On being remote

When tons of companies are doing all their work from home, why do they have offices at all?

I want to commend Twitter for allowing some employees to work from home indefinitely. Why hire locally when your employees won’t be in your offices? But they’re only going part of the way there. Many jobs will still be local only.

Many other companies are doing the same old thing — hiring in places where they have offices. When this virus thing is over, they expect you to go back to that office.


Every company should be working towards life without offices. If you can hire and work remotely, your company should do that.

Let’s take COVID-19 out of the picture for a moment. Why have an office at all? The usual arguments for offices are:

  • I want our team to have discussions and serendipity by being around each other
  • I like to hear the phones ring/conversations/business happening
  • I want our office to look impressive for prospective customers or employees
  • If I can’t see my employees, how can I keep them accountable? They’re probably slacking

Most of the pro-office arguments are about seeing your business happen. If you can’t see your business happening — if you’re not around each other — then business isn’t happening.

And there are naive arguments against offices:

  • We have the tools to run our business from anywhere there’s a wifi signal
  • Offices, especially open ones, are full of noises and distractions. They decrease productivity and happiness
  • Money spent on rent and mortgages could be used to improve your employees, products, or profits
  • Your employees already spend a lot of time slacking in the office

Most of these arguments are about trusting your employees to get their shit done. Does it matter where work happens if we can work from anywhere?

But none of these feel right to me. You’re not gonna convince the CEO that you should go fully remote just to save on rent.

Let me give you my best, less obvious reasons for having a remote team.

First, talent is distributed globally. You can find capable, skilled individuals in every part of the world. Many speak fluent English, and you can pay them competitive rates for where they live — often far less than hiring local employees. Inexpensive and quality employees? Yes please.

Next, most work is individual, so it doesn’t matter if your employees are in the same time zone. You should create remote-friendly processes that keep employees accountable, can happen asynchronously, and can happen wherever your people are. Why do you care when your employees work?

Also, what are you actively doing to create the discussions and ideas that drive your business? If you’re expecting your company to grow and innovate because they’re physically near each other, you’re doing it wrong. How are you building opportunities for your company to be a better business?

The last and least obvious reason is — a new generation joined the workforce, and they’re totally comfortable communicating digitally. They grew up with text messaging and group chats. FaceTime is a habit. What do we need an office for anyway? You boomers who need an office are behind the times.

For all the companies with listing jobs that say shit like “temporarily remote, but must be local” or “NYC only” can bite me. The nature of work has changed. Great employees are everywhere. And you’re giving the finger to a generation of people who work differently than you.

Yes, I know there are plenty of businesses and services that will always be local. When you lock yourself out of your home, that locksmith can’t fix your problem remotely. (Well — they can’t yet. Give it time.)

However, I see a lack of imagination here. There are plenty of companies that could be run fully remote but are unwilling to risk it. And if there was ever a time to take a risk, this is it.

So take the plunge. Go fully remote. Hire that worker from another country or a different time zone. Create the systems that enable your company to work whenever, wherever. Take all that money you spend on rent and invest in your employees instead.

And then update your damn job listings. Say that you’re hiring remotely so I can find you. I see tons of job listings in “Remote, Oregon” but I don’t see any office buildings there…

The backspace problem

The worst invention in writing and technology history was the backspace key.

Before computers, we wrote using typewriters or on paper. They had a restriction. It was really, really hard to undo what you wrote. On a typewriter, you’d have to white-out your errors. On paper, you’d erase your pencil marks or strike out your pen mistakes.

Then came computers. They had this thing called “backspace” where you could just delete a letter, a word, a sentence, or even entire paragraphs with a few pecks at the keyboard. It was a boon to editors who could finally make all the changes they wanted with little effort.

But it came at a cost. You spent time rewriting that last sentence, editing that paragraph over and over. Refining and refining what you wrote over and over again.

You believed that putting more effort into editing would make your writing better. But the issue was that your text didn’t get better. It just churned. Even worse, you kept making changes, but you never felt “done” or “happy” with it.

For tech products, “backspace” meant that your product could be modified trivially. There was always time to get in that one last change, refine that design, tweak that text. But it has the same penalties — time churning on your designs, and the mental strife of not being done or happy with it.

And somewhere along the way, that goal you started with got lost.

I recall seeing Lynda Barry talk about this. She was struggling to write a book on a computer. “The problem with writing on a computer was that I could delete anything I felt unsure about. This meant that a sentence was gone before I even had a chance to see what it was trying to become.”

She eventually wrote that book with a paintbrush. “I was surprised by the instant change in my experience of writing. Without a delete button, I could allow the unexpected to grow.”

So when I wrote this, I wrote it all the way through to the end with just a couple of tiny edits. Then I went back and did an editing pass to make sure it flowed — that it emphasized the points I wanted to make.

You might think punchcards for code and ink on paper are inferior to digital text and software editors. But those old “technologies” forced you to keep going — move past the doubt and reconsideration. You had to fight to get to the finish line. There was no time for changes.

And you were happier when you were done with your ink writing or punchcards compared to people who constantly re-edited their code or messages with “backspace.”

My challenge to you is this: turn off your constant editing mode. Try not to use that backspace key after every mistake. Don’t re-edit word by word.

Instead, work your way through to the end. Find your message. Then you can refine the details to make sure everything fits together — whether you’re writing that text message, blog post, or new mobile app that’s gonna change the world. Your work will be better for it, and you’ll be happier with what you did.

And now to take more of my advice and get to those 100 or so posts I keep re-editing but never publish…