One of the interesting things that happened at my company is that productivity instantly doubled when we started working remotely. The reality at my company is that people are only getting 20 hours or so of work done in the office - the rest is socialization, pointless meetings, lunches, or trying to look busy. When we went home for lockdown and kept working 40 hour weeks, not only did productive output double, but everyone burned out in a few weeks.
In my opinion, the reality of working from home is that 20-30 hour work weeks need to be acceptable and we should use the rest of our time on non-working things, just like we did in the office, but now that time can be more meaningful to us.
Pointless meetings have multiplied for me in the remote world as they are no longer constrained by conference rooms. Also since it’s so much easier to get away with multitasking, you have engineers who are ostensibly in meetings all day still checking in code like everything’s fine.
I think the ability to maintain a convincing presence in all-day Zoom while still getting your work done is the new meta-game for engineering. And I hate it.
I’ve been doing fully remote teams for years and one thing that took about 2 years to get used to is how to utilize meetings differently than in person.
Some of the biggest disadvantages of remote work is that it is harder to “just grab someone”, social isolation, and communication isolation (ie- people not talking to each other.) Meetings can partially solve all those issues and get used as such. However, because they are such a useful tool they get over used and I had to figure out how to say no to meetings, how to end meetings early if they’ve accomplished their purpose, encourage people to leave meetings if it turns out they aren’t needed and how get better at ad hoc remote communication without pulling together a meeting.
It took a while but I think I’m actually spending less time in BS meetings then before because there is much less pressure to stay or preserve a meeting no one had to walk to or book a conference room for.
One of my pet hates is meetings without an agenda, or that don't stick to the agenda.
If you're done with the agenda, then the meeting is finished and everyone can leave. If that happens after 5 minutes, then that's good.
I have been in meetings where the organiser has said "well, we've finished, but we've got this room for an hour, so let's just hang out for the rest of the time". That can be tough to respond to. Just saying "Sorry, but no, I've got work to do" can be offensive (though it shouldn't be).
Many meetings only require a low level of attention. 90% is 1 or a few stakeholders discussing things, and the rest are there for occasional input. In a good chunk of my meetings I find myself actually tuning out too much, where I miss some important nuances because it was buried in the rest of the shit.
In an office you are forced to pay attention (laptops away…). It’s a new skill to balance between paying attention to irrelevant shit and missing the important details
My solution has been to take nearly every meeting possible outside while on walks. It helps me focus where I would otherwise not be able to focus, and acts as a good way to get some additional exercise throughout the day.
I've found that my remote work meetings neatly break down into 3 categories:
- direct engagement -- 2-4 participants
- broad forum -- 5-12 participants
- fly-on-the-wall -- any number, but my contribution will be 0-4 sentences
Of these, the broad forum has the least clear attention level requirement. The usefulness of these meetings is determined by the skill of the moderator, to steer the conversation flow towards the primary subject and ensure the relevance to most attendees. Unfortunately, many colleagues are still reluctant to have their cameras on, which makes gauging the interest level very challenging for the moderator.
I can frequently take fly-on-the-wall meetings (and sometimes even broad forum) while out walking, which is a nice plus.
Well I find this really good. Maybe because I am younger and used to multitasking.
But before pandemic just sitting in person meetings and trying to focus for 2 hours to not let my mind wander was really exhausting. Not since everything is remote I can also do some work while 2 hour meetings are being done. And afterwards I don't feel as tired as I did when we had physical meetings
Multitasking is just rapid attention change, and it can be jarring going from rapid changes in focus to lower stimulation and longer term focus, but both frames of mind are valuable, situationally. You might get more value multitasking but you might also bring a lot more value to some meetings by staying deeply focused, and I think that highly focused, high participation meetings are the ideal. Other communication can happen other ways. To help me with long & deep focus, I've found that reading novels or other long form writing helps me tame the impulse to bounce around so much, somewhat.
That's the case in traditionaly organised meetings, where I work we pull people in and kick them out pretty quickly. Meetings are 2-5 people max, everyone is contributing, and you get told you can leave if the topic pivots to something that doesn't apply to you.
Urban Airship meeting rules. Don’t just mention them or be inspired by them. Just… use them as you see fit. Walk out on meetings, or decline them, if they don’t benefit you or your work. Don’t tolerate meetings that could have been an email (or equivalent communication). Don’t fill the time. Don’t repeat things that were already communicated.
"Don't repeat things that were already communicated": This sounds good, but it takes several repetitions for information to sink in with everyone everywhere I've worked. I don't know a way around this.
My first few months WFH was like this so I hear you. Since then however I've been more proactive about declining attending meetings or dropping off if I am required, which has made a massive difference.
Did it really double, or did boundaries erode? My company has been very clear in that they are measuring our productivity and also our working hours. Managers are being instructed to be very clear about establishing work/life boundaries (with the specifics being based on individual need). We similarly saw an increase in productivity, but the increase was far smaller once normalized for hours worked.
I'm surprised this perspective is not made more often. It's now much easier to work past 5 or 6pm or whenever you would normally end. Needing to return home to your family is no longer an excuse to stop working because you can be with your family while at work. All it takes is one developer on your team working evenings or weekends for the other developers to feel like they need to be working late too. There's also the fact that managers right now are more concerned about whether their team is working enough, rather than being concerned about their team working too much.
I find myself doing the opposite. It's much easier for me to step away at 6pm sharp knowing that if anything happens I can jump back in an instant, vs the worry of being the first to leave the office, and being stuck in a train for a half hour.
When I worked in an office I never worried about being the first to leave, and didn't even realize other people do.
For me, the biggest downside of working from home is how easy it is to get distracted by non-work. I go grab a coffee and end up putting dishes away, cleaning up, etc. and next thing I know an hour's passed by so I'm working late or feeling guilty.
I've been working on my time management, in general, and that's helping.
> For me, the biggest downside of working from home is how easy it is to get distracted by non-work. I go grab a coffee and end up putting dishes away, cleaning up, etc.
Sometimes taking a short break like that is the best way to make progress on a difficult problem though. Realistically we probably get 2 or 3 hours of actual work done in a day. Everything else is a bonus and it comes and goes over time.
I've been running rescuetime on my computer for most of a decade, and "my developer time"(time on terminal, few documentation sites like SO, editor etc...) goal was initially 1hr 30 minutes, but nowadays it is stuck at 3 hours.. and been not filled except for rare days.
> When I worked in an office I never worried about being the first to leave, and didn't even realize other people do.
A lot of it is scarcity vs abundance mindset. Many people are quite scared to lose their jobs. I know people making six figures who would be in deep shit if they had a month of no paychecks while switching jobs.
I've seen both responses from people I know. One person has always been a bit of a workaholic, and used work as sort of a coping mechanism for anxiety. As one might imagine, they started working much much longer hours. Another person I know got in the habit of working from about 10 to 3 or so, to the point where I was worried for their job. I think the lesson is that people's relationship with work is just a highly individual, and people will have very divergent outcomes.
Completely agree. It helped that I have a recurring meeting in Outlook that starts when I leave work, and goes for an hour. I find that this block prevents people from scheduling surprise last minute meetings, and keeps me from working longer than 8 hours a day (I start at 8 AM and go until 4 PM).
I liked the fact that when I left the office it virtually impossible for me to jump back into anything until I got back to the office the next day. Now all my work is just sitting there in the next room just waiting for me to jump back in any time 24/7.
It's just the feeling of not making yourself unavailable during what are still working hours for others, not about being available after say 7pm. And I haven't actually needed to do that more than once or twice.
As someone who has done full time WFH for more than 5 years one skill you need to pick up is the ability to shut down around 5-6pm and avoid work on the weekends, which actually takes some self-discipline.
Same here. That is why my wife's office is on a main floor of the house and mine is in the basement. She's been remote for at least 10 years I think and I ran my own product development business since 2000.
Productivity at my workplace went significantly up (and stayed up), but management has been clear that personal time is sacred, and I hardly ever see anyone on slack after work hours.
Honestly, the biggest impediments to productivity at my workplace have nothing to do with where we work and everything to do with management style (heavy-handed Agile/Scrum, micromanagement, the works).
This is a very HN comment, because it ignores that a lot of people are paid for being physically present somewhere (not for their output).
I love the idea of a 20 hour workweek, but I also understand that the harsh reality is that it would make things like construction, building security, janitorial services, etc. 2x more expensive.
I personally think that would be a boon for society, but given how much everyone is worried about (largely transitory) inflation today, IDK how willing they would be to accept that inflationary pressure.
> a lot of people are paid for being physically present somewhere (not for their output).
Right. A FireFighter or an on-call IT Tech are excellent examples of how we can have 40 hours of presence while only requiring 20 hours of work. Making it acceptable for people to read a book if working 40 hours makes things better.
> love the idea of a 20 hour workweek, but I also understand that the harsh reality is that it would make things like construction, building security, janitorial services, etc. 2x more expensive
I'm not sure that's true. As I understand it, a lot of construction time is spent dealing with looking busy because of blocking tasks. But if we transition those jobs from hourly to piece-rate it solves a lot of problems.
Even building security only doing rounds/checking tapes 1/2 the time seems sufficient.
Funny that you mention it - piece rate in construction means 60+ hours a week. The more you do, the more you get paid and there's always work available. Not in all cases, but definitely a lot of them. As a contractor, you finish on one site/job, you have six others lined up.
I want to make sure people can live comfortably on the money they can earn in 20 hr/week. If want to work 60 hr/week for 15 years and then retire early good for them. I just want to make 20 hr/week the norm.
It doesn't work like that... many of life's biggest expenses are priced based on market rates (e.g. housing). If more work is available and some people choose to work more hours, they will be able to outbid tier who don't and drive up the cost of living.
> the most critical and important jobs in society are among the lowest-paid: retail and foodservice
Pay has nothing to do with how critical or important a job is. Nothing.
Pay is determined — like everything else — by supply and demand.
Nails are the most ‘critical and important’ component of a house. They are also the cheapest. Because the supply is endless. The chandelier in the entryway, on the other hand, is neither critical nor important, yet it costs a great deal more than a nail.
Yeah but step 2 of that is "wage increase" (then step 3 of that is "either school A increases wages or school B increases wages and gets all the teachers, etc.) You can't arbitrarily pick a point at which you stop making an appeal to authority to Econ 101; it's all or nothing.
The point here is, the situation should make us ask ourselves "huh, I wonder why wages aren't increasing." But I can save you some time and tell you the answer is mostly we don't think those jobs are high status enough.
I'm compensated fairly, and my pension makes it actually quite well compensated. The career does suck and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but for someone needing mobility from generational poverty it can work.
The career opportunities upon retirement are nothing to be trivialized either. Compensation there may not be SWE level, but it's WELL above median.
I don’t think many people understand just HOW high.
Aside from monetary compensation (which can range widely, and typically is made up of 25-50% tax sheltered disability pay) there is health insurance at a maximum out of pocket of $3600/year for a family ($600 premium plus $3000 catastrophic cap), tax free shopping, discounted fuel, free flights, remarkably cheap lodging all over the US and in allied countries, and the list goes on.
The last calculation I saw for an average Senior Enlisted retiree was that you would need a lump sum of in excess of $3 million to hope to compare, invested at a decent return. Albeit that’s not completely accurate, but it’s as close as we can get given such different financial vehicles.
Yeah, but if you decided to pay nurses/firefighters the same salary for putting in half the hours, you'd have to hire twice as many to cover the same shifts. Net result is your labor costs would double.
>This is a very HN comment, because it ignores that a lot of people are paid for being physically present somewhere (not for their output).
Are you saying you think most people on HN do piecework? Because I sort of took for granted they were salaried.
At any rate, different companies within an industry area can be quite different.
I have had jobs involving programming that were:
- hourly, with overtime
- required time entry of billable/nonbillable projects worked on in 15 or 6 minute increments
- required using a time clock (but not intraday time entry)
Only the time clock one (salaried, non-union) was primarily focused on "butts in seats". They also had something in the orientation about sleeping at your desk not being allowed.
A friend of mine was about to interview at a company when he found out from Glassdoor they required salaried engineers to swipe in and out (among other micromanagement). Cancelled the interview and the recruiter was really miffed and acted like punching a clock is normal for software devs.
Some people did dislike it enough to leave online reviews about it.
But everywhere I'd previously worked, I had to account for every minute of the day so clocking in at the beginning of the day and out at the end was a million times less micro-manager-y from my viewpoint.
I was a part-time, paid firefighter in Woodinville, WA for seven years. That was about twenty-five years ago now.
I worked twelve hour overnight shifts about ten times a month, supplementing the full-time crews (24 hour shifts.) I was a signed off as a firefighter, driver-operator, EMT Basic, and acting lieutenant.
Maybe it's different elsewhere, but in our city no one spent their time doing nothing. There was always training and drilling, classes to attend, physical training, station, rig and equipment maintenance, and usually, a few calls to run.
Most people were friendly most of the time.
We did usually watch a couple of hours of television or a movie most nights before we racked out.
Secretaries aren't an obvious case in my experience. A good number of them appear to me to work as hard as the boss they assist. And in some cases they appear pretty much as capable (but they never carry anything like the same responsibility).
This is not true. Not only is the Big Mac in Denmark nominally more expensive, but so is almost everything else. Actual purchasing power after taxes is not necessarily higher, but it also varies with the city.
Per https://www.economist.com/big-mac-index, in December 2020, “A Big Mac costs DKr30.00 in Denmark and US$5.66 in the United States.” Using the listed exchange rate of DKr 6.12/US$, that’s $4.90 in Denmark, so in fact somewhat less. Which implies that the DKr is undervalued vs. the US$, at least for this particular one-item basket of goods.
I was really surprised how expensive basic food is in New York compared to UK. Things like fruit, veg, cheese, cereal were more than twice the price. The only things that were cheaper were hotdogs and hotdogs buns. Eating out is very expensive in scandinavia but I don’t think supermarket food is expensive compared to the US.
 Prices at the large supermarkets don’t vary much if at all between shops across the UK
I had the opposite experience. I suspect people spending time abroad temporarily, but long enough to go grocery shopping, tend to arrive at the most expensive grocery stores during their temporary stay.
I'm not talking about Wholefoods, that's overpriced here as well. I'm talking about a slightly grubby supermarket in an unfashionable part of Brooklyn about 5 years ago. Maybe food prices vary a lot across the US, they don't really in the UK as the big 4 supermarkets all advertise their offers nationally. Smaller supermarkets can be more expensive, but an extra 20% not 300%.
Yes, yes, yes, yes! I've been doing 20 hour weeks (on average) for the past 1-2 years and I can say with great confidence that I finally seem to have achieved a sustainable work/life balance. And of those hours worked there has practically been zero waste.
20 hours at 100% efficiency is so much better than 40 hours at 60%, for all parties involved. Even if the latter has slightly higher overall output, when you look at it long term (health/happiness) the former wins hands down.
This is probably true - the problem with modern post-industrial economies is weak demand, not supply. We've juiced supply to the absolute hilt, but people are too busy spending their time at jobs and not consuming. We could easily scale down to 20 hour workweeks and the economy would keep on growing.
It's a prisoner's dilemma situation though, as others point out. Some people are going to insist on wasting their new extra free time at another job. The solution would be to put a hard cap on labor hours per person, mandating an overtime pay requirement that follows the worker from job to job.
> people are too busy spending their time at jobs and not consuming.
You are sitting on a trillion dollar marketing opportunity here.
The problem is that our culture does not strongly encourage consumerism during work hours. Beyond a couple of decorative trinkets on the cubible walls, people don't spend much on or at their workplace.
Capitalism teaches us we must fix that glitch.
The right solution is to create a culture of "office bling". You don't want to be the only person in your office without a gold throne, do you? Are you really writing on the whiteboard with a fucking Expo marker from Office Depot when you could show your worth by using the new $17,000 Montblanc Whiteboard Excelsior? Oh, you had a Starbucks latte on your break? Plebian. I had a flat white made with kopi luwak and gold flakes.
Why should we only burn cash distracting ourselves from our miserable home lives, when we could also burn cash distracting ourselves from our miserable work lives too?
My point is that we don't need to waste irreplaceable moments of our lives so heavily focused on production in service of a consumption side that is wildly out of balance. We can produce far more than we can consume, and cutting back on labor would restore some balance and arguably increase prosperity and happiness across the board.
How about..a salary based on the resources you need/want to survive...so that those who work less (indirectly contributing more to society by sharing their job, childcare, volunteering or just being mentally healthy enough to think of the"next big thing" and directly by ecologically diminishing consumption) get paid more ...? Tax the higher earners and subsidise the "work less" ...then suddenly wages and automation go up as businesses have to compete for a diminishing work pool...
> so that those who work less (indirectly contributing more to society by sharing their job, childcare, volunteering or just being mentally healthy enough to think of the"next big thing" and directly by ecologically diminishing consumption) get paid more ...
Yeah, several of my friends “indirectly contribute” with their extra free time by smoking pot and watching youtube and Netflix. They don’t really consume less ecologically either since they drive around more with their free time. This is not something I see paying off as a societal investment.
Sorry to hear that, it's anecdotal evidence, seems very cliché too..... I guess the question is how would one set up a system of checks and balances...in the case of your friends, sometimes pot is a good phase to go through, it certainly helps the informal economy....and driving ...well seems like they're bored..maybe need more likeminded "friends" to do something creative?
>> Yes, yes, yes. I am totally convinced that we can all start working 20 hours per week starting next Monday and the world will just keep going as normal. Only we will be healthier, happier and richer.
Well no. Because some people will use that to work 2 jobs and make twice as much money. Then inflation will take that into account, prices will rise, and everyone will end up working 2 20-hour jobs. If you ever want to work significantly less hours I suspect it will require laws forbidding people to work more than X, and even then people will take that second job under the table.
I used to work 60-80 hours a week in the summers and 60+ between a full credit load and a couple of part time jobs. I went to bed twice a day for a couple of years because I was working swing shift and going to school.
I now have a 9-5 office job. I am apparently capable of working at least twice as many hours but I choose not to because I don't have to.
There are already people making twice as much (and more) than I do in as much or less time.
I don't think a 20 hour week for knowledge workers would have the effect you claim.
This is called the hedonic treadmill, and is why we don't have a more leisurely lifestyle in general.
John Maynard Keynes famously predicted something like a 10-20 hour work week by the year 2000. You can actually have that today... if you are willing to live at the standard of living of someone in the 1930s.
That would mean a much smaller house, much less technology, a very cheap car or public transit, vanilla food, only a few suits of clothes, and bare bones health care.
Instead we tend to use our gains to get more space (houses today outside dense cities are huge), more tech, more education, better health care, designer hipster food, more entertainment, and so on.
Living in a 1930's home with a 2010 Toyota Corolla in the garage I somehow doubt that. We're talking (where I live) $600-1200 before tax income. In the dead of winter the utilities alone can be close to $500.
Your 1930s house is almost certainly not typical of the median house that people lived in the 1930s. One third of Americans didn’t even have full indoor plumbing in 1930.
For one the fact that it’s preserved likely means it’s one of the finest homes of the era. Two it’s heavily updated inside. Air conditioning, modern appliances, high capacity electrical circuits, fire safety, better windows and insulation, etc.
In 1930s people wouldn't heat the whole house and wouldn't heat it to 70 degrees in the dead of winter. People would heat one room to 50 degrees and stay there most of the time, and put on a jacket. Walking around in a t-shirt in the dead of winter is a very modern thing. You don't realize how much higher your standard for comfort are.
You comment implies that utility costs would be significantly lower if OP used 1930s technology, but I’d assume that using a wood burning stove to heat their house would be much costlier. Modern technology typically allows one to use resources much more efficiently, even if we tend to use much more of those resources.
I have stepped off the hedonic treadmill. I prepare nearly all of my own food and I eat extremely well. Ingredients are cheap. I don't live in the USA so my healthcare is unaffected. The internet is a thing so I can (and do) continue to educate myself for free.
But yes, I don't have an extensive wardrobe or a large house. So what?
When looking at those tables, keep in mind that taxes in most of those countries (except maybe Switzerland) are significantly higher than the US taxes. In fact, the US median wage earner pays almost no income tax, only payroll.
Corporate profits are after wages. They could have the same profit before wages - but if the share was distributed more evenly, overall profit would be lower, and the worker would be better off.
It's not like this would've affected companies at all. R&D is at an all time low compared to profits. It's not like they couldn't afford to invest in R&D to keep an advantage if workers were getting paid more.
Seeing as inequality is higher than during the Bell Epoch in France - and any other time in recorded history, this doesn't seem preposterous.
> It's not like this would've affected companies at all
How can you be so sure? Tens of billions of profit every year/quarter make these companies very appealing for investors, allowing them to spend unlimited cash to expand their business.
A well run company that has limited profits and expansion will then in turn have less R&D. Think IBM, Oracle - they haven't kept up the pace and got seriously behind MS, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google etc.
I don't have a crystal ball or a degree in economics, but to me it's pretty clear that a successful company will make life better for everyone, including R&D and menial jobs. Say what you want, but Amazon warehouse jobs are better than other no skill needed job in their respective areas.
> That would mean a much smaller house, much less technology, a very cheap car or public transit, vanilla food, only a few suits of clothes, and bare bones health care.
I'm not too far from this, 30 square meter apartment, no car, make most of my own meals, have only a few inexpensive clothing and don't have private insurance (because universal healthcare is better). I have a fair bit of technology but that barely makes a dent in my overall budget, in the last couple of years it's just the internet and the electricity to run them.
10 hours a week (assuming I could get divide my current salary by 4) would barely pay the mortgage/rent due to inflated housing costs. With 20 hours I could pay food/water/electricity and probably have enough left over for some indulgences.
So this is feasible for me, but I just creep into top 10% income bracket in my country, it's definitely not achievable for most people.
By that logic, you should be enforcing a 60 hour/week, to achieve even better goals.
The problem is that job != job, because different jobs have different requirements.
A doctor needs to be available continuously, but he doesn’t necessarily need to be working continuously. An on-call doctor needs to be available 24/7. A general practitioner may only need to show up for scheduled appointments in strict timeslots.
A programmer on a long term project needs to eventually put in hours, but precisely when he puts in those hours matters less. A senior developer is productive anytime he’s available for advice (and there are others working to be advised — with off-shore resources, this can mean extended availability)
A warehouse worker is productive only when he’s explicitly doing labor. Being available for labor, but not doing any, is worthless.
A programmer on a short term or last-mile phase of a project needs to put in the hours, but on a strict timeline — there’s no room to skip a day and make up for it tomorrow.
Companies already acknowledge this, albeit implicitly. The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more valuable your availability and the less your labor. CEOs don’t get to have strict no-work vacations, but they also don’t have strict 9-5 work/life split, because they need to be available all the time. At the same time, they can go normal days without any real work to do, because they aren’t needed for anything.
You're kind of begging the question when you take "The 40 hour/week company will get more done" as a given, because that is exactly what's at stake here, isn't it? People upthread are theorizing that those extra 20 hours a week really don't make us get more done, because (to quote one of the comments above), "the rest is socialization, pointless meetings, lunches, or trying to look busy"
I used to think this. But, I've learned that it assumes a bunch of things that aren't really true at many, many companies:
- Clear goals that the team is bought into
- Productive people who can sustain emotional enthusiasm for extended time periods
- An environment where intrinsically motivated people can thrive, and/or incentives for extrinsically motivated people
- A healthy feedback loop so people know when they're improving and are rewarded for it
Looked at this way, a team of 5 people working 20 hours per week in this type of company can vastly outperform a team of people working 40 hours per week at a company that lacks the above items. (And I'm probably missing some)
That isn't how comparisons work though. You can't compare a 20-hour/week company with good culture to a 40-hour/week company with toxic culture. You have two variables uncontrolled in that comparison.
Compare both companies at 40 or both at 20. The good-culture-40-hour would outperform the both the good-culture-20-hour and bad-culture-40-hour so why wouldn't all companies aim for 40/hours with a good culture?
It could be argued that it is impossible to have a good culture and 40 hours, but that needs a lot of analysis.
(You are working to argue that the comparison being made isn't useful and haven't gotten there. For instance, if I was going to build a company, I'd certainly want to know what parts of a culture were important to a company that compared so well against the longer working company)
I've come to believe that big software projects are like a marathon. Burning up your maximum energy every step of the way simply isn't going to yield better results. You need to create a pace and keep to it. Sometimes you speed up, sometimes you slow down, but saying 60 hours/week from start to finish is gonna be counterproductive.
I remember reading some studies on this, I think it was in the world of game development. 60 hrs/week delivers more than 40 hrs/week for the first few weeks, but then it reduces and after about 6 weeks, you're delivering less working 60 hrs/week than you were at 40.
Of course, there are lots of related issues, like are your employees getting enough sleep? Very varied work might tax employees differently. Is 8hr days, 5 on, 2 off necessarily the optimal pattern? Can people work more efficiently for longer if they're working on something they truly believe in?
This is the same problem as people working 40 hours a week have competing with people working 80 hours a week have; they mostly can’t. Even if the last 20 hours are so marginal that really, you might as well not have bothered the person who worked 80 hours a week got 1.5 times as much done, and in any job that isn’t totally routinised the knowledge and skills gained from working compound. They compound faster for those who work more hours.
I think the point of the original post in this thread is that 40 hour weeks are in reality 20 hour productive weeks. So a company working 40 hour weeks where 20 hours are productive have the same output as a company working 20 hour weeks where 20 hours are productive.
But isn't 20 hours/week or 40 hours/week a negotiated agreement when you got hired? If you want 20 hours/week, get paid less and stop whining about companies should pay more for less amount of mandatory work hours. The discussion should have been more like employees should have more options on choosing how many mandatory work hours they are willing to offer a week when signing agreement with a company.
I am utterly surprised, though not all people here are from the capitalism driven world but majorities are talking like they are living in socialist world.
I can't convince myself that would work. What if it isn't that people hit a peak of productivity at 20 hours of work per week, it's the minimum they try to do and still be acceptable to their boss. This could happen if bosses just assume that people work close to 90-100% of the time during working hours. I am sure no one is honest about it.
If 20 hours were the new weekly target instead of 40 it could negatively impact people if productivity declines on crucial things. That could happen if the new minimum acceptable amount of work to management were, say, 10 hours. So people would similarly spend 50% of their 20 hour working week avoiding work. So there could be a temporary shock throughout the economy as supply of things decreased until things adjusted.
My company’s core philosophy is that there are only 20 productive “creative” hours of coding in the average week. We employ our devs and ask that they aim for 17 hours of billed time to our clients; the remaining 3 hours is spent on our internal sync and calls with clients. The rest of the week is theirs: if they want to keep coding, do it; if they want to mow the lawn, that’s great too.
After almost 8 years with this model, I think the evidence is overwhelming that we maintain somewhere between 85 and 90% of the productive output of our 40+ hour/week counterparts.
I’m excited at the prospect of a positive shift in work/life balance coming out of the massive WFH experiment that’s happened over the past 18 months.
Seconded. I've never had a place where I wasn't supposed to bill a full 40 hours and it's hell. Any distraction or disruption ends up eating into your not work time, or you fudge the numbers and bill for work when you're not working. I could absolutely be fully productive and provide the most value to the client for 20 hours a week.
I’m a cofounder. At a surface level this is a running joke between me and my team: they won’t unionize no matter how many times I insist they do.
More fundamentally I come from a strong Union family. My father is a professor, my grandfather worked for petrochemical companies after the war, his father came from West Virginia and so on. I think that the high salaries and plentiful amenities gloss over the need for a real strong union presence in software. It’s exactly when workers have the power that they ought to capitalize to entrench that power. All we have to do is look at how companies like Amazon churn through H1B workers to see how brutal dev work _can_ be. While development skills are still a relatively scarce commodity we owe it to the next generation of bit pushers to create a strong voice for the rights of labor. Our power as a workforce can then be better leveraged to improve conditions for workers everywhere.
Unions are not — and have never been — perfect, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to fight for fair labor practices in every industry.
> they won’t unionize no matter how many times I insist they do
Wow ... I would think if management is convinced it would make life better for the workers, management could make the case, bring in the organizers and get it done. There are definitely some ripe topics: H1Bs as you mention; age discrimination for sure; wage fixing. Of course the labor-friendly status quo disincentivizes "job security" but I'm sure you agree that's not the only or even primary reason for a union.
I'm not trying to imply it's simple or easy -- I'm pro-labor, a founder, and a dev, and I'm _very_ confused about what unions mean for us and would like to build a cohesive narrative.
The opposite happened in mine: people missed socialization so much that the number of pointless meetings exploded.
I just checked and I've been on the phone for 19 hours last week (out of a 35h work week), and I'm only attending like half of them that are actually related to work, i.e. skipping meetings that are just for coffee and talk, lunch break videogames, and whatever they do in the discord (yes, they created a discord to "keep in touch").
The best was last summer when we had a 2/3 office/home split, which left people happy in terms of social contact and at least I could work from home without nonsense for 3 days.
Remote work productivity mid-pandemic won’t necessarily translate post-pandemic because in the pandemic the other ways we could spend our time were so limited. In contrast, right mow I could be at the gym, having a long lunch with a friend, doing errands… The new freedom and temptation to do those things will gradually undermine the remote option, until
bosses finally tire of the cat and mouse and everyone must go back to their cubicles.
Don't forget commute times, which can be bad especially in high cost of living cities where you have to live really far from things to afford a decent place.
For us it saved everyone an average of 1-2 hours per day.
Also consider the energy savings. Commuting by car every day uses tons of energy. Of course this is somewhat offset by more HVAC being consumed by houses, but I highly doubt that totally erases the savings from not driving so much. Cars are very energy intensive.
This is a refreshing perspective that takes into the reality of what humans are able to do, over time. Quite a good idea as well, why not spend some time taking walks, doing housework, and being in nature rather than standing and chatting by the watercooler/coffe machine, having meetings with no benefit or trying to surf the web without anyone noticing.
I've worked remotely for years on and off from the past two decades and I understand that you can't just work remotely. You have to socialize as well. Many companies think 'remote work' is about work, and that is far from true. Every aspect of 'work' needs to be done remotely. If you're not socialising and doing fun things remotely then people will grow increasingly isolated and eventually quit.
Not the person you asked, but work has objective measures of the organization (bugs closed, number of commits, etc), and those doubled.
Then management said they thought planning and roadmap would implode, but those also (subjectively) went much better than usual this year, with written down decisions, and discrete decision points instead of useless repeated verbal syncs.
Also, it seems as though fewer high profile things slipped than usual, but that’s hard to measure year-to-year.
Finally, surveys say a large majority of the employees strongly prefer indefinite part or full time work from home.
So yes, as a "boss", the work-from-home future is definitely and absolutely destroying my brain, but I think the whole discussion around control in the article completely misses my point. I couldn't care less about control and never cared about seat-in-the-ass time before.
But as an engineer become manager, I can absolutely feel both sides here:
While everything development is massively more chill remote (no interruptions and hey, just go fill your dishwasher while stuff compiles), everything about managing remotely completely sucks for me.
Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people. What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done now takes eternities and every meeting is an energy hog.
Honestly, I really enjoyed being a leader for a technology organization, but right now, I absolutely hate it. There seem to be others who cope better, but it's certainly not for me.
I'm pretty curious on how all of this will turn out.
Hopefully leaders can learn some empathy from this pandemic.
> everything about managing remotely completely sucks for me.
As an engineer, everything about working in-person completely sucks for me. I hate being around people, I hate hearing people, I hate interacting with coworkers face to face, I hate sitting in office chairs and desks, and I hate commuting.
> Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people.
Again, these all completely suck for me in-person. I'm an introvert and I hate having to put on a happy face for the manager (my resting face looks anywhere from tired to murderous), I hate "sitting in a war room" pretending to focus while my time is just wasted by people talking, I hate traveling and waiting in a lobby for interviews when I'm already nervous, and I hate having to mime the emotions and interactions that leaders think are meaningful but that I just do because it's part of office politics.
Maybe you're an exception, and it would be great if you are. But I've had deep and meaningful relationships with people, fully remotely and text-based, since I used IRC as a teenager. I think in 2021 it's fair to raise the bar and expect managers/leaders to learn basic online communication to the level that teenagers were doing like 10-20 years ago, rather than shackle everyone to the office and commutes because leaders can't learn how to use slack/zoom
I understand most of your point, but the end of your comment shows a real lack of interest in and understanding of what people managers are paid to do. The job is to align a large groups of people on tasks while maintaining coordination with other large groups and keeping morale high.
All of that requires tremendous amounts of communication, and communication over Slack and even Zoom is very low bandwidth compared to communication in person.
Consider this: if your home had only a 56k dialup modem and your office had gigabit fiber, would you still prefer to work from home? Because that’s kind of what covid-remote had been like as a people manager in a larger org.
To make remote management work you need to not just “learn how to use Slack and Zoom,” you need to fundamentally redesign your entire org for extremely low social cohesion and low bandwidth communication. It can be done, as evidenced by many successful remote-only companies, but it’s not simple or easy, and it’s brutal to be a people manager in an org that was designed around office work and leading through the conversion to remote-only.
> what people managers are paid to do. The job is to align a large groups of people on tasks while maintaining coordination with other large groups and keeping morale high.
And if WFH improves output and morale at the cost of more difficult management, isn't that absolutely worth it for managers? Their entire effort is dedicated to enabling contributors, if a policy does just that then they should push for it.
I do mechanical engineering, we design stuff for our manufacturing operators and our customer's operators. Whenever some amount of effort on my side may reduce the operator's burden over the life of the product, it's absolutely worth it. I'm not going to make a subpar design just to save myself an analysis, that's the job.
So if WFH requires more management effort, and results in better output for the team, it should be pushed by management. Managers shouldn't compromise their team's output and morale just to save themselves some remote meetings.
Your conclusion is trivializing management and missing the big picture.
1. Not all workers productivity goes up when working from home. During COVID about half my team of ~35 told me they hated working from home and felt their productivity had fallen significantly.
2. It’s often the case that things which are optimal for one team are not optimal for the organization as a whole.
Those two points don’t mean that moving to work from home is never the right decision, it can be the right decision and it can be worth the effort. But it’s just not as simple as most work from home champions like to imagine.
As an engineer who transitioned to p eople management pre-covid, then back to engineering during covid (after burning out HARD), I gained a ton of empathy for my managers.
It's really shocking just how complex and demoralizing mid-level management can be, especially-so in the remote world.
After seeing just how hard it can be to simply know what your team is doing on a given day (let alone to align them to some vague OKR passed from on-high)... Let's just say it's made me want to adopt some practices that make me easier to manage.
At the very least, I'm putting more effort into keeping my tickets & PRs up-to-date and easy to understand at a glance.
> Consider this: if your home had only a 56k dialup modem and your office had gigabit fiber, would you still prefer to work from home?
Perhaps you underestimate how much I hate being outside of my home. If given a realistic choice, there is no situation where I would ever prefer or enjoy the office. Nothing is worth it, and most of it is an active detriment to my quality of life, especially the people. I'm not asking for everyone to be remote, unlike the many people who want to force everyone to be in-office, I just want the option for myself and others to be remote based on preference.
> it’s brutal to be a people manager in an org that was designed around office work and leading through the conversion to remote-only.
It's brutal to be an introvert/misanthrope forced to sit in a chair 8h a day, and the point is that it's not necessary. Let people who want to be in-office do so, and let the rest stay home. I still haven't heard a convincing or legitimate reason why things should be otherwise except for people who are stuck in the 1940s office mindset.
But you have that option. Remote work is available and plentiful, now more than ever. So work remote if that’s what you need. It sounds like that should be non-negotiable requirement number 1 for any job you consider.
All I was pointing out in my original comment is office work is not a conspiracy by management to torture you: it’s by far the best work environment for many people and many kinds of jobs. If you could understand that - while also understanding yourself and that it’s not a fit for you - you might be able to let some of that anger go and find a more comfortable fit on a team.
> It sounds like that should be non-negotiable requirement number 1 for any job you consider.
You're right. Thankfully I'm finally in a position where I can do that moving forward. Before my current point in life, I was more in a position where I had to take what I could get, which is where the lack of flexibility became very frustrating. Just like we let engineers listen to music and wear hoodies, I think it's reasonable to let engineers work from home or the office as desired.
> office work is not a conspiracy by management to torture you: it’s by far the best work environment for many people and many kinds of jobs. If you could understand that - while also understanding yourself and that it’s not a fit for you - you might be able to let some of that anger go and find a more comfortable fit on a team.
You're right about this as well. It's not a conspiracy to torture, and office work is best for some people. But again, I think people underestimate how much people want to have the option of working remote, and overestimate how important in-office presence is for a huge majority of cases.
That’s a disingenuous interpretation and not what I said. Good managers work hard to try and help everyone on the team do their best work. Just keep in mind that the overall team optimum may not be the individual optimum for you. It’s basically impossible to create a work environment that is ideal for more than 3-5 people. The more people you add the more you need to balance everyone’s preferences.
But good management can and does create a work environment where everyone feels things are pretty good.
As for me, the biggest takeaway I have from COVID life is that open office designs have to go, and possibly that hybrid remote work has some answers for how to make that possible. Open office is fine for some kinds of work, but ruins deep work. I think most people who are having an epiphany about work from home either had a terrible commute and didn’t realize how much it stressed them out, or had never gotten to do deep work before and didn’t realize how valuable it was. Those are important things for all of us to learn.
Hate is a strong word, but if you phrased it as "would prefer not having to be near people, listen to people while trying to focus, or be forced into unwanted face-to-face social interactions" the percentage would be fairly high, especially among developers.
> Maybe you're an exception, and it would be great if you are. But I've had deep and meaningful relationships with people, fully remotely and text-based, since I used IRC as a teenager. I think in 2021 it's fair to raise the bar and expect managers/leaders to learn basic online communication to the level that teenagers were doing like 10-20 years ago, rather than shackle everyone to the office and commutes because leaders can't learn how to use slack/zoom
With all due respect, I‘ve been chatting on IRC since the birth of Undernet, but some people I thought I had meaningful connections with I should have better not have met IRL. These days I prefer to make my connections in meatspace.
I introduced Slack to our company and am fully able to use Zoom, but there‘s a difference between four Zoom calls a week and four a day (yes, you do need to manage up and to the sides as well).
You might hate your manager, but so far companies don‘t work without leadership and coordination either.
I hope we can find something better going forward together.
I don't feel the WFH pros/cons align perfectly with engineer/managers either. I know many managers who are very comfortable with managing a geo-distributed remote team. Mine in particular is quite good at it.
I sometimes wonder if software developers who share these sentiments are often disappointed by the way things work in the industry because they expected to be coding/interacting with machines and toys the whole working time but in reality there is a lot more to building software that solves business problems than just coding.
I can only speak from personal experience, but yes, it was pretty crushing. I knew interacting with people would be required, but I did not foresee the full on panic attacks in the bathroom, trying to calm down so I wouldn't just run out the front door and never come back.
Ditto. I haven't had the same intensity, but I always take office lunch in isolation somewhere, take a lot of bathroom breaks where I'm just sitting on the toilet, etc, just to get some solitude. It's a real drag having to interact with people
Perhaps, but how is this different from any other soft-skill? A manager with poor reading comprehension who can't do their job unless they require every single person they manage to be physically available seems to be just as ill-suited for their job as an engineer who is incapable of working on a team, or data scientist unable to present their results in a comprehensible way to stake-holders.
Seems to me that remote-work has been a bit of a reckoning for managers, in the sense that our societal work environments have been tailored in a way that unnecessarily hampers employee well-being and productivity, all to cover up the fact that many managers are lacking in some soft-skills that are critical to actual management.
Couldn't have said it better myself. The shore went out during the pandemic and we saw how many managers and leaders have been swimming without swimsuits. And unsurprisingly, you see a lot of them making excuses rather than finding ways to evolve and grow the way individual contributors have had to do this whole time: adapting to cubicle life, adapting to desks instead of cubicles, adapting to shared workspace, adapting to flexible workspace where you don't even have your own assigned workstation. Meanwhile Mr. Manager in his corner office loses it if he has to make a zoom call
There is also the aspect of being on the record in corporate chat. There is way more on the line when everything is recorded than informal in person talking. People also 'have to be there' with their jobs, doing something they necessarily do not enjoy. On IRC in the 90s when everyone was anonymous and nothing was on the line, you had the social freedom to be more open, and the people who wanted to be there didn't have to be paid to be there.
Yet another good reason why corporate chat message TTLs should be no more than 7-14 days.
(Another is that the default of "forever" in things like Slack and Mattermost means that a compromise of a single user account gets to see every DM (including sensitive stuff DMed like passwords or PII) ever sent or received by that user. It's insane. It's also able to be subpoenaed. Expire your messages!)
People get really annoyed that they cannot find answers to previous questions, and if you have q&a website to get around that, your just moving the chat goalposts around. Not to mention its a higher friction process, so people go ask questions anyway on the company slack.
Also screenshots are a thing and easy to do in secret impulsively, recording stuff when your talking in person has a much higher threshold, and far less people are typically listening.
Also once you get to a certain size, there are legislative retention requirements and legal holds.
I would humbly agree, and you make good points. I never thought about why repeating points is so important. I have often wished to some extent that the bar for communication were higher, but I guess that's something most workplaces would rather just plow through than try to really improve.
It’s not clear what exactly you’re referring to by “attitude” or how you think “Therapy” will affect it.
On the other hand, I can easily see how the sort of non-constructive verbal lashing-out demonstrated in your comment could be a problem in the workplace, and a behavior that one can learn to avoid through Therapy.
But he’s not saying he doesn’t like working with people in general, or even that he doesn’t like the people he currently works with. Only that the previously enforced method of interaction isn’t his cup of tea. And for all you know his co-workers feel the same.
Concise and correct. The latter is probably one of the few benefits I've seen to being in-office, but even then I think it depends on your country. I don't think it's easy for foreigners to get an American remote job, for example.
Maybe you missed the parts where I mentioned acting/miming. I'm not so oblivious as to be a grouch at work lol. That's y whole point: I _have_ to exert effort to be friendly and likable and get along with my coworkers. It takes effort because it's not something I enjoy or want, but is essentially necessitated by any job. I don't like working or coding that much either, but I still put in the effort to do a good job because that's what working is: work. It would just be easier for me and people like me if I could take out the unnecessary stuff like being in an office, just like employers generally pay for air conditioning so you don't have to try working through heat stroke during hot summers.
> What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done
As a person who at a previous job was often pulled into said "war rooms", we almost never "got that hard problem done", but we did always make management feel good about not being able to fully solve hard problems. Mostly these "huddle-work" scenarios created more problems (long term) than they solved, because people weren't motivated to solve the problem, they were motivated to leave the war room. I do my best work when I'm not constantly distracted by others, but many managers simply can't understand this and instead hamstring their employees by having "war rooms" and white-boarding sessions and stand-ups and deep-dives and all the other nonsensical ways of preventing people from actually focusing and accomplishing a task. Good riddance to the on-location office and all the hot garbo that comes with it; the rest of us will be quietly humming away, getting tasks done and solving major problems without such managerial hindrances.
There are entire classes of problems where a group of n persons working effectively together will produce a much better solution than 1 single person on an island (where n > 1).
In those situations, white boarding and deep dive are useful activities.
Business owners would absolutely love it if you could just run a complex (high value-add, high margin) business by only getting a bunch of commodity developers just pulling JIRA tickets from a heap, quietly humming away.
Reality is that, collaboration is important and is required in order to create non trivial products, and thus the margin to pay for the “people doing real work”.
I agree collaboration is very important. What's interesting to me though is that very early in my career (pre ubiquitous video conferencing), I worked for a large multi-site corp. Me and another developer were the only developers in the local office, yet somehow we were able to collaborate using phone calls and email to build some pretty cool software with other team members in various offices around the US.
I'm not saying that digital tools are always perfect replacements, but there is a large gradient between a single person on an island and sitting shoulder to shoulder at a fold out table (which I have also done).
I'm at least 50% convinced that there is a natural selection where managers are the people who like that stuff but people who stay developers hate it. I totally agree with you, from the moment I step into one of these rooms with my laptop in hand I just want to get out of there and back to my chair, my monitors and time to think things through.
1) creative brainstorming (ux, ui, branding, early architectural decisions) to ensure everyone can present and validate their ideas, and people are more on board with decisions as they saw democratic backing (or, at the very least, feel that objections they raise were heard!)
2) bringing staff that would normally be spread across multiple buildings and units together - the bigger the org and the more stakeholders involved, the more important a common space for (at least) the leadership team is, especially to cut through red tape and organizational barriers.
3) when you have an immediate problem (outages, GDPR incidents) to solve and secrecy is involved - no need to take care about people not in the loop, seeing stuff they are not supposed to etc.
What "war rooms" often enough end at, unfortunately, is cramped chicken coops. Not enough space, sales/PM people directly sitting and blathering in their phones next to developers, ... for months. That's a farce.
As a cynical take: Often the real purpose of a war room is not to actually solve the problem, but to provide visible evidence of Serious Business™ Happening, even if it's all just performative. A product owner calls a war room to visually show higher-ups that things are happening and people are nebulously doing things and looking very serious while doing them. It's performance art, but it is re-assuring to the people paying the salaries.
Oh, never think that you can get away just because you are remote. Now we just have multi-hour ‘this is a war room’ meetings, where the entire team is trying to get work done while connected to a permanent zoom session.
Arg. Screw that noise. I refuse to join these "co working zoom hours" where everybody is on the same zoom call. Or zoom happy hour. Or any of that. That stuff is dystopian as hell.
Remote work is great if you are a contractor with well defined scope. In fact it is ideal. You can set firm boundries with your client.
But being an employee who isn't just a cog in a machine, remote is rife with pitfalls. You lose connection with the greater company. People you used to work with on other teams. New hires. There is no doubt a huge chunk of people within my own little org that were hired over the last 1.5 years that I don't even know existed. I've lost complete track over the greater org.
Naw. A year from now it's gonna be almost exactly like what it was like in 2019. There is a reason why we didn't do this pre-lockdown and it wasn't just because of "micro managers" or "the suits justifying their work". FAANG companies pour huge amount of "HR marketing dollars" into their office environments. It literally helps them attract new talent.
I really just don't see these "hybrid" things panning out long run. We'll revert right back to 2019 before anybody knows it.
I agree with "war rooms" not being as effective...but whiteboards, standups and deep dives personally can be helpful.
I think the key thing for me is that I never force people to sit in on these.
When an employee starts a large piece of work they don't understand that I feel have some knowledge on. I ask if they would like to whiteboard a solution with me...or deep dive something in the code, or do daily standups just to talk about w/e is on their mind
Doing these remotely is totally fine, but I do feel these activities...or atleast whiteboarding and deep diving is nicer in person for me
Agreed. I think people don't realize how much WFH sucks for people who are not ICs (or don't care). Pre-pandemic, I was pointing my career in a management direction. I enjoyed both development work and managing and they both took advantage of different skill sets. However, in my mind, management had more upside in the long run, and if I was going to be going into an office every day anyway, might as well keep at it. So at the start of the pandemic I was doing remote management of a technical team. And all those negatives you mention started to add up. In the last few months I got a different job as a senior developer to take advantage of the unbelievable W/L balance of permanent WFH. I decided "being a developer remotely" >> "being a manager in the office" >> "being a developer in the office" >> "being a manager remotely".
On the other hand for my partner who is non-technical and squarely in management, WFH is an endless nightmare of virtual meetings with no breaks. Hard to read people, hard to get people engaged, nonstop pings preventing what little focus time she has left. She wants to get back to an office ASAP, and I don't blame her.
They don't necessarily stop but they're...different, I would say. For one thing, if someone is grabbing your attention in the office for a "quick question", it's easy to make a clean break from that interaction and move on. Verbal communication is just more efficient, and it's obvious when you have a legitimate conflict and need to move on from the conversation (On my way out the door, to lunch, to a meeting, etc).
It's also harder to get multiple "quick questions" at the same time, because in office people see when you're physically occupied. And it could be just me, but WFH I've noticed there is more psychological pressure to respond quickly to chats. Don't want people to think you're lounging off! A red "busy" indicator can mean a lot of things, in contrast to someone physically seeing you in conversation with your laptop closed in a meeting room.
In theory you should enforce boundaries "I'll respond to all questions after this virtual meeting is over" or "I have a firm cut off at 5PM and will not respond after that". But that becomes tough when leadership, who should be setting expectations on this stuff, breaks it's own rules and multi-tasks during meetings or has unrealistic availability. Definitely a cultural thing that heavily depends on your exact role and the organization norms.
TL;DR For "Zoom calls and text messaging" are not a drop in replacement for physically talking to someone, especially for people who spend a lot of their day having many small, ad-hoc conversations.
> Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people. What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done now takes eternities and every meeting is an energy hog.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but, you're doing it wrong. As a leader you should be adjusting to the dynamic that ensures meetings respect your teams' time, have clear outputs and follow-ups, etc. As someone who has been, and will continue to be, remote for many years in a leadership capacity, it's not the attendees of a meeting's fault if the person putting it on doesn't respect their time.
The reality of remote work being forced in the office crowd that I see is a reckoning of where mere presence was taken for value. I would never expect to get the best work out of someone by sticking them in a dungeon for a week. Let them walk in the sunshine with a headset, sit in the shade with their laptop, or take a breather to enjoy their own safe space while exploring new ideas.
This was a real jolt to read though. I've been really bullish about WFH or hybrid work for the future, since as an IC I've seen nothing but the benefits as you mention. I never thought of the stress of remote work in a management role though, so thanks for sharing!
When the pandemic started, I was working as a manager. It was my 6th year in that company. I thought, working remote is the best that ever happened to me.
Now I changed my job three months ago and remote work is killing me.
I realized that managing remotely it’s easy if you already have build strong relationships while in the office. You know how to approach each team member, who you can trust. It also takes much more time for people to trust you.
> Videocalls. Whiteboarding. Interviewing. Strategic work. Reading emotions and connecting to people. What was a matter of just getting six people in a war room for a week and getting that hard problem done now takes eternities and every meeting is an energy hog.
Being in any meeting or war room is also an energy hog. I do understand what you're saying though. What worked before, doesn't work anymore. Remote means management has to change. IC work for the most part was easy to move remote. Work that involved coordinating people and communication is going to take longer to figure out. It can be done, as many pre-COVID remote companies showed. But, it takes work to adapt.
I think some of the reason that so many workers welcome this change is that they have had bad managers (which it sounds like you are not). For my self I had a on-site manager managing a team of 6-7 people out at a customer, however he failed to pick up on my detoriating mental health which lead to a severe case of burnout and me leaving the company. The signs was there, and I am still baffled what on earth he spent 8 hours on each day since the didn't do anything to stop that (at least for the sake of the company - I was not productive to say the least). Given that experience there is nothing gained in having a manager that I physically meet. Interesting to know if the different feelings people have regarding this is due to their experience with different managers.
I hope that you find some way to adjust for the new way of working, if it is having regular workshops, having workers come in regularly, or if it all blows over and thing go back to normal.
> Honestly, I really enjoyed being a leader for a technology organization, but right now, I absolutely hate it. There seem to be others who cope better, but it's certainly not for me.
Managing people in-person requires you to develop certain skills. Managing people remotely requires an overlapping but different set of skills. It is not harder or easier, just different, and like any skill, it can be learned with practice.
This is an organizational problem. You should not have that many meetings. People need to learn how to write. I manage people and we work fully asynchronously by using gitlab to its full potential. I have close to zero meeting a week. Everything is in writing. We write epics for new features and discuss there. A
I've worked in organizations that were from ~20% remote to ~90% remote (for the teams I worked with), and while I've never been the boss - never had more than a couple of people reporting to me - I observed that somehow the bosses' work was getting done, and the organization has not descended into chaos any more than usual. I have to conclude from that that there are ways to run a remote engineering org, with results no worse than for a meatspace-local one. Maybe you're just about to discover them.
This is a great point. For the most part, I love working from home, and will never go back to an office if I can help it. But I completely agree that these aspects of the job are much harder, and the perspective of someone who has never had to do them is going to miss some important things.
> Now, someone insufferable will read this and say “NOT ALL MIDDLE MANAGERS,” and let me tell you, if you’re thinking that, you are probably part of the problem.
Clever. Take the obvious objection--that this is all based on stereotyping of the role and, frankly, cynical assumptions about the way management is or can be structured--and then just turn it into another symptom of management dysfunction!
How very tautological: Before you tell me I'm wrong, let me tell you you're wrong for telling me I'm wrong.
And yes, I'm a manager. And no, I never spent time '[walking] the floors, “[keeping] an eye on people” and, in meetings, “[speaking] for the group.”'' because I have far far more important things to do, like helping my staff understand the corporate vision so they can make good, independent decisions; helping solve problems for my staff when they come to me with issues; working with our sales team to manage customer expectations and negotiate on projects and solutions; managing the expectations of senior management based on the information I'm getting from my staff. And the list goes on and on.
But, who am I to say. I'm just a middle manager who is, I'm sure, just part of the problem...
And your employees have far far more important things to do than commute 5-20 hours every week so they can sit at a desk and stare at a screen and occasionally be physically present in meetings where everyone stares at a screen. We have screens at home.
The article goes out of its way to specifically say there are no exceptions. Like, it literally says "if you think some managers aren't like this, you're wrong and part of the problem".
This makes sense in the mind of the author because their core thesis is that middle management as a concept is broken. According to him, "middle managers are rewarded when they can take work from those who are good at their work but aren’t paid a manager’s salary".
Fundamentally, their view of middle management is the workplace equivalent of economic rent seeking; "In my profession, middle managers usually worked the longest hours but contributed the least, but were somehow graded based on _my_ performance". Rent seeking that requires being physically in the office to be visible: "so many people have gone so far in their careers through the nebulousness of 'management' that has basically no value in a remote setting". And so remote work breaks this model: "Remote work mostly destroys the ability to appear busy, other than having a full calendar."
There's no equivocation or qualification, here. No attempt at nuance. The second last sentence in the article goes so far as to claim "They [middle managers] don’t want to make the office a place where things actually get done, because that’s not the point to them - the point is that they own you."
Had they not gone out of their way to flat out state 'someone insufferable will read this and say “NOT ALL MIDDLE MANAGERS,” and let me tell you, if you’re thinking that, you are probably part of the problem' I suspect I would've found the article a bit narrow-minded and extreme, probably the byproduct of someone who'd been in too many toxic workplace cultures, but I might've understood.
As written? Sorry, but I see no reason to give this a charitable reading. The author is clear on their intent, and their intent is to impugn the work of people like me who are honestly just out here doing our best for the people we work with during some of the toughest circumstances imaginable.
You seem to consider yourself a good middle manager, and I'm sure many people like you exist. There is however a bigger problem in that many managers are not good at the job of being a manager, but they are great at taking credit for the work of others and rising up the ranks of corporations/organizations. Rather they were born with the psychological makeup that directs their actions towards taking credit, as well as other "leadership" roles, but because that specific psychological makeup requires a greedy algorithm, it is actually not very good at orchestration of its subsystems because to be good at orchestrating all the subsystems require being less greedy and understanding each subsystem and their issues well, rather than manipulating, extorting, deceiving, and self promoting (of the work of others as ones work).
I don't want you in your defense of yourself to defend the existence of this coporation/organizational sub-entity because in reality they cost corporations(and governments) an absurdly unjustifiable amount of capital for on average negative result.
Realize that most people if treated like adults know how to work towards a common goal, we are socially adapted creatures by genetic design, and have dominated earth because of it. We actually do not need cult leaders to get to the moon, actually they are more of a hindrance.
I have a regular weekly 1:1 with each staff member (a while back I proposed making them bi-weekly but alas they insisted on maintaining this cadence... it's a lot more work for me, but it's what they need) to see how they're individually doing and to make sure they have what they need.
We also have a regular team checkin to update on overall company status, discuss issues, etc.
Through those mechanisms plus regular communication over Slack, email, ad hoc calls, etc, we stay connected and aligned.
Meanwhile, I stay in contact with my management colleagues so we're in sync laterally and all pulling in the same direction.
This isn't rocket science. It's not even that difficult. You just have to be a bit more intentional about staying in touch and connected with folks.
If anything it reinforces for me how important effective middle management is, as done well, it serves as vital glue to keep a remote workforce connected.
Now, I'm not gonna lie, when we first went full remote I was concerned that the 1:1's would be less effective, simply due to lack of body language, etc. But I'll freely admit I was wrong on that point. In fact, we hired and onboarded a new senior staff member during the pandemic and it went as well as any previous onboarding we've done. Though it's a bit strange realizing I've never actually spoken to him in person...
At this point I think I'd be comfortable going full remote, maybe with the odd in-person get-together just to celebrate successes and so forth. I suspect the only thing stopping us is some older school senior management who aren't yet comfortable with that idea.
I take it as a compliment that my staff get enough out of them that they feel weekly is worth their time. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a giant pain in the ass some weeks. I very much enjoy 1:1's and try to put some real thought and effort into them but they're pretty taxing as a consequence...
Yeah I’m definitely not trying to point fingers, it was just surprising to me. The vast majority of my 1:1s are awesome, and I’ve had some really great conversations, but every so often I find I don’t have much to talk about and I have to google some topics to talk to my manager about lol
Lol, yeah, the other thing I try to remind my staff is that the 1:1 is primarily for them, not me. So if they need the time back or have nothing to discuss, unless I have something important, I'm fine if we just cancel (this is especially common when someone takes days off around the weekend... there ain't much to say if there's only been two work days since the last 1:1!)
A 1:1 has a specific purpose. If it becomes a mindless ritual it loses its value.
I have daily "1:1s" with my manager. I think of what has to change for WFH is that people understand that not every video call is a "meeting". Some of those calls are taking the place of the coffee/lunch conversations that were happening before.
If "1:1" here means those awful 360 review meetings then I can see not wanting to do them weekly (we don't explicitly do those at all anymore) but for me it's just keeping the communication channel open explicitly (as opposed to by happenstance).
I consider myself an excellent middle manager. Having some of my staff work from home is a problem for me because they’ve specifically told me “I hate working from home. It crushes my productivity and happiness.” So I am working to find a future where they can get back to a state they like without sabotaging my reports who prefer working from anywhere.
Yeah, this is my big challenge as well. Hybrid remote is really difficult--if you're not careful it can end up as the worst of both worlds--but not everyone wants a remote work setting and finding a way to be flexible and accommodating to people's preferences is going to be a real challenge going forward.
But, to me, the good news is we can have this conversation now; it's no longer assumed that remote work is inferior. It's just different. Now we get to figure out how to incorporate that into the way we work.
In the first week of the pandemic (March 16th to be precise) I was going to give my notice to start a new job. When everyone was quickly sent home in my city, the logistical problem of being in two places at once disappeared. I struggled with conflicting standups for the first week, but eventually I normalized my schedule and just appeared as a busy worker that was hard to book meeting times with.
I do enterprise UX design (focusing on regulated industries versus e-comm) so I typically need to be briefed on a problem, conceptualize a solution, then iterate with folks. I found I do about 5 hours of real, hard work per job per week. Attending a zoom meeting isn't hard work, and shouldn't be counted as such. In fact, I do most of my hard work at 10pm once kids are asleep and I can finally think clearly.
The most I've hustled was doing three 'full-time' jobs (40/hr per week) concurrently. For 5 weeks I was making the equivalent of $650k per year (120 hours per week @ $100/hr), and honestly it was only hard because some folks wanted the precious 10am zoom slot. The hard work was manageable, and ironically I was more focused and thoughtful because the good habits of one job were brought over to correct the bad habits of another. Research on a UX pattern one week would give me the confidence to recommend a solution to another client that made me stand out as 'having my finger on the pulse of what users want'.
If I could be honest with all of the clients, I would have felt better emotionally and perhaps I could suggest some load balancing on user testing and UX patterns.
Only one manager wanted his 40 hours of flesh, but most have been happy judging me on my output and positive attitude since I no longer fear being fired... I will just take on another job.
I, as much or more than most, fervently agree that companies don't own us - we exchange work for pay and that is a relationship that works best if respect flows both ways which, recently, has been declining.
That all said - most of this article is just a rant about how terrible middle managers are and I feel where that's coming from but it's not an absolute. Management can be extremely strong at shielding you from unnecessary distractions and silliness when it's done well. There is real value in middle managers and, since transitioning to remote work, my manager and their manager have both been working hard to ensure that devs are able to stay as productive as they were while also striving to protect and defend personal time.
I totally sympathize with people that have worked under space-occupiers and from what I've seen it's utterly miserable - but staying full remote doesn't mean a flat company structure is suddenly optimal for every workplace.
I agree that even middling quality middle managers provide plenty of value, but there definitely is a class of manager that does not know how to engage with all of their employee charges and make them effective. Most of the egregious side hustle situations I've run into have come from particular employees that felt they were so close to the chopping block that it didn't matter anyway, as they felt abandoned by their management chain either perceived or in fact. Most others have at least been respectful that the full time salary = time priority and because of that and reasonable task management it became not a problem.
This is why, one on ones are great but you should also occasionally meet your manager and talk with them in a less formal setting. If you're out at dinner celebrating a new project release (especially if the drinks are flowing) - then you'll hear about all the shit they're keeping off your back.
I don't want to discount this kind of reason for wanting to "return to the office", and I think it's definitely part of the cause.
However, speaking as an Individual Contributor, I want to be back in the office so badly. I miss feeling really, humanly connected to my teammates. There's just no positive sense of camaraderie. Sure, we can bitch together about things, but I just find myself unable to connect with my coworkers as fellow human beings in my monkey sphere.
Before we went WFH I legitimately loved my job. Now I hate it.
As an IC, I fully support extroverts going back to the office. I just want introverts like myself to have the option to never go back to the office. I don't understand why people think it's either one or the other
As an introvert myself, I think I totally get your take on this.
But I've also been the only remote member of an otherwise in-person team. It was a truly terrible experience (as many others have written). I fear that the policy you're suggesting would make everything better for those in the office (the extroverts) and worse for those working remotely (the introverts).
I have been in that position before, and with certain groups it has been difficult. My, perhaps optimistic, hope is that post-COVID even those that return to the office will be more understanding for the challenges of those that are remote, it is an experience we have all lived now.
FWIW I'm definitely an introvert and I can't wait to get back in the office. I don't want to have to talk to people all day but I really want some actual meatspace interaction. Being locked up for a year with two small children and only my wife as the other adult to talk to has not been good for my mental health.
Maybe there are different types of introverts. The pandemic has been by far and away the best time in my adult life, even when I only spent time at home with my partner. As long as I can spend time with her I'm happy never seeing another human.
Is this perhaps a COVID specific issue? Even during COVID I've kept in touch with a group of friends, albeit smaller. I still have the chance to go get a coffee or head to the gym, but I get to decide what those interactions are now.
Because it is one or the other. If office-first people are allowed to regain preeminence in a company, then that company will be back to abusing engineers by sitting them in hot-desk open office situations next to shouting salespeople in short order.
This already happens in-person and is another example of why most of the problems people point out about working remotely are just problems with poor communication or workflow at a company. Working remotely isn't inherently more or less effective.
You're advocating for a position as "a guy in a room" , and we've all been taught how dangerous and harmful that person ends up being for an organization that's trying to ship good software on time.
What you're asking for is, frankly, not reasonable. You want to be left alone to code, and that is simply not how software development works anymore (and arguably it never worked that way).
Nonsense. When I'm coding I want to be left alone to code. Often I need to talk to people as well, and I can do this very effectively over Slack, video meetings and screen sharing. I work on a team that was mostly in-office before COVID but I was one of a handful of remote people. Everyone was able to collaborate effectively when needed. Prior to that I've also been in the opposite situation where I worked in the office with teammates who were remote. It's really not that hard.
I don't think I've said anything negative about remote working, I've cautioned against the, "just leave me alone" attitude that seems to come with the desire to be remote.
And for what it's worth, any company you can trick into just leaving you alone won't be a good company to work for in the long term, because since they're not shipping quality software on time, it's very unclear what it is they'd instead be valued for.
The original poster you replied to expressed a desire to "never go back to the office". That's a personal preference and a totally reasonable position. By bringing up Atwood's post out of nowhere, you're building a strawman.
It'd only technically be a strawman if I were arguing that working from home was bad. It's probably a non sequitur, if anything, but the specific person I'm replying to had made comments elsewhere in the thread that create additional context.
Honestly, I think my mistake was replying to you at all, since you don't have all of the context.
Imagine a non-pandemic environment where you could go to a buddy’s house and work. Or for many people, their closest relationships are with their spouse and family. You no longer have to be separate from them for most of your waking hours. Work picks your “friends” for you and in many cases you won’t get along. It seems like you were lucky to be in a good situation.
I think they meant working at a non-colleagues house.
At least, that's what I plan to do when it's possible, every now and then.
I think the change of pace would be nice, back at university I'd do the same with people not on my course.
Being genuinely fond of each other makes time go faster.
Of course, I'd also want to work outside of the office, with my colleagues too. A change of environment every now and then can't hurt.
Pre-pandemic I used to occasionally do this with my coworkers and my boss, it was nice. Of course now all my coworkers and many people I knew have left the city and moved out of state, so this won't be possible again.
Could flying the remote staff to an in-person meeting every 1-2 months be a good balance? As long as the flights are reasonably short (e.g., within the continental U.S. or within the E.U.), it's probably still cheaper than maintaining office space for the remote workers.
Quarterly (or less often) is every 3 months. And at least all the senior people I work with already travel a lot more often that that under normal circumstances.
People can and should absolutely pick the jobs that work for them. And that may include positions where you go into an office daily and rarely travel. But, traveling to an off/on-site every few months for a work week is probably one of the costs you pay if you want to be remote.
If you want a position that is 100% remote that never requires you to physically leave your home, you're welcome to look for such. But don't expect a lot of options at a well-paying tech job. Unless you can do something as a remote consultant.
> If you want a position that is 100% remote that never requires you to physically leave your home, you're welcome to look for such.
Every job I've had from 2010 to 2021 has been like this. Some had optional but not required in person meetups, some had no meetups. These jobs are not hard to find if you have a good reputation for being effective remotely.
I don't disagree. But being well-known as a good 100% remote worker will be a high bar for a lot of people. (As is, at least your implication, of relatively short-term stints.) Most of my jobs have been in the ~10 year range.
My problem with value based pricing is that so much of my time is blocked from producing value by management actions. I would be peeved to be judged on one thing and then have my time spent on anything diverting from that.
The whole idea of a salary is relatively new, since the industrial revolution. There were examples from earlier, but for the most part, everyone was what would now be a contractor. You'd negotiate to do a project for a set fee, or you'd negotiate to do whatever the boss needs at an hourly or daily wage for however long the boss needed you.
The tradeoff was stability for flexibility. People at the low end of the wage spectrum accepted lower daily wages for the stability of employment, and then the trend moved upwards.
It looks like the trend is now reversing at the highest salary levels. Most people now realize that having a salaried job isn't all that much more stable than being a contractor (in the US) with at-will employment in 49 states.
I can definitely see a future where more software engineers are paid per project instead of a salary. And maybe some companies will continually hire certain people that they like over and over again.
That's an incredibly broad generalization to draw over several thousand years of human history. I'd argue since at least ancient Rome the predominant model for societies has been the clientela patronage model  and its feudal derivatives. The employment model is a formalization of that relationship that sets up basic "serf rights" that were otherwise open to horrendous abuse before. The contractors of yore were mercenaries - they were usually paid more than the soldiers in standing armies (sound familiar?).
I agree that pay stability is new, but that doesn’t mean they were in a contracting relationship. For most of recorded history, most people were engaged in some form of subsistence food production. Many were enslaved. Generally speaking, neither of those economic models are that close to “contracting.”
Tenant farming gets closer (although not really). Itinerant labor probably the closest, but I don’t think they made up much of the population in societies I know about. Skilled craftsman could also count, although they look more like a generalized small business than a “contractor” as at least I think about it.
This doesn’t really aid your argument. The client patron relationship is a lot more like a master servant relationship than an employer employee one. You are not equals in any sense in a client patron relationship. And it’s a personal relationship, not a contractual one.
If you're a consultant you have to be comfortable with "selling" yourself, building your brand / networking to bid and win new projects. All this stuff is a hassle if you're not a social person. Its not a scientific result, but most of the engineers I know just want to work long-term on something cool and stick with a known company.
Yeah, that's the downside, but there are lots of headhunters even today that will find and negotiate contracts and then take a piece of it.
As more people move towards that model, I can see a race to the bottom in fees that those companies take. It'll be similar to the way actors get hired -- you get into a relationship with an agency but they're just negotiating contracts for you.
But for example, I pay for my own insurance. There are programs now where you can pay for your own insurance with pretax dollars, so my contracting rate just accounts for this. Since it's likely that high pay software engineers will be the first to go, they are also the most likely to be able to absorb that cost and risk, even without a public option.
Reading the article, I agree with the Author's sentiment. But the battle is not only for the Management it seems. As as example, if you are stuck working from Home due to pandemic with toddlers at Home and you are unlucky not to have a large house where you can have your total privacy during work hours from the entire family, you will struggle a lot to focus.
Also, whether for better or worse, that commute time is often working adult's (who has family) only 'free' and 'personal' time during the weekdays. I took the train and that sweet, sweet hour of no interruption was a bliss - I could browse the internet, listen to music, read tech articles or just chill. Now, I close the laptop and boom - the family is right there...don't get me wrong, I love them but I also love to have my sanity and that healthy separation from my family which the work on site afforded.
Someone else is watching the toddlers—-no one is doing a full days worth of work while taking care of multiple toddlers.
If that person and/or day care can take care of the kids for x hours of work plus a 1 hour commute, they can take care of the kids for x hours of work plus 1 hour of “me time” if that’s what the OP thinks they need.
That’s what I meant when I said it’s not about the kids. It’s about the person watching the kids.
There’s no reason for someone to put themselves into a situation that forces them to spend an hour commuting each day in order to get some alone time.
I do not subscribe to the parents idea in their comment of that because they had an hour traveling of free time per day, they should get that same time at the same time of day now they are not travelling.
I think it is hilarious how quickly and flippantly you solved the problem by saying "heck" get your wife to take care of the kid and go outside for an hour guy. I certainly am not prescribing anyone travel an hour a day just to get their own free time.
If you have a wife and kids I wish you all the best.
Personally I can’t imagine voluntarily choosing to spend any time on a daily commute.
I asked my wife if she was a stay at home mom, would she let me take a 45 min to an hour lunch each day away from home if I worked from home if it meant I’d be home more overall. She said sure.
My wife is a physician, so she works unusual hours. Many of her coworkers occasionally send their kids to daycare on their off days, so that they have time to run errands or just get in some kid free time.
Seems like your complaints are mostly due to being unprepared for working from home, which, given the situation being thrust onto most of us, is understandable, but also not particularly representative of remote work. Most people aren't going to be working from home with children at home all day, the same way they wouldn't be leaving their children at home alone while they went to the office. Many will have a daycare or school at which their kids will be all day. The ones that don't likely have young children with a stay at home spouse, and yes, not having a dedicated setup for WFH may cause issues, but that certainly isn't universal.
The commuting argument makes absolutely no sense to me. I'd personally much rather be spending time with family, or literally anything else, other than being stuck in the car for an hour or two. If you feel differently, that's fine but literally nothing is stopping you from doing the same thing when working from home. If you drive to and from work, and you miss the solitude so much, then take the same amount of time to take a drive. If you take the train to and from work, and you simply need it, then do it. Requiring working in person however forces those who don't want the commute to participate. That's a though-process I simply can't understand.
>I'd personally much rather be spending time with family, or literally anything else, other than being stuck in the car for an hour or two. If you feel differently, that's fine but literally nothing is stopping you from doing the same thing when working from home
i take it you don't have kids? the commute provided me with some time to unwind and transition from work mode to dad mode. im a lot more irritable if i just go immediately from closing my laptop to dealing with the kids, and telling them that dad needs to go sit somewhere by himself for an hour after i finish work isnt gonna work for them.
If you don’t have at least a small office where you can shut the door, I have no idea how you’re getting anything done with small kids running around.
But that’s really a requirement for WFH and companies should start offering some kind of stipend to support that.
Assuming you do though, why can’t you stop work and then spend 30 minutes reading something, or working on a side project? My wife would be fine with me doing that, and she doesn’t keep track of when I finish work that accurately anyway.
I don't get this. We have an arrangement with my wife that I take the kid for a few hours right after work (we usually go to the park) so she gets her uninterrupted free time, then I also get mine at night when she goes to sleep (I usually go 1-2 hours later). Why would I choose a commute instead of this?
When I worked for Intel 2005-2007, at the beginning they were extremely hybrid friendly.
It quickly became apparent that many employees were abusing the system, and not really doing their job. Sometimes, "telecommuting for a week" was codeword for a 2nd week of vacation. There were also rumors of employees running liquor stores while on the clock.
IMO, the hybrid model will work best when employers and employees can build mutual trust and quickly rectify when someone remote is slacking off. I suspect it means learning how to identify who needs to work in person, and who's most productive at home.
Slacking has nothing to do with your whereabouts. A person can slack while they are sitting next to you. What you need instead is a way to evaluate performance and take action based on that performance.
It's easy to deride middle management especially when they try to micromanage by requiring people to be in-office or via other forms of surveillance.
However measuring productivity / output is an really tough problem. If you're a manager, how do you tell if your team is spending 50% of the time slacking vs. working on a problem that is twice as difficult as everyone thought? Especially with software, estimation is notoriously inaccurate.
I think one of the only methods is competition. Was another company or team able to deliver the same feature with less resource expenditure?
> If you're a manager, how do you tell if your team is spending 50% of the time slacking vs. working on a problem that is twice as difficult as everyone thought?
I... talk to them? Ask them questions? Probe to see if they're running into issues? Offer help, support, possible solutions, or just be their rubber duck?
If I sense there might be issues, I probe into the team, solicit anonymous feedback, and otherwise discretely ask for other people's perspectives.
Is it a perfect science? No. Can you get fleeced by staff for a while? Absolutely. But the low performers eventually reveal themselves if you're paying any attention. And the reality is the vast majority of people genuinely want to do a good job. So my preference is to trust my staff to be honest and hard working, recognizing the rare possibility that I could end up the victim of a sociopath who deliberately tries to abuse that trust.
Sure, but then that really boils down to: be subjective, use your manager's intuition.
It's what most managers do, but I'd argue it is not very effective. People regularly overestimate their ability to judge others. Most rigorous studies have shown that judges make worse decisions when they see defendants in person vs. sentencing based on facts and history alone. Intelligence agencies are frequently tricked by moles despite intense training.
If judges and counter-intel agents regularly fail at this, isn't it foolish to think that eng. managers have some secret sauce?
> If you're a manager, how do you tell if your team is spending 50% of the time slacking vs. working on a problem that is twice as difficult as everyone thought?
Why not... Ask them directly? If you understand the type of work your team is doing it should be easy to figure that out. If you manage software engineers and have no idea how software is created no metric is going to save you.
> Was another company or team able to deliver the same feature with less resource expenditure?
How many corners did they cut do deliver faster? And how long will it take before they get crushed by technical debt? There is always a trade-off between quality and velocity. High velocity is immediate to see, but good quality takes time to be appreciated.
>There is always a trade-off between quality and velocity.
This is a common trope but is rarely the case in my experience. Components designed to be flexible and 'future-proof' are the ones that quickly become overengineered, resulting in late deliveries and costly maintenance.
Writing the minimum code required to solve the problem is often a winning strategy.
Agreed, a team that spends 50% of the day staring out the window may actually be thinking and come up with a solution that beats another team. Output/results are ultimately what matter and since we all have finite lifetimes, results per unit time is also quite important.
But isn't competition ultimately the only yardstick by which we can measure this?
I'm a "middle manager" managing a team of 3 right now, and my team has been all remote since I started in this role 4+ years ago. I have over 20 years of software dev experience and I still contribute to our code base.
It's pretty easy for me to listen to my team's daily updates at our standups and figure out how they're doing without A or B. If something's taker longer than our estimate and they explain why, it's not hard to tell if they're making this up (FWIW, no one who works on this team has ever done that).
And yeah, sometimes their productivity dips because they're tired, distracted by non-work stuff, or they just find this particular piece of work uninspiring. That's ok, no one operates at top productivity all the time.
But all of this just highlights the fact that if you want a manager of a development team to be able to evaluate team members' performance, that person needs to understand the job that those team members are doing.
Agreed. I think the intent of the previous commenters was more along the lines of "How do we determine which employees are working earnestly and effectively vs working without motivation or ineffectively?"
Its important to take time out of the question, because time spent, after a very small minimum, isn't a strong indicator of performance.
> how do you tell if your team is spending 50% of the time slacking
You don't! As long as they deliver what you ask of them, and do it well, it is none of your business if they used 40 hours a week or 1 hour a week doing it, if they played with their kid while doing it, loaded their dishwasher, or called their mother while doing it.
So there's the rub. When the "good" manager asks you, "how long do you think this task will take" and you say "40 hours" but then you do it in 1 hour - do you still think you have the rest of the week to load the dish washer, play with your kids etc?
A "good" manager can at least broadly know how long something will take, and not accept "40 hours" for a 1 hour project. A good manager may not be able to know that a 40 hour project will only take the employee 30 hours, but at that point, who cares? Is the employee sandbagging an extra 10 hours that problematic? Do we really need employees correctly estimating time to completion as perfectly as possible? Is an employee completing a task the company wants them too, ahead of time and on schedule, with a few extra hours to decompress or live their life really a disaster scenario?
What happens if the employee says "30 hours" and if it takes them 40. Do managers/organizations then move things back, or do they expect things done by the deadline given previously, even if it means putting in overtime to get it across the finish line?
That's already a problem in the office culture. I may be able to tell if you are diligent, but I can't tell if you are productive. And as a manager, I would rather have three hours of effective work than 8 hours of ineffective work.
So you are saying is that the solution is to just cram people into an office. They are forced to work or something, some part of the time, right? It's not like there's much to do after gossipping and smalltalk. No need for you to do anything, really. Easy work, smart!
I think this is the death-knell for old-school management. Which has been coming for a while.
Employment used to be a for-life thing. You worked for an organisation your whole life, and climbed the management ladder as your career progressed. The number of people you managed was a sign of your success, and the number of people that the organisation employed was a sign of its success. Management's role was to make everyone work hard, and "working hard" was usually measured by how long people stayed in the office.
Now, we work for maybe 2 years for each of a series of different employers. We stay long enough to get some ticks on our resume, then move onwards and upwards. Freelancing/consulting for periods of our careers is normal. But management hasn't really changed or adapted to this - there's still very much a sense that a manager is there to make everyone work hard, and most organisations have no idea how productive their employees (because they measured productivity by how long people were at their desks).
So management culture needs to change. For the better, I think. But it's going to be a shock for a lot of people.
This person seems to have a really cynical take on management. The best answer I have to it is that management becomes a fundamental necessity to have productive teams and that applies regardless of remote work vs not.
As soon as work scales beyond what a single human can do in complexity and / or size you need multiple humans. Proceeding forward without anybody actually coordinating what those humans are doing turns out to be a disaster for multiple reasons, many of which if this person was subjected to the situation, they would immediately invent an equivalent of a "middle manager" or boss to solve.
I actually don't see the need for this decreasing with remote work, in fact I think it might increase.
I've always found it weird that working a salaried position means you've got to have your butt in a chair 9-5 regardless of anything else going on - but you also need to be on hand to fix problems at 10PM without any compensation earned. It might honestly be nice if we transitioned professional work to hourly compensation - I think that would strongly reinforce the bounds of what you, the employee, owe the company and what compensation you should earn in exchange.
If a shift to hourly happens, I suspect we're going to see reluctance from a lot of businesses to pay actually-equivalent hourly rates, which will give them sticker shock ("$200/hr!? I was only paying about $100/hr before with salaries!" Right, but your workers were only spending an average of half their time on stuff that will count as hourly-billable work—numbers exaggerated for ease of calculation, but that's the reaction I expect, in general), coupled with a lot of newbies willing to take those too-low rates because they haven't done the math, and think the rates look high, especially if we're talking (as we most likely are) contract-type work without any kind of benefits. IOW I expect a reduction in total effective comp for the sector, at least for the first few years, if that shift is widespread.
Exactly, showing up at 9:05am makes us late, but feel free to keep us late on some fire drill to 7pm, light up our slack/email after hours and occasionally call us in the dead of night. (How many people logged into HN after dinner are still logged into work on another window?)
I worked somewhere where we had a multi-week emergency with basically the entire team working 12-16 hours/day including the weekend.
They then ceremonially gave us some comp days to use, not even making up for the weekend days loss, let alone the double/triple weekday time.
The joke of course is our firm already had "unlimited" vacation time so... infinity+X = infinity. Also they were picky about how soon we could use the days, and that we couldn't use them consecutively, etc etc.
At least in BC (and this is almost certainly illegal) a coworker of mine was once working for Telus and was denied the ability to take vacation in November and December due to it being a rush season - but was then also denied a request to have their unused vacation time either paid out or carried over. Neither of these halves are illegal on their own - together they're almost certainly illegal but damnit if labour laws aren't as clear as mud.
At the moment one big reason remote work looks very attractive because 9-5 is still seen as the norm.
I'm all for remote work and think its superior in pretty much every dimension you measure workers on.
Having said that in a world where remote working is seen as the norm I do wonder how I will feel. I can see more and more technology being introduced to monitor staff at home for example. And the competition for jobs might spike.
Personally I think I'll be ok. Here's hoping I can never go back to an office. But yeah I wonder if I'll still feel the same in a few years...
And salaries may drop precipitously if you are in one of the higher paid countries, because you are now competing with people who may be equally as qualified as you but can make WAY less and afford a very comfortable standard of living anywhere in the world.
Even within countries. Why may San Fran salaries when you just found someone in Fargo, SD that can do the same job and would prefer to stay there.
I realize companies are discussing keeping Silicon Valley salaries wherever their employees choose to live, but that can't last. You could pack up and move to another country and live like an absolute king.
I think observed only along the axis of the increase in remote work as a percentage of available software jobs this may true, but may not properly account for the continual geometric increase in demand for highly skilled software developers happening alongside the other shifts.
Or in other words, I suspect demand for developers is going up faster than remote is addressing supply.
> I realize companies are discussing keeping Silicon Valley salaries wherever their employees choose to live, but that can't last.
1) Now that managers have realized that the programmers don't need to be in Silly Valley, the next realization is that they can hire outside Silly Valley and pay less. There are a whole lot of people in cities like Pittsburgh who will be happy to get 10% less than Silly Valley to get a remote job. And then 10% less than that to get a remote job. Lather, rinse, repeat until salraies are at the cost of living for the area.
2) Once they do that, they will realize that they can lay off almost everybody with a high salary for no net loss.
If you're just a programmer, life is about to get bad. Hope you banked money while you had it.
Honest question. How many people who can get jobs at SV companies are still sitting in crappy towns in the US? I'm sure there are some, but I'm not sure there as many as people think.
The world wide developer pool is certainly a bigger issue, but that's been around a long time. Remote is only part (and I would argue a small part) of the reason that outsourcing isn't used more often.
I think what we'll see is the super low salary areas rise and the super high areas come down a bit. I don't think it's about to 'get bad' for anyone with the skillset to work at a SV company though. In fact, it's more likely about to get much better for everyone else. I've already seen salaries in my locale go up since local companies are now competing with nearby big cities companies who are now comfortable with remote workers.
> How many people who can get jobs at SV companies are still sitting in crappy towns in the US?
The entire ModCloth Pittsburgh team, for example?
If you see some of the talks by the former ModCloth CTO, he points out that the Pittsburgh team was better and cheaper than the Silicon Valley team by a good margin. Part of that was the fact that the Pittsburgh team had more experience that the Silly Valley team because they didn't jump ship every three years. Part of that was the fact that the Silicon Valley FAANGs absorbed the actually good programmers so what you were hiring in Silicon Valley was the mediocre second tier who thought they were first tier and you had to pay them first tier salaries.
And don't underestimate the number of people who don't want to move. At least 1/3 of my college graduating class didn't want to leave Pittsburgh.
Yeah, when I worked for a FAANG, I was often asked to move to the US, which never worked for me because of family/lifestyle commitments. Even if I do say so myself, I was a lot better than the equivalent US team, simply because we hired less in Europe and paid much better, resulting in a higher quality of candidates.
Now, at a relatively less competent company overall, the difference between the quality of the US employees and the European ones in the same position is much larger (and not in a good for the US kind of way).
Like, almost none of my current colleagues based in SF would have passed a FAANG loop, but they get paid 2x to 3x what I do.
I don't mind, as I like where I live and I get a really good salary for my area, but if I could take one of the now remote FAANG jobs and get an SV salary (even SV-20%) I would do so in a heartbeat.
It's gonna be interesting times ahead for sure, and I'm definitely glad that I don't have any investments in California property.
I have an avg salary for my area but extremely flexible schedule, I work when I want.
However, I am seeing more and more remote friendly options that will double my salary and I don't think my employer is capable of matching that but it is business and I would be dumb not to take advantage of it at some point soon.
I could care less about what happens to my bosses.
I’m never going back to an office unless they pay for my gas, mileage, time spent in traffic, office wardrobe, etc.
It’s unfortunate for these companies that they were so reluctant previously to allow anyone but a reverse-schedule off-short worker have the privilege of not having to be in the office. The cat is out of the bag.
The time wasted in traffic turns an 8 hour work day into 9 or 10 hours. I would work 8 hour days for $120k. But in order to get me to work 10 hours I would need more like 200. 12 hours I would be demanding 3-500k probably. Time is not fungible.
Bosses love the idea that they capture your time and part of your soul with work - you are theirs, “full-time.” Their intention was not just to hire you for a task within an organization - it was to trap you and your production in the office, and on some level divorce you from your labor while extracting it, in exchange for the “protection” of full-time work that rarely if ever defends you from layoffs or firings, especially in at-will employment states. That’s why Shayne’s statement is so powerful - it is not about work, it is about ownership.
How many of y'all working full time signed a contract that says anything you make, on or off the clock, belongs to The Company? How many of y'all noticed that in the contract and tried to negotiate it out, how many who did succeeded in that?
This article presents such a dark take on the employer employee relationship that I can’t tell if I am truly blessed for the jobs I’ve had, or this person has a distorted view of incentives and motivations.
I've been working from home for the last nine years, running my own business. All of my contractors and employees work remotely. In one instance, I've yet to meet the person I hired physically (I knew them from a previous job of course -- they are not strangers.) I absolutely love remoote. So much less BS. My employees do their thing and I do mine and we're satisfied at the end of the day if we meet each others expectations. I don't care when, how and where they work or who else they are working for. It took a little bit of planning and setup.
We mostly communicate asynchronously. There is no expectation that a slack message will be answered in realtime. Before the pandemic, we used to meetup onece a month for lunch or a day out (no work) just to get to know each other.
I am also careful about sharing sensitive information that could hurt the business if misused. I assume that my employees have outside business interests and take the appropriate precautions. But for the most part these are precautions one should take anyway, remote or not.
It's a tiny business, so it really doesn't need a lot of control or supervision and I'm happy not to have to supervise if I don't have to. To me having to actively managec (and god forbid -- micromanage) an employee is a red flag -- I hired the wrong person.
The article is right the real reason people want their employees to work from the office is control -- ironically a misguided sense of control.
I'm quite confident this is what any kind of WFH arrangement is going to look like for most people, in the near future. Some segment of the Tech Elect will not have to suffer it, but most people will, including programmers (most of whom aren't in FAANG or fancy start-ups or finance, and hell, some of those might resort to this kind of thing, too).
Whose to say this is solely applicable to WFH? Given the numerous anecdotes about how much time is spent at work socializing, I don't see how companies use this to monitor remote employees, but don't start utilizing this for those coming into an office.
I think it’s inevitable. If the software naively measures keystrokes or idle time, there are obvious ways to trick it. Unfortunately less technologically adept employees might not be able to circumvent it
The real issue at hand is that businesses do not like getting played the same way they've been playing employees for a long time. If I get my work done in 50% of the time I don't get to take any time off, and the "quota" moves up without moving up my pay (or at least not proportionately) .
However if I'm late on my work there certainly will be "overtime" ... So which is it? Is it that I am paid for a certain quantity of work however long it takes, or that I'm paid for however much i can accomplish in a certain amount of time? (and during certain hours I might add...)
It’s neither. Unless you’re 1099/hourly or in sales you get paid to be available to work during a set period of time (generally not specific hours), regardless of how much you accomplish during that time. Keep in mind this works both ways - if you finish your work in 5 hours and spend the next 3 messing around on Reddit or whatever you still get paid for 8. Getting paid for actual hours worked isn’t as much fun as you probably think.
"The reward system on the corporate ladder has become inextricably attached to a kind of professional abuse - that the only way to rise within a company is to be able to 'take control' of a department and its people."
without sources to back them up should not convince anybody. Just because the author is spouting social science of the workplace is no reason to give them carte blanche as far as sources go.
Man every time I think about leaving my company I read an article like this and realize how good I must have it. I mean I work in an industry that generally does help the world, but we just don't have to deal with the stuff in this article. Middle management is there to assist, not be cops. The CEO works his ass off because he believes in what he's doing and what he's built. He delegates because he has to. We're embracing remote work as the "new normal" and the bosses are working with those of us in the trenches to find solutions that work for everybody. It's not perfect but it certainly isn't the environment this article describes.
"The reward system on the corporate ladder has become inextricably attached to a kind of professional abuse - that the only way to rise within a company is to be able to 'take control' of a department and its people."
For people who have seen this, no citations are needed. It's like stating "water flows downhill."
Just to add another opinion, I work at a large healthcare company and all layers of management have been kind and understanding. They are sending emails about how they go on walks after lunch and tips on separating work and the rest of life. Or how they deal with the kids at home.
As for my own work, I don't make the full 40 hours, sometimes I take a shower or quit early when the day is almost over and I can't squeeze any tasks into my last 30 (or 60 ;)) min. But I did the same in the office, I just can focus hard for 40 hrs a week. In office I'd goof off, take long coffee breaks, go on a solitary walk at 15:00 (3PM), promise myself I'd work on the train but read a book in stead... etc. But I have been finding it a lot more easy to call (MS Teams video) colleagues from around the world. It's more normal to do it and to have the cam on. It works great, I'm unifying parts of the company I didn't even know existed. And all that while sitting at home being barely able to walk because of a foot (both feet actually) condition.
While the article is overly combative and goes off the rails at times I’m glad to see it on the front page of HN. Remote work changes the nature of first line/ middle management and the many of the players that were well suited to the in person way of doing things aren’t going to do as well in a remote forest environment.
The author hits one important difference- people who are energized by social interactions won’t get as many of them in a remote first world. Doubly so if they feel rewarded by power dynamics. So the things that pushed them toward management in the first place get taken away, no wonder so many of them want to get back in the office.
However, we are going to see more remote first companies and I think we’ll see different management models arise from that. One one hand, I could see a hellscape of technocrats trying to micromanage metrics on people emerging. On the other, I could see a more humane set of managers less interested in power dynamics than in team success. I’ve seen both and we’ll see what becomes a norm and where.
I'm going to assume the article was in the context of software development.
Doesn't it ignore a large swat of people? What about all the other business partners, operators and users/customers?
Generally the managers job is to engage will all these other parties and identify their needs, evaluate if the team can help them with their problems or not, find out what possible solutions could be done and what the cost of it would be, justify if the team should grow or shrink based on what people would like the team to accomplish, and set expectations and priorities for what the team will deliver each quarter/year. At the same time, make sure the team can focus on delivering on those commitments, by both understanding well what the ask is, eliminating blockers they face, and keeping their distractions on tengential things to a minimum.
They also need to listen to each individual reports own career aspirations and desire, and see how they can support their growth, as well as evaluate their performance within the team and provide feedback on that regard, while also fighting for those that are exceeding to get promoted or receive raises within the organization.
It does mean they don't "do the work" of what is eventually delivered, but it doesn't mean their work wasn't impactful.
As a team lead, I'm exposed to that half of the world as I need to support the manager in this process, and I'm also involved in "doing the work". So I feel I can respect both sides, and you'll know when you have a bad manager, because more of that work will fall on the engineers and that'll take away from them "doing the work", and you'll start to feel like the team has no direction, no idea what it should do or where it wants to go, etc.
Edit: You'll also see that in companies where the lead engineer ends up doing this due to not having a dedicated manager, they can no longer contribute at what they are good at "design and implementation of software".
I agree with the article but I am nonetheless pessimistic. I do think remote work will stay, the relentless force of capital is now on its side, but I’m afraid that’s only because even in a remote work paradigm the “managers” will still discover new ways to control, abuse and enjoy their employees.
Ok some work can not be done remotely. There are also cases when the work can (and should be) remote but the laborer can't (kids, little room etc. etc.) So we set this aside.
Other than that finally there is the article that reflects my feelings about the subject. I always thought that this was a "plot" for bosses to "own" you soul and for a sizeable percentage of middle managers to be a parasites who get credits for the things that could and should be done without them.
I have my own company and when I need employees (contract workers actually) they always work from their own premises.
I've been WFH for almost 10 years, only going in the office for important meetings. Most of that time I didn't even have a desk. Nobody ever questioned if WFH affected my productivity. I just assumed everyone knew what I knew, that I could get more done from home and minimize stress. I don't remember a single awkward conversation about it.
Now it's a daily topic and it's getting tiresome. We'll see if the "back to office" pundits succeed in ruining a good thing.
The thing I love about this piece is that it almost gets at the core idea that so many organizational practices sacrifice the organization's nominal purpose (e.g. help the business get work done) in order to reinforce the social hierarchy/pecking order.
You see the same thing across many organizations large and small, including schools, hospitals, etc..
It amazed me while companies like bank of America has enforced working from home of all for the last ten years, when facing the "culture war" of office vs home, nobody seems to pay attention what BOA has done and how they did it for a prolonged period of time. Why? because BOA is not as "digital" as startups?
Exactly this!!! So many truths in this article, for things that we’re going to see changing around us really soon. The software development related jobs are going to see a massive change the following months/years while we transition to a hybrid environment. Managers are afraid that WFH will make them obsolete, but they instead should find new ways to adapt.
One thing I have disliked about remote work is that more and more meetings are being recorded, and just regular meetings, not presentations and such. I don't recall having my team meetings recorded ever before COVID. It feels like Big Brother is watching, and definitely changes the dynamic of a discussion in a bad way.
That's why the bosses should get familiar with remote working, too. They should experience it first before they feel. Currently they're scared from "nowhere". Instead if they look at the result delivered they will get to know how to improve the situation.
Please, remote managing, instead of getting scared.
The fundamental problem in my opinion is that people should not be paid for their time, they should be paid for their actual work output, that’s the secret of productivity —- if you simply pay someone on the clock, whether by the hour or by a salary, you’re inviting them to waste time.
I think this might be good for very small "prototype and forget" kind of jobs which are mostly filled by consultants anyway. But for everything else that requires expertise and skills which are not shared equally given the vastness of the tech world this is just not a good approach IMO.
I don’t understand why disparities in expertise would have an effect on this? Some people take longer to complete a task, others take less, the task is a value, you pay for the work output. I suppose it’s different situations where people have a stake in the company, like ownership, who are helping to actually steward its direction. But for most of us that’s not really the case.
> I don’t understand why disparities in expertise would have an effect on this? Some people take longer to complete a task, others take less, the task is a value, you pay for the work output.
In programming (and in tech in general) the more a developer has experience the more he will be productive by a factor that can go in the hundreds. I can probably could not resolve a off by one error in a nodeJS code base because I know neither node nor js, but a mediocre full time node js dev could easily.
I can't give any insight in my bosses' brain only my own:
Working from home opened my eyes. I already hated going to the office because of rude/loud coworkers, an open floor plan, nothing to do in my breaks than to sit at my desk (no nice parks near me) & a 15 mile (30min) drive to work.
During my time at home (during my breaks) I was able to do some gardening, visit my mother-in-law and walked our dog. I took me around 2 minutes to get ready to work. All of that on top of being able to concentrate. I actually liked my job and was looking forward to working again.
Now that I'm back in the office I just feel out of place. I can't concentrate, I have to talk to people who think they can interrupt me at any time even after politely telling them to get lost. I don't get much stuff done, my productivity dropped to pre-wfh levels.
So to all managers/bosses/whatever that insist on everyone being in the office: Fuck you!
Who cares? Outsourcing has been a big stick waved by management to scare employees for decades now, but its had pretty mixed results. The reality is, at least for programmers, there isn't enough local talent to go around. There's plenty to be found overseas, but companies are still clearly hesitant to go after it. There are cultural, language, governmental, and time-based issues that can't be ignored. Perhaps someday we get to a point where companies are willing to ignore all of that and ship everything overseas, but I doubt it, and in the mean time, there is absolutely no reason to not call their bluff.
TLDR: Middle managers are scum. “If you disagree you are part of the problem”. Remote work makes it harder to satisfy their need to control you. And that’s why corporations want you back in the office.
I don't get the feeling that people fully appreciate the gravity of 'my team is more productive now that we work at home'. That means your team does not need to be a team. The work is mostly commoditized and completely outsourceable, in whole or in part.