What happened to the remote working dream?

Remember that promise of a "new normal" of everyone working remotely, what happened?

What happened to the remote working dream?

Hi friends 👋,

Towards the end of 2019, I negotiated 12 days of working from home a month. This would mean most weeks I should have been at home for 3 days and in the office for 2. With my commute being 2 hours each way into London this was going to be a lifesaver.

Of course, being pre-pandemic, and the majority of my team working in the office 5 days a week, this didn't really work out. When I was working from home, people would forget to dial me in or flat-out ignore me on the call. Therefore most weeks I spent at least 3-4 days in the office due to meetings.

I had a couple of months of this before the pandemic hit and everyone was working from home. Remote working seemed to be the one silver lining that we got from the pandemic. Those stuck in small London flats looked at getting places in the countryside. Those with families could actually have meals together and put their children to bed at night.

On top of the work-life balance benefits for employees, employers were saving money on office space and utilities. Many companies even shut down offices as a result. Productivity skyrocketed and companies saw huge profits over this period.

Of course, remote working has its downsides. For those without families at home, remote working can be incredibly lonely and isolating. Working from 9 - 5 (or 9 - 8) without any physical interaction with other people is not great for people's mental health.

Those without families are usually in their 20s and are still quite early on in their careers. This is where they benefit the most from having others around them to learn from. As much as I like remote working my career would be very different has I not had the ability to ask a quick question from the developer sitting next to me.

Even though we knew this "new normal", wasn't permanent many of us hoped that remote working would become more prevalent making it a lot easier to get a remote job in the future.

Gradual return to office

However, hopes were soon dashed in 2022 when companies started calling employees back to the office. My last company started with optional days in the office. Many people chose to come back into the office at least one day a week for the social aspect. The ability to decide amongst the team what days to go in was a huge plus.

Eventually, though the company dictated a mandatory 2 days in the office a week on set days, this was to aid collaboration between teams but just crushed any flexibility that employees had hoped for. Last I heard they were pushing for 3 days a week in the office probably intending to go full-time in the future.

This is happening at every major tech company. Despite the benefits for employees working from home, more and more companies are dragging them back into the office.

Companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta, Salesforce and Uber have all moved to at least 3 days a week in the office. Of course, those of you unfortunate enough to work for Elon Musk need to be in the office full-time.

What happened to remote work?

What happened to the promise of remote work and 4 days work weeks that we have heard so much about over the last year?

A big factor is the large layoffs we have had over the past year. Many developers are still getting laid off every week and the number of job positions open is still a fraction of what it was last year.

When demand is high and supply is low hiring new staff can be expensive. Salaries for developers were at their highest last year and many employers needed to add additional benefits on top to secure talent. Remote work or generous hybrid work was one of those carrots dangled in front of employees to get them to sign.

However now that demand for developers is relatively low, employers don't need as many incentives to get talent. Many developers are having to take a pay cut to secure a job especially if they have been out of work for a few months.

I can see the benefits of being in the office, especially for junior staff. For a lot of people, however, it is difficult to go back to the office full-time when it means missing out on your children growing up or enduring a long commute.

When I work from home I get to spend an extra hour in the morning with my children before they go to school and at least 2 hours in the evening before they go to bed. That is 15 hours a week and 32 days a year. Over the course of 12 years, that means missing out a whole year of their lives, just so your employer can watch you work.

Remote work has changed my priorities in life. I would rather take a 50% pay cut than spend 4 hours of my day commuting and missing out on time with my children that I will never get back.

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📝 Article - A Room-Temperature Superconductor? As a former physics graduate, I get quite excited when stuff like this is announced. It is not 100% confirmed that they have managed to pull it off but if they have it will change everything.

The superconductors that we have at the moment need to be cooled using liquid nitrogen to work which limits where we can use them. For example, superconducting wires are used to build incredibly strong electromagnets for MRI machines. They are also used in the levitating Maglev trains they have in Japan.

Being able to use superconductors at room temperature opens up the ability to use them in consumer electronics. As the name suggests, they conduct electricity better than normal wires without wasting energy. This means devices won't get hot and you could cram a lot more transistors into a device without worrying about overheating.

If faster more efficient computers don't get you excited, then how about a hoverboard? The Lexus Hoverboard that they demonstrated a few years ago used the Meissner Effect from superconductors to defy gravity. The smoke shown in the photos is from liquid nitrogen cooling which wouldn't be needed for room temperature conductors. You would still need a magnetic track though.

📝 Article - Network Protocols. A fascinating read into how network protocols work. I am going to add this to my developer roadmap as it is that good.

📝 Article - Emacs is My New Window Manager. Up there with "real programmers use VIM" how about using Emacs as your window manager? That's right, doing everything you would normally do on your computer inside emacs. This makes my Mac setup look like a kid playing with Lego.

📝 Article - From individual contributor to engineering manager: debunking 8 most popular misconceptions. I went from IC to EM and a lot of Irina's points here are true. I enjoy helping people with their career growth but being an EM is a lot more than that. Looking back I think I contributed more as an IC than I ever did as an EM. If you try and do both you end up doing both badly.

👨‍💻 Latest from me

Creating content isn't all sipping cocktails on the beach (ok it has never been that). It is currently summer holidays for my children so finding quiet time to be able to focus and record my videos is a struggle.

Combine that with some family health issues that are taking up all my afternoons for the next month, it is difficult to keep up the ambitious schedule I originally set for myself.

My one non-negotiable is this newsletter which I am committed to getting out an issue every Sunday. I do have a YouTube video in the works at the moment. I have finished scripting it, I am going to be working on some code examples for it before doing the recording and editing. I would like to get the video out next Fri (11/08) but I suspect with everything else going on at the moment I may need to push it by another week.

On the plus side, I have finally managed to get over the virus/cold that I had last week.

I constantly need to remind myself that I am only one person and there are only so many hours in the day. It is ok to slow down a bit when life throws you a curve ball. I just thought I would leave that out there in case anyone else needs to hear it!

💬 Quote of the Week

A taste of freedom can make you unemployable.

From The Almanack of Naval Ravikant (affiliate link) by Eric Jorgenson. Resurfaced with Readwise.