The decade of remote working
I hope I am retired when the metaverse office enters into our lives
Many of us have been exposed to a version of remote work in this long pandemic, except the ones that do a job that is crucial for our modern society to not collapse.
Initially, I hated it, I hated it with all the energy I had in my fat and lazy body. But pandemote (yes I made this word up) isn’t remote.
Remote working is different, is a way of working that isn’t forced on you, and is a conscious decision that needs to be planned, both from the employee and the employer side. And is most definitely not “can never meet your colleagues in person because you risk killing them or killing yourself”
But now two years have passed so there is enough information to make some educated guesses on how this will shape up in 2022 and after.
First of all, let me state clearly that there is no hybrid. Companies that say that they want to do hybrid, for example by mandating a % of work-from-home vs work-in-the-office, are lying to you. They want your ass back in the office as soon as this is over.
Some companies are doing even worse though, with their shybrid policies.
There is no such thing as hybrid, your options are office-first or remote-first.
Let’s try to make some predictions
Office-first is dead
Office-first doesn’t mean 100% of the time in the office, it was never 100% to begin with. Many of us covertly worked from home before the pandemic, normally because of deliveries or some other excuses.
What office-first means is stuff like mandatory meetings in the office, mandatory % of the time in the office, hiring only people that can commute to the office, etc, etc
Any company that wants to be competitive on the world stage cannot be office-first anymore, it’s just impossible.
Some thinkers like Simon Wardley argue that this battle of office vs remote is similar to the battle of on-prem vs cloud (you know what I think about the cloud). Simon Wardley is a full remote maximalist and I don’t believe is the same thing, in person collaboration isn’t a commodity, but I think the comparison is quite descriptive of the level of the challenge in the head of old school executives.
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Long live remote-first
Remote-first means to organize your company assuming that meeting in person is an exception, all your practices are geared toward remote (asynchronous communications, painstaking attention to documentation, remote whiteboarding, best practices for remote collaboration, etc, etc) and you hire people around the world. This includes figuring out your tax implications and organizing your finance and HR department accordingly, “is a lot of work” isn’t a good reason to not hire someone.
This is the way forward, this is the model that is winning in practice. Technology traditionally is a first-mover on many new HR practices and we can see that not only many big tech companies are hiring remotely, but we all heard anecdotes of people in non-tech companies that were able to negotiate remote positions because of the Great Resignation.
Inside this large category, I see two emerging practices: some travel required vs full remote.
There used to be a niche number of companies, mostly American, that practices full remote working. The most famous ones were relatively small or very technical (Github, Gitlab, Automattic, etc), they shared often their practices but many executives I spoke to before the pandemic brushed off remote work as “process-oriented, not for a company like ours that thrives on collaboration”.
When the world changed many other companies, mostly startups and scale-ups decide to close their offices and go fully remote. Some of these companies organize face-to-face events (like celebrations) but they promise that their employees can be wherever they want in the world and never travel.
Those companies thrived and hired many many people around the world on different timezones. This approach however was difficult to implement for many other companies that didn’t have the internal knowledge about remote or were just too slow.
Some travel required
In my very biased view of the world, this seems to be the most favored approach in the short term by larger companies, work remotely but not too far away from the HQ (e.g. Meta hires people from 8 EU countries that can work coordinated with London, Google with Switzerland, etc) and be available to travel to the local HQ from time to time. I know that IKEA offers this to some employees (live where you want but come to the office once a month).
What approach will win?
I believe that two practices will eventually mix and match and we are headed toward a world in which most people that can work remotely will do so but there will be quite a bit of business travel, for longer stays.
In my current company, we implemented the following policy:
Remote-first, all meetings are remote if not specified otherwise. However, we also keep an office, a small one, for people that don’t have the space to work from home.
Hire people remotely when we can, with the requirement (for now) to work coordinated with the CET timezone.
There is no mandatory attendance in the office except for the Quarterly company offsites (when the pandemic isn’t raging) which are a moment of team building and all remote employees will fly over and stay for a few days.
This shift has long-term consequences
While we are at it, let’s think about the long-term consequences of the fall of the HQ.
Cities need to attract citizens not just businesses
Many big cities grew by attracting big companies, Amsterdam is a great example of this approach, those companies relocated people and grew the population and real estate value. But didn’t invest too much in keeping housing affordable or quality of living.
Remote changes everything.
With less real estate needed and fewer office workers roaming the city and business centers, those areas will lose value (and we see some of it already although the effect of the pandemic is a much bigger factor).
With no need to be somewhere close to the office, people don’t have to endure the misery of the London tube or the pollution of cities like Rome.
This means a potential crash of the real estate market and a large gap in the city budget from missed city taxes.
Cities need to start competing to attract remote workers: offer a more livable experience, infrastructure, healthcare access, culture, etc etc
A new kind of competition that countries like Portugal, or American states like Texas, seems to have started already.
Business travel might not be completely gone but enough to have a positive impact on pollution
While the days of “let’s fly 12 hours to have a 2 hours meeting” are gone, I don’t believe business travel is completely gone.
Being more remote means a need to sometimes meet your colleagues for a longer period, to kickstart a greenfield project for example, but maybe instead of being a big city, it might be a nicer coastal location.
This is probably not the news that the travel industry wanted but is good news for our planet, cheap flights and OTAs have done wonders to connect the world but excess business travel is a type of pollution we don’t need.
This is enough for now, I will come back with more wrong predictions in the future...