Remote Work Zealotry

Feb 24, 2022

People have become zealots for (or against) remote work. Why?

The topic reminds me of NIMBY/YIMBY – existing homeowners tend to not want new developments or low-income housing in their neighborhoods. Smart people on both sides can't seem to understand each other's incentives (everyone has them).

In fact, our opinion on remote work is often deeply influenced by our own experiences and stage of life.

Why you might be biased towards remote work:

  • You have a long commute.
  • You own a house, or have room for a dedicated home office.
  • You don't have young children.
  • You already have an established network in your industry. You have been at the same job pre-pandemic.
  • You are a senior manager or executive.
  • You love your job and want more time to do it. You hate your job and want to do the bare minimum.
  • You are in a hyper-competitive hiring market (employer or employee).

Why you might be biases towards returning the to office

  • You are onboarding or switching to a new job. You are early in your career or new to an industry.
  • You work at a small company where the direction is constantly changing.
  • Your social circle includes friends from work.
  • You work at a startup that hasn't found product-market-fit.
  • You have never been micromanaged or worked in a low-trust environment.

My (biased) take is that remote work increases variance. With it, inequality in the labor market will rise.

The best workers will thrive with more flexibility. The worst workers will be able to fly under the radar even easier. Great and terrible employees have compounding effects within organizations.

The best (and most differentiated) employees will command high salaries in a timezone-friendly labor market. The worst employees will be replaceable to the lowest bidder. Companies that are doing poorly or without an interesting mission or product will lose the best employees even faster.

Like Peloton and Shopify, it seems that many pandemic companies are returning to their pre-pandemic levels. The remote work trend will most likely be more sticky – many workers have already moved out of cities and have more choices when it comes to remote jobs.  There might even be long-lasting effects for FAANG depending on their decisions today.

There's most likely not a one-size-fits-all for all roles and all companies types and sizes. Some roles can be easily done remotely. The work at large companies tends to be remote-friendly. But recognize the biases of those who are zealots.