8th February 2023
It’s hardly insightful to suggest that the last few years have substantially changed the day to day experience of a knowledge worker. Nearly overnight even the most remote skeptical leadership teams were forced to embrace flexible work practices like working from home.
But now, despite COVID-19 being a ongoing health risk for many, a non trivial number of companies are pushing employees back into the office. Almost no tech company has gone as far as mandating five days a week in the office, but many are mandating some number of days where employees must be in the office. They suggest, with little objective evidence, that “in-person collaboration is essential”. Never mind that there is ample evidence, including our own lived experiences, to suggest that remote work is not only possible, but can be more productive and more inclusive.
Remote isn’t perfect, but it is table stakes
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that remote work, or even hybrid works for everyone. Personally, I live near Intercom HQ and actually enjoy going into the office. I love jumping into a meeting room and whiteboarding an idea with a teammate. But crucially, how much time I spend in the office is my choice.
But there seems to be this returning perspective in the tech industry that remote work isn’t a fairly standard work practice, but is instead something that is a gift to employees. A privilege to be earned. A perk to bestow upon the most deserving.
A new normal to be embraced
Unless I missed a trick, the tech industry didn’t disintegrate over the last few years with everything grinding to a halt. Software still got shipped, deals still got closed, customers still got supported.
Was it an adjustment? For sure. Did we adapt? Absolutely. Arguably, we thrived. Companies suddenly had access to a talent pool that was always there, but they were ignorant of. No longer did they have to limit themselves to people who lived near the office, or have to offer hefty relocation packages. Real estate expenses fell through the floor.
Looking at benefits like that, it boggles my mind that companies are pushing back on remote work, or otherwise gatekeeping it behind requirements like the whims of a manager, the results of your last performance review, or a predetermined number of days in the office.
Just consider how ludicrous something like requiring an employee to have had their last two performance reviews meet some criteria. On paper, you could see the logic. They’re underperforming and might need extra attention to get them up to the bar. But if you scratch the surface, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Imagine if their manager works remotely, what difference will it make to their performance if they’re going into an office that their manager isn’t even in?
Embrace the flexibility, leave the past behind
There was a time when every tech employee had a desktop computer. We could only do work when physically sat at our desks. But as laptops became more powerful and more affordable, it became a defacto standard, and people were suddenly unshackled from their desks. We could work from anywhere in the office. And people did. Office layouts adjusted to include breakout areas, little nooks and crannies where people could work. The idea of only having a desktop computer now seems quaint at best, and a bit of a warning flag at worst.
All we need to do now is for people who are stuck with a “office first” mindset to carry that logic to its natural conclusion - It doesn’t matter where you work, as long as you get the work done.
8th February 2023
Ed Z writing over on their substack
Yes, the tech industry’s loudest guys have all been demanding a “great reset,” where efficiency reigns, where the entitled are not invested in, or are fired, or, let’s be honest, are “put in their place” because the overwhelming sense from these craven ghouls is that they believe that workers got given way too much and were treated too well.
Ooof, Ed definitely doesn’t pull any punches here, but they’re definitely hitting close to the mark. Some organisations may well be cutting only as deep as they need to survive, but for the vast majority of cases, I have to agree, it’s basically just a power play.
6th February 2023
For many companies, it’s the end of the financial year, so that means performance reviews, and in most organisations, that involves comparing how people have acted against the company’s values, so values are on a lot of people’s minds at the moment.
Whenever I think about company values, I’m inevitably brought back to the early 2010’s values at Facebook. There was many, but I think the one most people remember, inside and outside the company was “Move Fast and Break Things”. It’s gotten a lot of criticism over the years, with the common interpretation that it engendered a culture of reckless disregard for users.
But that’s not how I remember it, or how I think most people working there lived it.
The push and pull of moving fast
Think about moving fast. It’s a sense of urgency. It’s acting like your competitor is constantly nipping at your heels. Mark Zuckerberg used to constantly talk about how if we didn’t invent the next Facebook, then someone else would. The company made this feeling even more real when we moved our HQ into the old Sun Microsystems campus, and instead of purging the buildings of reference to the old company, we left the logos etc everywhere. It was a constant reminder that we weren’t the first company to occupy this space, and we weren’t going to be the last.
Anyway, I digress. The point of move fast and break things was sometimes moving faster was the right thing to do. But the faster you moved, the more likely you were to make a mistake and break something. You can clearly see the push and pull here. The value was a trade-off between speed and stability. Everyone wants a stable system, but everyone also wants new functionality, and they want it yesterday.
The value was a reminder that we were willing to sacrifice some stability for that speed of execution. That didn’t mean you shipped things regardless of consequences, or you were cavalier about quality. It was that given a 50/50 chance of something breaking, we were willing to accept that risk if it meant we could move faster. That was the inherent trade-off.
Values should create trade-offs
In order to be meaningful, values should be difficult trade-offs. They need to offer a push and pull between two tempting situations. Either direction should have it’s own appeal. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a value, it’s just a bland statement of fact. After all, where’s the tension in “We respect our customers” or “We value our employees”?
So when you find yourself reviewing your company values, ask yourself what’s the trade-off? If you’re struggling to find situations where the opposite of the value is tempting, then maybe what your team values isn’t that big an ask to uphold, and it should be, otherwise why bother reinforcing it.
25th January 2023
Greg Wilson, posting over on Mastodon.social
There are roughly a spudillion more tutorials online about Kubernetes than there are readable explanations of tech workers’ labor rights. If tech workers invested one spudillionth of the time they put into learning the former into learning the latter, companies posting multi-billion dollar quarterly profits would think twice about performative layoffs.
I don’t think it’s that outlandish to suggest that a decent percentage of layoffs that are occurring in the tech sector right now have very little to do with companies on the brink of insolvency, and more to do with CEOs and boards wanting to demonstrate they hold some of the cards, and that employees should maybe think twice before asking for pay raises or improved benefits.
And as Greg says in his thread, they’re getting away with this because of a lack of awareness of just how many cards the employees themselves hold. As I’ve written before, it’s as simple as people not understanding the role of HR. Am I suggesting that we should all start refusing to meet with company leaders unless we have a union rep present? Or start electing shop stewards?
No. Although there would be no harm in more people considering union membership. What I’m starting to come around to though, is the idea that every conference that claims to be helping people become better technology professionals should have at least one session on their rights as employees, or just generally how to organize. We owe it to ourselves to be as interested in those rights as we are in the latest frameworks and languages.
Maybe if we did, we wouldn’t have people finding out they’ve been laid off when their badge stops working.
20th January 2023
Zoe Schiffer, Casey Newton, and Alex Heath, reporting for The Verge:
Twitter’s staff spent years trying to protect the social media site against impulsive billionaires who wanted to use the reach of its platform for their own ends, and then one made himself the CEO.
I’m a little late sharing this as it was published earlier this week, but it’s a fantastic insight into the first few months of Elon Musk’s tenure at Twitter.
Personally, I read this as a cautionary tale of how to run a service into the ground, but I can definitely imagine there’s many CEOs, especially in the tech industry, who will read this and think it’s a blueprint for success.
And those CEOs are, to my mind anyway, unfit to call themselves leaders.