, is for remote work. But when I look at what the team actually accomplishes, the level of creativity in its solutions, and how quickly it accomplishes them, a colocated team almost always beats the distributed one. There's an energy that you can get when everyone is in the same room that's impossible to replicate when they're 1000s of miles apart.

The cases where I think remote work can do fine is when you have a simple tool or interface that needs implementing, or if you're just trying to optimize one number (eg. performance of a library). These are the same situations you'd use a contractor for.


I won't deny that colocation wins in a ceteris paribus scenario - almost by definition. Remote staffing allows you to tip the scales in many situations though: companies outside of the top 3-5 big tech firms suddenly have access to great people they'd never get otherwise. How many colocated 95th percentile developers are equivalent to one remote Linus Torvalds?


for life like communication ,there's high quality telepresence that includes eye contact . does it lose the emotional element? how? and is it possible to add that element, by virtual reality ?




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: