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The final post on remote work
I am tired of replying to people (many not even in the workforce) commenting on this, so here's one final post on the subject...
Remote work is not a new phenomenon. Some of us have been working remotely for 2 decades now, if not longer. Anyway, the pandemic ushered in a world many have predicted would happen but take decades, just all at once. This of course breaks the brains of unimaginative people who can’t fathom not going to a specific building to do the same work that could have been done from anywhere. Like it’s a bottle of champagne or something and has to be made in a specific region of France, otherwise it’s just prosecco. The revenue made at a different arbitrary building just hits different, I guess? It’s all very weird.
Many of us were commuting hours to sit in meetings with others virtually for years, we just broke the spell of that charade. Turns out, the spotlight effect is real, and when someone sees something they were doing/believed in before suddenly doesn’t make sense, they can't go back. Driving to an arbitrary building to send emails. Believing Santa Claus is real. Stuff like that. There’s real psychology on these things...
So today, I wanted to put down some final thoughts on remote work to link people in this debate, as many seem to be playing out a rip-van-winkle situation of suddenly realizing (remote) work is our new default and ‘we better do something about it’ instead of, you know, embracing a natural evolutionary flow of humanity. The arrow of time isn’t stopping for anyone on this. Let’s at least understand why it’s positive for the world.
It’s not “WFH” - it’s remote work (but really, it’s just work)
I maintain anyone who calls it ‘work from home’ doesn’t get how the modern world works. While home may be one place to work, it’s just one. Technology allows us to collaborate from anywhere. The promise of the tech has been finally met here, and a clear division I see is people who call it “work from home,” as home is just one place. My former team at Google was distributed across many offices (London, NYC, San Francisco, etc) and had some team members in small satellite offices and others working from conferences and yes, at home. I did frequently work from home while there, but even when going into the office much of my day was spent on video conferencing. This was well before the pandemic. If we shipped products at internet scale and shaped entirely new categories used by most of the business world, anyone can do this (I seriously doubt most things are close to this complex).
I took note pretty early on in knowledge economy work that the top pros could basically plug in from anywhere, and that the best managers not once were concerned with physical location, as long as projects got done. Because it’s the 2000s, not the 60s. No chance you have the best people if you need to preside over them like an authoritarian regime here. Look, even before being brand-side: while consulting I would give talks the world over at industry events and while visiting clients on-site. I’d still run my other projects and programs from events, in hot desks and from hotel rooms. The location was never the point. I don’t really believe this needs to be said again here, but there you go.
You still should see your team IRL
Some others commenting clearly are either working with a team that doesn’t know how to run the remote playbook, or have made up an idea in their head of how the world functions. Quarterly in-person’s for brainstorming, planning and review - plus socialization - are vital to maintain to maintain cohesion and alignment of your team. Yes PM software is bread and butter, but you still also meet in-person. I know of very few companies who don’t do this. Running distributed teams doesn’t mean never seeing your colleagues.
The ongoing (silly) myth your work will be outsourced for pennies
Every armchair analyst/investor who doesn’t actually build anything and fashions themselves after Gordon Gekko thinks this is easy and suddenly a no brainer. The thing is, if it were possible to outsource cheaply, it would already have been done years ago. In many cases it already has been. If not, it’s a great sign that management is clueless, or asleep. If you want competent people for complex tasks you have to pay a decent rate. No one smart enough to *checks notes* use Google would take a fraction of the pay of what the market rate is for a role. You want the $200/hr engineer in India or Chicago, it does not matter. Hire the $20/hr one and you will not only fall behind competitors, you’ll spend weekends of your life fixing work done poorly. The “cost savings” here doesn’t work out like you think it might (the thinking of midtwit MBAs from box-checking professors who haven’t done any actual work for 20 years, if ever).
I've played this game already and am trying to save your sanity here, good luck if you think you can win it. Meanwhile: you should be trying to use AI to make things more efficient, that’s the one if you were worried about personal employment that is the real risk.
Coded language when diff groups call for "Return to Office"
Execs: our company is in trouble & needs an excuse to do layoffs
Investors: please help our underwater office CRE office positions
Managers: we're bad at planning/the internet, love to sit in meetings all day, and/or hate being with our family
Random internet punters: we're mad about everything
(Some) VCs don’t even know what they’re Tweeting about
It was especially amusing the other week when I saw David Sacks Tweeting about how “remote can’t work” when one of their portfolio companies is Slack, a SaaS product that enables many teams to efficiently run remote from all over the globe and was Acquired by Salesforce for $27B. But it’s even worse than this given much of his portfolio is full remote now. They’re Tweeting clickbait, or anger they’re bagholding CRE. Makes no sense.
Silicon Valley tech companies build products that enabled collaboration globally. They did such a good job they even succeeded in finally breaking the stranglehold of office CRE in that area. It’s net positive for the tech industry, as now every company doesn’t have to jockey for position in the same 50 square miles where residents actively don’t even want them there. Our industry of course is notoriously bad at taking L’s. but this one is a W longer-term.
Remote work = less interruption = greater productivity
You have to be a well-run async team to get here. But when you do, you have an almost unfair advantage over those who are crawling in synchronous mode and have the Bill Lumbergh-esque boss walking around interrupting people to ask about TPS reports. Take some research from Ninlabs on the high cost of interruption for programmers as an example. It’s worth a read and provides data which supports the concept of the maker’s vs. manager’s schedule.
Some interesting findings from the research include:
Based on a analysis of 10,000 programming sessions recorded from 86 programmers using Eclipse and Visual Studio and a survey of 414 programmers (Parnin:10), we found:
A programmer takes between 10-15 minutes to start editing code after resuming work from an interruption.
When interrupted during an edit of a method, only 10% of times did a programmer resume work in less than a minute.
A programmer is likely to get just one uninterrupted 2-hour session in a day
We also looked at some of the ways programmers coped with interruption:
Most sessions programmers navigated to several locations to rebuild context before resuming an edit.
Programmers insert intentional compile errors to force a “roadblock” reminder.
A source diff is seen as a last resort way to recover state but can be cumbersome to review
This high cost of interruption and the scarce amount of uninterrupted time in the day doesn’t just apply to programmers of course. It applies to everyone involved in a creative field (and to do the stuff ChatGPT can’t). The trick, as productive people understand, is to minimize interruption and ensure you’re spending your uninterrupted time on the highest value activities. Remote work helps here greatly by removing commutes and getting rid of the cacophony of busy offices.
Common sense, sure, but it’s sad how frequently it is forgotten by those who give in to the high cost of now or let others interrupt their workflow.
Bloat/middle managers down bad
Remote work exposes the fact that some people’s day consists entirely of meetings. And that’s not really work, just poor planning. Most of these people should be reassigned to actually productive things. And, this shouldn’t have required remote to see, really we could blame this one on the fed failing to cycle the economy sooner and burn off the excess layers at companies who were basically just blockers to things getting done.
If organized well, people work both harder and smarter remote
As stated, async work organized well will produce better, more focused results for your company. This requires investment in proper onboarding up front, but is well worth the time. And for certain here, as remote work is still a new phenomenon, people will over-produce. If you don’t want to burn out your team you should probably actively be ensuring folk do take appropriate personal time, as it’s easy to way overextend yourself. I don’t think this one will last forever, as if you’ve been doing this long enough and the pandemic situation wasn’t new for you, you already know how to balance your life. If you don’t trust your team to ship remote, you don’t trust them in person either. This is a “you” problem, not a remote work problem…
Increased freedom, personal happiness, stronger local communities
The “third place” in America (a place that’s not home or work) will see a revival in the future. It’s historically been somewhere such as a bar, but could be a sporting league, hobbyist group, church, etc. The internet lets everyone organize these so easily now and is now the default place for findability and connection. We have also neglected being closer with our neighbors for far too long. Work relationships and friendships are great, but also community connections matter and shouldn’t be on life support like they’ve been. We should be excited here for the mental health of our citizens and local community strength. Remote work will be a massive boast here. And, America badly needs this now, if you’re against this one it’s an odd stance.
I already wrote on the commuting thing here if you want a bunch of data on that (+8 days of life back per week not commuting, ~40K/year in happiness!). Also you’re not burning fossil fuels, and now there’s less traffic for essential workers and people who have to go somewhere to ship atoms. No losers here. America is never going to invest in the quality and quantity of public transit in places like Europe, but we might not even need to to solve traffic now.
Downtowns should invest for a better future
Downtowns should be beautiful, vibrant places for shopping, socializing, dining, shared workspace and connecting/collab and of course live. We should love to go there! Cube farms to jockey excel was never end state. Not sure how broader humanity can point to that & go "yeah, that's best we can do."
I especially like people who say things like converting office CRE to residential isn't possible. Easily doable: many years ago lived in downtown Ft Lauderdale in an old ATT CRE office building converted to lofts. 20 foot ceilings, exposed ducts, super cool space. Way more interesting than normal apt too.
Bonus vlog and podcast
Anyway, I did a vlog on this topic at the start of the pandemic (you can watch here or below if you’d like). Nothing here has changed, and it’s up to you to adapt to this new environment if you haven’t yet. It’s not going away, and it’s a better way to run most teams that ship bits. If you ship atoms, of course it’s a different story.
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