Post-pandemic, remote is here to stay. White collar work seems to be slipping mostly into a hybrid model—either part-time remote/part-time in office, full flexibility for either way, or fully remote (for the more techie companies).
Great, I love when people have freedom to choose, particularly around how they want to craft their work and lifestyle. Nevertheless, working shoulder to shoulder with intelligent peers is the best thing you can do.
Hold my beer, I’m about to boomerpost.
Paul Graham in his 2008 essay argues your city determines your values (or at least demonstrates them).
- If you’re attracted to money, go to New York.
- Clout? LA.
- Want power? Head to the Bay Area.
- If it’s intelligence, plant yourself in Cambridge (Massachusetts or England, take your pick).
There’s a reason innovation and industry happens in concentrated areas and it isn’t equally scattered. Even silicon valley, the definition (and origin) of remote work, is clustered around one major area. It would still be a great area if its leaders actually knew how to run a city.
You ever sat in someone’s graduation ceremony from university, and just hearing all the different degrees being conferred inspired you to pursue your own education (even informally)?
What about going to a concert, hearing incredible music, and deciding to pick up the old guitar you stored away in your closet?
When you’re in someone’s face and see what they’re made of, it inspires you to do more. This is a good thing. It also shows us we rely on each other, even implicitly.
Who you’re around influences who you become.
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If you’re not around anyone inspiring…how are you growing? But it’s not just about being in the same city, or even being inspired. It’s about being around weird enough people long enough to create something the average person wouldn’t dream of.
“Collaboration” Is Not a Meme
Okay, collaboration is definitely a meme.
There is not a single company on earth that will say it doesn’t value collaboration, whatever that means. Same with diversity. Everyone thinks they’re the diverse and collaborative and the real problem is somewhere out there.
If you’re working in a commodity role (coding, copywriting, design, or another easily-categorizable job) then you probably don’t need to be in person in order to collaborate. Those kinds of roles are well-defined so technology supporting them has progressed to the point of not requiring you to be physically near your team.
When I worked as a software test engineer, there was zero reason we had to be in person. Stand-ups can be done on slack (they take 5 minutes anyway), and if someone is showing me how to use a new technology they can just screenshare or take a video and send it to me (like we did at my next tech job which was all remote).
I know a startup that hired its workers from a different continent, they built the app, and the founder led demo days and met with investors on his own. But here’s the big caveat: they were contractors, not cofounders.
For leaders, collaboration is not a meme.
If you are a leader, you need to be as close as possible to other decision-makers.
The proof is in the pudding.
Remote Teams, Face-to-Face Leaders
I’ve seen some articles complain about how, in a hybrid office situation, those who go in earn a career advantage over those who stay at home. AKA the younger and more schedule-flexible have an advantage over those with children.
And? Life is about tradeoffs.
I literally want to have 10 kids. I’m no anti-natalist. But I understand every decision has things you’re giving up in return—and you’re potentially sacrificing a lot when you decide to take responsibility for an entire person (or 10).
Those with ability shouldn’t be handicapped just because someone else isn’t as capable.
All that to say: if you’re not a leader but want to become a leader then you need face time (the phenomenon, not the app).
Are there people who just want a job to pay the bills and stay at home with their families? Sure thing. More power to them. There’s nothing wrong with being content where you are. But if you want to lead, you definitionally need to put in more effort than your peers.
VR and facetime will never be good enough to read someone’s body cues and build trust. we are still physical beings, no matter how much we wish we could become mere brains in a jar.
Is Remote Better? Let the Data Decide
Maybe I’m a boomer, maybe I’m a fogey—but there is something qualitatively different about being in the same room as someone else.
Nevertheless, if you as a leader tried working remote and found it’s demonstrably better in terms of output and creativity, then great. I’m wrong and you’re right.
But the vast majority of the time, I genuinely don’t think it’s possible. Cities matter. Rooms matter. Innovation doesn’t happen in neat, 1-hour time blocks on Zoom. It happens at 11:30pm when you’ve been up for 4 hours with tech and design trying to craft the feature your customers are begging for.
I know it’s harder, especially for the introverts. That’s part of the point. You have more skin in the game.
Leaders lead from the front. If you’re not sacrificing more than the people behind you, who are you leading?