Today I read this piece by an author who apparently hasn’t bothered to study how humans communicate in the slightest but feels obliged to speak authoritatively on the topic nonetheless.
Right from the get go, Mr. Maunder demonstrates that he’s completely divorced from reality:
“Working remotely has many advantages. If you’re using Slack, you don’t have a situation where the dominant person in the room gets to drown out other opinions. It makes communication more democratic and a side effect is that communication becomes much more relaxed. Less conflict == more fun and getting more done.”
What insane, bizarre planet is this man living on if he thinks that chat rooms lead to less conflict than face to face communication?!
I’m pretty sure I haven’t met anyone in my career who can say that chat rooms produced a higher quality of interaction than face to face communication writ large. Yes, sometimes people get into conflict – both in the physical world and online – but removing nonverbal cues from the equation can only amplify the likelihood of this.
Remote interaction is really difficult to orchestrate and organize – ask any online community manager! Miscommunications and ensuing conflict are routine.
But even setting aside the communication issue there’s the reality that many folks want – or even need – a structured environment to work in. I, for one, really need a place that is not my living room or some random coffee shop to be able to be productive – and I’m not even remotely unusual. Open office plans may be antithetical to a knowledge worker’s productivity, but the problem is the interruptions – not the office itself. Mr. Maunder is likely too young to remember this, but there was a time when offices had, well, offices. Imagine that! A way for people to be close together, have a way to communicate face-to-face when needed, and still be able to concentrate!
For Mr. Maunder to assume that because he thrives in a self-structured context that everyone can do so is arrogant, and myopic. Worse than that, it suggests he knows so little about human behavior that I cannot help but cringe at the thought of what it must be like to work for him! Can you imagine working for a boss who cannot conceive that your needs differ from his own?
Can a purely remote work environment be successful? Of course! With the right circumstances, and the right people, it absolutely can! But not everyone works well remotely. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say most people don’t work well remotely – but I freely admit that that assessment is driven by intuition and not data.
Then we get to his assertion about why “managers or execs” focus on on-site hiring. This one is just intensely condescending: He’s creating a straw-man manager to knock down. Any manager who prefers an on-site team is not competent!
Stop and walk through that one more time.
“This is solved by hiring execs or managers who are competent in their own right…”
Wow. Just… Wow.
Are there control-freak managers out there? Of course. Are there good managers who are control-freaks? Perhaps not – by definition, even. Are there good managers who prefer on-site teams? Abso-fucking-LUTELY there are! Think back to the managers you’ve had that you really respected. I’ll bet you can think of at least one who preferred an on-site team to a remote team.
He continues on to ascribe this same paranoid motivation to the companies that employ these apparently-incompetent managers. “A lack of trust.” Yes, some companies operate from that mindset – we’ve all encountered at least one, I’m sure. But that he associates wanting to hire on-site workers with a lack of trust is just kind of breathtaking.
I’m always blown away by people who are so ignorant of what they’re interested in that they have no idea how painfully, obviously, verifiably wrong they are when they step up to portray themselves as experts.
But let’s dig beneath the surface here: I’m not convinced Mr. Maunder genuinely believes the tripe he’s sloughing here.
Given that this is a blatant attempt to draw attention to his company’s open listings, I think this is merely a means of signaling. In order to attract people who are more comfortable working remotely – because he can’t or won’t provide a structured work environment – he wants his candidate list to self-filter to only the people who are confident they can work remotely in a full-time role.
By itself, there’s nothing wrong with that!
The part I take exception to is the grandiose, I-wish-I-could-give-a-TED-talk bullshit. I worry that there are people who might take this crap seriously, and that all involved will be worse off for it.