I've worked in 4 very successful organization that were almost 100% remote work, the percentage of remote work employees by company, 98%, 99%, 92%, 98%.
These companies were no different than the 3 successful companies that didn't support remote work at all.
All 7 companies were process driven companies, with discipline. The processes were not overly complicated, nor bureaucratic in nature, but they were followed religiously. If the process wasn't working everyone still followed it, but the issues were raised and addressed quickly. Which meant everything worked and made sense.
I've worked at 4 unsuccessful companies 2 that were almost 100% remote, and 2 that were almost 100% not remote. What these 4 companies had in common was a lack of process, or discipline. Chasing the "next thing", blowing up schedules because "we need it now", zero planning. These companies need everyone in the same location because nothing is written down, everything is rumor, tribal knowledge is key and if you don't get to sit in a room and look at everyone to figure out the politics nothing works.
Bottom line is if you want to be successful you need to plan, have process and be disciplined in your approach to running the business. If you do these things managing remote employees is no different than having everyone in the same room. If however your company is a mess, trying to manage remote employees is next to impossible.
What do you mean by success? I have worked at three highly successful companies by the metric most people quantify success in a company - making lots and lots of money - and process at these companies was something of a joke.
I have also worked at companies that were highly successful and followed processes as you say religiously.
I haven't ever worked anywhere with a sizable remote worker employee pool though.
I think it might be more like what I read in a book about Hughes one time, that basically when he was at his craziest he was still making incredible amounts of money and the theory was that once you reach a certain size/power it takes on a life of its own and you continue to make money despite fucking up a lot - although one can see a lot of countervailing examples I think in a case of some of the companies I've been at simple economic inertia meant they still did well.
> and if you don't get to sit in a room and look at everyone to figure out the politics nothing works
This is actually a big problem in my experience, because remote workers are cut out of the "inner-circle of people" when office politics kick in. Face to face time helps networking a lot and creates much stronger ties than slack chats ever can.
Sure. And to get paid well you have to be given the opportunity to do work that matters. What you described is a perfectly valid way of doing office politics: being a no-bs person that people respect for the ability to get the job done and have canidid conversation with. But that's also politics.
> All 7 companies were process driven companies, with discipline. The processes were not overly complicated, nor bureaucratic in nature, but they were followed religiously. If the process wasn't working everyone still followed it, but the issues were raised and addressed quickly. Which meant everything worked and made sense.
That sounds like a strict requirement for remote work to work, and intuitively so. In your experience, how was the training done for less experienced IC ?
I’m just as curious about how the managers were trained to be process-driven. Manager behavior seems to me just as if not more important than IC behavior here.
Since managers have power, and engineers usually don’t personally know their skip levels, managers can easily replace async documented process with lovely hours-long face-to-face 20-person meetings. And they can silence dissent! They can wreak havoc in a way no IC could ever do.
> replace async documented process with lovely hours-long face-to-face 20-person meetings.
This has been a particular pain-point for me at times. Example: two meetings with the same team members on two connected subjects of about 45mins to an hour in length, spaced half an hour apart when they could easily be combined. That's just in one day. There are others that have mirrored those throughout a week. The meetings don't need to be as long as they are, but they're scheduled for that long and the rest of the time is often filled with awkward chit-chat. But it fills the manager's calendar slots so that they appear effective, even if a lot of time is being squandered. Add on all the frustration of the back and forth across floors, wandering the halls looking for a meeting room that isn't double-booked or waiting on people to vacate rooms, etc etc.
IC time is more directly controlled this way. Occasionally it makes sense, but the amount of duplication is, at times, staggering and can be frustrating.
We had a client one place I worked that liked to schedule 1-2hr meetings, never bring up the topic at hand, and then the three or four folks from their company would just chat things through on the phone with one another, mostly unrelated to anything we could conceivable influence or care about, while we sat there twiddling our thumbs. This was probably a majority of their irregularly scheduled meetings. One or more of us would get roped into one of these every week or two. A couple of their folks also liked to schedule 30min calls with 3-4 people in response to Slack questions that should have been answerable in under 5min (total time spent, not necessarily within 5min, not everyone's always ready to respond on Slack at the drop of a hat) with no phone call. I strongly suspect they had a culture that rewarded their middle managers for having calendars full of meetings, with no regard whatsoever for whether the meetings accomplished anything.
I don't know why this comment was downvoted for trying to provide clarity, because I too, started scanning OP's reply in search of a meaning for that acronym that appeared from thin air. If someone disagrees then they should simply state what they think is the correct definition. But in my opinion this comment contributes value by making it clear that not everybody is familiar with this jargon.
In my experience, tribal knowledge is the biggest issue. Some people (and teams) hold on to critical pieces of information and treat it as political and social currency in order to climb the ladder. You know the type: they might casually drop hints that they are in-the-know, or humbly brag about having been made privy to certain important information. This tends to build up their perceived image in the workplace, as everyone starts to see them as an influencer and gatekeeper, and try to gain their favor.
Good processes, specifically those that favor radical transparency, are a good way of getting in front of these types of issues, and are especially important for making remote setups work well.
There's an old adage that headquarters is wherever the CEO works. Most major corporate headquarters moves are to be closer to wherever the CEO calls home. Taking that adage to its literal extreme there will only ever be 99% remote companies as effectively the corporate headquarters is still the CEO's home. Though of course the adage isn't meant to be taken solely literally, and its more just a lens into a power relationship, and even a "majority remote" company may still need (or unintentionally build) the power of a headquarters on paper. (Maybe not directly to make the CEO happy, but accountants for tax reasons, shareholders for accountability reasons, or other reasons.)
Seems like it would depend on role distribution. If all the senior leadership work from an office together and everyone else is remote, I'd call that office the headquarters regardless of employee percentage.
Even a 92% remote-working company would seem to me to be functionally indistinguishable from a 100% remote work company. You still need to have the processes and practices in place to support an almost entirely remote team.
I wonder why most companies can't operate separate teams with these different flows? The "we need it now" crew having their own team who tries to line up dev with the upcoming, etc? I can understand needing functionality "urgently" - in an agile manner, however that will certainly have more costs short-term and potentially long-term if cutting corners.
Very well put. My current company falls in the category of tribal knowledge. It's chaos :). People work 10 hours a day with more than 4 hours of meetings and nothing gets done. People at all levels delegate work downward and setup meetings to get 'status'.
The only thing holding back remote work is leadership's ego. Remote is cheaper, more productive and healthier yet there's something about walking through an open office and not seeing a buzz of activity that makes leadership feel like nothing is happening.
I work on a software project where I was the only dev, with a scrum master, 2 BAs, and 3 project managers. Along with 4 representatives from Business. It's an absolute nightmare!
Recently another dev joined me, but so did about 6 other non devs, I don't even know what they so.
This is all to deliver a software feature.
I feel I strongly need to get a new job...
Someone cry for me.
Funny thing is that in the beginning of agile, scrum master was hardly a dedicated position, it was more of a role.
But then, agile at that time was a movement by developers, now it became the turf of project managers.
As a former software eng. who has been on the management side for a few years, I am quite ambivalent about remote work, and I find most arguments for it a bit naive. For example, the idea that the manager schedule is built around taylorism is not true IMO. I have never seen a single senior manager who do not have their life consisting mostly of 30 / 60 / 90 mins slots in my life, and I have worked in very technical environments, e.g. where the average engineer had a PhD.
First, to let it out of the way: yes, you can definitely have remote teams which work very well and produce high quality products. In my experience, those have the following characteristics: clear and fairly technical product definition (e.g viz software which are built for scientists), excellent teams with no bad performer, and healthy business environments.
The problem is when at least some of those conditions are not met:
1. Most organizations are dysfunctional in some ways. Product and engineering are not aligned, or there are constant re-organizations, lack of ownership. It is extremely challenging for managers to improve this situation if everybody is remote, because communication is your main tool here, and doing so remotely is even more difficult. My experience in those situations is that face to face discussions are the most effective tool to untangle the mess.
2. When things go south (e.g. you lose a big client, etc.), it is almost always the case that people will start to find teams / people to blame. Executives have shallow information, and most will rely on what is available to them (kind of availability bias, but for people instead of ideas). Remote teams will be at a disadvantage.
3. When your team is not very good, or not very experienced, it is very difficult to improve their skills remotely. First, being remote means you lose a lot of very useful information, such as "do they often talk to other people when they are stuck". Instead of observing how people act, you have to ask, which paradoxically means more interruption.
Generally, my sense is that remote-first work is quite fragile, or said differently, is an unstable equilibrium. As soon as things go badly, it is much harder to fix things. As long as everything goes well, it may well be more efficient though.
> Hiring and working from all over the world instead of from a central location.
Am I naive to think that the legal requirements of complying with all of the world's labor laws and tax reporting (w.r.t to income) would outweigh any benefit of the increased productivity of remote work? I could see this crippling any fledgling startup attempting to bootstrap, and only see those backed with massive VC cash being able to do this.
The hand-wavy way that this gets done is that everyone is a 1099 contractor or owns their own "business". That's great for the company, as it pushes alot of bullshit to the employee (payroll tax, benefits, etc). It's great, that is, until it isn't because many of these independent contractors aren't really independent at all, and the tax and labor authorities will be less than amused.
the problem is not that false choice between employee and contractor, but that there is no choice. when employer and employee are in two different countries, then employment is not an option.
neither can the employers country force the company to get a work visa for the "employee", nor can the employees country force the employer to open a legal entity in the country. the only thing the employees country can do is to make it hard for the "employee" to work as an independent contractor.
or both countries can set up an international agreement to deal with this situation.
the company is not trying to get around the law, and presumably most, or all who for example work for gitlab in the US are employees. most likely in europe too, since a single company is enough to cover the whole european union so it's likely that they set one up. they are not employees in countries where there are to few people to make it worth setting up a local company.
This is a big one, but don't forget about Worker's Compensation.
When your "contractor" gets hurt when working/travelling/etc at your direction, the "contractor"'s health or auto insurer will likely figure out that the contractor meets the test to be an employee and will pursue action against the company.
Contractors essentially need to be entirely piecework - I am paying you to accomplish this task, by this date, end of story. If the employer attempts to impose conditions on how the work is done, or when it is done (in terms of working hours, etc) then those are characteristics which point towards the contractor actually being an employee of the company.
The difference between an employee and an independent contractor isn't an arbitrary choice that the company and worker can contract as they wish.
If the de-facto nature of the interaction is that of an employee, then (mis)classifying that as a contractor relationship is generally illegal; the specifics depend on the jurisdiction (which is especially tricky if you have people in many jurisdictions) but it may be considered tax fraud because you're not reporting/paying taxes in the way employment requires, it may be considered violation of worker's right laws, etc.
If you're treating your remote workers as independent contractors, then you have to treat them as independent contractors - i.e. they can sell their services also to other employers at the same time, they can set their own hours, they can choose how they achieve the goals and possibly (this may depend on location) subcontract their work instead of doing it themselves, etc.
True, but you can still get in trouble with this if the relationship is too employment like, just now you have two revenue agencies to deal with, so your particular situation will very much depend on those two countries and treaties between them.
Contracts are a matter of contract law, but your relationship with the revenue agency is not bound by that contract.
I am not a lawyer but I do have some experience in this. So, as I understand it if one or both country's agencies decide it is actually an employer/employment relationship they may decide withholding was done/not done in the wrong place, or invalid tax credits etc. were claimed and may assess penalties for that on top of wanting the amounts back. It can also complicate things like VAT collection, etc.
(i appreciate your response, and i do not want to appear to pick your statement apart for the sake of arguing. if anything it's my ignorance showing in this matter. apologies for that)
but doesn't any of what you say imply a treaty between those two countries?
this is getting of course country specific, but my company has hired people in other countries before. and the problem is not trying to get around employment law, but rather that i don't see any options to treat that person as an employee.
we can not employ anyone unless they have the legal right to work in the country of employment. to be an employee in a US company, i need to have a work visa for the US. i do not see any other option there.
for this to work without a visa, there would have to be a category of foreign remote employees. i have never heard about any such thing.
in other words, without a treaty between the respective countries, an employer/employee relationship is not legally possible.
how would you pay my social security or insurance? without a treaty that defines this, you can't. you have to give me the cash and let me pay by myself.
I probably wasn't clear enough. Lots of countries have laws constructed so can't have an end run around entitlements, etc. So tse your example you are quite right that you don't have an option to hire someone as an employee without a work visa, for example. But that doesn't mean that your working arrangement is legal if you have them as a non-resident contractor. Some of the things you may could run you afoul of employment law; for example if your contractor visits you performs work you may be in violation. Or they may have thus created a tax presence in your country as a non-resident that you are responsible to withold even though you are not employing them directly, etc (i.e. without a zero-rating treaty).
Finally some of your contract terms may just be uninforceable but that is less of an issue.
In general this stuff is tricky and very much dependent on the countries involved, the nature of the work being done, and the physical locations it is done in (and probably more things).
true to a point, but difficulty to transition is real. I would be the first to agree that a lot of the elements in the remote manifesto are good things in absolute (written down processes, etc.). In fact, that's one of the first thing I focus on as a manager in a new position as those are often lacking.
I don’t know why you got downvoted, your points are certainly good and reflect my one personal data point.*
I have also seen that face 2 face interactions are the best in order to align within or across product and engineering. Especially at the level of longer-term goals. Not so much at the level of weekly or monthly cycles.
And I’ve seen the exact same thing with coaching and mentoring people and teams. It feels like it’s much harder. I think when you are the person who needs to upskill, it is a lot more obvious when you are sitting next to a person senior to you. That you have to grow becomes more “material” maybe?
I love remote work, the benefits brought up are very real. I’m curious about solutions to these very real issues.
* Although in my case, I’m sure someone could come and say “you are not doing it right!” We were fairly new to this.
I agree that face to face is important. Part of how we handle remote work is that people have to be comfortable doing video calls. This doesn't mean someone has to be available for surprise chats, but everyone has to be comfortable hopping on a video call when necessary. Gitlab has the rule that if a question/topic goes back and forth 3x, then it's time for a video call. I think that is a good place to start.
And there’s one more thing, I’ve found that building good interpersonal relationships are quite important to having effective discussions with someone. Especially when the topic is controversial. I’ve found this to be a lot harder when two people have never met each other.
Hey, I'm the author of the post and have been working remotely for 6 years.
There is no replacement for meeting up in person periodically. Anyone who tells you it's not a key requirement of remote work is foolish. Smart teams + companies have figured this out and do regular meetups.
I'll accept that your points seem valid, but when stacked up against the awfulness of the daily commute psychologically, environmentally, and in terms of safety, I still think more remote work is a net benefit.
Yeah, the advantages are obvious and real, especially for individual contributors. I am myself quite pessimistic about the reality of a massive change there because of the points I raised, and the ability to do commute < 30 minutes has always been a strong factor when changing jobs for me.
I am a big fan of remote work but your points are very valid. I think a remote company need to have a fundamentally different way of management. I think most important is for management to have a good grasp of the type of work people are doing. When I look at my company my managers just one or two levels up haven’t even the foggiest idea how one does the work my team does. When something goes wrong the only thing they can do is to see that people are at the office and working hard. They have no tools to judge work without seeing people at their desks.
Yes, performance management is really hard (remote or not): the reality is that it is actually quite difficult to measure the output of software engineers. There are definitely overly bad measures (LOC, etc.), but things like mentoring, quality of code review, etc. are hard to measure if you are not observing them directly.
Bad management often uses metrics like this. Instead, it is managements job to define goals and distribute work. A developer should be measured if he reached the defined goal and the efficiency of the solution. Any other metric would probably fall short.
It’s not that simple. Nobody knows how much a tech project takes so it’s hard to allocate resources and budget for it. I often see people producing nothing tangible for months but I know they are working on something difficult and I can judge their work because I understand it. If you don’t have that knowledge how can you manage your workforce? It gets even worse with remote where you don’t know if somebody is at least working or just sitting around.
1. What do you get out of a face to face discussion that you don't get from a zoom call? I would argue that remote teams have a strong advantage there: remote teams rely more on written, async communication. This forces product and business experts to really think about what they want engineers to do. Having to write things done is the best way to avoid the usual handwaving "just add a checkbox there and we're good". Yes, it may seem to be taking a bit longer with some back and forth, but in the end you get a more solid and clear path forward.
2. Maybe, I've never observed that either as an IC or a manager, so yeah, if there is such a toxic culture it's a problem.
3. Don't you have weekly 1:1 to dive into that? I would argue that relying too much on observations instead of directly asking people is a problem.
I miss this greatly from when I was remote. If I am walking back from a meeting and get detoured into helping some people with a specific problem it's hard to remember everything from the meeting. Having that "hard proof" of everything said and easy to refer to is powerful.
That's an anti-feature from a legal discovery perspective. Unless everyone is extremely conscientious about every word, you have 15 years' worth of chat logs and emails with offhand comments, jokes, etc. All of which can be taken out of context by a skilled legal team.
> That's an anti-feature from a legal discovery perspective. Unless everyone is extremely conscientious about every word, you have 15 years' worth of chat logs and emails with offhand comments, jokes, etc. All of which can be taken out of context by a skilled legal team.
I am ignorant of the operation of the law but why would taking quotes out of context present legal risk? Wouldn't the misquoted be able to supplement the record with the missing context?
I don't think it is unprofessional to make jokes in chat channels. It helps to build closer connections with colleagues which helps with non joke communication. I am honestly quite surprised you have not seen any jokes in 20 years in chat channels.
> My favorite thing about remote work is the written communication. It creates a form of documentation in itself.
Agreed. Even when we do video calls, someone summarizes and posts what we talked about. I noticed Meet is now doing live captioning. It would be nice to email everyone the meeting at the end of the call.
In any meeting with more than 2 people, you should have someone take notes and email the group with the notes afterwards. It's extremely helpful in the frequent case when you don't remember what exactly you agreed to.
>1. What do you get out of a face to face discussion that you don't get from a zoom call?
Body language, better tone, gestures, etc. Communication goes beyond just words especially when you're building trust or resolving conflict. Not every communication in a business is technical or product based. In a larger organization it's those soft conversations, that smooth over inter-team and intra-team dynamics, which are in many ways most important long term.
1. I am the first to recognize it is hard to quantify, it is just my experience. I should note that I have always worked in fairly diverse environments, at least culturally (e.g. in my current team, I have people from France, the US, Australia, Spain, China, India and Japan, only 2 speak their native language), which likely affects my experience.
3. Of course, you cannot only rely on observation, and 1:1 are crucial. But especially with junior people, just asking questions is not enough. You really have to look how people work to understand your team's dynamic. In my experience, 1:1 utility decreases the more junior reports are, and observations utility increases the more junior reports are.
I'm not going to state an opinion on remote being good or bad. I think it is very team and company dependent. However, people who want remote work usually talk about the benefit of remote work to limit distractions. However, the team/product/company success is largely not determined by LOC/hour productivity. What may be high productivity for an individual may not help the team/product/company, as they could be implementing the "wrong" thing.
I do think if you want to do remote work as a company, you need to focus extra resources on facilitating and overdoing communications. Most companies have problems getting on the same page when they are in the same room. It is possible with a remote team but it requires someone to be explicitly in charge of communication.
> Most organizations are dysfunctional in some ways.
> communication is your main tool
I think at its heart, remote work will amplify any existing communication issues in an organization. Being in the same office can smooth over some of these issues, but they are still issues. This is why it is hard for a company to transition to remote work. The inertia of dealing with communication issues by being co-located is hard to overcome.
This is also why companies that started remote are still the best at remote. They simply would not have survived without proper communication from the get go.
1. Why do you think that you can't have a face-to-face discussion remotely. You can using video chat software. It works very well. No, its not _exactly_ the same as being in the same room, but it doesn't need to be.
2. If executives blame a remote team that is functioning well and punish or fire them for it incorrectly, then those executives should be replaced. That's just lazy scapegoating.
3. It sounds like you are saying that you think that you should lterally watch over a software engineer's shoulder to see if he is typing a lot, or if not, asking for help. This is extremely ignorant. Programming doesn't mean that you look busy a lot. A good engineer might spend a lot of time just Googling. Or actually sitting there and thinking for a couple of minutes without even necessarily typing (unless he is afraid the manager looking over his shoulder might get suspicious).
Suppose remote work was the norm. Your comments somehow imply moving work to be on-premise would be an improvement. Let's examine your claims one by one.
> 1. Most organizations are dysfunctional in some ways. Product and engineering are not aligned, or there are constant re-organizations, lack of ownership. It is extremely challenging for managers to improve this situation if everybody is remote, because communication is your main tool here, and doing so remotely is even more difficult. My experience in those situations is that face to face discussions are the most effective tool to untangle the mess.
In a remote-only organization, communication is necessarily all done in a matter that's transparent and not transient like face-to-face communication. You claim doing so remotely is more difficult but do not substantiate this. You claim that face-to-face discussions are effective... for what reason? What about face-to-face communication makes this more effective? Just a bunch of unsubstantiated claims made here.
> 2. When things go south (e.g. you lose a big client, etc.), it is almost always the case that people will start to find teams / people to blame. Executives have shallow information, and most will rely on what is available to them (kind of availability bias, but for people instead of ideas). Remote teams will be at a disadvantage.
If remote were the norm you could easily make this same claim about the lone on-premise team whose communication is isolated from the rest of the organization. This has more to do with the fact that remote teams are rare and less with the fact that they're remote. In fact what you're saying here is what often happens with satellite offices. Again, nothing here you're saying is unique to a remote team.
> 3. When your team is not very good, or not very experienced, it is very difficult to improve their skills remotely. First, being remote means you lose a lot of very useful information, such as "do they often talk to other people when they are stuck". Instead of observing how people act, you have to ask, which paradoxically means more interruption.
Again, assuming remote was the norm your claims make no sense. It would be trivial to see how much workers were communicating with each other in a remote team. In fact, I don't know how you would even get your purported "useful information" unless as a manager all you're doing is micromanaging your employees all day?
TLDR - all of your claims against remote work are trivially countered. Remote work has no disadvantages except the loss of (important) non-verbal information when communicating.
> In a remote-only organization, communication is necessarily all done in a matter that's transparent and not transient like face-to-face communication. You claim doing so remotely is more difficult but do not substantiate this. You claim that face-to-face discussions are effective... for what reason? What about face-to-face communication makes this more effective? Just a bunch of unsubstantiated claims made here.
The problem is when communication are broken, you don't even know who you are supposed to talk to. In that case, I think it is quite obvious that doing it remotely is harder than if everybody is on the same building.
> If remote were the norm you could easily make this same claim about the lone on-premise team whose communication is isolated from the rest of the organization.
That's correct, the problem is the same. It has been my experience that as soon as things go south in a company, you have a vast advantage if you and your team work in HQ. It has almost always been my experience that the projects that got the most pull politically (and hence resources) were the one pushed by managers in HQ, or with an existing strong relationship that was created... by being at HQ.
> Again, assuming remote was the norm your claims make no sense. It would be trivial to see how much workers were communicating with each other in a remote team.
You are the first manager I have met who claims this is trivial, remote or not.
> The problem is when communication are broken, you don't even know who you are supposed to talk to. In that case, I think it is quite obvious that doing it remotely is harder than if everybody is on the same building.
Again, unsubstantiated. Why is it harder than if everyone is on the same building?
>That's correct, the problem is the same. It has been my experience that as soon as things go south in a company, you have a vast advantage if you and your team work in HQ. It has almost always been my experience that the projects that got the most pull politically (and hence resources) were the one pushed by managers in HQ, or with an existing strong relationship that was created... by being at HQ.
Again this has less to do with remote work and more to do with the fact that remote isn't the status quo.
> You are the first manager I have met who claims this is trivial, remote or not.
It would be trivial. Inherently to remote work would be an online record, whether that's Slack, Discourse or email to record all communication.
You've yet to actually bring up issues inherent with remote work. All of the claims you've brought up thus far wouldn't apply in an organization that's already remote-only. Would there be difficulty to transitioning a non-remote org to be entirely remote? Of course, but this is an issue with making any large sweeping change.
In another comment you make this claim:
> but things like mentoring, quality of code review, etc. are hard to measure if you are not observing them directly.
I would argue that all of this would be much easier to observe in a remote only organization as said communication would need to be made available through some record-keeping.
Where-as in a on-premise organization code review and mentoring can occur behind closed doors and would be very transient. How would you know how well your engineers are mentoring each other?
>It would be trivial to see how much workers were communicating with each other in a remote team.
Only if you keep metrics on all your communication tools regarding who talks to whom and for how long. That means, chat, email, phone calls, etc. Which many workers would be uncomfortable with since it's blatant and visible tracking. Worse, easy to gather numeric metrics that are known about tend to become KPIs which tend to become gamed.
>In fact, I don't know how you would even get your purported "useful information" unless as a manager all you're doing is micromanaging your employees all day?
You lift your head and walk around the office every so often. Amazing what you can see from a distance. Who is sitting next to whom and talking. Who is with whom in an conference room white boarding. Chat with people casually about what's going on next to the coffee machine. And so on. Trivial, to use your own phrase, for any half-decent manager without coming off as micromanaging but rather just sociable.
>In a remote-only organization, communication is necessarily all done in a matter that's transparent and not transient like face-to-face communication. You claim doing so remotely is more difficult but do not substantiate this. You claim that face-to-face discussions are effective... for what reason? What about face-to-face communication makes this more effective? Just a bunch of unsubstantiated claims made here.
It's obvious to anyone with social skills and common sense. As a species we have evolved to communicate face to face. Not just words but gestures, facial expressions, posture, tone, etc. That's all part of what we consider communication. Especially important when there's potential conflict going on. Digital mediums are far from perfect and lose many of those characteristics.
I was part of a remote-work trial at my office (as a Software Developer). We were remote for about a year and honestly it was the best work experience I've ever had. I felt so productive working in an environment perfectly tailored to me (my own home).
It ultimately ended as several upper management thought we were too "disconnected" from the company although my e-mail was always open, phone forwarded to my cell and I was online in a company wide chat messenger during working hours. We even came on-site once a week for face-to-face meetings. But I guess some people picture remote workers negatively so we are now back on-site and all the things I took for granted during the trial year are making being on-site so much harder.
I commute an hour by car so I gave up a pay raise ~$6,000/yr. on gas alone. I haven't (and don't want to) calculate vehicle wear, snow tires, etc. I'm constantly interrupted by people throughout the day laughing at the nearby reception desk, asking me about lunch or just coming to talk because they are bored. Even right now I have someone using a leaf blower directly outside my window so I can't focus on code (why I am on HN right now). The office temperature is an uncomfortable 66F because the corner office gets so hot with the many windows it has and I am part of their HVAC line. I am using an underpowered laptop instead of my home desktop (32GB RAM, high end CPU, etc) and I require our IT Department to install all software for me because "company policy"... Needless to say my productivity has dropped.
Perhaps someday we'll be able to go remote again, or maybe it's just time to move on. I've been here now for more than 5 years and I enjoy the work I do and the people I work with but after having a taste of remote-work, it's hard going back.
I discussed the same points on Reddit recently and the one that I focused on as well was the aspect of just my physical health.
When I'm at home I have a fully stocked kitchen, my fridge with all my ingredients and no competition for any of it. What it means is when I'm working from home, I eat healthier and lead a healthier lifestyle. I save money on food because the laziness to not pack a lunch doesn't exist.
The commute in mornings is stressful (especially around this time of year where roads become treacherous with rain/snow with melt+freeze cycles). Without that commute I can wake up at 6:30, shower, eat and be "at my desk" by 7:00 while the on-site work has me waking up at 5:30.
There's just so many benefits to remote work. I'm happier, and therefore more productive on that matter alone. I don't even need to get into all the reasons you covered why work at my office is far worse
Remote work saves me ~$300/month in extra child care, or else having to work so late that by the time I get home my kids are going to bed because the other option is not being able to reach an office until 9:30-9:45, by letting me get them where they need to be at the right time instead of early (which costs money—before-school programs, early care at daycare, that kind of thing).
Plus savings in gas and wear & tear on my car. Hell when all my kids are in regular k-12 school and I can just toss them on the bus, we could drop to one car easily, too, saving even more money.
So, remote work: worth probably $6000/yr to me now in sheer cash savings, call it $10k for time saved and lower stress. Worth maybe $15k in a couple years when all my kids can ride the bus. Not friggin' bad. Oh and despite the kids (disease carriers that they are) I'm still sick like 1/2 as often, so that's nice.
Plus I can prep ingredients for dinner over lunch or while on a call that doesn't need 100% of my attention or whatever. Measure stuff, chop some veggies, set it aside, back to work. We've been eating so much better (and cheaper) since I went remote.
Looking like that'll end soon which has me pretty bummed, though. Remote is just so much better. Any music I want (or none), get up and walk around, work from any room or out on the deck. No shared bathroom, hahaha. Offices are expensive time-wasting misery factories by comparison.
This is absolutely true. I live in rural New York and weather here this time of year is awful. I've watched cars in front of me during my commute slide off into the ditch wondering if I was going to be next.
I am also a father of 3 so being remote gave me the ability to attend school activities, doctors appointments, and just being there for them more which I know means a lot to them - as it does to me. There is also the little things like a trip to the dentist which could take me ~30 minutes remote and I can do it on my lunch break. Now on-site I have the commute so I need to take a 1/2 day which in turn causes a loss of productivity for the company.
My friend, you should have quit this company as soon as the remote work "trial" ended. The trial was great for you: you tried something new, learned new things about yourself (turns out, you prefer remote work - what a surprise!), and you discovered that your employer isn't the right one for you. The company is making you miserable; it really is time to move on. I hope you find a better place soon.
I'm not sure if it's clear from your comments above, but was the one year "trial" set up as an experiment, with controls and measurements? In other words, "in 2017, we were not remote, and we measured xx results. in 2018, we were fully remote and we measured yy results." Or literally, let's "pow wow" the upper management and ask them about their feelings?
I think I know the answer. I know that this is the ongoing core problem - measuring "results" is really hard. Running a business means "experiments" are expensive, and really difficult to control in a way that you can get some kind of scientific learning out of them.
I think about the Jim Collins books which were written based on decades-long studies. Certainly imperfect and vulnerable to survivorship-bias and various other issues, but still perhaps better information than any single company is able to come up with for themselves on what tactics would benefit their company more or less than others. (i.e. they may use successful tactics and profit, without knowing what the opportunity cost may be.)
To be honest, no, it wasn't really made out to be a trial when this came to be.
As a growing company of around 400 employees, we were really short on space and software is one of those fields that do quite well remotely. We were asked if we were interested and we officially went remote a week later. Since then, a new building was built solving our space issue so I think that had a lot to do with our return. The communication "disconnect" I think was just a way for management to justify the reversal of the decision.
We used Pivotol Tracker to track our performance so if anything we had proof of how well remote worked for us - but some people fail to see the positives of remote work even with the proof right in front of them.
In my opinion, no. If anything we likely only benefited the company. Our department has very low costs and those costs would have occurred whether we were on site or not. When we were remote we used the communication tools that were already provided to the entire company. What we didn't use (benefiting the company) was electricity, water, space to occupy, network bandwidth, etc.
The productivity increase of being remote resulted in apps/updates to occur much quicker. We were able to take advantage of many things we now had access to such as faster internet, IPv6, better network experiences (no more IP conflicts, blocked web sites/filtering, other IT nonsense), self managing our desktops, and so on.
Right, you and other developers were more productive and were able to make quicker updates. But was the company as strategically aligned at a high level? Was the engineering team as a whole able to react quickly and efficiently to strategic shifts that are more a matter of communication than coding? Were different teams able to juggle competing priorities as effectively as before? These are all elements of running the company that could be negatively impacted by remote work, and they are also areas into which many developers will not have much visibility, if any at all.
To be clear, I'm not actually trying to argue against remote work in general. I think it can be done very well if the company is built around it from the bottom to the top. My point is just that one has to examine the effect on the entire organization. It might be the case that some groups benefited but at a cost that wasn't worth it at a high level. For instance, it could be that the organization needs a much more rigorous planning process rolled out to every single team before remote work becomes a net positive.
Ah I see what you are asking. The company I work for designs, builds and sells medical devices. The software team's role is more focused on improving the workflow of other departments or building tools that help with more general company wide needs (interactive campus maps, kiosks, corporate directory applications).
Example would be a tool I built for a team member that works with flex licenses (Autodesk, etc). He has a command line tool that lists how our licenses are used but it's a pretty verbose dump which isn't fun to read manually. I wrote a parser for this command and wrapped it up in a web app which provides a table of all users, charts on usage, data storing for historical metrics and so on. He is now able to better understand our usage and can more accurately guess as to when we need to purchase more licenses. He can also see what we are not using to reduce our company costs.
The things we've built don't go through any "system" and are developed simply between the requester and the software team (nothing really public so far, all internal tools). As a result, our increased speed is only a positive. However, I can understand in other companies when increased code/updates would cause tons of stress on the teams so your point is valid.
I used a VPN so I was almost constantly connected to our company network. At the company we don't do a lot of face-to-face meetings (typically only the older management folks here prefer that). Most of us use chat or email but I also get the occasional phone call. This project was pretty straight forward where the employee made a request and actually was able to send us the online documentation of the commands and we were able to take it from there. We built a prototype of what he was looking for and we made some minor tweaks after his initial review.
We did come on-site at least once a week (sometimes more if it was needed) but they were mostly reserved for those occasional face-to-face meetings or when we were setting up a BLE Mesh Network for workorder tracking.
Don't forget to include opportunity cost of time driving when calculating the cost of your commute. Your time is valuable. I think you'll find you spend way more than $6000/year on commuting. If you value your free time at $25/hour and commute 250 days per year, that's another $6250 per year in opportunity cost.
To answer your question honestly, it has been a long time. At this company I transitioned from a Graphic Designer to a Software Developer. After my first year I took the role of a Web Developer and ended up building a custom internal application for the Art Department which opened a lot of eyes at the possibilities of what a Software Department could provide.
I was employee #1 in this new role and have since made a lot of really awesome things such as a company directory (mobile app), dashboards for our fabrication department, license management software for our IT folks, visitor check-in/out kiosks, interactive surgical simulators for our R&D/Sales teams, to name a few.
I hold a BS degree in Art. While in college, I took some web development courses and that is when I first started noticing my interest in programming. Despite having ~10 years of programming experience (~4 being as a professional software dev) I am not the most confident developer and the horror of software dev interviews scares me. Maybe it is time to go for it - worst they can say is no, right?
Just go for it. Interviewing is like any other scary thing in life: throw yourself into it enough times and it isn't. I used to be scared of jumping off a diving board, and scared of riding a bike until I did both of those things many times as well.
There's a huge salary penalty if you're not constantly looking for the best offers out there (do some Googling to convince yourself this is true). Don't worry about your imposter syndrome -- let others determine if you can get the job or not.
Elite software companies have ridiculous interviews, it's true, and you have to spend at least tens of hours practicing them. But everyone else is pretty reasonable, I've found. There are lots of enterprise shops that don't care about that nonsense.
I don't think you need to "go for it" as much as just be aware of what else is out there. It's also empowering to have your resume up to date so that if your feeling down and hating work, there's one less barrier in the way of changing your situation.
The manager's schedule is built around Taylorism and the idea that if she (the manager) just figures out the exact mechanistic steps for squeezing all the productivity out of the worker, everything will operate smoothly.
Unfortunately, that's not particularly useful in knowledge work where most of the time, we're dealing with a non-deterministic relationships and creatively figuring out a problem. The expression of the symptom is the manager's schedule but the actual disease is the outdated idea of command and control as a way to manage knowledge workers.
The problem is that priorities are still to be managed. And there is no such thing as 10 people decide one priority. It's always one person who decides the priority either by signing a contract, pushing a button, committing some code, etc.
For this reason there will always be command and control, since an organization becomes dysfunctional when people act against decisions based on made-up priorities which are way mis-aligned with the real priorities which were decided.
Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional. Of course there are different types of management styles like servant leadership for example. But that still doesn't change a damn thing. Now instead of the most aggressive person signing the contract, pushing the button, etc, now a nicer fellow signs the contract, then commands every one else to follow.
And having knowledge work on the table doesn't really change the equation either. That's why almost all IT companies these days use OKRs. An objective is to be set by managers and checked upon later (a.k.a command and control).
2 moths ago I started a work from home role (dev) for a company that is 200 miles away. I didn't even need to go to the office as everything was done via video call & they couriered me a decent MacBook Pro.
Having come from a company that was dead against working from home, it's a breath of fresh air and has completely changed my life.
I work 8-4. Finishing at 4 feels like I actually have part of the day left. No more commuting & setting off early in the morning / later at night to avoid traffic. I don't have to sit in a car for 2 hours a day. I can go to the gym and get home again before the masses start turning up at 5:30.
Technology is such a massive enabler. Need to talk to a team member? Video call them. I've never met any of them, but it feels like we're colleagues and know each other well. I'm more productive not sitting in an office - No interruptions because someone is bored or wants to talk utter nonsense. I'm in a relaxed atmosphere, I don't have to wear a shirt and trousers, don't get dragged into pointless meetings all the time etc etc.
Video call meetings seem to get straight to the point & speed along. People seem less inclined to go off-topic and faff - a big productivity boost.
I will never understand the mindset of the previous employer that had a natural mistrust of remote working. They've lost many employees because they haven't embraced flexible working, and that trend will continue.
Granted, it's not for everyone. You have to be mindful that you're at work (I have a separate space), and ensure that you're not disconnected from your colleagues. I find that making sure that I have a few video calls a day with a colleague keeps me in check.
There's a big difference between remote work (which can function 100% perfectly fine in the "Manager's schedule") from "remote work across varying timezones". In my experience (3+ years working fully remotely, 10+ years working partially remotely), timezones (overlap of working hours) matter much more than physical geography.
Even among remote work in different timezones, there's still a huge difference between say a 4 hour timezone (say, covering all of North America) working with people from potentially ANY timezone where you have potentially 0 hours per day of overlap.
Even in an organization that does asynchronous work really well, very few organizations can do everything effectively in async, meaning that you'll always want to have some overlap for synchronous discussions.
My advice for any company concerned about expanding remote work would be to simply limit/restrict which time zones you're comfortable people working in.
Our all-remote person team at Close.com has scaled up to 15+ engineers, 40+ people overall. We do have people all over the world, but we tend to focus our hiring around American & European Timezones, which provides a nice balance of covering a huge percentage of the world's population while still providing enough overlap to have synchronous meetings.
Or just require that people keep a schedule for your timezone. So you can be in whatever timezone you want provided you're working 8-5 UTC-8, for example. Requiring someone be in a specific timezone is just a slightly less of a burden than requiring they be local enough to commute it. You're still excluding a huge swath of potential employees.
Probably has to do with Trust. Managers by definition exert some power in other people in a way that engineers do not, so they need to be trusted and build trust within a hierarchy. That's a social function so they think it's best done face-to-face. I 'm pretty sure it can be replaced with an social network though, we know it can be done since it works for social networks in general.
I would argue that power comes from fear and necessity rather than trust. In other words, people know their manager will fire them if they don't go along, so they don't resist them. Often they go along despite being convinced numerous times that they should not trust their manager.
I was looking for a bit more insight into why these diverging preferences have developed and didn't see it.
My 2c on that:
The chairman of the board at a company I know well has been in business for like 40-50 years and he reckons that CRM software has been transformational for managers. Apparently, before Salesforce, you had little idea what your salespeople were doing with their days -- especially if they were regional specialists (re: remote employees). Salesforce keeps them on track, keeps them disciplined, provides strategists with better on-the-ground facts, etc. And that's had huge effects, according to him.
But, if you're a chief marketing officer or biz dev person, and your success depends on engineers, you don't have a SF equivalent. Sure you can look at their Jira tickets or whatever, but if don't really understand what they're working on, that won't provide a lot of clarity. So maybe you look for clarity by asking them to be in the same room -- but ultimately that doesn't help much either (they just put on their headphones, deliberately avoid you, etc.). So you give up that battle.
But with product people -- you don't have a salesforce-type system to keep eyes on what they're doing. But neither is their work totally incomprehensible. So, drawing on how helpful SF has been, you conclude that transparency and oversight are needed to keep things on track. So you develop a strong preference for face to face conversations.
This is a theory to explain how a startup I know well has decided that its challenges getting to PMF are (in part) about a WFH policy that was 'too liberal' (CEO's words).
Where I work all remote work was recently outright banned. Because one single person was found to be neglecting their work for years in favor of their second job, collecting two pay checks. Pretty absurd, considering that issue was at least as much the result of poor managerial supervision as it was unethical employee activity. I used to work from home frequently when my kids were home sick from school, it allowed me to put in at least a half day of work. Now, the work just has to wait, because unless there's an emergency I won't let myself be taken advantage of.
Yes, though actually it's upper (the very top) level management that isn't so great. Many mid level are good, my boss included, who is understanding on this issue and says, "yeah, absolutely don't do work from home if you're not allowed to claim the time."
She's also extremely supportive of family time, taking an hour off to leave early for a kid's event, etc. She allows a very healthy work/life Ballance, which is part of why I stay.
I worked as a fully remote software engineer for a very large company for several years and it worked great. Engineering is something that can be done well remotely. It was on me to build and maintain important relationships via Slack or occasional travel, but I made it work very well.
So well that they decided to promote me to manager of my team, which is arguably more risky than working as a remote engineer. They took a bet on me, and I think it has worked out well. I encourage my team to work at home as much as they would like to, and have even started hiring remotely.
I stand by remote work. Work is about more than enslaving code monkeys to do your bidding. It is a partnership that works well when you trust your engineers to get their work done, regardless of where they are located.
It seems unlikely that differences in management schedules are the big issues holding remote work back. I mean, perhaps the first question to answer is whether anything is holding remote work back. It was my impression that it is gaining popularity, but I know there are companies and segments where it just isn't culturally a thing people do much of yet.
Maybe I'm a cynic (oh heck I should just be honest and say I'm a cynic), but I suspect that the big issues in those places that are resistant to remote work are about power, control and trust. I work on what I would say is a very successful fully remote team. However, we're small (~30 people), tightly knit, our work is essentially self-organizing with a little steering from above, and each of the people responsible for components of it is a domain expert with a lot of experience and little need for hands-on coaching. Our managers know every one of us personally and they know we're doing our best every day. There are no trust issues. We collaborate pretty effortlessly using the usual tools, and our ability to do these things has allowed us to keep our overhead low and attract skilled people from all over the world.
In short I think we're essentially a different kind of organization, and it would not surprise me to find out that it is hard to nearly impossible to convert an old-style organization, especially a larger and older one with hidebound traditions, into a new-style fully remote thing.
Someone on this thread brought up trust as an aspect of successful organization remote work. I do like this take. As a manager I have observed that trust can be hard to come by if there's not a solid metric that can help establish trust where there is none. And one bad miscommunication experience can erode trust that has been built up for months.
Face-to-face is always one of the highest fidelity mediums for communication in expressing the verbal & non-verbal. And I would agree with the resounding opinion in this thread that periodic meet-ups are very good for keeping trust relations higher in the times when remote is the norm.
Sometimes even that is hard if you're managing a team from across the globe, and then trust is reduced to a metric of some kind - work output, quality of work, etc.
I like working with remote teams and I've had great and horrible experiences with them - first and third party. It can sometimes be cultural but oftentimes I've found it can be isolated to the individual - and working to remedy that weak link can oftentimes (but not always) turn a situation around.
Understanding how to build a team, identifying the needs of the team, and establish trust within that team, whether co-located or remote is important. It's also important to understand how those needs and methods are differ between co-located and remote work.
I would definitely agree with this. Video conference has helped immensely.
A good example would the time my team (spread out in 4 different countries) was crunching for a launch where we set up a 'virtual' mega war room connecting 4 war rooms across the globe with live video feeds. Worked wonders for open communication when there was overlap in time zone working hours.
>For some, the idea of working remotely is equivalent to laying around, watching Netflix (while working of course), and happy hour at 3pm
Ironically, when I need to draft some long write up (e.g. perf evaluation, speech, etc.), I have the easiest time when I lie in bed watching some pausable movie or show. Nothing like passive entertainment to help me work through writer’s block.
After years of remote work and guilt over doing stuff like this, I've come around to the idea that -- for some types of tasks -- there's no more efficient way of plowing through it than laying around on the couch with something pausable on the TV, or occasionally even a video game. I always end up spending much more time on pause than not, and it actually gets done. It has to be a pretty specific type of thing, but I no longer feel guilty about it.
I'd argue that the tools and lack of understanding re: how to use them, and not understanding people's needs are holding back remote work.
The standard stack that companies use is Office 365. The tools in there are really awful and unreliable in many scenarios, and add friction to most interactions.
The other thing that an individual contributor won't grok is that your people are usually on a bell curve. Your most self-motivated workers thrive remote and often are more productive. But many workers either don't perform as well without direct human-to-human feedback or don't perform well remote for various reasons. We tend to assume that people have home lives and environments that are stable and amenable to work -- many do not. Many people have difficulty being alone all day. Still others fear (rightfully) that they will be held to a higher standard of performance/accountability because they aren't present to informal conversation.
> I find this is more prevalent for non-technical people. The boss allows remote work up to a certain point, but they can’t cross over into being fully remote.
> That would be too scary. We can’t have that!
It could also be that non-technical members of the team don't have the combination of tools, technical ability, and training to make remote meetings effective.
I've seen a lot of remote meetings completely wrecked by inability to use the meeting software, failure to adjust audio settings properly, faulty or improper hardware, inappropriate use of hardware, etc. After a few frustrating interactions, many might conclude that this mode of communication isn't effective.
This is definitely a cultural issue that needs to be addressed from the top -- these people need to be assigned the proper tools, trained to use them, and expected to use them.
I thought this post had some good insights and am looking forward to seeing the finished book. I had a question about the following statement:
>"For example, I’d argue that Slack is a tool that has made the idea of remote work much more realistic for people on the manager’s schedule. While it’s technically an asynchronous communication tool, it’s also used as an alternative to being in the same room, powering constant back-and-forth communication (which can be annoying)."
I remember this being an issue when I was doing remote work. I would be curious what the fix is for this. It does seem like simply moving the interrupt driven physical office to an interrupt driven virtual office defeats one of the key benefits of remote work.
> I remember this being an issue when I was doing remote work. I would be curious what the fix is for this. It does seem like simply moving the interrupt driven physical office to an interrupt driven virtual office defeats one of the key benefits of remote work.
Maybe. In some offices, it only means that you get both: constant pings from even unrelated teams' chats, etc, and the in-office interruptions. I'd like if this were limited to one form...
I was told when I started my current position that remote work would be available for any employee with 12 months of experience. Then, upper management changed, and my boss's hands are tied: he can only request remote for special circumstances. All of my older co-workers were grandfathered in with their old remote access, granted before I arrived, but I essentially have zero chance of gaining remote work, all due to upper management not trusting its employees to know what's best for themselves.
this is interesting, and something i've experienced from both ends of the conversation.
from the perspective of managing technical teams i've only found the "manager's schedule" (as described) to be a bother to _me_ and _my_ time management. this has been a major pain in the ass when i had to kick out feature work and caused me to spend several super late nights to wrap things up. this didn't affect my team directly; no doubt my exhaustion impacted my mood and thus my interactions. not sure if i was a total dick (never got that kinda feedback, direct or indirect...but how knows...), but i certainly more than once had the posture of defeat as i shuffled from a pairing session to a strategy meeting.
i tried my hardest to create a big sandbox the devs could own and (mostly) self organize. with the help of sympathetic product managers we switched from scrum to kanban and dropped physical standups (and their associated shitty conference call experience)
for a dedicated slack channel. we leaned heavily on tech and a couple basic asks such as "try to post status around the same time every day", "important communication goes in email, not in slack", "if you know your schedule, add it to the team calendar" and so on. it was not perfect but it worked out...for the that team, project and business conditions.
now, i have also certainly (and most commonly) experienced shitty remote situations where people on the speakerphone are forgotten, work from home is viewed as a negative and local time is gravely disrespected.
I've managed multiple remote, distributed, asynchronous teams over my career. When remote teams work well, it's a great experience for everyone.
However, I'm more convinced than ever that these pop-culture articles and thought pieces about remote work are counterproductive for remote workers. Most of the remote work thought pieces that make it to the HN front page are very one-sided; They make remote work sound like a panacea, or a way to boost productivity and happiness with zero downsides. This creates very unrealistic expectations of remote work for job seekers, especially the more junior remote devs that I've worked with in recent years. When it comes to remote work, we want to believe that it's the golden ticket to solving all of the problems of the modern workplace.
In my experience managing remote, on-site, and mixed teams: It's much more difficult to make remote teams work well. Some key things to watch out for with remote employees:
- Communication is everyone's job. Async, text-only communication can be more efficient when done right, but it's much more difficult to foster friendly, accurate, and rapid shared understanding over Slack or e-mail than in a well-run face to face meeting. Successful remote work depends on everyone making an effort to seek out information they need, proactively share understanding via accessible documentation, and develop healthy relationships with their peers and managers.
- Remote employees are not contractors. A common misconception is that remote work equals total freedom about when, where, and how you do your job. Pick your own hours, vacation without taking PTO as long as you respond to e-mails once a day, batch your e-mails to once a day or less, and work on your own terms. This can work in certain situations if everyone agrees to it, but it's not a given. If you're a remote employee, the only guarantee is that your working location is not at the office. Having the team working together during specific core hours is hugely valuable if any collaboration is required. It's not efficient to have two people ping-ponging e-mails back and forth with one response per side per day when they could hash things out with a 5-minute chat during overlapping business hours.
- Some people can't handle remote work. It just doesn't work for everyone. My biggest surprise as a remote manager was how many people's productivity dropped off a cliff after they went remote, yet they were convinced they were being more productive than ever. Some of these employees can be trained to be productive remotely with intense hands-on management, but it's a lot of work. I give new remote employees very explicit instructions about expectations for process, check-ins, and team discipline when we start. Continually update these remote onboarding documents as you learn how your remote team works best.
- Remote job listings attract a lot of bad apples. Remote jobs are synonymous with slacking off in some circles. Watch out for digital nomads who want to collect a paycheck while they travel the world. Avoid startup founders who think they can put in a couple hours of remote work and collect a paycheck and benefits while they focus on building their startup on someone else's dime. Watch out for remote applicants who try to work two jobs at once, doing the bare minimum for whichever of the two companies is paying the least attention to their work. When hiring remote at scale, you'll run into more of these bad actor applicants and employees than you might expect.
- Meetings are still helpful in remote teams. There's another common misconception that remote work == no meetings. Some conversations are still most efficiently handled as an N-way video call for 15-30 minutes, rather than a never-ending Slack conversation where participants are half-distracted as they alt-tab between Slack and their work.
At the hiring phase: Check their LinkedIn and public social media closely. If they have a recent startup or freelancing business listed on LinkedIn, ask them for details about it and how they ended it. For freelancers, I directly ask if they plan to continue freelancing and how they plan to separate the work.
As with all hiring, references are key. There's an art to getting an honest reference out of remote employee referrals, though. Don't neglect to follow up on reference checks. Be polite and professional, but don't hesitate to ask hard questions or ask for more appropriate references if they try to give you softball answers. Also have your hiring department follow up with the previous employer to confirm start and end dates. It's tempting for remote workers to stay on with their old employer for a few extra months, double-dipping both paychecks while they can.
Ask people why they want a remote position. There are many valid reasons to work remote, but having other obligations during the day is not one of them. For example, if someone wants a remote job so they can stay home and watch their toddler during the workday to save on daycare costs (actual answer from someone I interviewed) then they aren't going to be very productive. Make sure they can allocate a proper amount of time for focused work.
After hiring: Proper performance management is key. The important thing here is to treat on-site and remote employees the same with regards to performance management. Technically, there's no reason an employee down the hall couldn't also be sandbagging their performance while they work on a side hustle for 75% of the work week.
The biggest pitfall with remote employee performance management is the idea that people have a finite amount of work that can be finished early. Specifically, it's difficult when people get attached to the idea that the number of hours worked shouldn't matter as long as they get their work done. The flaw in this argument is that if your employees are running out of work before the end of the work week, you're not managing your backlog and roadmap effectively, or you're grossly overstaffed. Set the expectation that if someone finishes their sprint work by day 7 of a 10 day sprint, they need to spend those last 3 days taking on additional tickets or helping coworkers.
Watch out for people padding estimates, sandbagging, and playing other games to minimize their hours worked. Your job as an engineering manager is to make sure they're not worked too hard, but also ensure they're not sandbagging. Again, this isn't unique to remote employees, but in my experience remote employees have far more temptations to sandbag a little bit here and there that most people just can't resist. Don't nag, but let them know you're watching closely.
Most of all: You need to build mutual trust with the remote employees. Without watercooler conversations, shared lunch breaks, and other office mingling you need to make an effort to get to know people. I've found that the more you build a healthy personal connection with remote employees, the less likely they are to try to abuse the system. Be wary of anyone who insists on purely transactional communication arrangements with odd working hours that suspiciously never line up with anyone else's working hours. Also be wary of anyone who always has excuses for why they couldn't finish their work each week, but always rushes to be the heroic person saving the day when something goes wrong. The remote work abusers are always trying to make themselves look indispensable at key moments while dragging the team down on average. Don't let heroism overshadow underlying problems with someone's performance.
I see two problems with remote work being the norm at most companies:
1) most people don't have the discipline to work remotely. I've been working remotely for a decade. I'm a self-starter and have run my own businesses. I find that the same discipline needed to build a company is almost the same as it is to work remotely.
You don't have the possibility of the boss coming in to see what you are doing or a manager right across the hall. Many people have a hard time succeeding in this environment, especially if you are working from home with lots of distractions.
I've seen many companies struggle to keep remote employees because if this.
2) Managers need to be excellent communicators to manage a remote team. At my last remote gig, I eventually had to quit because the manager was extremely introverted and passive aggressive, which made working remotely almost an impossibility.
I think if we were in an office, I might be able to work with his personality, but instead he just avoided any sort of non-slack chatting and intentionally assigned me tickets that had misinformation or left out important details for a task that I needed to complete (and then acted shocked when I missed them).
After it happened the first time, I thought I was the problem and tried to get more information about specific tickets. Something important would always be left out...and then I was always blamed for the mis-communication.
It finally came to a breaking point when I worked on a month-long project and was asked to merge it with a junior developer's work right before a vacation. The Junior developer's work broke everything. I explained the situation and asked the manager if he wanted me to fix the code that was a result of our merge, when I came back.
He said 'no' and then sent me a long list of issues while I was gone (I saw them in the airport on the way home..1 day before I was returning to work)..which all resided in the junior developer's code base.
He then had a conversation with me about not being a 'senior' enough developer and that they felt they were paying me 'too much'.
This conversation was odd and funny at the same time because In the previous 6 months, I had written large additions to the application, which were still in production with almost no issues and I was praised by the owner of the company. I was also getting paid 60% less than my market value, which I negotiated because their original offer was laughable. I only took the job when my business had a couple of slow months.
I should also add that the manager built the application we were all working on 7 years prior..and it was steaming pile of garbage. Spaghetti code, bad practices, and I would find so many bugs that needed to be fixed when I was working on a feature request, it would delay everything.
It's been a couple of years since I worked there and they still haven't gotten out of beta and launched. I'm guessing it's because of the managers inability to communicate and effectively manage a team.
I used to show up between 10:00-10:20 AM, after all the 5 managers got their morning gripe emails together and caught up on all the work I had gotten done and reported on overnight. The highest of the managers had a question for me at 9:30 AM and got mad I wasn't at my desk. New policy: everyone is at their desk by 8 AM. I explained to the 2 other higher managers that I work basically all night long, and during the day at the office, I'm constantly distracted because I seem to be the only person who knows anything. My direct supervisor completely understood my process and schedule and couldn't be happier with my production. The CEO as well, but this manager and his "butts in chairs at 8am" policy couldn't be stopped. I happily accepted and explained I would be leaving every day sharply at 5 PM and leaving my laptop at my desk.
The manager and the policy were both fired about a month later.
Why people don't tell the definite and super obvious reason for that: people will scam their employers! I know many people who work fully remote. All of them have 3-4 "full time" jobs, and just do the minimum necessary on all of them to not get fired, or outsource work. Making a good Valley salary in a place where rent is $400 a month. Good? For them yes, but a company that allows remote work is just making a mistake: it WILL be scammed by the vast majority of people who work there.
High-level employees need collaboration and frequent meetings making remote work impossible (execs), low-level ones can't be trusted because they have nothing to lose.
Are you saying that on-site employees don't "scam" their employers? This is non-sense and is the exact reason why remote work is viewed so negatively. Remote workers (just like on-site) have goals and expectations. They are also likely on company chats, answering phone calls, video meetings, etc. If the expected quantity of work is not getting done, I think this is a problem with this employee and should be looked into. Don't cast a blanket statement over every remote working because this is not the norm.
If they meet expectations, how is that a scam? "Full time job" is a weird idea for salaried workers, anyway. They're paid $X to produce $(X + Y) value. Hours spent producing that value shouldn't mean much to the employer.
As a manager, it's extremely difficult to figure out how much work can be reasonably and sustainably achieved by a particular person/role. Performing this estimation and planning is part of the inherent transaction costs in working with contractors.
The perceived benefit of hiring a full-time employee is that they will strive to be as effective as they can be in achieving the firm's goals filling the entire work-day. Obviously this is not quite as easy as that, but if you hire good people who share your vision and treat them well, then it gets quite close. And this is equally true for remote employees.
No they are very productive. Just work for several people at once and eventually turn from 1 super productive person into 3-4 barely acceptable ones. They also gain job security this way. And get paid way more.
Kind of curious here -- do you mean they're making valley level salaries doing remote work and basically "available" to all four companies at the same time and just juggle tasks as they come in? What happens if they double book a meeting? What do they do at standup?
Not double booking meetings. Minimize communication. Try being as obscure as possible. And yes, ofc individual salaries are not Valley level. It's more like 3-4x$4000 a month. In a poor place where average salary is $500 and average coder salary about $2500 maybe. And where girls pay a lot of money for courses "how to get a relationship with a coder" (no joking!)
So they are either incredibly productive and meeting the expectations of employer, or they aren't and they will be let go? If you're superhuman and can do that much work and don't have any legal obligations against it, that doesn't seem like an issue. Though these people are clearly very special, or their employer doesn't expect much, but if the employer is happy, I guess that's on them.
Figuring out which employees are bad enough that they should be let go is quite costly, as is the resulting churn. You'd rather not hire those people in the first place, but once you've hired them you may be stuck with them for quite a while. So it can be a legitimate concern.
There are programmers who can easily replace 3-4 and even more average programmers. How they structure their time is not your concern. As an employer you should have reasonable expectations in regards to what you should get from particular employee / contractor and if those expectations are met then the rest is not your business. If they're not met then the employee should be shown virtual door out.
If however the employer can not see whether they get what they pay for without employee sitting in the office then said employer has bigger problems. And these employers will be scammed / fallen victims of their management incompetence anyways disregarding of in office / out of office style.
Myself, I am both Employer and subcontractor since 2000. There was not a single time for me when I was in doubt as an employer whether I am getting my money worth. And as subcontractor I value my reputation and more then happy to present whoever hires me with stellar real references.
As a subcontractor I normally develop rather large pieces upon which we agree upfront and there is rarely need for me to report daily details / progress. 2 weeks to 1 month cycles are more normal.
If your rent is $400 a month why would you bother to have 3 jobs paying Silicon Valley salary? It doesn't make sense at all.
If rent is $400 and you are making 120k a year, most certainly your salary is over 5 average salaries. Why would you work all day to get 15-20 average salaries? You can work 2-3 hours and already afford all the stuff you want.