More Articles Discrediting Remote Work

More and more I’m finding companies trying to discredit the idea of remote work. A lot of times I’ll see high level positions like CEOs, HR, people managers who are the most vocal about the return to the office. What’s really missing about these complaints are concrete evidence that talks about the loss of so-called productivity of people working from home. Also, how are these things measured?

Probably, the biggest reason I see from advocates at the higher levels for returning to the office is “face to face time” along with meetings. Right there, I can identify that what these people value as “work” does not trickle down so neatly at every division nor role. People who are individual contributors, especially those who code, problem solve or are in some form of creative capacity have nothing to gain from these situations compared to working in isolation. Yes, it is always easier to show someone directly your problem and ask them for help but the reality is that you’re distracting another person and causing a decrease in their productivity.

But the real issue with so-called face time in an office that I find hurts more than anything is that there are too many distractions that decrease my time solving problems and trying to code compared to being left in isolation. The open floor plan practically was the death to productive environments as people can easily disturb others whether it’s by music, casual chats, loud noises, etc. Even if I’m at home and can be exposed to distractions, my actual amount of work that I can produce goes up because I do not have these other issues plaguing me.

My type of work requires 100% concentration because of how split up things are. I need to deal with multiple screens to handle cross checking my Jira ticket, Figma/Miro files/boards, IDEs, browsers, database connections, terminal windows, etc. due to how complex web applications have become. This doesn’t already preclude constant messaging from Slack channels, email messages, video conferencing and scheduled meeting notifications. When I have a CEO buzzing around me taking pictures or a sales person talking loudly and I am without my headphones, I lose time on whatever activity I need to do.

Today, I read a scathing article talking about the numerical loss of productivity per day amounting to a little over 3 hours. First, I have to question what exactly was quantified with regards to what those 3 hours entailed. Were they meetings? Was that number measured in an estimated number of commits one does to a GitHub repository? And does this number take into account the amount of time lost being distracted inside an office and/or the act of appearing busy as opposed to contributing meaningful work?

At a previous company, I estimated that the actual amount of code I could accomplish in a given day was roughly 20 minutes. That could extend into a 10 hour work day. Most of the time, I was being pulled aside for meetings, telling people how to do their job, taking long lunch breaks, having coffee, etc. When I worked at Hartford Life Insurance KK in Japan, I could only get around the same amount of work done because the majority of my time was sitting in worthless meetings that were irrelevant for myself and only relevant for the project manager. For instance, we would have a 1 hour meeting to discuss what we were going to do, run into lunch time, take lunch for another hour, come back and the project manager would ask us, “So what did you accomplish?” right after having lunch with us. This is not atypical behavior at larger organizations.

When I started working remotely both at my previous job and my current one, I probably get anywhere between 4-5 hours of solid coding done a day as long as my interruptions are kept to a minimal. The reason why I include that portion of my estimate is because I lose energy as a result of meetings that drain me of energy (because I’m forced to sit at a desk and listen to others drone on) as well as mentally be forced to reset at my previous stage. If I have a day of 3 hour meetings, 1 hour will probably be devoted to lunch and realistically I will get 2 hours of actual coding done because of said energy drain.

So again, I ask how did these so-called experts quantify their results?

But the thing about remote work is that I’d prefer to only contribute 4 hours of actual code as opposed to being in an office and contribute 20 minutes of real code. Being in an office doesn’t necessarily imply you are contributing useful things. In fact, your time is being deleted because the environment may not be suitable. The internet might be bad or executives might frequently pull you into meetings that are irrelevant to your work. These meetings might seem productive for them but not for the contributor who also has the responsibility of seeing their piece of work actually work.

The real truth behind the motivation of these people demanding the work force back in the office is very materialistic and boils down to trust issues. Executives seem to feel the need to actually see people “working” but often times do not comprehend the actual work being produced. As a result, they feel the need to force people into a place where they can control them. However, as discovered over time, working in office produces other side effects such as physical harassment, mental destabilization, increased cost for workers (because of the requirement for having a car, gas, insurance, parking spaces and overpriced lunches that often times are not compensated by the company), etc.

The other major issue where these companies are facing is the fact that they’ve either rented out or bought out significant land/office space and invested far too much. Take a Facebook or Google as prime examples. Yes, they have lavish offices that at one time were the envy of the world. However, they had a side effect of creating insane real estate increases and forcing the local areas to hike up the cost of living. If you are a company that manufactures products, then this is completely understandable. If you are working in a software capacity, there is zero reason to ever have an office. If you need physical space to meet, you can just use something like a WeWork.

At any rate, even if articles persist on places like LinkedIn to push for the return to the office, I feel that the war will be ongoing. The real issue is that there is proof that remote work does work and is better especially for those in a creative/problem solving capacity. Offices have been a plague in my view for the modern world and I anticipate the day when it goes away completely except for certain cases. However, these companies that are hard advocating for the return are going to be the ones left behind because they’ve spent too much money in their offices and do not realize the other cost associated.

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