1. 14
  1.  

  2. 44

    If you want me to come back to an office, you need to make it a place I want to go, not a place I have to go. And even then, I’m probably not going to go very often.

    1. 33

      It’s not often I read something here and think ‘well, that’s complete and unadulterated bullshit’, but this one definitely counts. My personal background here:

      I spent 5 years working remotely for a variety of companies. I’ve participated in open-source communities that have been distributed across every continent except Antarctica. I’m now managing a team that includes remote and hybrid working arrangements and collaborates closely with folks who are spread across the world who I’ve never knowingly been in the same city as.

      There’s one implicit assumption in articles like this that is entirely nonsense:

      Team building happens by magic if you put people in the same building.

      If you don’t put effort into building a team, then don’t be surprised that you haven’t built a team. Some teams will gel without much effort because you are accidentally creating an environment that is similar to the team’s preferred interaction style. This comes with a big red warning: Folks who are like your existing team members will find it easy to join and be included, other folks will not. You lose out on diverse opinions and you’ll find it hard to retain people that don’t conform to your team’s existing culture. If your team is a community that’s centred around face-to-face interactions then you’re implicitly selecting for a bunch of attributes that aren’t necessarily the ones that your team needs (extraverts, people who favour thinking fast over thinking deeply, people who communicate better in spoken than written form, native speakers, and so on).

      Building a distributed team requires the same kinds of effort as building a local team. A few examples of things that we do that have worked well for me across projects and teams:

      • We have private group chat that includes non-work discussions. We use Teams at work (for obvious reasons), I’ve previously used IRC, SILC, and XMPP for this. Matrix is probably a good fit too.
      • Share things in the chat that frustrate you. If I encounter a weird bug in my code, I’ll share that with my team. They’re suffered through similar things and complaining about things together is one of the easiest ways to build a strong in-group identity (note: be careful about the kinds of things you complain about because you don’t want your in-group identity to be based around excluding a particular out group).
      • Have calls to talk about non-work things. We have a ‘tea time’ meeting in person and at the start of the pandemic we took this online. At 3:30 every day, folks in the office sit in a shared space, remote folks can join an online version. Since most of us who are local are now hybrid, we alternate between them.
      • Spend some time in 1:1s talking about non-work stuff. This is now a corporate recommendation and it made me sad that enough managers in the company need telling to do this that HR needs to be involved. You can communicate more efficiently with people that you know better. Get to know the people that report to you and let them get to know you!

      Most of this directly mirrors the kinds of thing that you need to build a string in-person team. For example, when someone on your team does something great, highlight it. This often works better remotely because a lot of people don’t like being the centre of attention and a post in a chat gives them recognition without putting them on the spot.

      From my perspective, the pandemic was great in strengthening my extended team. There are folks like @saaramar that don’t report to me, but who I collaborate with on a bunch of things. By moving more of our informal discussions into chats and video calls, we’ve been able to bring them more into the team. One of my team is in the process of moving from the UK to Canada and, because we’ve put as much effort into building a strong hybrid team as we previously put into building a strong in-person team, I have no worries at all that he’ll be excluded. Saar joined our tea-time calls a bunch of times since we took them online, which would not have been possible if they’d remained solely in-person in a different country to him.

      I think this is going to be a lot more of a pronounced shift as more young people enter the workforce. I started using IRC, ICQ, and talkers as a teenager, but I was pretty unusual in my age group. Folks 10 years younger than me grew up with MSN / AOL IM, Skype, WhatsApp, iMessage, and so on. There’s a stereotype of Gen Z that they’ll sit next to each other, pull out their phones, and start messaging each other. It’s not always true, but in general folks that grew up with some form of IM are happy to build communities around IM. Depending on the person, they’re more or less happy to build communities around IM than around physical proximity.

      TL;DR: I’ve spent years in close collaboration with people that I’ve never met, including brainstorming, designing, and implementing complex things. Building a distributed team that can do this is not more work than building a local team that can do this and has far higher potential rewards (your recruiting pool is the whole world), it’s just different work. Don’t confuse familiarity with ease.

      1. 15

        I spent most of the first half of the 2010s working full-time remote at Mozilla, and they were an organization that knew how to do remote teams.

        At least some of the “remote is bad for you” we see now is companies which absolutely researched and invested in how to create functional in-office environments refusing to make the same research and investment into functional remote work.

      2. 17

        This piece feels directed at an audience which (I’m assuming) the average lobsters reader is not: disengaged.

        I’ve worked for remote-first companies before, during and after the pandemic. I haven’t seen anyone or myself play video games during work hours. My meetings tend to be efficient and idle chatter is kept to a minimum. I can focus on my work, avoid commuting, and get more done in less time.

        All in all, if you’re focused, engaged, and disciplined, WFH leaves more energy and time on your plate for your own social activities and interests. Offices are forcing functions (IMO)

        1. 8

          I don’t even know what “engaged” or “disengaged” means.

          When I’ve had programming jobs that required being in the office 9-5 everyday, I struggled to “look busy”, because I’m not and never have been someone who just sits down and writes code for 8 hours straight. Even when I’m in a “flow” or whatever of writing code I take breaks. But I also spend a lot of time just thinking about how to do or solve something before I ever go into my editor and start typing. Which, in an office environment, looks like “goofing off”.

          I think this is part of why even people who claim to love full-time office work so frequently would go out for coffee or walks around the block or similar excuses – on some level they understand that they need that time, too, and have invented socially-acceptable ways to do it.

          But when I’m working remotely? I don’t have the pressure of having to justify myself constantly to every potential passer-by. I don’t have to worry about proving myself to be sufficiently “engaged”. Instead, what matters is what should matter: am I available to my colleagues (for meetings, for questions on Slack, etc.) and am I getting assigned tasks done? How I perform the act of doing it stops mattering, and that’s a huge and important change.

          1. 7

            I haven’t seen anyone or myself play video games during work hours

            The obvious question is ‘how would you notice if someone were playing video games during work hours?’

            As a manager, I don’t care if you play video games during work hours, I care about whether you achieve good results. We’re paying for output, not for input. I’ve read a few productivity studies that show that, for ‘knowledge worker’ tasks, net productivity increases up to about 20 hours a week, plateaus until 40, and then decreases. For programming, this is incredibly obvious: one tired mistake takes a minute to make and a week of debugging to fix. If your brain is tired, I want to you step away from work and go and do something that relaxes you, and then come back refreshed. If playing video games relaxes you, then please play video games during work hours instead of making difficult-to-fix mistakes.

          2. 13

            This sounds like someone who is one of the reasons I am glad I don’t have to be in the office.

            Work is not a place to socialize, meetings aren’t a way to socialize, my coworkers are just that, not friends. I may have friends who are also coworkers but those are independent things.

            Going into the office doesn’t encourage me to do my job, if anything it’s the reverse - vastly more distractions and people like this who think of work as a place to socialize. If anything working from the office means I lose even more of my time to work as I have to get the same amount of work done, only now I lose maybe 10 hours a week to commuting, coupled with the reduced productivity of the office so now in addition to going into the office I’m still working from home.

            If you are cycling through procrastination and guilt then that’s your own problem, other people don’t have that and inflicting commutes and reduced productivity on them because you can’t be professional is unfair.

            1. 11

              I didn’t lose anything, I’ve only gained. The issues with vídeo calls can be solved by having fewer of them, especially since most meetings are useless anyway.

              Social isolation? My job is to read and write code, and for that I want to be in flow. I see people after work, at the pub, like $DEITY intended.

              1. 10

                My job is to read and write code

                I firmly disagree with this sentiment for most SWEs. Part of a software engineers job is to read + write code. Well over half of a good engineers job is social, either interacting with team members or stake-holders.

                1. 7

                  Nowhere near half of my time is interacting with anyone, and 99% of the time that I do it’s better to do it asynchronously via slack/email than getting interrupted in a noisy office.

                  My job is to read and write code. Sometimes I have to interact with other people to do so.

                  1. 6

                    Then you are in a minority

              2. 8

                I almost enjoyed reading this, gave me so many chuckles, but there were so many facepalms, too.

                now that the pandemic is over

                No, it is not. Author is likely one of those people who go into the office unmasked, and never tests themselves: “it’s just a mild cough, what could possibly go wrong?”. But lets ignore that for now.

                Nobody likes to do video call hangouts/drinks

                Except all the introverts who’d rather lock themselves in a room and keep social interaction to the minimum, and preferably only to friends and family. Yes, our work usually involves talking to other people, and there’s an amazing way to accomplish that without having to meet them, or schedule a meeting: email, or any other asynchronous communication channel. But more on that later.

                If we’re unlucky everyone has their camera off, and we speak into a void of muted mics and turned off cameras hoping that someone is actually listening to us.

                And thank $deity for that! This setup encourages short meetings that are to the point, and relevant, because everyone there will know that the attention span of everyone else is much shorter than they can pretend in in-person meetings.

                Heck, it encourages not to have meetings, which is great, because the vast majority of the meetings I had to sit in during the past 20 years were total bullshit. I can count the useful ones on one hand. The less of them, the better.

                Video calls add friction to human interactions. The most jarring experience of this for instance is telling a joke while people have their microphones on mute.

                Perhaps… don’t do that? Perhaps there’s a reason they’re silent, and have their mics on mute.

                A 2021 study of Microsoft employees found that attention is often split in meetings.

                I wonder why. Perhaps because those meetings are pointless. Instead of trying to force pointless things on people for the sake of “social interaction”, maybe work on making meetings useful, or unnecessary. Problem solved.

                Ultimately, by staying in our bubble we’re missing out.

                Just by staying home, I don’t need to stay in my bubble. In fact, I can peek out of my bubble more, because I don’t have to commute, among other things. Going into the office is much more susceptible of ending up in a bubble than staying at home, if you ask me.

                Knowing our colleagues on a more personal level makes it easier to communicate and solve problems,

                I don’t need to meet people in person to know them well. I have worked with numerous people over the years with whom I never met in person, yet, who know me better than most of the colleagues I met in offices. How so? Because they wanted to know me better, so we chatted outside of work. In the office, I do my job, and go home. I don’t have time to chat with colleagues, because I have a long commute. Save me the commute, and I’ll happily chat in the extra time.

                At one point it got so bad that I had to cancel my subscription to The Athletic to stop myself reading it during official work hours

                So, the author has terrible self-control. That’s okay, he handled it. Many of us don’t have that problem, or handle it in different ways. Being in the office, or working from home, has little to do with it.

                There has been a rise in companies offering what is essentially “focussing-as-a-service”

                Do they monitor my pee breaks too? I mean… is this meant to encourage me going to an office? That I’ll be watched with a magnifying glass that I do my job? Nope, not a convincing argument, sorry.

                The feeling of being watched makes us feel accountable and pushes us to work.

                No, it pushes us to find a job where we’re valued, rather than treated as slaves.

                I hope though that this starts to encourage enough of us back into the office that we can restore some sense of belonging into our working lives.

                I have been a Debian Developer for almost two decades. I felt I belong there, even though Debian had no office, and it took about 6 years to meet another debian developer who wasn’t otherwise in my circle of friends. I felt part of Debian. I felt I belong there. I didn’t need an office to do that.

                In contrast, over the past 20 years, there was a single company I worked for where was commuting to the office, and I felt I belong there. The office made no difference, it was the people. The people I never met in the office, because we were in different wings: we communicated online. Heck, we communicated online even if we were sitting next to each other, because doing it online had a record, a record we could later refer to, search, archive, share, and so on. Video calls and in-person meetings are much harder to work with, and requires extra work to become referrable, searchable, etc. E-mail and other asynchronous forms of communication make all this much easier. That’s a huge boon.

                1. 17

                  Another person who can’t tell the difference between their own preferences and universal experiences.

                  1. 14

                    Please attempt to make an argument rather than a single-sentence hot-take, especially one that isn’t grounded in the article and is instead just lazy character assassination.

                    The author introduces the rest of the writeup by saying:

                    I want to make a developer-centric argument that the current state of majority remote working is bad, not because it is bad for your company or for your salary but because it is not best for yours and others mental well being.

                    If you want to argue with any of the core claims, I’d expect something addressing the parts about:

                    • Knowing our colleagues making our work more meaningful (and the implied assertion that this is not doable for remote colleagues)
                    • Working remote causing less of a feeling of “belonging” in an org
                    • Working remote has blurred the boundaries of what is work and what is leisure time
                    • Working remote allows for too much distraction

                    It is totally reasonable to refute or disagree with any of those claims from the article-but on the other hand, a lazy dismissal is corrosive to the discussion culture of this site.

                    1. 6

                      This isn’t lazy character assassination, my analysis of this article is that the author cannot distinguish between their preferences and universal experiences. It may be the case that your experiences match the author, and I hope both of you can enjoy the office without those of us who never wanted to be in the office.

                      Are you sure your comment to me isn’t a reflection of personal dislike?

                      1. 0

                        my analysis of this article is that the author cannot distinguish between their preferences and universal experiences.

                        Please show me this analysis. What statements in the article lead you to that belief? What reasoning are you using?

                        I mean this quite honestly and without attempt at meanness: do you not see why I made my objection?

                        1. 2

                          Neither you nor anyone else is owed the chain of reasoning by which someone arrived at their opinion on an article. And as I pointed out in a different reply to you, this topic is one that gets extremely repetitive extremely quickly. So if you truly and genuinely are interested in learning more about the arguments, you will have little difficulty finding previous iterations of discussion on similar articles across a wide variety of sites, courtesy of your preferred search engine.

                          For the moment, your behavior comes across as, at best, back-seat moderating. If you believed the comment violated site rules, you should have simply flagged it and moved on.

                      2. 6

                        At this point the “working remote is bad for you!” argument is just incredibly repetitive. It basically boils down to: yes, we understand that the author is the sort of person who relied on the traditional office environment to make them happy and effective, but not everybody thrived in that environment and not everybody suffers now as a result of it no longer being the automatic default.

                        What more is there to say after that, really? The author seems to be yet another in a long line of authors of these articles, not saying anything particularly new or different and not really breaking out of the mold of extrapolating from I liked and thrived on these aspects of office culture to therefore everyone must have thrived on them and suffers now that they’re gone, when the latter is not at all true.

                        At this stage it’s clear that forcing everyone back to the office full-time is a non-starter. I suggest that the author learn to accept this, make the most of available “hybrid” environments, and perhaps along the way develop some empathy for those of us who did not thrive in traditional office environments but were forced into them for years on end anyway, and who wouldn’t have been taken seriously if we wrote “why working in an office is bad for you!” articles.

                      3. 6

                        Yet I think there are some good points in there. Especially the risk of burnout/overworking is elevated when working remotely in my own experience.

                        It is good to bring out the possible negatives of this arrangement, even if most of the people WFH are happy about the change.

                        I think it will take up to 5-10 years for people to realize what they have lost with WFH.

                        1. 4

                          Where’s the evidence that people overwork when working remotely? It’s certainly not my experience, but again my personal experience is also not universal nor necessarily representative.

                          1. 3

                            Risk is elevated as you associate the same environment you live in to your work. It can become harder to ”get away from work mode”.

                            1. 4

                              I wonder how much of that is based on the novelty of remote work for a lot of people. I’ve been working remotely for most of a decade and over time, as remote work has become a totally routine, unremarkable part of my lifestyle, I’ve found it’s gotten much easier to switch out of work mode at the end of the day without having to physically move to a different part of the house. (Muting Slack notifications at the end of the day helps!)

                              1. 1

                                This is why I made a point of having a room in my flat that’s the designated office that I never spend time in unless I’m working. Out of the home office, brain off for the day.

                                1. 5

                                  The problem with WFH is that not everyone can afford to pay the high rent of an extra room (and another for your spouse) which is a cost saving for your employer but a big cost for you unless you are prepared to move to a rural or suburban area for the benefit of your employer.

                                  1. 4

                                    This is my situation in a nutshell. I hate working in open-plan offices – but I hate it less than having work take over my tiny little apartment.

                                  2. 3

                                    I could say “Another person who can’t tell the difference between their own preferences and universal experiences.” to you :)

                                    1. 3

                                      You could, and you’d be incorrect. The article makes claims about “tech workers” in general, and therefore your comment would make sense there. I’m talking about my experiences, and at no point in time did I generalise to anyone else. This is what works for me, which refutes “what tech workers are missing”. If going to the office works for someone else, good for them.

                                      1. 3

                                        If you did, what would your point be?

                                        1. 2

                                          As discussed in other branch, not everybody has access to a extra office room at their home, nor have peaceful enough environment for concentrated work.

                                          For me the office is much more quiet place to focus on work and I have much better computer setup there. I don’t really even use computers at home that often.

                            2. 9

                              now that the pandemic is over

                              Stopped reading right there. It’s nowhere near over, and probably never will be, given the way most people behave.

                              1. 5

                                This. There are actually points in the article I agree with: Spending occasional social time with my coworkers helps us get along better because of our social-monkey brains, and video calls have never come within a light year of the potential bandwidth of an in-person huddle. BUT. As long as everyone is getting each other sick, I can’t do it.

                                I feel bad (really, not ironically) for how much worse this pandemic has affected extroverts, but they are also the ones prolonging it, in part by writing articles like this, insisting that everyone go visit them and get sick so they can be less lonely. Oof.

                              2. 4

                                I was going to write a lengthy detailed thoughtful response to all this but my accountability assistant is frowning.

                                1. 4

                                  At any point in the last 6 months a third of my colleagues had COVID

                                  1. 3

                                    Personally, my experience resonates with what the article describes quite a lot. That’s not to say that everyone should resonate with it and we should all be doling on-site work. IDK if the author is implying the latter, but it seems many people took it that way.

                                    For me at least, i’ve found working fully remote (luckily starting before being forced to by the pandemic, and on a company that’s fully remote and has a very good culture for it) to not be very fulfilling, and in the end i felt very disengaged with my work and honestly quite burned out. I’ve quit a couple of months ago.

                                    Now, correlation does not imply causation, and it could be that my burnout was due to totally different causes and would have happened regardless if working on-site. But still, looking back now, i see some patterns. I see that on companies that i worked on-site (or half-and-half) i managed to also cultivate some more fulfilling relationships with my coworkers, some of whom i’ve remained being friends with after leaving those companies.

                                    When working on the same place with others, some things come more naturally. Like for example going out to lunch with others. You might do this just for the sake of it at first, but over time you get to know some people better, and to start liking that time spent with some of them. So you start doing it regularly, because it’s just nice. And it’s nice to work with people that you feel some connection with.

                                    Working remotely, i’ve find that those things don’t come naturally at all. Nobody goes “hey, let’s have lunch in front of the computer over Zoom together”, and the few times i’ve had where we organized some meal/hangout time over videocall, it was alright, even enjoyable, but not something that i’d repeat voluntarily on a regular basis TBH.

                                    Only during offsite retreats did i feel some better connection with my normally-remote coworkers, and it was precisely during those things that where not compulsory but did come naturally just by being on the same place, like staying over time drinking something and talking about things we wouldn’t normally talk on work meetings.

                                    So, IDK, i’m rambling at this point. I just wanted to share an experience that might be a bit more in-line with what the author describes. During this time i’ve learned that i’m more motivated by external factors than i previously thought. For example, if i wanna get better at rock climbing, the easiest way to do that is to regularly go to the climbing gym. If i’m there, i feel engaged and climbing comes naturally. In an analogous way, if i stay at home, neither rock climbing nor programming software comes naturally. I like being in an environment where those things are done, in the company of people who are also motivated to do those things :)

                                    1. 3

                                      Just a small note, but I spend less time playing video games now than I did working in an office. (Actually, in the office I would primarily “play” live roulette or blackjack.)

                                      1. 2

                                        Personally I prefer a hybrid model and wouldn’t want to have a full WFH or WFO. I have done full time WFH and WFO previously.

                                        It is interesting that people have this strong reaction to this post, both here and in HN. I feel that people might be a bit scared to lose the new benefit they gained during the pandemic?

                                        1. 2

                                          Yes, because for many people it is a benefit. I was full remote with available office before the pandemic, and it was obviously superior for me even then.

                                          I have a minority of coworkers who miss the office. My one teammate who likes the office tells me that not even our sales people are generally in the office. This probably reflects that the company was remote optional all along for most roles.

                                          1. 2

                                            Just because something is superior doesn’t mean it cant have flaws. And I am not either suggesting you should stop WFH if it works for you.