On the subject of remote work

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Introversion

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(Mods, I dunno if this belongs elsewhere?)

I agree with much of what this article says about remote vs in-office.

The Return-to-Office Existential Crisis

In key ways, this fight resembles the current remote-work debate in industries such as technology and finance. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, this has often been cast as a battle between the old guard and its assumed necessities and a new guard that has found a better way to get things done. But the narrative is not that tidy. Netflix’s co-founder and CEO, Reed Hastings, one of the great “disruptors” of our age, deemed remote work “a pure negative” last fall. The 60-year-old Hastings is at the forefront of an existential crisis in the world of work, demanding that people return to the office despite not having an office himself. His criticism of remote work is that “not being able to get together in person” is bad.

Every business leader should ask themselves a few questions before demanding that their employees return to the office:
  1. Prior to March 2020, how many days a week were you personally in the office?
  2. How many teams did you directly interface with? What teams did you spend the most time with?
  3. Do you have an office? If you don’t, why not?
  4. What is office culture?
    1. What is your specific office’s culture?
  5. Has your business actually suffered because of remote work?
    1. If so, how? Be specific.
Some of the people loudly calling for a return to the office are not the same people who will actually be returning to the office regularly. The old guard’s members feel heightened anxiety over the white-collar empires they’ve built, including the square footage of real estate they’ve leased and the number of people they’ve hired. Earlier this year, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, rolled out an uneven return-to-office plan for its more than 130,000 employees—the majority of workers must soon come back to the office three days a week, while others are permitted to keep working exclusively from home. One senior executive at the company has even been allowed to work remotely from New Zealand.

Remote work lays bare many brutal inefficiencies and problems that executives don’t want to deal with because they reflect poorly on leaders and those they’ve hired. Remote work empowers those who produce and disempowers those who have succeeded by being excellent diplomats and poor workers, along with those who have succeeded by always finding someone to blame for their failures. It removes the ability to seem productive (by sitting at your desk looking stressed or always being on the phone), and also, crucially, may reveal how many bosses and managers simply don’t contribute to the bottom line.

and

When we are all in the same physical space, we are oftentimes evaluated not on our execution of our role but on our diplomacy—by which I mean our ability to kiss up to the right people rather than actually being a decent person. I have known so many people within my industry (and in others) who have built careers on “playing nice” rather than on producing something. I have seen examples within companies I’ve worked with of people who have clearly stuck around because they’re well liked versus productive, and many, many people have responded to my newsletters on the topic of remote work with similar stories. I've also known truly terrible managers who have built empires, gaining VP and C-level positions, by stealing other people’s work and presenting it as their own, something that, according to research, is the number-one way to destroy employee trust.

These petty fiefdoms are far harder to maintain when everyone is remote. Although you may be able to get away with multiple passive-aggressive comments to colleagues in private meetings or calls, it’s much harder to be a jerk over Slack, email, and text when someone can screenshot it and send it to HR (or to a journalist). Similarly, if your entire work product is boxing up other people’s production and sending it to the CEO, that becomes significantly harder to prove as your own in a fully digital environment—the producer in question can simply send it along themselves. Remote work makes who does and doesn’t actually do work way more obvious.

I’ve been working remote since 2017. I don’t miss my former hideous commute. I mostly don’t miss being surrounded by people. I do miss some of the serendipitous, Hey How Are Ya? encounters I’d have. I sometimes really miss being able to go to a whiteboard to draw out problems I’m brainstorming on. And I do think I’ve often benefitted from being “nice”, in ways that were maybe disproportionate to my actual output?

But on the whole? I’d be really loathe to be required to commute to an office again.
 

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Way back in the early 1990s, I was required to take a computer and a modem home because I'd sometimes have to monitor things on weekends. The first time I fired up that 9600 baud modem (to the envy of my co-workers, most of whom had been stuck with older, slower equipment), I thought "Someday people won't be commuting to an office anymore."

I was naive, of course, because technology wasn't the blocker. (Well, okay; it might have been back then. :))

Some jobs must be done face-to-face. For others, there's absolutely no excuse for neglecting the virtual office setup. Measure people by what they get done, not by how often the glad-hand you in the hallway.
 

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Even if a job can be done totally remotely (such as a programmer), that doesn't mean that it makes sense for the project, team, or even individual. People with smaller homes (or partners/roommates who also work from home) may not be able to get the peace and quiet they need to work. Not everyone lives in an area with good Internet/has a provider with a high use limit. Not everyone is able to easily switch their brain from "office mode" to "home mode." Not everyone is happy seeing almost no one else in-person all day every day. Like I imagine the folx at PIXAR are able to work totally remotely...but they probably benefit a lot from being able to see each other in person, to whiteboard/storyboard in person, bounce ideas off each other...though I'm sure they're happy not having to scramble to find a parking spot on the lot instead of the street anymore. I've been going back to the office a few times a week the past several months and I've seen Horde Shirt Vape Guy out vaping on the sidewalk so they're back in the office, too (or at least some of them). Though I imagine he might like being at home where he can vape at his computer and not have to walk off campus to do so, so who knows how willingly he's back.

Managers need to look closely at their teams and make decisions based on a lot of different factors, both based on individuals and other teams at the company. So a CEO saying that EVERYONE needs to return to an office isn't a good idea....but neither is "okay we're just getting rid of the office, everyone has to be remote" (which is what my roommate's company did). Your employees are assets and have strengths and weaknesses and need to be put in situations where they can do their best; retaining employees is way cheaper than finding/hiring/training new folx and a lot of companies forget that.
 

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I sometimes really miss being able to go to a whiteboard to draw out problems I’m brainstorming on.

Whiteboard paint works pretty well with the right erasable markers.

You can buy actual whiteboards for home use.

A glass top on a table or desk works really well as an alternative; use erasable markers, wipe it off.

And I confess to lusting after this when I have a desktop again. I have a glass clipboard easel, and really like it.
 

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Not everyone lives in an area with good Internet/has a provider with a high use limit.
Dog knows, until just a few years ago, we didn’t.

I agree that ideally, companies that can offer remote-work, should. I know I’ve worked for people who didn’t, often because they didn’t trust people they couldn’t watch. But sometimes just because they were extroverted and assumed everone else was or should be shoehorned into acting like it, because “office culture”. That latter is a pretty weak-assed argument, but it’s common.

You can buy actual whiteboards for home use.
Oh, definitely. But I meant to use one in a shared way with remote co-workers. I know there’s various web-based things to support multi-user doodling, but I haven’t seen anything that really replaces a physical dry-erase board + markers? The penultimate in-office job I had, we had roll-around boards that we used all the time for impromptu sessions. I do miss that.

The interruptions of drive-by chatter from super-extroverted co-workers? Not so much. 😛
 
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I don’t miss my former hideous commute. I mostly don’t miss being surrounded by people. I do miss some of the serendipitous, Hey How Are Ya? encounters I’d have. I sometimes really miss being able to go to a whiteboard to draw out problems I’m brainstorming on. And I do think I’ve often benefitted from being “nice”, in ways that were maybe disproportionate to my actual output?
I agree with all of this.

The thing I miss the most is going out to eat with coworkers. There are only a few actually work-related things I miss. In-person whiteboard sharing is one of them. Another is coworkers reminding me about meetings on their way there. I can over-focus on my task and miss meetings, and that has been harder out of office since coworkers would always remember to grab me on the way there. :LOL:

My commute was not exactly hideous, but it took about half an hour one way (walking or riding the bus; I don't drive). Not commuting nets me an extra hour of time each day. That alone is worth the tradeoffs for me.

For all roles for which it was viable, my employer allowed employees to choose on an individual basis whether they'd do full-time remote, full-time in office, or flex. On a whole, I think this was the best approach. But one thing that sucks is that, some people who operate better in the offices might return to the office and find a skeleton crew there. :e2shrug: Some of the value of being in the office is the fact that other folks are present, and some teams might have << 50% in-office presence. I feel badly about that, but my family and I gain too much by my staying home.
 

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Yeah, agreed.

For my last in-office job, my commutes were often 1.5 hours each way. (This the cue for Los Angelenos to snort derisively…) Getting back those hours of my day? Priceless.

My current employer has a homebase office near DC, and has opened again to all local people who can & want to come in. Sometimes see plaintive comments in Slack: Where Is Everyone? 😎 Fortunately, my employer is very full-time-remote friendly.

I know people, one of them family, who are facing being forced back into an office, and who will likely look for another job instead. I hope enough employers are there now & into the future to pick up all the people who feel that way.

FWIW, if I had jobs within half an hour of me, I’d probably trek in once or twice a week.
 
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I'm the opposite. I had to work from home during lockdown last year, and I hated it.

I am definitely an introvert, and I spend most of my time in my office with the door shut trying to avoid my colleagues, but at least I can do that at work in peace and comfort, and spread my papers out across two large desks, and get stuff done without many distractions.

At home there were two of us trying to share a one cluttered, way-too-small office with no heating, and two way-too-big dogs bouncing in and out and barking through my zoom meetings and leaving drool and dog hair all over my students' exam papers. And two cats whining at my feet wanting second breakfast, third breakfast, fourth breakfast. And no professional cleaning staff to clean the office, bathroom etc each day. And no Coke vending machine for those days of true desperation. Oh, yeah, and crappy internet that kept crashing when I was talking to someone Very Important.

Plus, I use my ~20 minute, zero stop signs/traffic lights, pretty much zero traffic, pretty-countryside commute to 'turn on' and 'turn off' my work brain. I missed that as well. Home became the workplace, so I worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, because I couldn't get away from it physically and therefore couldn't get out of the work mindset mentally. That formed a really bad habit that I'm still trying to break nearly a year later.
 
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Home became the workplace, so I worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, because I couldn't get away from it physically and therefore couldn't get out of the work mindset mentally. That formed a really bad habit that I'm still trying to break nearly a year later.
Yeah, that's definitely a thing that can happen, unless one stands firm against it.

I always tell people that when I step away from my work laptop, I'm gone for the evening unless I have something critical to finish. As my laptop is mere feet away from the livingroom, I often hear Slack chirps while watching TV, reading, etc. Don't care. It can wait until morning. And I don't run work-Slack on any of my personal devices.

Crappy home Internet is a big downer for a lot of people, and I sympathize.
And no Coke vending machine for those days of true desperation.
That's what a kitchen-cabinet-full of 2-liter bottles are for, or so Spouse tells me. ;) I think she'd rather have a power outage than a diet Coke outage.
 

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That's what a kitchen-cabinet-full of 2-liter bottles are for, or so Spouse tells me. ;) I think she'd rather have a power outage than a diet Coke outage.
Two liter bottles of -- oh, you meant Coke!? I had something else entirely in mind. Especially since I conveniently have a lime tree in the back yard.....
 

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I'm torn on going back to work in the office (currently, projected to be sometime after October 1, but we'll see).

The plus side of in-office work: I love being in downtown DC; the history, the coffee shops, hanging around after work to walk through the museums, walking to the White House or Capitol to see what's going on, catching a show. For the workplace, I've not been able to form close working relationships or friendships with the new folks (I've only met two of my ten divisionmates in person--our turnover is kinda nutty), I miss my coffee shop buddy and her son when he's there, etc.

Plus side of telework: Productivity is waaaaay higher because I can be monitoring emails during meetings, can get started on my taskers while the meeting is taking place, I don't have to lose time walking through the building just to work through all the stuff I could have done during the meeting. For personal convenience, no "one hour there, one hour back" commute (at least it's on the train), have time to get creative in the kitchen and have dinner on the table at a decent time, can weed the garden during my lunch break.

The higher levels of my org (thousands of employees) have said we can work remotely up to four days a week, but I am curious to see how that will work. There's no way they can make us all come in on the same day, so in-person meetings are going to be three people in a conference room and eight on Zoom. One of the sublevels above us said we can telework four days a week, but we lose our desks if we telework more than two. We'll see if the union lets that fly. Besides, they can't need THAT much space. Incidentally, although the union is very rah-rah on the vaccine, we'll see if they push back if there is a vaccine requirement from above.
 

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I sometimes really miss being able to go to a whiteboard to draw out problems I’m brainstorming on. And I do think I’ve often benefitted from being “nice”, in ways that were maybe disproportionate to my actual output?

But on the whole? I’d be really loathe to be required to commute to an office again.
My current job was WFH before the pandemic started and given I've built a team spread out across the country (and globally in the future), asking them to go into offices where they wouldn't be with their department team just doesn't make good business sense. And I do not miss the productivity death by a thousand interruptions I usually suffered in an office, that's for sure. Like you, I do certainly miss a good whiteboard for brainstorming! ...which is why I bought a reasonable size one at the store, to appease my inner diagramming beast :)

One thing that is hard to recreate in a remote environment is those team camaraderie moments that you get by being able to say "hey, let's go get a coffee or lunch or happy hour together!" That's why I've tried to build in a few points throughout the year where my team can get together in person (now that it's safe(r)) to do so, and really jam together during the day on strategy, then have some fun together in the evening. I also established an every other week team happy hour event on a set day of the week where we specifically do NOT talk about work, and adult beverages are certainly acceptable (except for the poor woman in the time zone that is still early afternoon her time...I tried, I really did!)

Even if a job can be done totally remotely (such as a programmer), that doesn't mean that it makes sense for the project, team, or even individual. <snip>

Managers need to look closely at their teams and make decisions based on a lot of different factors, both based on individuals and other teams at the company. So a CEO saying that EVERYONE needs to return to an office isn't a good idea....but neither is "okay we're just getting rid of the office, everyone has to be remote" (which is what my roommate's company did). Your employees are assets and have strengths and weaknesses and need to be put in situations where they can do their best; retaining employees is way cheaper than finding/hiring/training new folx and a lot of companies forget that.
This is true; not everyone can succeed working at home, for multiple reasons. And not every job is conducive for being conducted at home.

I've had prior experience managing remote team members who kick a$$ and others whom I had to monitor and then politely but firmly reel them back into the office four days a week because they just weren't being productive without supervision. As I've had to build out a team during the pandemic, however, I've been very careful to look for folks who could handle a WFH, remote-based team environment. I think that's often neglected when recruiting (and I've also encountered managers who couldn't handle a remote team either, so it cuts both ways).
Home became the workplace, so I worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, because I couldn't get away from it physically and therefore couldn't get out of the work mindset mentally. That formed a really bad habit that I'm still trying to break nearly a year later.
I found when I first started WFH with the new job, I had to be very diligent at creating a specific space that was "the office" and once I get up from my desk, the 'door' is shut. Finito! Done! I also built in calendar blocks for end of work day to remind myself to leave and go do things important to self-care, like getting a workout in, or reading, or going for a nice walk. Whatever it was, I was prioritizing time for myself and my family. I had a former team member stress that I needed to do that from the outset (because she knew I tend to be a bit of a workaholic otherwise and it can be really easy to get sucked into staying at your computer screen until far too late when your company and colleagues you engage with span numerous time zones). There are still times I get sucked into a bit of work because I have my mobile on me most of the time just in case (have to given my role, just in case)...but I try to be firm about using my scheduling tool to respond to emails within reasonable business hours so I don't establish a perception of being available any time. Don't know if any of that helps?
 
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I found when I first started WFH with the new job, I had to be very diligent at creating a specific space that was "the office" and once I get up from my desk, the 'door' is shut. Finito! Done! I also built in calendar blocks for end of work day to remind myself to leave and go do things important to self-care, like getting a workout in, or reading, or going for a nice walk. Whatever it was, I was prioritizing time for myself and my family. I had a former team member stress that I needed to do that from the outset (because she knew I tend to be a bit of a workaholic otherwise and it can be really easy to get sucked into staying at your computer screen until far too late when your company and colleagues you engage with span numerous time zones). There are still times I get sucked into a bit of work because I have my mobile on me most of the time just in case (have to given my role, just in case)...but I try to be firm about using my scheduling tool to respond to emails within reasonable business hours so I don't establish a perception of being available any time. Don't know if any of that helps?
Those are good ideas, O Winky One!

During lockdown, working a hundred hours a week was necessary just to keep things running -- trying to shift all of the university teaching from in-person to on-line, dealing with students who lacked internet capability, working with the senior managers to get it into their thick heads that some equipment just couldn't be shut down or left untended for months on end without major consequences. It was a nightmare that, happily, I won't ever have to do again since we have all those procedures in place now.

I am getting better about 'turning it off' during the drive home, which helps, and also sticking to a super regular work schedule. I suppose if I were a lot younger I'd be more concerned about having better control over it all, but since I'm counting down on the fingers of one hand the years till retirement, I'll just slog it out until I can wave farewell to it all!
 

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Those are good ideas, O Winky One!

During lockdown, working a hundred hours a week was necessary just to keep things running -- trying to shift all of the university teaching from in-person to on-line, dealing with students who lacked internet capability, working with the senior managers to get it into their thick heads that some equipment just couldn't be shut down or left untended for months on end without major consequences. It was a nightmare that, happily, I won't ever have to do again since we have all those procedures in place now.

I am getting better about 'turning it off' during the drive home, which helps, and also sticking to a super regular work schedule. I suppose if I were a lot younger I'd be more concerned about having better control over it all, but since I'm counting down on the fingers of one hand the years till retirement, I'll just slog it out until I can wave farewell to it all!
Oof. A hundred hours? And I thought I was bad pushing 70 while managing crisis communications during the pandemic, along with my core job responsibilities. Yeesh.

I, unfortunately, still have several hands worth of working to go before I can wave farewell, so maintaining a good balance is important. That, and I find I'm not built to work well after about the 50 hour mark. Winksy here doesn't do well with lots of stress and too many hours kills her creative and strategic brain. Even just ten years ago, I could do 60 hours and be okay, but the older I get, the more I'm like "oh hell naw...delegation time!"
 

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Yeah, I'm waaaaay too old for that crap. But, gosh, when we went into total lockdown with less than two days' notice, there was just soooooo much that had to be done on an emergency basis. The first week, it took me twenty hours of emails, phone calls and zoom meetings to convince the higher ups that no, you can't just not replenish the liquid nitrogen in dewars and equipment for six weeks, because everything will die/explode. Then no, you can't have one person doing all the liquid nitrogen replenishing, because it's not safe to work with it alone. Then no, you can't turn off the lifts/elevators in the buildings if liquid nitrogen is needed above ground floor, because nobody can hump a canister with 40 litres of liquid nitrogen up two or five or ten flights of stairs.

And every day there was another crisis like that needing to be dealt with. I was, for my sins, the health and safety person for my unit (~200 staff across two campuses including a dozen chemistry and biology labs, workshops, etc). It was truly crazy during lockdown, culminating in one of the secretarial staff contacting me to say "I want to have my office chair at home to use, but I don't want to go get it even though I live within walking distance of work. So I want you, Dr Unimportant, to make a 30 mile round trip to go to our workplace, arrange to be let into my office, get my chair, put it in your car, and drop it off at my house." I politely declined....and I have since stepped down from that 'voluntary' role, since I had zero hours allotted to it and it took up about 20% of my workweek and was just one tw*twaffle clusterf*ck after another.

And then all of my PhD students, who couldn't work in the lab for months, spent their time writing thesis chapters and manuscripts. It generally takes me about two weeks to read, revise/edit, and return a chapter, esp since pretty much all of them are ESL. I received 23 such documents over a four week period (!).

I know it's almost certain that delta COVID will get loose in the community here in NZ. And that will mean another instant, major lockdown, because we do not have the infrastructure to deal with a big outbreak. And I'll have to work from home again. So this conversation is good preparation for me! ;)
 
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Big tech companies are at war with employees over remote work

All across the United States, the leaders at large tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook are engaged in a delicate dance with thousands of employees who have recently become convinced that physically commuting to an office every day is an empty and unacceptable demand from their employers.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced these companies to operate with mostly remote workforces for months straight. And since many of them are based in areas with relatively high vaccination rates, the calls to return to the physical office began to sound over the summer.
But thousands of high-paid workers at these companies aren't having it. Many of them don't want to go back to the office full-time, even if they're willing to do so a few days a week. Workers are even pointing to how effective they were when fully remote and using that to question why they have to keep living in the expensive cities where these offices are located.

Some tech leaders (like Twitter's Jack Dorsey) agreed, or at least they saw the writing on the wall. They enacted permanent or semipermanent changes to their companies' policies to make partial or even full-time remote work the norm. Others (like Apple's Tim Cook) are working hard to find a way to get everyone back in their assigned seats as soon as is practical, despite organized resistance.

In either case, the work cultures at tech companies that make everything from the iPhone to Google search are facing a major wave of transformation.
It’s irritating to see such companies carping at employees to return, when clearly the work can be (has been) done remotely. My older daughter is currently weighing her options with an employer who insists she soon restart her horrible slog into the office.
 
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Right now, management at The Day Job™ is having more of an issue with people not understanding what "hybrid plan" means (yes, it means you'll be able to work from home or in the office. No, it doesn't mean you'll be able to do one or the other. Yes, it means you'll have to alternate between home and the office, based on your managers' determination of your work schedule. No, it doesn't mean you can work from home full stop since you don't want to get vaccinated because you'll be expected to come in to the office. Yes, full vaccination is a condition of employment, even though we're going to the hybrid plan. No, you can't keep asking the same questions in different ways to trigger a GOTCHA! in the hopes of tripping management up to admit they weren't telling the truth. Repeat until dead.)
 

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My older daughter is currently weighing her options with an employer who insists she soon restart her horrible slog into the office.

That sucks. Honestly, I feel employers are being too hasty trying to return things "back to normal". Risk levels haven't gone back to normal, even if they improve with vaccinations. This can put you in a hard spot, especially if you or someone you're in frequent contact with is immunocompromised.

It's harder if you work in a low-job-security industry, or you really otherwise like your job. But I will say, at least in my industry (tech), lots of places are still hiring and many are hiring with remote as a standard option. True of my place of work.

On the off chance that anyone is interested in business collaboration software jobs, DM me and I can give you a link to my work's open positions, which are handily annotated to say which are remote eligible.
 
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Speaking of whiteboards, if I had seen this peel-and-stick whiteboard surface (that works with regular or dry erase markers) when I lived in a dorm, I'd have grabbed it.

And I'm absolutely going to remember it when I have an office again.
 
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BenPanced

THE BLUEBERRY QUEEN OF HADES
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This is the first week I've worked from home again since April. My supervisor thought I was off this week so didn't include me on the in-house schedule; as a result, I've been assigned one of the tasks that can be processed remotely.

JFC, I can't wait for next week and I get to be on site again.
 

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