Every day, millions of people go to work without actually going anywhere. So called “remote work” means that you can do the work of yesterday’s office right from your couch. This has been touted as a boon for both companies, which can pair costs, as well as workers who have obstacles to going in person to work. These workers may have a real benefit, it is a net loss for team culture.
Take WeWork for example. Millions of people have decided that quiet spaces, networking, and community building were worth the cost of a subscription. Even when a company does not have office space in the area, I have seen employees pay out of pocket to have that environment. If remote work is so great, why pay out of pocket for an office?
Remote work also trades convenience and flexibility for isolation and ignorance. A database engineer can certainly wrangle data in their underwear, but the tradeoff is that employees who need to learn lose out on mentorship and guidance. Established employees who have long established professional ties and skillsets have experienced the transition to remote work over time, but for young employees, having to build a network out from scratch at the same time as mastering domain specific skills alone is a tall order. Remote work makes young employees totally dependent on the work culture of their employer. If people actually answer slack channels, it might not be that harmful. If other employees do not lean in to the collaborative tools that remote work depends on, younger employees have little chance to thrive.
Lastly, we should think about the human side of remote work. I have seen many teams, not only in technology, who work in the same city, yet have no interest in actually meeting up. It is understandable that teams might default to mostly being decentralized and remote to reduce wasted time commuting. If a team chooses not to work together when in the same city, reflect. Something has gone wrong, and remote work will not change that. Yes it might suck to commute, but it at least establishes some minimum level of communication between teams.
Remote work can enhance access to cool jobs, but it is not perfect. If brought about for the wrong reasons, it enables anti-collaborative behavior and laziness. And there is nothing cool about that.