ramblings from a non-believer

(Disclaimer #1: I’ve never worked remotely or had someone on my teams doing it consistently)
(Disclaimer #2: I didn’t read the Remote reference book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson)

Being able to do remote work was always something very present since I started working in tech, roughly 10 years ago.
As an employee it was always a fascinating subject.

At first it was only the possibility of working from home. Gaining a couple of minutes of sleep, avoiding the dreaded commute and just tumbling from bed into my computer desk, working in my pajamas… it all seemed a bit surreal yet appealing at the same time.

At that time this was not a subject my employers were much inclined to allow or even reflect about. So for me was just an enticing thought.

Later on, my personal life evolved, I started living with my girlfriend and at times, experiencing working from home. Mostly when I had to put out some fires on weekends or at night.

My opinion on remote started degrading.

It’s extremely hard for me to concentrate on work related tasks while having someone around making noise and interrupting me, having the TV and console in line of sight or even my dog asking to play from time to time.

Probably this is a personal limitation of mine but as human I tend to reflect my personal experiences into other people so I find hard to believe that this experience is not common to most of my colleagues.

Due to the nature of my work, (I’ve always worked in technology teams, from teams with only three members to teams with twenty five) team work was always present and I really find it hard to believe that team work can be as productive working remote as it is in person.

I know the tools are getting better by the minute, we have pair programming tools that allow two team members to program simultaneously on the same file, we have great group video chat tools, even robots that allow us to move inside a remote office viewing a video feed like if we were physically walking in the office. But do this tools fully replace the “in person” collaboration?

Overhearing two colleagues having a discussion and intervening because you have knowledge that can help. Glancing at a team mate after seeing an error appearing on the logs and immediately knowing he is on it by analysing his facial expression. Grabbing a lunch with a couple of teammates and strengthening bonds by talking about pet projects and other topics non work related.
All of this seems impossible or at least unlikely to happen while working remotely.

Although a sceptic, I do acknowledge a few big advantages while working remotely:

For the remote working team member:
- Avoiding commute;
- If the remote location is close to the office, it can be something done just a couple of days per week, helping to break the monotony of working day by day in the same space;
- When the necessity to work remotely appears unexpectedly, like when you are on vacations and a fire needs to be put out, you will be well equipped with the tools needed to quickly deal with the situation;
- You can work from a different place every day, like while traveling around the world (as long as you have good wifi connections available and an available electrical plug).
- You can work for any company in the world (remote friendly that is) without ever needing to leave your favourite neighbourhood.

For the employer:
-You can recruit talent from all over the world with all the advantages that brings, like bigger talent pool or bigger diversity and also while avoiding relocation costs;
-Depending on your location you can reduce by a lot the costs of office space;
-If you have a product available worldwide you can improve support by covering more timezones;

I guess even one of my developer idols, Kent Beck, while working remotely for Facebook, agrees with me: Full Stack radio - 16: Kent Beck — Tiny Decisions and Emergent Design (if you’re into software development listen to the full episode, it’s worth every second).

So, as final thought, I acknowledge that remote work brings huge benefits to all the parts involved, but depending on your location (office space price, availability of talent), the necessary trade-offs may be too high.