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Why Working Remotely Needs To Make a Comeback 455

silentbrad writes sends this excerpt from a blog post about the history of working from home: "Remote working has existed for centuries. And now is the perfect time for its comeback. ... Prior to the Industrial Revolution, goods were manufactured by contracting individual craftsmen who worked out of their homes. The merchant would drum up sales, and would coordinate the production with at-home sub-contractors. ... This all changed with the Industrial Revolution: production was centralized in factories and cities. For merchant capitalists, this made sense: it was cheaper and more efficient to produce goods in one place, with machinery. ... We've been in the Information Age for at least 25 years. We've made huge leaps in technology. Many of us would describe ourselves as Knowledge Workers: we don't work in factories, we work at desks in front of glowing screens. We don't make goods with physical materials, but rather things made out of bits. The great thing about bits + the internet is that the materials and means needed for production aren't dependent on location. But here's the funny thing: the way work is organized hasn't changed. Despite all these advances, most of us still work in central offices. Employees leave their computer-equipped homes and drive long distances to work at computer-equipped offices. ... CEOs, like Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Apple's Steve Jobs, think that a central office fosters more innovation and productivity. I think they're wrong. We're still early in the research, but recent studies seem to dispute their claim. ... Managers have developed centuries worth of habits based on the central workplace. The hallmarks of office work (meetings, cubicle workstations, colocation) need to be seen for what they are: traditions we've kept alive since the Industrial Revolution. We need to question these institutions: are they really more innovative and efficient?"
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Why Working Remotely Needs To Make a Comeback

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @06:52PM (#42998037)

    I certainly feel I'm much more effective in the quiet of my own home vs. the open-plan chaotic environment called "the office".

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:00PM (#42998091)

      You must not have kids.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Nope. Lots of us don't. Should we be punished for not being able to work from a home office due to our having produced screaming larvae?

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:49PM (#42998487)

          Yes, yes you should...

        • by broohaha ( 5295 )

          No one is talking about punishing those with kids. It's an observation based on the "quiet of my own home" quote.

        • by TheABomb ( 180342 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @10:19PM (#42999433)

          Yes. You must sit in a cube farm all day within earshot of the eleventy hens cackling about their kids.

          Otherwise, whom will they pawn their work off upon?

          • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:04AM (#43000273) Journal

            ...which leads to a point for those of us who are childless:

            I get a *shitload* more work done here at home (no kids, just dogs) than I do in an office full of people yapping, project managers who love to stop by unannounced to slip in extra things to do (at home I can conveniently ignore IM and email until you have time to deal with them), and other team members who want their particular ancillary crap done right now! (and hey, since you're right there...)

            Yeah - much prefer working at home.

            Recently (as in, Friday), some executive in my company decided that telecommuting must die. Probably read it in some shiny CxO magazine or something. In one fell swoop, he has managed to force those of us who work remotely to take a pay cut (the money now goes into the gas tank), waste hours otherwise spent tidying up things a little late (because now we're commuting), and in general shoving morale into the toilet. Mind you, my commute is 80 miles long in each direction.

            Maybe I'm bitching, but I average 2-3 (FT, not contract) offers each month from headhunters. I usually turn them down immediately since none to date had telecommuting as an option. If I have to make the drive anyway, I may as well get a bigger paycheck out of the deal, so the next offers that come down the pike...

      • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:54PM (#42998519)

        You must not have kids.

        Or, alternatively, lock the sound-proof door of your study.

      • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:32PM (#42998731)
        We homeschool our child, so he has the proper social skills to know that during the workday, you make noise in places other than where a person is working. For those who have been "socialized" by going to public school, they are not at home during the day anyway, so either way, having kids doesn't really come into the equation.
      • by Ritchie70 ( 860516 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:33AM (#43000403) Journal

        I have one child (almost 10 months old.)

        When working from home, I work in the same general area of the house as where she and my wife are playing, watching TV, reading, and doing all that other stuff you do with a baby. I change most of her diapers while I'm there, and sometimes I take a meeting or do work with her sitting on my lap happily burbling away and grabbing at the keyboard.

        And I'm still more productive than when stuck in my dismal, 1989 cubicle. (It really is that old; I found the manufacturer's sticker inside the cabinet.)

        Some of it is workplace noise. Some of it is that I can wear t-shirt and jeans, or shorts if it's warm, and no socks or shoes. Some of it is that I'm just happier with my family than without them.

        I'm trying to train my workplace that they don't need to see me more than once a week. I think I'm slowly getting there. My boss doesn't care so long as the work gets done, but higher up the food chain it gets stickier.

      • I have kids and telecommute. My office is on the second floor - a one-room addition over the garage. The door to the stairs has a stiff spring on it to keep it closed. Anyone who wants to talk to me has to be willing to climb a flight of stairs and be physically able to open that door. Problem solved.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:10PM (#42998169)

      There's nothing more depressing than a cube farm. There's a reason Office Space resonates. How on earth could it be a better solution than anything else?

      It seems painfully obvious to me, and I don't know why others think it's better. I just don't.

      • by dynamo ( 6127 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:29PM (#42998331) Journal

        Damn right. I spent a decade in various cube farm environments, they are horrible, productivity-killing and soul-killing places. Never Again.
        Cubes are just a half assed attempt to pretend people have privacy when they don't. give them tables, give them offices, or admit you don't have enough space.

        • by codegen ( 103601 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:56PM (#42998883) Journal
          The move to open concept happened when the IRS changed the rules for deductions of renovations (i.e. from a short period of time to a very long period of time). But some companies are still willing to go the distance. Before I moved back to academia, I spent 5 1/2 years in the private sector at a company that "got it". The research team had individual offices that we could shut the doors to block out distraction. The development team were two to an office because we were running a hybrid process of team programming. But they could still close their doors to block out distraction. The only people that ended up in an open area were the summer interns because we couldn't justify a year round office for 4 months of seasonal work. It was amazing how productive we could be. In one project that I managed, we did a migration of 200,000 lines of COBOL to Java in about 3 months (2 months planning 1 month execution, total of 4 developers and 1 reasearcher). It amazes me that the people who run these companies are willing to take the hit in productivity that cube farms generate. The smaller city we were in was considerably cheaper for office space than the big cities, but still...
      • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:47PM (#42998829)

        Cube farms aren't that bad. For you to say such a thing, you obviously have never worked in an "open-plan office environment", a.k.a. "bullpen". Just in case you haven't seen these in person, basically there's no walls at all, or at best there's cubicle walls separating your "team" from other "teams", but no walls between you and 6-10 cow-orkers. So any time one of them starts talking about some stupid sports game, or someone comes to visit one of them, or they use the phone, you get to be interrupted by their conversation. What's really obnoxious is when some boss person or someone from marketing comes over and wants to have a chit-chat with some of the people in your group about something not related to work, and parks his ugly butt on your desk right next to you while you're trying to work.

        Think headphones will help? Try it, and find out what a heart attack feels like when some asshole comes up behind you and taps you on the shoulder to get your attention.

        Add in a horribly noisy A/C unit in the ceiling above that stays on continuously all day long, and you'll go surely insane.

        • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @10:11PM (#42999369)

          > Think headphones will help? Try it, and find out what a heart attack feels like when some asshole comes up behind you and taps you on the shoulder to get your attention.

          But a small convex desk mirror on your monitor.
          Use noise canceling headphones.

          This isn't rocket science people.

        • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday February 25, 2013 @06:03AM (#43001263) Homepage Journal

          Think headphones will help? Try it, and find out what a heart attack feels like when some asshole comes up behind you and taps you on the shoulder to get your attention.

          Etiquette where I work, in an open plan environment (Google), is that you get someone's attention by IMing them. Yes, my teammate who sits right next to me, less than three feet away, often sends me an instant message to ask a question. I respond by yanking off my headphones and turning to face him. It's weird, I suppose, but it works, providing both easy collaboration and strong isolation, as necessary.

        • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @07:00AM (#43001421)

          I really like it. If people want to ask me a question, they can come to me. This can be from my team or from another department. That way we can easily answer questions. Better then to send back and forth emails all day.
          And if people want to talk about sports and they have time, please let them. I do not care, so I do not listen. People who talk to each other about different things will get along better. This tends to increase the understanding of each other, which will help understand each other later when you have different opinions about a project and it will be easier to find a common ground for a solution.

          You will be more open to ideas from others. A bit like how open source works.

          And as it does not disturb me, I do not even hear them talking about some silly sports game or childbirth process if I do not want to.

          One department where I work everybody is quiet there. No private talking. Nothing. That is how the manager wants it. To the majority of the people this feels extremely unhealthy. As if somebody just died. As a result we have problems finding people for that department. Internally nobody wants to go there. Externally people leave as fast as we can hire them.

          Sitting on somebodies desk is not something we EVER do. We have enough chairs so it s easy to just pull up a chair.
          When you are on the phone and they are too loud, you just say so. There is no shame in saying thing like that to anybody, including the CEO, because we already know each other and have spoken to each other. SO I know how I must talk to him or her.
          Most of the time I just hold up my hand, point to my phone and they will stop. People who are with my back to me will be told to be quiet and either they stop the conversation or take a coffee or whatever.

          All a non-issue, because we know how to communicate.

          What you have is no communication. Due to this the small things start to bother you. This will grow and grow till it explodes. In the mean time your work will be going down, because you can not concentrate.

          Bit like a mosquito in the room. You can not sleep from that, but you will not wake up from the traffic outside. This because you focus on it.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @09:14PM (#42998991)

        The reason cubicle farms exist is an outgrowth of the incompetence of management. Managers do not know how to effectively manage their staff and think by "keeping an eye on them by virtue of being in their assigned seat" is an effective approach to management. In an office environment I have seen my manager less than 1% of the time yet if I dared asked permission to work from home I could except immediate termination or worse. And what is this non-sense of a fixed workday whereby I must be in the office between 8AM and 5PM regardless of the fact my work for that particular day was completed and signed-off by noon? Great, now I have to spend the next five hours appearing busy when in reality I am surfing /. trying to stay awake.

    • Between chores begging to be done, cats wanting to be fed, kids coming home hours before the typical workday finishes, and a myriad of other distractions I find home is a terrible place to get things done. I take work home only when the distractions at work are worse than they are at home and that is rare, usually end of reporting period or something similar.

      On the flip side being co-located with scores of other people we rely on to get jobs done is a real blessing in efficiency. People have a tendency to r

  • Teamwork (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kevin_m_hickey ( 2663827 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @06:54PM (#42998049)
    I would agree with you if not for the growing trend of collaborative spaces in the IT industry. Sitting isolated in a cubicle and only talking to other people in meetings or the water cooler is no better than working from home and Skyping or talking on the phone. But a collaborative space and pair programming do foster innovation and rapid, high-quality software development. The social aspect yields interesting ideas that the individual would not think of on his (or her) own. Pairing (or at least having extra eyes around) tends to yield higher quality both from being able to have someone check for mistakes and the social pressure of not cutting corners when someone else is looking.
    • Re:Teamwork (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pathological liar ( 659969 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:05PM (#42998147)

      It probably varies by job and by person. I find it helpful to talk with my coworkers, but a distraction to overhear them.

      A mailing list, irc channel, xmpp muc etc. allows me to collaborate on my terms. I can rethink and edit my response, and if I'm in the middle of something I can read it later and respond then. Conversations typically don't work like that.

      • Re:Teamwork (Score:5, Informative)

        by kevin_m_hickey ( 2663827 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:54PM (#42998523)

        It probably varies by job and by person. I find it helpful to talk with my coworkers, but a distraction to overhear them.

        A lot of people (thought granted not everybody) find that after spending some time in a collaborative environment the background conversations move from being a distraction to an undercurrent of information. It becomes possible to tune it out but still hear keywords that might be relevant and allow for better teamwork.

        A mailing list, irc channel, xmpp muc etc. allows me to collaborate on my terms. I can rethink and edit my response, and if I'm in the middle of something I can read it later and respond then. Conversations typically don't work like that.

        That's true but your way has high latency. Conversations happen much faster.

        • Re:Teamwork (Score:4, Insightful)

          by pathological liar ( 659969 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:04PM (#42998591)

          A lot of people (thought granted not everybody) find that after spending some time in a collaborative environment the background conversations move from being a distraction to an undercurrent of information. It becomes possible to tune it out but still hear keywords that might be relevant and allow for better teamwork.

          Research doesn't bear that out. Multitasking reduces efficiency, interrupts and context switches hurt. If, for your specific workload, you find it's a net gain... well, more power to you. It's not one-size fits all.

          That's true but your way has high latency. Conversations happen much faster.

          That's the point. 'My way' allows my coworkers to decide when they can be interrupted. 'Your way' allows people to demand focus.

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      I would agree with you if not for the growing trend of collaborative spaces in the IT industry.

      That works as long as everybody is actually at the same location. In my company at least it seems like every project I'm on consists of people scattered across numerous geographical locations. They just all sit in their offices and talk on the phone all day in meetings. When it is suggested that one should pick up the phone instead of calling a meeting the problem is that everybody is busy in meetings and won't pick up. When it is suggested that one should get up and talk to people, the problem is that

    • Re:Teamwork (Score:5, Interesting)

      by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:21PM (#42998273)

      sorry I don't want to be programming in a room full of yammering idiocy.. I'd be canned in the first week for lack of productivity. All this 'social' bullshit is driving society to distraction. There's a reason most people don't have every TV and music player in the house turned on at full blast at the same time.

    • Related to teamwork and historical comparisons...

      The modern office better resembles the historical college than cottage industry. Cottage industry was repetitive work done at home. Other than the initial learning, there wasn't a need for knowledge sharing. Today in the office (or out of the office), we are sharing ideas constantly. We do benefit from being able to share information remotely, but cottage industry is the wrong comparison.

  • by canadiannomad ( 1745008 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @06:55PM (#42998061) Homepage

    I love it, I can't imagine going back. I like my hammock office, and every time I am forced to work at a desk or table, and can physically feel my mind cramping up. If that is innovation and productivity, count me out!
    Don't get me started about my years facing grey half-walls feeling like someone was watching what I was doing behind my back. Gave me the creeps, and again, just made me feel uncomfortable working.

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      Yup, I've been working from home and I find myself just not caring about all the office politics as much. Who cares who rates an office vs a cube when you work from home 95% of the time? If I need to go into the office half the time I don't even go to my actual office - I'm spending my time with customers and such. I've learned to ditch all the paper and travel light - that makes me a lot more flexible. I work at a big facility and I used to spend a lot of time just walking around, to say nothing about

  • by Bender0x7D1 ( 536254 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @06:57PM (#42998069)

    If you can do your work from home, it's probable that someone else can do the work from the other side of the planet. For less. So be careful what you wish for.

    • It is kinda what I do..... Who said I had to be in a cold, foggy city to do tech work?
      Quality of life over income.
      If you have ever outsourced, you'd find that it is really hard to find good programmers and system administrators too far below market rates. And usually there are communication issues with those people. Me, being in a lower cost of living area, am able to accept a lower wage, and give the high quality work that most businesses have come to expect of an american professional. In exchange, I g

    • If you can work remotely... it's probable that somewhere on the other side of the planet a potential employer will open up their work for you. Pessimism or optimism. Choose one.
    • If you can do your work from home, it's probable that someone else can do the work from the other side of the planet. For less. So be careful what you wish for.

      Actually I find it funny and sad how many employers that refuse to let people work from home, are willing to outsource that same work to someone on the other side of the planet. (And while that usually means cheaper labor; generally there is less quality control, a language barrier, and people that may not even work the same time as you.)

      • by Splab ( 574204 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @02:55AM (#43000735)

        I fucking hate working from home. When I enter my apartment, it's my life, not the company. Having a very distinct line between working and being off is extremely important.

        Also, while it might work for some people to remote in, I bloody hate it when I can't get hold of my coworkers because they are doing their laundry, shopping or whatever the fuck the tend to do, when they should be working.

        If you have the ability to separate your work and your life when you work from home, good for you; but mostly, I find it doesn't work.

    • by BradleyUffner ( 103496 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:21PM (#42998667) Homepage

      If you can do your work from home, it's probable that someone else can do the work from the other side of the planet. For less. So be careful what you wish for.

      And if you can do it from an office, it's probable that it can be done from an office on the other side of the planet. For less

  • Working Remotely (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @06:58PM (#42998075)
    Only the most anachronistic, self-absorbed, border-line sociopathic managers are against working remotely. Marissa Mayer, hint hint. It is a win, win for companies. Companies save money on expensive office space and employes have more job satisfaction resulting in less turnover further saving money for the company. Those managers concerned with "face time" are micromanaging, control freaks.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:11PM (#42998177)

      Only the most anachronistic, self-absorbed, border-line sociopathic managers are against working remotely

      In other words, all of them.

      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        Not all. My wife worked for the Department of Defense years back and they contracted to have a financial system programmed for the Air Force to a company in California. The guy who ran the company ran it out of his house and all his programmers worked from home. Meetings were conducted over the phone mostly although he did visit her office a few times. It was a very sweet contract and this guy's overhead was almost nothing. That was back in the late 90's.

    • Not at all. Read this:
      http://www.businessinsider.com/why-marissa-mayer-told-remote-employees-to-work-in-an-office--or-quit-2013-2 [businessinsider.com]

      - Many of these people "weren't productive,"
      - A lot of people hid. There were all these employees [working remotely] and nobody knew they were still at Yahoo.

      You do have to wonder how you could 'loose track' of your employees in this day and age...

    • Re:Working Remotely (Score:5, Interesting)

      by xystren ( 522982 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:42PM (#42998441)

      I personally prefer having that "divide" between work and home. I dislike the idea of working at home - that's not what it is for. Yeah, can I? Sure, but I absolutely hate it. The travel time to/from the office I also appreciate. It gives me that time to decompress from work - I turn up the radio, sing like a madman that doesn't care that they are out of tune, and by the time I get home, any of the days of "work stress" is gone. I can enjoy the time with my wife, children, grandchild unimpeded.

      When working remotely at home, the stresses of work become integrated as part of your home. The wife, the kids, extended family and friends pick up on that. You have a @#$%@ day at the remote home office and that @#$%@ day sits at dinner with you and your family - your mind and thoughts are at work, not with your family. There is something to be said to have that clear delineation between work and home.

      Now if your traveling all over the place, as a part of your employment, the remote office makes sense. But I don't want my boss's or corporate lack of planning to constitute and emergency in my own home with the stress felt within my whole family system.

      To me, it looks like a corporate grab to save money on the facilities. If already maximizing the number of people in a building by reducing the size of a cubical isn't doing enough for the bottom line, let's kick our workers out our space, and we can invade theirs. This works for corporate and sounds great to them. For me? Not so much. Am I getting compensated for the space that corporate is taking up in my home, my bandwidth, power, utilities, and the intrusion into my family's space? I'm sorry, saving 2 hours of travel time isn't enough to compensate for that. Many view travel time as time wasted - for me it is my stress decompression time, self-care, or me time.

      I completely disagree with the win/win which is in short, a collaborative process (Our way). For some, yeah, it may be win/win. For me, it is coercion (Their way) - a win/lose; corporate wins, I lose.

      How accommodation with the flexibility to work with both styles?

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      I think there are two reasons why this is right and wrong.

      First, this is right because management always has to cut costs, and one way to cut costs is to push for more productivity. This can be done by have employes in house so they can be pushed. Otherwise one is just paying a sum for a fixed amount of work. For instance a sysadmin will do everything they have to do, but aren't going to be pushed to do extra work if not in the office.

      OTOH, as has been said, if work can be done remotely it can be don

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Add lazy to the list. Determining who is suitable to work from home and what tasks can be completed remotely are entirely a management issue, but that's work to sort that out so lazy management just has blanket bans.
  • PBH like face time / overuse of mettinges & time tracking to the point of where 30mins a day is just time tracking paper work.

  • by mariasama16 ( 1895136 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:01PM (#42998109)
    I think it depends on your office culture. I do phone tech support and can work remotely. Several of my coworkers don't ever drive into the office, several other coworkers work in other parts of the state and when we finish our transitional/expansion period (next 2 months or so), the goal is to have 10-15 people working remotely every day. I actually just had an email needing information to make sure our new VOIP setup will be compatible with everyone's home setups.
  • by urbanriot ( 924981 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:02PM (#42998123)
    ... then we can fill our staff with intelligent employees from India!
  • ... trails off... sounds like it's being read... by Kirk

    • Had to look up "colocation," too. Thought that was how dolphins communicated, or some obscure form of coral. TFS is chockablock with portentous word choices.

  • I agree but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Itsik ( 191227 ) <demiguru-at-me.com> on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:10PM (#42998167) Homepage

    I recall over the summer reading a piece in the Wall Street Journal (http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2012/07/13/working-from-home-beware-a-career-hit/?mod=e2tw)
    Pointing to the fact that telecommuters aka people that work remotely are less likely to get promoted regardless of their productivity and work ethic.

    Quite alarming

    • Re:I agree but... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:27PM (#42998311)

      I find that it matters not where you work. If you keep your mind on your work instead of kissing ass and politicking then you are likely to find yourself getting overlooked. The exception is the small shops usually where the manager is also the owner. Things that directly hit his wallet tend to get noticed more.

    • It only makes sense that those with face-time with management would get preferential treatment and promotions.

      However, if you've achieved a comfortable level in your career and just want to maintain that level for the next decade or two, who cares about promotions?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        As a developer working on healthcare integration projects - 100% of my work is remote. I know the business, have worked with hospitals and in the medical field for 20+ years, know most of the most common EMR packages and integration engines. I'm both a contract and freelance consultant depending on the contract. I could give two shits about "promotion". My desire to be absorbed by the "Cubical Mentality" is non-existent. Been there, done that, burned the T-Shirt. The PHB's can micro-manage their own flock w

    • Re:I agree but... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by stretch0611 ( 603238 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:06PM (#42998601) Journal

      ...people that work remotely are less likely to get promoted regardless of their productivity and work ethic.

      Chances are that if you are a technical person, your likelihood of getting promoted are pretty limited already.

      There are only so many PM's and middle management positions available, and chances are even if you do get promoted to management, you will never leave the technical side of the business and have a snowball's chance in hell of reaching upper management.

  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:10PM (#42998171)

    Work from home jobs are available all over the place. What planet are you on?

    • Planet: I want to make more than $16 per hour.

      I did interview for a $60/hr work from home gig, but the competition is outrageous, and I see signs on the job boards that whoever they hired didn't last even a month.

  • by Rurik ( 113882 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:12PM (#42998181)

    What is this, a Japanese RPG? Can you possibly squeeze any more ellipses into that summary?

  • by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:14PM (#42998193)
    I've worked for 3 massive software companies that hire 10s of thousands directly or contractually, and they all have allowed remote workers for about 15 years. It doesn't matter if Apple and Yahoo don't, many companies that hire more in roles that allow you to work remotely(application development, support, implementation, training, marketing, etc) do allow the practices.

    Apple wants to look cool with its giant campus and onsite amenities because it's fostering an image of oneness. It's also a company that people use as a stepping stool, like Google, Yahoo, SpaceX,etc. Your average company doesn't care and wants their employees to be happy enough to stay there for a while, and working from home is a huge benefit that fosters long term loyalty.
    • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:19PM (#42998243)
      My friend works for an insurance company that moved all of the senior claims adjusters to work from home positions. Only the junior level ones work out of the office and it is just so they can become experienced. My friend has no plans whatsoever to leave the company unless forced to. That's pretty telling....
      • Exactly. They benefit because you're cheaper(ancillary things like facilities), you benefit because you get to work in your undies and save on everything that goes with a commute. Win win that most people don't voluntarily give up.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Productivity is not based on location of the workplace
    as much as it is based on the person doing the work.

    Only ignorant paranoid idiots want workers "where they can
    be watched". I won't work for such fools.

  • As a manager, I can tell you that I need to spend some hi-bandwidth time with my people on a regular basis. I need that interpersonal time to interact with them, make sure they have what they need and the barriers to their work are pushed out of the way. There's no substitute for eating lunch with someone to really understand where they are.

    Can I imagine a corner case where work can easily be done from home and the person doesn't need that time?

    Sure, but this isn't how the team works as a whole and I need

    • As a manager, I can tell you that I need to spend some hi-bandwidth time with my people on a regular basis

      As a verteran engineer, I can tell you you're an idiot and a liability for whichever unlucky company you work for.

  • It requires... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by madmarcel ( 610409 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:20PM (#42998259)

    Working from home requires a certain work ethic.
    Not all of us possess this.

    I've also heard from friends who do work from home that they struggle to distinguish between work/home and personal/business. It seems that the physical acts of leaving for work and coming home from work are required for some people to be able to keep the two (mindsets?) separated.

    • by Zargg ( 1596625 )

      This would be part of it for me...I need the physical separation from the beer in the fridge!

  • by Livius ( 318358 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:23PM (#42998283)

    I think the problem with centralizing knowledge work, especially something like software development which has a creative element, is not so much the remote versus centralized issue, as the kind of environment centralized workers find themselves in. There are definite advantages to bringing a team together to work face to face, even if the benefits are difficult to quantify. Where it goes wrong is a cube-farm office, which has all the disadvantages but few advantages, for example being an environment which is both isolating and impersonal and at the same time full of distractions from the nearby presence of your co-workers. What's needed is a better balance of interaction and isolation.

  • by lars ( 72 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:24PM (#42998291)

    One big flaw in your argument is that the linked studies seem to focus on individual productivity. What about team productivity? I can definitely see myself producing more code if I worked in a more isolated environment, or whatever other metric you'd like to use, but I think my team's overall effectiveness would suffer. Note that we don't work alone in cubicles or closed offices, but at desks in an open environment as is common these days. It's hard for me to imagine a remote work environment -- even with chat and Google video hangouts constantly running -- that could match the free flow of ideas and information that we get from working right next to one another. The distractions to individual productivity are more than compensated for by being more plugged in to what other people are doing, which lets everyone make better decisions that save time in the long run.

    I'm not sure why so many people are reacting as though there's a universally superior approach here. All teams and organizations are different. Having employees present at the office seems to work for Google, and presumably Mayer has good reason to think it will work at Yahoo as well. I'm sure there are also lots of big organizations where the opposite is true.

    • by stretch0611 ( 603238 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:23PM (#42998681) Journal

      I've worked both remotely and onsite. I have worked from home on team and individual projects. I have seen it work and fail.

      The key factor of whether it works or not depends on communication. If you talk to your co-workers regularly, and they contact you all the time it works well. If there is no communication, or if you can't contact your coworkers regularly (or vice-versa,) the project will fail.

      As a sr. developer, I still see other people's code, and people see mine. Managers can (or at least should) be able to determine if I am productive.

      Working on individual side projects, if you can motivate yourself, it will succeed.

      The only problem is those occasional programming problems... The ones every programmer gets... where it is a stupid typo or something you are overlooking. (common misspellings like "o" instead of the character zero, lack of quotes, or using an operator from a different language.) All programmers will do this and they can take an hour to find on your own... A co-worker can see the problem in a glance. That is the only problem to working on your own. On a team project, if you have someone you talk to regularly, that can and will find it quickly, you are golden. If you are on a team and no one has the time to bother with you, your communication is lacking and you are doomed to fail.

  • I worked for a year remotely from a new country, and by that time I was about stir-crazy from isolation, even as my day ended promptly at 3pm and I had so much time to have a good home balance. If you have flexibility, you should go into the office at least once a week to get that invaluable face-to-face interaction, and during crunch time switch to 80% in-office. Impromptu five-minute stand-ups with a project group are often essential.

    • I agree with Balance. There are times when you need face-to-face meetings in a room with a whiteboard or other doodling device to figure out the big picture. Once you have your assignment, it may be one that can be done better and/or more quickly in isolation.
  • because I certainly have no use whatsoever for networking. Nope. None. And getting pinged by 500 ppl per minute in IM because that's the only way to get ahold of me will never get old.
  • Mayer had to do what is right for Yahoo! They have been stagnant for awhile, so - perhaps it is a proper change in management. I guess time will tell.

    I work remotely (for the last year and a half) and it definitely has benefits but it also has drawbacks. There *is* something to working in an office with coworkers, but there is something to be said about working remotely (being out of stupid meetings, getting drawn into things, etc).
  • If you spend most of your working days at home, you WILL be forgotten. There is definitely value in having a physical presence at your workplace, even if you spend the majority of your time at your desk. You'll still be seen in the hallways, you'll be physically there at meetings, if you need to talk to someone about an issue it's easy enough to do it in person with the subtle benefits of having your physical presence there as opposed to being on the phone/communicator.

    People remember faces better if they s

  • by dindi ( 78034 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:39PM (#42998423)

    You know those guys who start the day on youtube/facebook/ and only start to work when you nag them to death. If you don't they might do some "proof that I worked" BS at the end of the day? These are the guys who have to obey one rule and they cannot: be available between 9-5. Then you call, message, mail, call all numbers, all messengers, and the guy is no-where.

    I have seen a complete telecommuting department of 30+ people ordered permanently to the office because a couple of these assholes.

    That said: I work at 2 places at the same time. Since I don't have to prepare, make food (special diet, no take-out and soda machine for me), drive, socialise and all that, I can comfortably put 10 hours a day of coding/planning (infrastructure design, consulting with coders) on the table. I have an elliptical trainer and a garden. If my head is about to explode and I "only" have to read some specs or make a call, I walk/sit outside in the garden in natural light (tropics rule).

    Now that is the good part. At one place my colleagues just don't get it. Communication is freakin' impossible with them. Even though the policy: code when you want/can, be available in business hours (US eastern 8-4). Guys don't answer mails, forget if you Skype/call instead, not on Skype sometimes for hours without notice (and messing up everything the night before in the GIT repos). It is just a mess...

    So I think it is possible, it is good, but you simply have to screen the people and remove their rights if they fail to deliver/communicate.

    If you are in software development an need to participate in planning/design (not just e.g. work on tickets on a ready product), then probably it makes sense to go to the office once a week to do some joint brainstorming. Maybe more. Depending. When people talk tech in the elevator, at the cafeteria, smoking area, gym, or etc ... good things happen. Ideas are born. When you just have a Skype call without using any presentation tool (whiteboard), then you feel the difference: it is not as effective.
    The ADD ridden ones at least are (somewhat) forced to pay attention at meetings and at best can play with their phones, but if it is Skype, who knows what is on the other 4 screens. Worst experience : my colleague has his whole family screaming at the same time while we are having meetings. I am not talking a noise once in a while, or family arriving/leaving, but full time lunch serving and baby screaming all the way.

    Most hated office things: 1. Half the room is cold, half the room is hot. Always, everywhere. 2. Morning chatter of yesterday's game, movie, news .. etc - fine, just do it outside if you see someone trying to work. 3. Asshole on speakerphone or asshole on personal call, calling 10th place to get new tires.... 4. food smell.. New rule: next time I have to smell your packaged paprika bacon-pork skin chips I can throw up into your hair..... If you touch my screen with the finger, I get to chop it off with a blunt cheese-knife.

  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:43PM (#42998443) Homepage Journal

    This is an issue that's very important to me, personally.

    I've relocated my immediate family far from all of our extended family for a job. It's a great job (Google), but the relocation has imposed some real hardships on us, and I'd very, very much like to be able to move back "home" but keep the job, working remotely. I came to Google from IBM, a company which has gone largely distributed, and I spent the ten years prior to joining Google working from home.

    So I have both motivation to convince Google that I can work remotely with great effectiveness and experience to show that I have, in fact, done it. Further, Google has outstanding tools for facilitated distributed work... not only do we use Google Docs and Google+ Hangouts extensively, they're also integrated with each other and with Gmail, and Google Chat, and Google Voice. Plus, of course, all of our source control tools are well-suited to remote work, our code review and systems management interfaces are all either command-line or web-based (either works great remotely). It really is a world-class remote collaboration suite.

    However, I've had to grudgingly admit that Google is right in its assertion that distributed work is less efficient, that remote teams move slower and accomplish less than co-located teams. I'm in the Boulder office, but much of my work has reached across site boundaries to include teams in Mountain View, San Francisco, Boston, New York and Zurich. And, as a result, I've ended up spending a lot of time in those cities (I'm in Zurich now) because it is so much more effective to communicate with people in person.

    How do I reconcile the conflict? Was I just ineffective at IBM? I mean, there I was e-mailing Office docs and talking on conference calls. That had to have been even worse than at Google, right? No. Remote work can work, and very well, but it requires a massive cultural shift. The technology is there, and has been for a while, but what's lacking is the motivation to be willing to suffer the large cost of essentially re-training your entire company on how to communicate.

    IBM made this shift because it was drowning in red ink and Gerstner decided a first step to fixing that problem was to eliminate most of IBM's real estate, and the resulting lack of office space led the company scrambling for solutions. IBM had decades-long task forces focused only on finding and addressing obstacles to remote work. There's no doubt that IBM's productivity did take a big hit during the transition, and it lasted for a long time. But IBM was at the same time fighting its way out from under massive internal bureaucracy, and the improvements from eliminating the bureaucracy papered over the problems caused by retraining. Another source of improvement was the fact that IBM built, at the same time, a whole new -- and very large -- services business, which was inherently distributed.

    A key to IBM's success, though, was that almost everyone was pushed out of the office. The people who couldn't be productive working remotely ended up being slid out of the company, many in the course of a few layoffs. If you want to make remote work effective, everyone needs to be comfortable dealing with remote collaborators all the time, and by sending nearly everyone home, IBM achieved that.

    Google, on the other hand, is already a highly productive, efficient company, one which doesn't really have massive layers of bureaucracy to clear out. As a result, any widespread transition to remote work would cause the company's performance to take a large hit, and not briefly. 5+ years, I estimate. I think Google could make the transition faster than IBM did, partly due to better tools, mostly due to better people -- not everyone, mind you, there were lots of highly capable IBMers, but there's hardly anyone at Google who is not highly capable. But it would take years and Google's apparent dominance notwithstanding, Google can't afford that.

    IBM's market position was built primarily on long-term, solid c

  • ... cubicle workstations ... are traditions we've kept alive since the Industrial Revolution.

    Cubicles became popular starting in the 1970s, seen as an improvement over the bullpen (open office) and cheaper than individual offices.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @07:57PM (#42998537)

    This article is obviously a reaction to Yahoo's actions, stopping the ability to work remotely.

    But it's ignoring the real reason why Yahoo did so. Over time, Yahoo has grown vast and has accumulated a number of freeloaders who possibly were not even working, but were still being paid.

    By pulling everyone in to work for a year or so, Yahoo can evaluate who they really have working. In technical terms, you can think of it like a garbage collector spinning up and cleaning out useless nodes...

    In about a year after Yahoo has everything settled up, they'll probably re-introduce remote working.

    More details on Yahoo here [businessinsider.com] (my apologies for linking to a BusinessInsider article, a website that usually has little to do with business).

  • by BlueCoder ( 223005 ) on Sunday February 24, 2013 @08:08PM (#42998609)

    I don't necessarily agree that everyone should work at home. I think some people need a professional environment to thrive.

    Therefore telecommuting centers would be a great compromise. Places to telecommute that provide some common infrastructure for people to share. Cameras to remote observe workers. Scanners to mass convert paper to digital. Places that are within a mile of where they live; someplace you could bicycle to.

  • by cowtamer ( 311087 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @06:12AM (#43001281) Journal

    "CEOs, like Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Apple's Steve Jobs, think that a central office fosters more innovation and productivity. I think they're wrong." ...but how is your own multi-million company doing with your remote workers?

    Less sarcastically, are there any LARGE companies out there which are mostly comprised of remote workers and have both innovation and productivity? (I know some small ones do exist)

Air is water with holes in it.