Remote doesn't work for everyone

Remote doesn't work for everyone but flexibility does, and that's alright, but let's acknowledge it first.

☕️ It's 4 pm and I'm at Flywheel Coffee in the Haight, surrounded by hard-working laptop dwellers like me. I've been on writer's block for 3 weeks now, so I've told myself I won't leave this cafe until I'm done writing. Judging by the screens around the room, some of us are deep in creative endeavors, a surprising amount checking their Discord Midjourney bot every few minutes – I'm on relax mode, guys –, and some are swimming the vast expanse of Notion documents.

Most of us in this room share one thing in common, though: in March 2020, we were conscripted to stay in our homes and work from there. 2 years in, the conversation has turned to: office, remote, or in the middle?

I've had too many conversations in the last few weeks that start telling a story: remote work isn't suitable for everyone, and a surprising amount of people - and companies - are withering away at an IKEA desk at home, alone, with no one to collaborate with or talk to. Truth is, we don't know enough about remote work's impact on company productivity and culture. By the pandemic, most companies had never tried remote work and it sprung out of necessity and regulation. There was nothing organic about the sudden switch.

Same paradigms, the same software

This has consequences. Most companies have navigated the shift to remote work by using existing software and existing paradigms, but no new paradigms have been created to accommodate this change.  Most of society is working under the same assumptions and processes, just somewhat digitized and crudely adapted to the world of Zoom: Zoom company events, Zoom wine tastings, Zoom court hearings.

From first principles, we know that flexibility is a positive aspect of remote work that has allowed people to form families, travel freely, and spend less time and money on commuting, but what about the downsides? Do we actually know if teams are motivated and productive while being remote? Is it sustainable? Does it work for all companies?

In search of new paradigms

We should continue fostering a culture of flexibility. Again, this is in my opinion the single biggest advantage for workers of remote companies. Flexibility of time and flexibility of location means you should be judged by the value you bring to the company, not by the hours you work there.

However, what are the new paradigms when it comes to collaboration? For example, how do we repeatably create war rooms or tiger teams remotely while not being together in the same room? Are document stores like Notion and Google Docs the right way to share information and collaborate in remote teams? Are video meetings, the de-facto standard nowadays, the best way to communicate?

I wish this post had more answers than questions, but it doesn't. I'm just as full of questions as when I started writing it, but I do know one thing for sure: we've taken a lot of assumptions as facts when making the transition to remote without even questioning them.  We should be questioning them if we want remote to thrive and that's precisely how collaboration systems evolve.

On a personal note, I'm social and I need in-person communication and collaboration. I plan to continue exploring this. My desire to solve this problem stems from the 3 principles I've mentioned: I acknowledge remote-first is the future of flexibility, but I also don't think remote is suitable to everyone, all companies, or all projects, and I don't think we have the best processes and paradigms in society yet to evolve remote work.