Scott Hanselman

Being a Remote Worker Sucks - Long Live the Remote Worker

February 27, '13 Comments [68] Posted in Musings | Remote Work
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My voice coming out of a Polycom phone. Is anyone there? It's me, Scott!I've been a 100% remote worker at Microsoft for just about 5 years now. My last two jobs were both 7 year long gigs, so this isn't the longest I've worked somewhere, but clocking in at a half-decade, it's the longest I've worked remotely. Given that I haven't yet been fired, it's fair to say that I'm a pretty good remote worker.

I've been writing about Being a Remote Worker on the blog here for a long time.

Being remote is wonderful and it sucks.

This week former Google Employee #20 and current Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer declared that all remote workers need to head into the office (and in some cases, move house) before June.

If I got this memo while working Remote at Yahoo I'd quit that moment. I would probably quit with some flair as well. Talk about completely demotivating.

I see this ban on Remote Work at Yahoo as one (or all) of these three things:

  • A veiled attempt to trim the workforce through effectively forced attrition by giving a Sophie's Choice to remote workers that management perceives as possibly not optimally contributing. It's easy to avoid calling it a layoff when you've just changed the remote work policy, right?
  • A complete and total misstep and misunderstanding of how remote workers see themselves and how they provide value.
  • Pretty clear evidence that Yahoo really has no decent way to measure of productivity and output of a worker.

Ultimately, though, this comes down to trust, and trust can be found or lost on every page of a company's policies. You were hired as a professional; are you trusted to be a professional? Working remotely requires your company to trust you can do the work not only without them seeing you, but also without constant physical interaction with your teammates.

I saw this tweet yesterday and I agree. Remote working isn't awesome. There are great aspects, but parts just sucks.

Here's why it sucks and what I do about it.

Why Working Remotely Sucks

There's a few reasons why being a remote worker sucks.

Guilt Sucks

Animated gif of a worker not workingAll this said, it's REALLY hard to be remote. I propose that most remote workers work at least as hard, if not more so, than their local counterparts. This is fueled in no small part by guilt and fear. We DO feel guilty working at home. We assume you all think we're just hanging out without pants on. We assume you think we're just at the mall tweeting. We fear that you think we aren't putting in a solid 40 hours (or 50, or 60).

Because of this, we tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends. We may take an afternoon off to see a kid's play, but then the guilt will send us right back in to make up the time. In my anecdotal experience, remote workers are more likely to feel they are "taking time from the company" and pay it back more than others.

You might poo-poo the guilt, but ask around to your remote brethren. It's there, they just don't talk about it.

Being Unseen Sucks - Out of Sight, Out of Mind

A few months back we had a standup meeting and a boss couldn't get the web cam to work (It's been 5 years but even now they usually spend about 10 minutes messing about with the webcam before giving up and just having me call in). All this while 20 workers who "showed up" stare daggers (I'm assuming) into the Klingon Phone and the guilt piles on.

Anyway, we were going around the table (remember I'm the invisible guy in the center of the table) and then the meeting ended. I was muted, and was like "Hey, guys? It's me...Scott...I'd like to get you up to date on what I'm working on..."

"Guys?"

VPN is a Second-Class Citizen

No matter what your IT says, no matter how fancy your Smart Card is, or even if you have "Direct Access" enabled at work (basically your machine is at home, but always internal) you're remote. Every week you'll hit a site that doesn't work unless you're inside. You'll be constantly prompted for passwords, you'll be told certain scripts or installers don't work as a remote worker.

I have to drive into the office at least quarterly JUST for the purpose of dealing with issues like this.

People Ask "When you are up next?"

This one is the worst. "When are you coming to campus next?"

I'm online all day, every day. I've got HD webcams, Lync, Skype, GChat, hell I got Chat Roulette, on every machine I own. You don't think to call me for 3 months, but when you see me, you're all like "let's get you plugged into the project..."

I'm absolutely available anytime to talk. We can do a call, a chat, or best yet, a hi-def video call. Trust me, I'm at your disposal if you'll only take a step forward.

Ways to make Remote Working work

They are watchingFirst, it DOES depend on the job. We have folks like Brian Harry who lives on a farm in the Carolinas, but he's also got a large team over there. They aren't on campus, but there are folks he works with closely. We have folks like Steve Sanderson who works in London for a team in Redmond, but his job is very focused and "the code don't lie." I suspect that directing a complete feature team while remote would be considerably harder than participating on a feature team. That's one of the reasons I moved jobs and gave up my team. I feel better as an individual contributor with a clear focus.

Before I started on the ASP.NET Product Team, I used to run a team of folks when I worked in MSDN. Every one of us was remote. In fact, we were in all four corners of the US - Oregon, San Diego, New England, Florida.

Our jobs were discrete, directed and clear. We were laser-focused and each worked well remotely. Here's some things that have worked for me and others.

Status, Status, Status

Remote workers need to make it easy for folks to answer the question "What is that person working on?" This is somewhat of a double standard, since they may have no idea what the person in the next office is working on, but that woman shows up every day, so she must be productive, right?

Regardless, when I ran the team, we'd send out a list of three things each Monday that we wanted to accomplish that week. We'd follow up on Friday with what happened to those three things - what worked and what didn't.

Do be seen

I used to come up every month, but since I travel to conferences and customers a lot (plus budget issues) I go to Microsoft about once a quarter. When I'm there it's a flurry of meetings as "relationship building." That's business-speak for talking, talking, talking so that they remember why they hired you. It's comforting to the locals when the remote shows up. Try to get to the office when you can.

We made a "virtual portal" from Portland to Seattle so that anyone could peek in an see either side. We just need to circle it in Orange and Blue.

Team Building

When you ARE in a group, take any opportunity to "team build." I used to think this was touchy-feely nonsense, but truly, shared experience in a non-work context can totally transform relationships. I try to hang out with the team whenever I'm in town, and just check in with them, their families, and other non-work stuff.

Find a Place to Be Productive

Often just being a home can drive you nuts. I try to get out a few times a week. I've worked from the mall, from Starbucks, from McDonald's (free wi-fi, sue me) and from a park bench. I find that just having people walking around makes me feel more productive. Their movement and energy keeps me focused.

Try different places, find your place, but don't be afraid to mix it up.

Get Feedback

During 1:1s with my boss I always come with lists and lists of what I'm working on and why it's useful. There's always this Spidey Sense that "well, it's been a good gig, but this remote thing isn't working out." He's very good and assuaging that concern, but it's still there.

Make sure you're getting feedback on your work and you know you're on track with you're working on. Ask for feedback. That means ASK. "Do you feel I'm on track with X? Are you happy with what you're seeing with Y?" It's hard but it's important.

Know Every Collaboration Tool

We use Lync at work, but I also use Skype, GChat, Join.me, straight VNC, Windows Remote Assistance, CoPilot and a dozen others. If one doesn't work for some reason, don't waste time, just move to the next one. If someone starts to associate you, the remote worker, as a symbol for technical difficulties it will slowly warp their perception of you. Make it easy.

I have a small shared office space with a camera I can turn on remotely. This means a boss can walk in and "meet" me without them having to think. That makes it easier for a boss to work. Bosses need to manage, not mess around with cameras.

Be Available

A caveat to this one: Be Available During Work Hours. Don't overcompensate and be the person who is online at 5am or answers emails on Sunday. Just make sure that from 9 to 5 you are 100% available via SOME way that your boss knows about.

How do you make remote working work?

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:56:14 AM UTC
There are huge amounts of benefits to working remotely, and I think as an industry we need more practice. We need to continually get more comfortable working remotely and developing good habits that build trust and make it more "normal". I am currently unable to work remotely by company policy, and I'm hoping that will change eventually, but too many people who are in charge feel the need to do butt-in-seat management. It's not even necessarily the technologists, but the business lines we support that need to be convinced.

Keep being a good role model, and evangelizing how this model can benefit companies. Arm us all with the knowledge and arguments that we need to change the industry as we move into positions of greater influence. We are training the next generation of not only technologists, but managers, and if we continue to educate, the ecosystem will gradually improve for us all.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:56:28 AM UTC
Thankfully, I have a manager who pushes for all of us to work remotely. Also, our teams are split between Norwalk, CT and NYC. We try to make sure that technology enables us to do everything between offices and remotely.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:56:29 AM UTC
There are definitely pros and cons. 5+ years remote work myself. I think I have become completely addicted to the internet.
Mike
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:57:54 AM UTC
I work for a company where everyone is remote (we have no central HQ). Whilst it isn't for everyone, it works for us because we have trust. I work with people dotted across the UK and we get things done because I assume that someone is at home working, not sat watching TV. I think we'd go out of business pretty quickly otherwise.

The Yahoo announcement to me says 'I fundamentally do not trust that you are working', which I find pretty sad attitude to take. Maybe I am just naive.

glosrob
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:01:36 AM UTC
You hit the nail on the head with this one. Every trip I make to Redmond (Bdg 25, former MSNBC) I spend the majority of my time peeking into offices and putting a face with my name. Sure, they see my pixels in all their glory over VTC, but it's just not the same. A few days pass and before I know it I'm behind the Internet in my cozy home office and people don't have to think about me anymore. I'm joking, of course, but the reality is exactly how you've described it. Finding ways to tear down the walls and build personal relationships is the real secret to remote work.

One thing I've been doing to keep a moderate level of engagement is sending a weekly "Laugh & Learn" to an internal mailing list of developers. A goofy comic and a short task that should take 5-10 minutes. I collate the responses and send it out. Funny enough, when I see people in person it's the first thing they want to talk about. Even the people that don't regularly participate. Win.

Great post. Thanks for letting me know I'm not as alone as I feel at times.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:06:01 AM UTC
Totally agree with all your points. I've been working at home full time for 3 years and did so on/off for about 3 years before that.

I find I'm way more productive at home. Not only do I get lots more work done, I get lots more "other things" done. Those calls to tradies you feel guilty about making in the office even though you make up the time etc.

It took a little to adjust to but once I got into the groove of the different noises and being "alone" all day. Now I hate going into offices to work and now we have a much bigger house, I find I hate leaving home :)

I keep in contact with people and clients online with Skype mainly. I do try to visit my clients about 1 a year to see what cool stuff they have coming and share cool stuff we've done. The sort of fun meeting that energises you that just isn't quite the same over Skype.

Generalising a bit here...but the people that I've known that find it hard to work at home, usually like having a manager that keeps them on track and needs lots of company of other people...which is fine if that's how you work best. The people that slack off working from home and spoil it and taint it for everyone else are usually the same people that slack off at the office. It's sad that "the privilege" gets ruined by a few for many others.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:09:35 AM UTC
Great article, especially I liked "the guilty part" - it's 100% true.
I've worked remotely for 5 years too, but ended up moving to a different country for working in the office. I'm definitely not sorry about this, working in the office with your own team is great. The only problem is that the guilty part is chasing me even here.. :( Maybe it's because I have already worked remotely, and maybe it's about salary size :)
Anton
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:14:14 AM UTC
I'm heartened to see you work on remote dev teams. I'd really like to move into a product role (from tech marketing) but it seemed daunting. I suppose if half the dev team is in shanghai, UX is east coast and QA is west coast the PM can be anywhere as long as she is a great communicator.
Dana
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:21:02 AM UTC
I can always count on you, Scott, to express my exact thoughts and feelings. You hit the nail on the head on every point about the good and bad. I guess that constant guilt that nags at me is normal. I'm always trying to overcompensate.

Yet I'm much more productive working remotely, and find it much easier to manage interruptions. I think part of the negatives stem from years or decades of conditioning. Some of those feelings will probably always remain, as long as we're "reporting" to others in some form.

I'm trying hard to "get" Yahoo's reasoning, but there are too many holes in every benefit of a doubt I'm trying to give them. I believe this will bite them pretty quickly. I'm hoping this will be a turning point, and some companies hanging on to the old mentality will see Yahoo get burned, and finally give the remote work option a try.

I hope.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:26:58 AM UTC
Really good overview of pros and cons. I'm just getting used to remote work (i'm 5 months in).

However, you did not cover how to perform office pranks remotely, which I'm still trying to figure out. If you would add a how-to on that i would greatly appreciate it.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:35:06 AM UTC
One reverse to the "when are you up next" that proved out to be a great...great positive for me is forced meeting productivity with outside vendors or potentials. They oh so love to "drop by" and schedule meetings to grab face time and such. Instead a scheduled or even adhoc phone conference works better. If the meeting is pointless, I can always politely interject and save both of us time. I can also still work while they get to the point. This is very true for in house meetings where round robin status reports are required. It's usually a cultural no no to bring your laptop to a meeting and work instead of meeting. To be fair though, our culture is >90% telecommuters. Still the meetings have been a great plus. I've had to be frank with a few and say "I don't believe anything you have to say is worth me driving 100 miles round trip...even for a paid lunch...and to also loose 7 hrs of productivity when a 15 min phone call will suffice". It has also awarded me the opportunity at focusing on the solution facts and remove the smoke and mirrors.
Randy
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:37:03 AM UTC
Scott, this one REALLY hit the bulls-eye with me. I've been (mostly) a remote worker for the last ten years. It's certainly more workable as a contractor, but not always. I absolutely agree with every point that you made.

I too suspect that think Mayer's move is a veiled attempt at downsizing. If not, it's a terrible mistake. The point is that, in this world of down- (or the politically correct "right-") sizing, it's essential that - for the remote worker at least - the value in the work should be measured by the results. In the arena of development, "the code don't lie" is a really great way of putting it. It should be all about tangible, measurable deliverables...right? Whether or not you're remote!

There is also a case to be made for impediments to productivity in an office environment as well - many distractions for those who work in cubicles or an open office environment, to name just one.

And, of course, in the age of the search for sustainable practices, keeping employees out of their cars and public transport for major portions of their time, there are a lot of GREAT reasons to increase the number of remote workers - not curtail the practice.

To me the Yahoo! story is a harbinger of more pain to come for the company.

Thanks again for another profoundly thought-provoking post.
Patrick Gaul
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:42:21 AM UTC
"You were hired as a professional, are you trusted to be a professional?"

Oh how I wish my company understood this. Our project office is struggling with the agile process. They're worried that if we don't fill up a sprint with 'work hours', dev will finish and then sit around. Their solution is to create user stories that basically equate to our normal job tasks like updating configs to point to new sql servers or resolving merge conflicts just to pad out our hours to make upper management happy.
Tommy
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:44:27 AM UTC
Great post. Stupid move by Ms. Mayer.

Curious, do you still have your virtual portal setup? I noticed that blog post was written way back in 2009. If no longer running, why did you stop?
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:51:07 AM UTC
You've hit the nail on the head. Guilt and paranoia indeed! I've worked remotely full time for 7 years now across 3 employers and 6 project teams. (Two of those stints were working remotely at Microsoft)

I've worked on team projects and on solo projects. Solo projects are by far the hardest because you get no feedback on anything. It's incredibly hard to build anything in a total vacuum, even for folks who have that magical internal compass. Until you have to explain a system or piece of code to another person, you haven't viewed it from all sides.

We did something here recently in the spirit of pair programming and your "portal" idea, primarily to save my sanity. My manager agreed to make another tech person available to me just to bounce tech ideas off of and explain architecture. I jokingly referred to him as my "Wilson", referring to the volley ball figure in the Tom Hanks "Castaway" movie. He's a sharp guy but didn't really know anything about the core technology I was grappling with, but it didn't matter: I just needed the opportunity to give guided tours through the code or share whiteboard sessions on a more or less daily basis. In explaining aspects of the project, I gained confidence in some design decisions and recognized weak points I had not noticed before. At first, I was mostly talking "at" my "Wilson" buddy, but he quickly picked up the terms and concepts and was soon able to ask valid questions, which turned my blather into real conversation and dialog.

It saved my sanity, improved the product and boosted both of us to higher levels of proficiency in a complex problem space.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:57:23 AM UTC
Scott,

appreciate the article. I really do think that with this move, Marissa Mayer showed a bit more of the Yahoo internal workings than she meant to.

In my opinion, when execs pull all the remotes in its because the company is disorganized and doesn't have goals that are clear enough for people to work more independently. To me, as a remote worker, it means she's getting worried.

At a more practical level, I really do find that working from home empowers the worker while saving the company money. Working at the office empowers only the boss, and costs more.
Kevin G
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:07:55 AM UTC
Scott

I don't think the memo was really about Remote Workers per se, I think it was about the people taking advantage of the situation.

Also the need to turn a massive ship around would be quicker if everyone is working closely. Maybe she should have said for next 6 months everyone on deck whilst we work out how everyone who does work remote can be efficient and still be in the loop (as that is the hardest part about being out of office).

I frequently work from home and whilst it can be both a positive and a negative I do not take if for granted and on days when the kids want to harass daddy whilst he is working I pack up and go to a cafe for some focus time.

I do agree with your point that it may be more of a trim the fat without the payouts.

Justin
Justin King
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:25:31 AM UTC
Insightful, and all ring true. Especially your description of working away from the house; the energy and focus (zone) thing, spot on. Harder to sell that concept, and not doable very often.

The counterintuitive advantage is that you are in an environment where the potential distractions are non-distractions (except for the bad ergonomics) because you know not a single one of them requires your attention. If you are there with that mindset, it's a great thing.
Eric
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:31:36 AM UTC
Great post Scott. It fairly well summarises most of the things I have observed working 95% of my time from home for the last 7 years.

I would add one extra disadvantage I have found is that if you have something to discuss with someone, if you were in the office you would be able to take a glance over at the person to see whether it looks like you would be interupting them. Not being able to do this from home makes you more discerning about how and when you start discussions.

Interestingly, there is a flipside advantage to this. I have found that people less frequently interupt me. As a senior dev I'm one of the go-to people for junior devs to have questions answered. Whenever I have been in the office people see me and think "Oh, I'll just ask Nate", whereas when I'm at home they spend a little more time thinking about the problem first, and then when they do come to me, having to describe a problem through linq results in a much more directed question.

Keep up the good work
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:51:06 AM UTC
Scott,
This is an excellent post. I'm not a remote worker but we have one in our office and I've come to the realisation that sometimes they are "out of sight, out of mind". I'm definitely going to be putting this into practice from the other side of the coin.
James Khoury
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 4:21:20 AM UTC
Heh, I want to append an "at Microsoft" after the word "sucks" at then end of your post.

Or really it sucks at any company that hasn't built itself around being remote. I'm a remote worker and it's absolutely great because it's deeply embedded in our culture. The company was founded by guys who didn't have an office to work in.

The only thing I regret about being remote is our office is really awesome and I love just hanging with my co-workers there. But the good thing is, that's a social thing. I'm not held back in my job by any means being remote.

I think it's harder for companies that don't start off with remote in their blood. There's always a class system of here vs away.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 4:56:02 AM UTC
Working remotely cannot be a company policy. It should be team specific. For many projects quality of communication is very important. It takes more effort to make the remote worker productive.
Scott probably you are not a good example for remote worker. You mentioned your productivity is high. I managed few projects in a company which had a policy of allowing working from home. It was not a team decision. Anybody can decide to work from home any day. To be frank people who worked from home had 1/4 productivity than others.
In same breath another project which involved production support and maintenance worked well with remote workers. They were lot more productive than the office type.
Vijay
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 5:21:54 AM UTC
I worked remotely for about 18 months on my last job. I was certainly far more productive, but I lost the pulse of what was going on in the office... who was having difficulties with other projects I wasn't involved in, and what other people's goals and concerns were, both personally and professionally. As a senior dev / lead, this is an important function. And certainly, most people in the office were unaware of what was going on in my life as well.

For me, the most effective situation would be a split schedule... 2 days in, 3 days remote, or vice versa. I think both the employer and the employee need to be flexible to find a way to work that is good for everyone in both the short and long term.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 5:41:11 AM UTC
Great article!

I've been working remote for the better part of the last 14 years. Sometimes, I'd go into the office once a quarter, sometimes, once a year. At one place, I never met anyone in the office in person.

It really does depend on the culture of the company you'll be working for.

But, as you mentioned, being available during reasonable hours I've found to be a huge element of success. I've worked with people who, while remote, could virtually never be reached. They never lasted very long.
Darin
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 7:05:29 AM UTC
I can't help but think that everyone is a little too quick to judge this decision as an outsider not sitting in Marissa Mayer's chair. It just might be the right decision for Yahoo right now given the existing culture and situation that has built up over a series of years. I'd be shocked if there aren't special exceptions being made to this general policy of not working from home for certain people in unique situations, but that doesn't mean that introducing this policy at Yahoo now is a terrible decision. It might be the optimal one for the organization overall even if it affects a decent number of individuals negatively. What's right for Yahoo right now certainly doesn't have be projected on how other companies work either.

I've worked remote and co-located in the past. On my current team we're trying to co-locate as many people as possible in the same office with same hours, pair-programming, agile practices, etc. There are remote team members, but I've never experienced an environment like my current one where most people are working in an open-environment without walls, there is super low-latency turnaround because you can literally walk over and interrupt someone from another sub-team that can help answer a question. Blockers that used to take hours and major context switches can now be minor context switches. Does this mean I think everyone should work this way? No. It's something that's working for our team now that is working on a distributed system with lots of components that need to interact closely in a fast changing codebase. We have some remote international team members too that can't work on our same schedule. This is for a team and not a general company policy. But if a company sets it's own culture defaults a certain way, and makes it a high bar to justify exceptions for remote working, then I don't see a problem with that. If that does't feel like the right work culture, then try and find a job with a better culture fit. Everyone will be better off.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 9:32:51 AM UTC
this memo was about coming into office to collaborate. as you yourself point out, its very difficult for your teammates to count you in a project if you don't come to work on an average day.

and this memo affects exactly 164 full time workers at yahoo. yes, you read it right.
anonymous
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 9:54:54 AM UTC
Fellow remote worker here! Started in 2005 when I moved to Surrey, UK. Our main offices are about 50 miles away where all the 'normal' staff work, mine is the IT shed.

One thing you have not really stressed that is key, is having a distinct office space at home. Unless you live alone, you need to separate work from family.

Initially I had a room in the house which was okay but noise from kids was a problem (thin door). I built a garden office (about 300 sq ft) and now I have three people working with me, so it's less remote worker now, more like branch office.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 10:40:55 AM UTC
Thank you, Scott for a very interesting read. An account I relate to on many points.

Another component is that of distributed international teams. That is my case.

It has posed some challenges that my mother tongue isn't our work language. Cultural differences also have an impact.

To build upon your anecdote of being the invisible guy in the center of the table, imagine if the right words don't come to you to make yourself visible. It's a matter of habit and getting used to.

The same goes for contributing to discussions helpfully, making an impression. It's just harder when you're not a native.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:23:08 PM UTC
Mayer wouldn't get this far in her career and hold this position without being capable of making some calculated decisions. This move will cull the herd.
Darren
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:32:54 PM UTC
"Guilt and fear" was definitely the biggie for me. I worked from home for about 8 years, I started work earlier than everyone else and really didn't finish work fully until I went to bed. The feeling that one must over compensate for the "privilege" of home working can be tough.

There's no doubt that there are people home working suits (I was one of those) as well as people who hate it (I had a colleague desperate to get into an office environment again). Some people will work harder and some work less (no different to people in an office), but in the software industry one can measure performance by work completed and it's quality far better than whether somebody is at their desk or not.

I currently work in an office (although occasionally from home) and sure it has good things as well as bad. But I wonder if you can guess how we communicate with each other most when in the office ? Yep, through a chat application only occasionally do we walk over to each other's desks :) So pretty much the same as when out of the office.

We also have teams in other countries, we communicate with them in the same way - I wouldn't know if they're sitting all together or in in their homes and it makes no difference to the project we're working on as long as the works done.

This all said and whilst I think the tone of Yahoo's email is pretty poor, whether I work from home or form an office is down to the people who pay my wage. If they want me in the office then I either go in or quit and the reverse would also be true.
Mark
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 1:47:09 PM UTC
At my previous job I was one of the first (if not the first) to start working at home one day per week, but that was a "secret" arrangement I had with my then manager b/c he didn't want other people (those he didn't trust) wanting to do the same thing.

Once word got out (where's Scott every Friday?), other people started doing it, and I think it worked out fine. However, a new manager I got along the way required us to fill out this company form that basically boiled down to signing a statement that said, "Yes, I am really working and not watching TV." Basically she didn't trust anyone but by that time the company had a policy where 1 day/week was sanctioned.

Now I work for a different company (that previous co's biggest rival, actually) and it's been 100% work at home from the start. The team is located all over, so we do daily stand-up's using a Live Meeting-like program, have our user stories, etc. online for all to see, and track bugs, code reviews, etc. in TFS.

Though I haven't been doing it for 5 years, so far I really like working at home. It saves me 2 hours/day in a car and a ton of gas. And I work a lot more than I would if I was trying to rush out of an office to beat traffic. So, it's a win-win all around. I'm just glad I don't work at Yahoo. :-)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:17:22 PM UTC
Is your lack of grammar skill and inability to fact-check due to being a remote worker, or a result of being a Microsoft employee?
Corey
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:30:21 PM UTC
Great post as usual Scott. I'm 100% remote and work about 60 hours a week across a start-up and some other high-rate consulting -- the 60 hours is temporary...

What you say about guilt, technical difficulties and plan/status is very true.

I'm trying to decide what to do about multiple computers. I have a very powerful desktop that I like to use because VS loads and builds fast. I do 55 of 60 hours at home using the desktop. But those 5 hours onsite are often burdened because I have my slightly slower laptop which isn't my everyday (so I have to pull my git repos, etc etc).

Do you use a single laptop for your work?
Aaron King
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 2:45:57 PM UTC
Worst part of remote workers is that you don't get similar connect with your colleagues that you have while working together and sitting in same building.

I always thought that remote working is great option but after my accident when I had to work from home for two months it changed whole perspective.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 3:03:34 PM UTC
Being a regular reader of this blog, Scott, you were the first person I thought about when this story hit the tubes. Work from home is essential to my own organization and I'm sure we'd lose a lot of high quality people if we pulled a Mayer.

We're still trying to solve the communication issues at my workplace - having a meeting where the remote worker is connected only by telephone sucks. Improving our telepresence capability is a high priority. Giving up and making everyone come to the office isn't an option.

Thanks for continuing to write about your experience as a remote worker - you're proving that it can work, and you're giving the rest of us solid ideas for making it work in our own organizations.
PeterB
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 3:47:04 PM UTC
I've worked at a couple of "dying" companies, and they often start doing the work from home thing purely out of a desperation to retain employees. It starts getting abused though because in a dying company everyone has a pretty bad attitude.

I suspect this move by Yahoo is an attempt to turn that around. I agree that it was done inartfully, and while they will probably lose some of their staff the truth is that's not always a bad thing because it opens up postings for others to come in who may be more motiviated and have less PTSD from working at the dying company.

The fact is, if Mayer is going to turn Yahoo around she's gotta be bold and really shift the culture. I don't envy her job one bit, as this is an incredibly hard thing to accomplish. There's just so much baggage.
Steve
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 4:36:51 PM UTC
While this is a good article, you don't address the importance of face to face communication inherent to working in teams and conducting business. There are a number of advantages to working remotely (productivity, better commutes), but no amount of digital communication channels can replace face to face. We as humans need this understanding, and it is integral to working in teams.

Some companies have better environments for remote work. If Yahoo! realized their teams weren't collaborating, communicating, and working effectively, why not change the policy? I appreciate you presented two sides of the coin, but your proposal that chat and video conference will replace immediate, face to face communication is weak.
Mae
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 4:50:12 PM UTC
I greatly appreciate the considerations of "Why working remotely sucks" and have to admit that everything described there is true but can be managed. Admittedly, some of that depends on the organization you work for, and how well they are equipped to handle remote workers. The reality is though, that every company, even Yahoo with their new "no remote workers" policy, has remote workers in other offices. Just because they are in sanctioned offices doesn't make them NOT remote.

The points to make remote work suck-less that you mentioned are definitely key, i.e. having a solid method of communicating, video available, methods of sharing progress, etc. With that though, I would just say this is just good business practice for all employees. I would have to say that having remote workers really puts a company to the test of how well they are able to manage communications, productivity and team work. If they can't do it with a remote worker then I am confident that they are not doing it with the workers "under their roof". If they are willing to concede that point, and therefore remove the remote worker capability, that is fine, but it should be done with the understanding that they need to clean up their business practices. Strong assertion? Maybe. But I honestly believe if you test the waters sincerely, you will find it to be true.

Thanks for a great article.

As a final thought, I have to admit that after working remotely for 5+ years full time, I am shocked by how many job offers I get where remote work is still not an option. One would think that the expansion of the talent base would be a strong motivator for any company. Maybe that is a telling point for all to consider, i.e. if a company can't support remote technology workers, maybe that company isn't really a company that I should consider working for. I would have never considered Yahoo anyway. :)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 4:51:48 PM UTC
yes, remote working totally sucks. I used to be a remote ASP.NET programmer and whenever I went to work place colleagues told me "hey, the guy who doesn't work appeared". You are so true by this sentence"I propose that most remote workers work at least as hard, if not more so, than their local counterparts" but the worst part is people usually think the other way.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 6:06:00 PM UTC
You - and nearly everyone else who has written on this - have missed a fourth possibility:

- Yahoo does measure the productivity and output of employees and have decided remote workers aren't worth the cost.

I work from home and am a big proponent of of remote workers, but it doesn't fit the bill for every company at every stage of their existence. Everyone is jumping the gun on this, proclaiming Yahoo is stuck in the 20th century, and hating on Mayer without much justification or even knowledge of the situation.

matt
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 6:50:31 PM UTC
To Be Or Not To Be: In The Office

When work-from-home is a new thing for a company and isn't working (in the eyes of management) I contend that there is a very high probability that it's the fault of management.

Too many times they relent to allow remote workers, yet send them home with out a clearly defined, fair and comprehensive work-at-home policy.

Jeeze, they have a policy for lunch breaks, parking and vacation time, but don't think of adding one for work-at-home employees.

It may seem like more red tape, but at least there are clear expectations for both the boss and the worker to adhere to.

So Scott, how granular is the Microsoft remote-worker policy? We all would love to know :)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 6:50:34 PM UTC
Here in Austin they are encouraging employers to push remote work in general, but especially during the week of South by Southwest (SXSW). The reason being to reduce traffic and environmental impact.

I've been working remotely as both a consultant and employee for the better part of the last 8 years now (Wow! Didn't realize how long it had been.), and I can so relate to everything you mention in the post. Keep carrying the banner for the rest of us!
Chris Swain
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 8:06:22 PM UTC
I love your animated gifs, especially the dude with the camera.
Did you generate those yourself?
I've enjoyed the ones before showing computer stuff but these are hilarious.

Rob
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 8:50:50 PM UTC
Scott:

You nailed it!! This is an enjoyable article, as I can relate to EVERY SINGLE ITEM you mentioned as a WFH Product Manager/Portfolio Director here in the Ohio Valley. The only trouble with my company is, we are a MOSTLY work-from-home organization unless you have a specific customer-facing delivery function, so we don't even have a choice when it comes to "teleworking" - Thought I'd sneak in a '90s term there. Well said, and well read!

Some interesting thoughts as well are the reduction in fuel consumption against higher costs, and the reduced environmental footprint of employee facilities and CO emissions from commuting. We include these stats in our "green IT" analyses.

Thanks for posting!
Mike Harm
Thursday, February 28, 2013 1:01:58 AM UTC
I am far more productive when I work at home with my currently employer. I get more done because I can focus at home, too much busyness and too many drivebys in the office.
My company has a policy of no remote workers except for the workers they outsource.
Thursday, February 28, 2013 5:42:57 AM UTC
Unsurprisingly, @haacked stole what I was going to say.

I think it's harder for companies that don't start off with remote in their blood.


I've worked remote several days a week for two different companies. One a small software startup and the other an established telco. I found remote working at both to be awkward with a high degree of guilt and fear. The fact that my coworkers were in the office while I was "out" could not be overcome, even though it was clear that I put in more hours and effort on my days out than I did when I was in.

However, for the past year and a half I've been working from home full-time for a software startup that has no office. Everyone is remote and most work from home. Half the team is West Coast, U.S. based and the other half is Australian. The guilt isn't there. The main fear I have is of the will-this-startup-be-around-tomorrow? ilk, nothing related to being remote. However there is a small if-this-startup-gets-acquired-will-I-have-to-move? concern, but I can't burn energy on hypotheticals.

Basically I'm saying I've tried it both ways and I agree with everything everyone else said. So... there's that.

As for Yahoo's move, I suspect they have insufficient basis (due to years of horrifically poor management) on which to assess whether their people are professional enough to be trusted to work remote. They simply deemed it easier to start with a clean slate and work back into the flexibility they would like their employees to enjoy. This wasn't a big move so much as it was an unfortunate consequence of bad management.
hemp
Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:08:03 AM UTC
The post still breaths the 'we measure the result of your work through the hours spent on work'-way of how to look at how much value an employee is for a company (not your fault, you work there, you don't set the rules). I mean: what should count is what you produce, what you accomplish. If your tasks are to build A, B and C and if there's time, fix D, and you do that, you're golden. If you do that with 2 hours a day, so what? People in an office waste a lot of time on non-work stuff anyway as well, so if you're remote, why is it important you're available from 9-5? Why is it even something they'd consider checking? IMHO only if they see 'work from 9 to 5' equal to 'he does what we ask of him'.

Shouldn't organizations focus more on 'meet the goals we set', however that's done? If a person can do that by spending 8 hours in a noisy office or by spending 2 hours on work a day at home, it shouldn't be a difference for the employer: the job was done, goals were met, the employee held up his/her part of the agreement, the employer should do the same (pay).

Reading the post I couldn't help but think that Microsoft isn't far of from what Yahoo's doing (Yahoo's new policy being insanely stupid btw): they allow remote work and make things available for the remote worker, but it looks like they still see the remote worker as a 9-5 employee who sits in a chair in a different building from a local employee, and the only way to measure if the worker performs is whether he's working from 9-5.

Software development isn't a 9-5 job. You won't get 9-5 productivity from a software developer: writing code for 8 hours a day... I don't see anyone doing that. One might be physically typing on the keyboard for 8 hours, but I doubt it will be effective for 8 hours straight. After all, thinking about how to solve problems is often done away from the keyboard, e.g. under the shower, making breakfast etc. A remote worker, should s/he clock those hours as work hours as well? After all, no commute: s/he can rush to their laptop and start hammering in some code, test to see whether it worked or not. That alone makes me find it odd that 9-5 is even a thing, with respect to software development and especially remote workers.

Measure what they accomplish, what they produce. How they get there is totally irrelevant.
Thursday, February 28, 2013 12:41:24 PM UTC
Great article and great points on how to be remote. I envy you sir. I would love to be able to work remote most of the time. One of the key things is you have to have an employer that understands the points you raise, accepts them, and encourages them. I think you'll always have the bosses and bosses bosses that have the attitude of "We need Scott in here every month to make sure he's doing his job" but those are the exception to the rule in an environment that fosters remote workers and treats them like first-class citizens.
Thursday, February 28, 2013 1:31:25 PM UTC
An interesting post. I work remote and have done also for the last 5 years. We use Lync to keep in touch with colleagues and it works well. I have no issues with trust with my manager, as he is a remote worker as well, at the end of the day, if I'm not working they will soon find out as the work assigned will never get done!

I can relate to the over-compensating because you are remote, my days are always longer than the majority of office based staff, and its also easier to think, "I'll just finish this bit off, should only be another half hour" and it ends up being 2 hours!!

One thing I learnt quickly was to feedback to management as soon as you know or even have an idea that something is not going to meet a deadline, you then avoid the difficult questions when you miss the deadline.
Thursday, February 28, 2013 2:35:14 PM UTC
Maressia trying to take some decision that will get attention of media , plus she feel that she have to do some thing to show to her gender she is powerful and can really change yahoo , but in my opinion most of her decision wasn't smart and just used for media consumption
Sam
Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:26:58 PM UTC
The 3rd bullet point is key. Measuring the productivity of knowledge work is hard. Often, companies have BS goals and such for HR purposes, but the truth is that often the actual way that managers evaluate prodictivity is the age old technique of walking around the office. The people that you see busy are productive. The people who are surfing Amazon aren't. You can't walk around a remote worker's cubicle.

Another key point: Yahoo! has been a mess for a decade and when you've got a mess the first thing to do is to get rid of the complex and return to the simple. Rumors on the internt suggest tht Yahoo! has remote workers who draw a paycheck, but have effectively been forgotten about. Others have roles, but nobody knows what they are. Mayer could have made the decision to carefully go through and determine exactly what each remote worker's contributioin was, but she took a much simpler route, which was, regardless of whether we like remote workers, best for Yahoo! in its current state.
John
Friday, March 01, 2013 1:01:22 AM UTC
I agree with you on most counts. I think the dig about Marissa Mayer's maternity leave was an unwarranted attack on a personal choice and has no bearing on the issue of remote working.
Friday, March 01, 2013 5:55:52 AM UTC
Great read... I've worked at home for 8 years now and love it. Totally relate to the issues that you mention though. I try to get to the office 1 or 2 days a week and that's a nice balance I feel.
Sunday, March 03, 2013 2:57:09 AM UTC
I have worked remotely for over a year now - but it is not 100% remote - one day a week the remote workers come into the office. This seems to be just about the right amount of interaction that is needed to keep the pulse and face time needed with the boss and others who work in the office. I have been very productive this way and it saves a ton of time and expense in the commute process. Everyday we are on conference calls and constantly 'IMing' whoever we need to on the team - most of our communication is done calls, chats or email anyhow. Even when I am in the office I use IM alot to get info over to a team mate.

This combination works very well I think - it is called 'Hoteling' - there are certain cubes that the hotelers share - so five people use one cube in the office and there is a different person in that cube each day.

It has been a huge perk for me - and honestly - it is such a nice perk - it makes it hard to go to a different job that does not permit remote working.

Stever
Stever
Sunday, March 03, 2013 10:55:10 AM UTC
Ridiculous quest there. What happened after? Thanks!
Monday, March 04, 2013 8:36:10 PM UTC
Really interesting article - at least the part about making remote work. I can't speak to the Yahoo! decision since I don't work there or have any real background.

I completely disagree about the "guilt" part of working remotely; I think that has more to do with the person working than the fact that they are working remotely. I've always worked extra hours when the job demanded it, or when I was on a roll, or the infamous "this will just take a few more minutes...", even when I was in the office every day.

For a year I telecommuted one day a week, until I moved 2,000+ miles away - I've been full-time remote for 2 years now, working for a company with offices nationwide. Most of my team is remote, with only 2 out of 10 in one office.

At my company, working remotely is a privilege, not a given. The trust was built first, long ago (15 years now at the same company). We did have an interim CTO several years ago that was going to stop the telecommuting because "it didn't work" (no supporting data given). One third of the IT department quit before that policy could be put in place, and most of them weren't even telecommuters - the lack of trust was more than they were willing to put up with. It was a tremendous loss of knowledge at a key time and we took a huge productivity hit because of it.

Needless to say, that CTO didn't last long after the walkout. And my boss profusely thanked me for staying through the insanity and agreeing to keep working remotely (it all happened just as and after I moved, go figure).

Technologically speaking, we use the telephone and web conferencing (WebEx, GoTo), and we just got Lync this year. We keep it simple, and it works very well. I mostly do Systems Analyst work these days rather than development, and am in meetings a great deal, so keeping a presence is not an issue. And NO ONE at work has ever intimated that working from home means not working as hard. Everyone I work with is familiar with my work ethic, and new people figure it out real quick. I go in to the office if they need me - that's been only twice in two years, and the most recent one was because a client wanted a face-to-face meeting.

My company isn't so much "remote from the start" as it is "we hired professionals and trust them to do the job". I think that's the more important attitude, and it's one I'd insist on if I were looking for a new job opportunity.
Steph
Wednesday, March 06, 2013 8:29:41 AM UTC
What a fantastic article, thank you Scott!

I've been a silent reader of your articles for some time now, but this one got me out of my chair. I love the fact that you dare put light on the challenges of being a remote worker.

I've been a remote worker on-and-off for quite some time at a company, I used to have 1-2 days per week remotely and I experienced a lot of those challenges you're outlining.

Especially I like the part "... but that woman shows up every day, so she must be productive, right .." as it highlights to me, one of the very core issues of work today.

A lot companies measure the TIME an employee spends on work, but not the actual productiveness of the employee. Because it's so much easier to measure the time an employee is present, rathen then trying to figure out if the person does his/her job. I've seen this happening over and over again at different places, I understand why the companies are doing it, but it would be gret to make a shift away from the "time = money" dogma and towards a "deliveries and quality = money" from companies.

Oh and also the challenges about keeping your "sanity" while working from home is great, it's true that you have to get out and experience the world around you, I also find my self being more productive when I'm at a cafe or other public place. However, at some times it's not always ideal, like if I would have to REALLY concentrate on something, the noises are sometimes too much ;-)

/ Yan

Thursday, March 07, 2013 10:23:25 PM UTC
I'm a Remote Worker in 80% right now. I visit the office once a week but I totally agree with you, it all sucks. I have to work during weekend instead of weekdays and a nightmare starts when I have to deal with some complex problem. I'm alone with it then. It takes me more time to solve them by myself than with my co-workers.
Monday, March 11, 2013 7:09:40 PM UTC
I was once a remote worker for a few months. I worked for an Israeli company which had an office in Paris, while I lived just outside Paris myself. I came to the office a few times, but both the guys who worked there spoke only French, and they were a patently foreigner-unfriendly bunch - they didn't really want to talk to me because of my broken language, and I never even saw them talking to each other about anything other than their current tasks. Since I worked with contacts back in Israel (ones I could actually _talk_ to), going to the office was pretty much pointless.

One day, I finished my current task and my pipeline was completely empty. I called my boss, and he didn't answer. I emailed him too. I went to the office, and it was empty - but that wasn't alarming since the office workers often worked from home themselves and it was often empty.

Eventually, three or four weeks later, I managed to get a response: "oh, yeah, we forgot to tell you - we shut down our French office, and you no longer work for us."

Being remote sucks pretty hard when they forget to tell you you were fired a month ago.
configurator
Sunday, March 17, 2013 11:27:46 PM UTC
I was a remote worker for 5 years, and the caveats your mention are especially true for me.

When I moved cities and was asked to work from the office, co-workers were surprised that I actually got work done, as they thought I slept in every day and finished early.

This is not further from the truth because as you say, I worked nights... late nights when I needed to. I felt that I was much more productive from home, than I was from the office. Being able to focus my brain on programming work when it was ready to do so was empowering.

There's nothing worse than being expected to work 9-5 on days when I just cannot get into the zone. While working from home, I would spend those times doing something else, and pick up the programming work when I was in the right frame of mind. In the end, I would come out on top.
Thursday, March 28, 2013 8:31:56 PM UTC
I've been a remote worker on and off for the past 7 years. Currently going into an office once a week, and I have to say, it usually depends heavily on the client and business type. I find managers in high pressure environments are less trusting than in creative workplaces, and I have to agree that one of the main issues is the lack of project knowledge, and the inability to measure the amount of work done.

My current client is well set up for remote working, though I'm the only telecommuter. We use remote services to get over the vast majority of issues - github for source control, Google apps, join.me, Skype, web cams and a neat little project management service called IDoneThis, which allows me to keep the entire team up to data with what I'm working on and vice verse by simply dropping us all an email at 5pm every day.

Personally, remote working suits me perfectly. I don't feel guilt, either - I generally stick to set hours, make sure I'm dressed and "at work" for a certain time, and take a lunch - occasionally I'll work late, do a weekend or work a holiday, but only if I'm inspired. I get infinitely more work done at home, and I make sure I'm always available, and reply to people on Skype immediately.
Monday, May 27, 2013 10:00:25 PM UTC
Very true and thanks for the advice! I'm a remote worker for almost a year now (also first developer job). Home didn't use to drive me nuts until I moved to a flat. Then it became very hard to concentrate onto work. Maybe because there's less to see when you're relaxing your eyes or that the place is smaller and it's harder to distinguish the work space from the after-work/free-time space. I found something that helps me a lot though - Standing Furniture!
Not the slickest setup, but the energy doubled.
Gabrielius
Thursday, June 13, 2013 11:27:04 AM UTC
I 10+ years enjoy ASP.NET, C#, .NET software development and about 3 years of that - remotely from St.Petersburg, Russia (GMT+4).

Remote job is perfect. Because working remotely I could potentially participane in many interesting projects outside my country - worldwide.

The only problem is US employers often want to see as named "work permission". Sometimes it's very hard to explain that I have registered in Russia as an individual entrepreneur and liable to sign contract worldwide. Maybe I just don't know those terms ("magic words") which explain that to employers in a way clear for them... I fyou could suggest something - please feel free to ping me at dimaka@dimaka.com

Thanks!
Thursday, June 27, 2013 8:36:24 PM UTC
i am looking to work remotely I am just unsure of where to start. Please contact me through my email with any way to start working remotely. please put remote work in the subject so i dont delete it thankyou
Nicole
Monday, July 29, 2013 1:20:24 PM UTC
Hi Scott!
Great article! I'm relatively new to the full-time remote workforce (only about 4 months in) and only occasionally worked from home with previous employers. I have to agree with you on all accounts. I am the first out-of-state remote employee at my company and have only been to HQ twice (for my two interviews). Other than that, my only contact with my colleagues has been thru chat, email, and phone. It's been a difficult adjustment for me - I love the autonomy and I am so much more productive at home, but I do miss the personal relationships (total extrovert here!). I'm often the victim of "out of sight, out of mind." I also perform a job that no one else in the company does, so I really have no one to bounce ideas off of. I really like Danny Thorpe's remark about having a "buddy" assigned to you to confer with - especially the fact that it could be someone whose tasks are completely different from my own. I think it would help me understand what goes on "up there" and vice versa.
Carrie
Friday, August 23, 2013 7:05:04 PM UTC
You Might try to find a COWORKING SPACE, thery are growing all over the world, and is a great way to work remotely, and develop contacts
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 4:10:24 PM UTC
Hi,

Which programming languages and other IT technologies would you recommend in order to find a remote job?

Thanks
Acami
Friday, November 01, 2013 2:22:03 PM UTC
I have been working remotely on and off for almost 20 years, now. All the work I perform can be done remotely. My current employment is 7 years. first off, let me say that our company has 800+ employees and is 75% remote. Only executives, some engineering and HR/Training/documentation staff are located in office. And even then, all employees work sometimes from home. I started out as an in-office employee (I am an Instructional designer). I asked to work remotely when I needed to move out of state. I was the only remote person in our department. At that time I felt a responsibility to represent the "perfect" remote worker. I did feel guilty about being remote. But when I visited the office, I could see that I was getting two to three times as much done as my coworkers. I didn't have to deal with the constant interruptions that go on in an office. I am happy to say that now, 5 of 10 workers in our department are full-time remote workers and the others work part-time remotely.

The biggest problem of being a remote worker is that I have been passed over for promotions. My boss will say something silly, like, "The promotion would require being in the office." I find that the ones who are seen at the office are considered the "stars" of the department. I guess this is human behavior; however, it is disappointing.
Comments are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.