This installment of my off-and-on “Things We Should Acknowledge” series is going to focus on an area that most DevOps teams are skirting, but increasingly will not be able to: Remote work.
For background, I have worked remotely for decades; my experience spans Fortune 100s, publishing companies and startups—and that’s just full-time work. I’ve worked for a ton of vendors and publications as a contractor, too.
I will start by making clear my stance on remote work—a stance I’ve happily talked with people about since long before COVID-19 measures made remote work a regular thing. You either thrive working remotely or you wither. There is a small group in the center that can make it work with some effort, but inevitably that effort becomes routine and those in the middle become part of one of the two groups.
Because people drift toward one of two camps, we get the currently popular stance on, well, everything, which is polarization. But we shouldn’t. Just like positions and people that should/should not be in meetings to resolve problems or people who should/should not have direct reports, we should consider positions and people that remote work is best for.
And post-pandemic, the vast majority of DevOps roles can be performed effectively in a remote position. That leaves us with the people question. Mostly. Note: There are organizations and roles that need to be local; those are not a topic of this blog. The 99% of other roles/orgs are.
This topic gets really ugly, pretty quick. If a significant portion of every organization goes remote, city centers in several metropolises will die. That is not conjecture; you can go look into commercial real estate in any information worker hub. It is in a massive slump (and calling it a ‘slump’ is being nice), with occupancy circling the drain and property values plummeting. That is largely because formerly high-demand real-estate is not needed in the volume it was.
That should not be the concern of any given corporation. It is the corporation’s responsibility to see to shareholder value, not the real estate market (unless they are invested in real estate, which many large organizations are). But if orgs are keeping any offices downtown, it becomes an issue about safety. In other words, it’s about if the collapse of the market means the offices become less safe for workers, regardless of investment. This is not a decision-making bullet point, but it does inform actions. I have a ton more to say on this topic, but it’s a side bit, so for now, this is enough.
For people who thrive working remotely—and a lot more people now know that about themselves than knew that five years ago—being forced into the office is a non-starter. I have been offered astounding positions at organizations on both coasts over the years, but the ones that came with the “…and you have to move here” demand—I immediately turned down. More people are doing that; some of them truly great employees.
So, like it or not, DevOps teams are going to have to consider whether all being in the same building is more important than hiring the most qualified co-workers. That is a team/management/corporate decision and always has been. I consider any “We all do this one thing” stance—from “We’re an X shop” to “We don’t do remote” to be a negative, but I don’t have to make these decisions for an organization.
It does need to be part of the conversation, though. Because the work environment is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic standards, no matter how much some want it to. The more organizations are willing to work with both remote and on-site employees, the more options those employees—your potential coworkers—have. That changes the dynamic, even in light of recent layoffs, because the new job hunt is not tied to “local” anymore.