Telecommuting Culture

A few years back, I’m not even sure when, I started looking at job postings of companies I found interesting. The point wasn’t to find a new job, but to understand the company a bit more.

You can almost always discover what technology a company is using if they’re hiring. I found out Plurk uses Python through this method, that Twitter hasn’t given up on Ruby, and even when it doesn’t make sense Washington DC shops still use Drupal.

That last company is what gave rise to this tweet:

The second I see "no telecommute" on a job posting, I make an immediate judgement of the company and its culture. It is never a good one.

They’re pretty blunt about telecommuting, actually. Going so far as to say “[i]t is not ok to telecommute.” The emphasis is theirs (as seen in this Skitch). This gives me a couple of possible explanations:

  • They’ve been burned in the past. They hired someone on who misrepresented himself, his abilities, his capacity, or all of the above. They feel that they gave it a try and it isn’t for them, so they’re not going down that road again. This is the most generous possibility.
  • They don’t have their heads screwed on right. They live in a “constantly evolving and fast-paced” environment (as seen on other job postings) which translates roughly into we can’t control our product team, our CEO, or worst, what our sales team promises, so you’re going to have to sit by and wait for the hour-by-hour priorities. Communicating them by any other means than directly from our mouth to your ass, sitting at a desk waiting to turn our ideas into money via that magical electronic device in front of you is too inefficient.
  • A slight variation of the previous option is that they lack the confidence in their abilities. They have the vision, the product specs are nailed down, but they don’t know if they can convey them without “reading” the other person.
  • Finally, the last possible option is that they’re so out of touch with reality that they believe the only way for work to be done is with “asses in seats.”

Of these options, shy away—no, run, very quickly, away from the 2nd and 4th. Those companies don’t get it. The other two provide some hope, it’s up to as to whether to stick around (or start) and find out.

Companies that don’t allow telecommuting, especially companies that are up front about it, don’t get it. Telecommuting is no longer a technical challenge. Reliable high-speed Internet is ubiquitous at this point. I can see adding that as a requirement to a job posting, but not where you’re located.

With the technical out of the way, that leaves only the social aspect of the company and the position they’re hiring for. I get the culture that requires someone on site. I also realize I’m not interested in working for a company with that culture.

It’s the culture that specs and requirements are fluid based on the latest hallway session. It says interruptions are a part of the day that you should be used to—we like to chat a lot. It’s the we don’t have any realistic metrics to use to judge your performance, so we can only know if you’re doing work by whether or not you show up. That last one has worked so well in the past.

The world’s a big place. There’s a lot of developers in it. There’s even a few kick ass ones. Most of those don’t live near you—even if “this position is located at our offices in Palo Alto,” which is another euphemism for no telecommute. By being up front about telecommuting not being and option, you’re telling me that company comes first (we go to the mountain). Hiring someone good is important, but hiring the best you can afford isn’t.

A company that doesn’t go out of its way to build the best team possible, regardless of where they’re located, isn’t a company I want to work for. It’s a matter of priorities. I’ve got mine straight, they don’t have theirs.