*This article will focus mostly on startups. However, it applies to anyone working in tech or information-based industries or an industry where remote work is prevalent.*
Working from Home
Several years ago, I decided that I wanted to become “location independent”. I was young and disillusioned with the idea that “growing up” meant being forced into a corporate job with little flexibility and even less joy. I decided that I was going to do whatever I could to create a situation where I wasn’t voluntarily giving up my personal freedom just to satisfy my theoretical power-loving superior. There just had to be a better way.
Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked five of my last six gigs remotely. Some were more remote than others. They ranged from “Be in town sometimes” to “We don’t care where you are”. As I was learning my way through these organizations, I was also carefully studying how my friends work situations in more traditional paths were stacking up against mine. Over this time, several common threads tied my experiences together. I realized that there are fundamental differences between companies that hire, encourage, and are open to having people work remotely and those that don’t.
Even if I managed to turn a hard no into a yes around remote work, I would never, ever choose to work there. Even if I didn’t even want to work remotely.
The fundamental divide between companies that are remote friendly and those that are not is huge, and being against remote work reveals a company core that contains at least one kind of rot. It’s not going to go away anytime soon, and it’s going to affect a lot more than the flexibility of your work situation.
Why You Should Quit
If you work in the information or tech industry and your company is not at least remote friendly, it means one of the following things.
– They don’t trust you.
– The management is authoritarian.
– They value obedience and process over effectiveness and results.
– They’re technologically handicapped / aren’t looking to the future.
– They make bad hires.
– Work/life balance is not important to them.
This is why.
They don’t trust you.
This is one of the simplest reasons why some employers aren’t open to remote arrangements, but it’s one of the most insidious and company destroying. If your company trusted you to do the work they pay you to do, they wouldn’t care where you were when you did it. Organizations like this think that they must look over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing what they want. They need to parent you in order to produce the work they need. They block social media sites from their network because it’s seen as treason. The management pushes rather than pulls it’s staff because leading people requires trust- trust that isn’t there. They’re not hiring you for your mind, creativity, and flexibility. They’re hiring you to be a tool in the hand of the organization.
The management style is authoritarian.
Lack of trust creates cultures of authoritarianism. Autonomy is seen as a threat to the management, so directors hire managers they can control. Those managers then hire employees they can control, and so on. The only way up the ladder is to control your team, and soon you have a company culture based around managers who think their staff’s job is simply to follow directions, rather than to accomplish specific goals. They see opening up to remote work as a subordination of their authority and will rebuff and possibly punish the idea. There might even be a strong inner narrative consisting of thoughts like “I didn’t get to work remotely- why should I let you? What makes you so special? My boss keeps me on a tight leash, so I’m going to do the same to you. It’s only fair.” Creativity, autonomy, and hope come to these places to die.
Obedience and process is more important than effectiveness and producing results.
If a company is driven by deliverables and results, working away from the office does not present a problem. As long as you can prove yourself effective and not hindering the progress of key colleagues, nobody gets hurt.
But if a company says they’re results driven and then forces you to come to the office constantly, they’re lying to you and you need to leave.
According to an offshoot of Parkinson’s Law, bureaucracies and large companies (and sometimes regrettably, small ones) end up victim to the hiring inertia and become addicted to “growth”. Unfortunately, this kind of growth is often based around managers working to expand their teams, influence, and career prospects. This shifts incentives from delivering quality work to creating obedience. Do a great job? Someone else takes credit. Kiss the right ass? Get a promotion. This is poisonous to companies, but even more so to individuals. It makes it nearly impossible to grow professionally and take more responsibility on your terms. You can tell an interviewer about a result you achieved, but you can’t tell them how well you followed a counter-productive process.
They’re technologically handicapped / aren’t looking to the future.
Managing a remote team is not a technical challenge anymore. Trello, Asana, Zoom, Skype, Slack- your team’s more accessible today remotely than it was in the office five years ago. If a company can’t handle that and they’re calling themselves a tech company, best of luck to them- but they’re number is about to get called.
They make bad hires.
Some companies have experimented with remote work arrangements but have since scaled them back or eliminated them. The likely cause is that older staff misused the opportunity by abusing it or not doing well with the new arrangement. This points to management as having questionable hiring skills. Have a look around. Are your colleagues really the people you want to surround yourself with as you build your career? This may sound harsh, but the caliber of talent you’re surrounded by (or at least talking to on Slack everyday) have a profound affect on your career- now and 20 years down the road.
It’s also a strange decision to purposely choose to limit a hiring pool exclusively to people who just happen to live within a short drive of the office. How serious can one be about pulling in the right talent if you can’t work there if you don’t own a car?
Work/life balance is not important to them.
There are a few different possibilities here. Many office cultures quietly encourage the kind of one-upmanship that leads to employees staying later and later in an effort to prove to their superiors how dedicated and hard working they are- despite all evidence proving that this kind of culture does not produce better results. Some of these companies also discourage freelance work or side projects, but the behind closed doors reasons are the same. They don’t care about your life. They just care about moving as much value out of you and into the company as they can.
The other possibility is that their management’s heads are deep in the sand because of how deep they are in their projects with this company. This can be great on a micro level with specific teams, but for an organization, it can point to a dangerous lack of understanding of the wider world and could point to problems and gaps in understanding of the company’s top decision makers.
Holy shit. I work for one of these companies. What do I do?
Relax. This is a guideline and must be taken with a grain of salt. Things aren’t going to change overnight, but you should begin to make moves.
However, it becomes very easy for people to begin to rationalize at this time because the idea of quitting is a stressful one. They’ll say their boss isn’t that bad, and that their colleagues are kind of fun to hang out with. And they might be right. The only way to know is though truly respecting yourself, respecting the value you bring, and honouring the path you want to be on. If you really are giving yourself the respect you deserve, it will become clear that your work situation could be magnitudes better. Even if you love getting up everyday to go to the office.
Hell, some companies just don’t get that working remotely is a real option now, and it will just take the right person or situation to open their eyes. Never give up hope.
But life is too short to hamstring ourselves by ending up in a career-sucking organization. Testing them with remote work as a litmus can tell you all you need to know.