The best gift the Coronavirus can give us? The normalization of remote work

tl,dr: Covid-19, if (or at this point, “when”) it becomes a full pandemic, is going to rapidly accelerate the shift to remote-first tech hiring.  This is an amazing thing. It’s too bad it’ll take a pandemic to get us there.

The focus over the past couple weeks has been on how a pandemic will affect the economy.  This is a reasonable question to ask. But a brief economic downturn is just noise compared to the big structural changes we’ll see in turn — that long-term quarantine and travel restrictions will normalize remote work. It’s already happening, especially in tech companies.  

Remote work is a revolutionary improvement for workers of all stripes and careers, but I’m a tech worker, so I’ll speak from the perspective of a one.

Software development is second only to sales in ability to execute at full capacity while remote*, if given the opportunity.  But willingness to perform tech-first remote hiring has ground forward glacially slowly, especially at the largest and hippest tech companies — and at times, even moved backwards

*I’ve known top sales reps to make their calls on ski lifts between runs.  Software devs can’t quite match that quality-of-life boost.

A prolonged quarantine period (even without a formal government quarantine, tech companies will push hard for employees to work from home) will force new remote-first defaults on companies previously unwilling to make remote work a first-class option:

  • Conversations will move to Slack, MS teams, or the equivalent
  • Videoconferenced meetings will become the default, even if a few workers make it into the office
  • IT departments without stable VPNs (all too common) will quickly fix that problem, as the C-suite starts working from home offices

The shift to normalized remote work will massively benefit tech employees, who have been working for decades with a Hobson’s choice of employment — move to a tech hub, with tech-hub salaries, and spend it all on cost-of-living, or eat scraps:

  • Cost-of-living freedom: SF and New York are inhumanly expensive. Make it practical to pull SF-salaries while living in the midwest? Most SF employees have no concept of how well you can live on $250k in a civilized part of the country.
  • Family balance freedom: operating as an on-site employee with children is hard, and working from home makes it wildly easier to balance childcare responsibilities (trips to school, childcare, etc etc).
  • Commutes suck. Good commutes suck. Terrible commutes are a portal into hell. What would you pay to gain two hours and live 26-hour days? Well, working from home is the closest you can get.

I don’t mean to be callous — deaths are bad, and I wish it upon nobody. But the future is remote-first, and when we get there, history will judge our commute-first culture the same way we judge people in the middle ages for dumping shit on public streets.

I wish it didn’t take a global pandemic to get us here, but if we’re looking for silver linings in the coffins — it’s hard to imagine a shinier one that the remote-normalized culture we’re going to build, by fire, blood, and mucous, over the next six months.  

I’ll take it.

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