Why “Remote-First” is Actually a Dangerous Mindset
Rebecca Corliss

An observation for you, Rebecca:

The last 15 years of my career were in geographically distributed CTO-staffer jobs in various business units of a (relatively) mature tech company.

The geographic distribution followed from a 1960s era decision not to put everything in Palo Alto. I would argue that opposite choices starting in the late 1990s have made living and working in that region more difficult than necessary.

But that means my work group and peer group spanned four to ten time zones, and I only reported to a local Director or VP for maybe 2 of those 15 years. Yes, we had to use airplanes and face time to bring a team together initially, and to launch initiatives, but once we had done so we found it was better to have a joint phone call (everyone on a quality headset from their cube or home office) than to try to have several people at each site in a conference room around a crappy speakerphone, or worse, to try to use the compressed-to-the-point-of-useless video conferencing of that era. Quality video conferencing, yes. And when it was 10 time zones, at least one person on the phone was outside their normal work hours, so those home offices really helped.

The point I’m trying to make is that one size doesn’t fit all teams, even within a company. And trying to do the pendulum swing at a company-wide level can be destructive to individual teams.

In my personal case, I have a chemical sensitivity disability (yeah I know highly controversial and not recognized by mainstream medicine) which simply prevents me from doing useful knowledge work at a desk with an exposed particle board work surface underside or more than a trace of background fragrance from fellow employees / fragrance emitters in bathrooms / someone in facilities who thought it would be nice to pipe designer fragrance into the building. So I just worked remote when the job allowed and took the hit when the job had to be in person. Roughly 1 in 6 people is like me in this regard, I just have a severity more like 1 in 1000 people. Forcing a choice which causes 1 in 6 employees to work in an environment which decreases their cognitive capacity noticeably will at best cause all of those people to attrit and at worst cause them to underperform and therefore the company to slightly underperform in the long term. But then you could say the same about putting knowledge workers in open offices…