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Work From Home or the Office: Is It a Problem?

Remote work is morally wrong

In a recent CNBC interview, Elon Musk once again threw a controversial point about working from home:

The laptop class living in la la land, okay. But as I said, you can’t but look at the cars are people working from home here, of course not. So people were building cars, servicing the cars, building houses, fixing houses, making food making all the things that people consume. It’s messed up to assume that yes they have to go to work but you don’t. I think it’s morally wrong.

While I share admiration for Musk's vision, attitude, and execution, I find myself unable to grasp the underlying logic behind this particular statement. It is akin to saying that: if people were building cars, building a house, marking food, couldn’t afford a Tesla, but you can, that’s morally wrong. I am open to hearing an alternative interpretation if you can offer a different perspective.

I actually agree with what the interviewer David said: It is a productivity rather than a moral issue. Additionally, even from a productivity standpoint alone, I think it’s very much a double-edged sword, as Musk himself mentioned twice in the whole interview :

  • Regarding his own trait of being pathologically optimistic.
  • Regarding the potential impact of AI on humanity.

As an engineer, we are supposed to be accustomed to thinking to use this double-edged mindset. While Must is clearly fond of the office, I would like to show the other edge myself.

Love office, in defense of working from home

During my time working at Microsoft around 2010, there existed a highly flexible policy regarding remote work. Whenever individuals needed to work from home, a simple email with the subject line "xxx WFH today" was all that was required to do. WFH is probably the most memorable abbreviation for me in my Microsoft career, indicating how frequently it happened. 😄

However, I almost never send that email. Not only because I think it’s more productive, but also because I love to communicate with people face-to-face, particularly with smart guys who share similar objectives. I even make it a habit to visit the office on weekends, hoping to connect with colleagues during those times. I guess from this perspective, I’m the same as Musk. But the difference is that I do appreciate the benefit of Working from home, which I have observed among my colleagues:

  • The most common scenario is when individuals have tasks or obligations near their homes during the day. By working from home, they save the additional time that would have been spent on commuting, especially when faced with traffic jams.
  • Another case arises when people are not feeling well. If they were unable to work from home, they would likely need to take sick leave instead.
  • There are also instances where individuals need to focus intensely on a task without unexpected interruptions from the office, and working alone at home allows them to achieve that level of concentration.

After passively working from home for a very long time during the pandemic time, I’m even more convinced that I will never choose to work from home if I have the option to go to the office. However, I will always advocate for the freedom and flexibility of working from home as an option for others.

You see my point of view. Let’s see another edge of mine. 😄

Never getting back, in defense of the office

David Heinemeier Hansson, also known as DHH, may not be a familiar name to you, but it's highly likely that you have come across either the product or the framework he created: Basecamp and Ruby on Rails.

If you have read his renowned books Rework or Remote, you would be aware of how distinctive his company 37signals is. For instance, they have never sought external funding, and they have operated as a remote company for over 20 years. Just as the company's practices are peculiar, DHH occasionally expresses counterculture opinions on various topics, such as leaving the cloud or Typescript sucks. Some individuals perceive his recent blog post on remote work to be another example of such opinions:

In defense of the office

TLDR, the beginning of the post is:

You're never getting me back into an office

Despite being seemingly diametrically opposed to each other, I find myself appreciating the common ground that exists between us. We both defend the preference that diverges from our personal inclination.

Let's be real here. The modern world we live in was designed and executed from an office. It's a perfectly legitimate way of working. It may not be your preferred way of working. It sure as hell isn't mine! But let's not make the same mistake of those who couldn't fathom how we at 37signals built a successful, long-term, and prosperous company for twenty years by being remote.

The real problem is that people don’t love their work

As I write here, I suddenly realize that maybe the problem is not working from home or the office. Despite the differing opinions held by Musk, DHH, and myself, there is a unifying factor among us all—we share a deep love for our work. Individuals who possess a genuine love for their work tend to take the initiative to find the most suitable approach within the given circumstances. As for myself, I found that during the pandemic, I ended up working for longer hours from home simply because my bed was conveniently closer to my work desk. 😂

Unfortunately, I see a large number of people don’t. Consequently, I believe the true issue we need to address is to enable more people to pursue work they love. If everyone could approach their work with the same zest as Warren Buffett: Tap Dancing to Work, then the debate between working from home or the office would likely become inconsequential.

The ZenSatck open source toolkit we are building aims to help more people to pursue purposeful work they love by leveraging their unique skills and passions. With the powerful access control layer that supercharges Prisma ORM, it greatly simplifies the efforts of building a secured, extensible, scalable web application. Nothing would be more exciting for us to see how it enhances your enjoyment of your work. If you find that it does, please don't hesitate to share your experience with us in our GitHub or Join our Discord. Thank you!

Top comments (14)

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

Not commuting by car is morally wrong, says owner of giant car company.
Musk's statements are pretty lopsided, as you might expect.

The idea that you shouldn't have a comfortable work environment because someone else doesn't in their job is just weird. Like, if you work in an office with a canteen, is that immoral because the next office over doesn't have one? Your coworker commutes from five minutes down the road, but you live an hour and a half away, is it morally wrong to want to stay home?

Some people genuinely like working in an office, at least some of the time. But most of these articles read like they were written by Big Office, and they're not in the interest of people at all. It's all about trying to not lose money on the infrastructure, the buildings, car parks, etc., that we simply don't need any more.

stkuwanda profile image
Simbarashe Tanaka Kuwanda

"trying to not lose money on the infrastructure" is what mostly this drive towards full on-site work is mostly about.

miketalbot profile image
Mike Talbot ⭐

I like to meet my colleagues face to face, maybe once every 2 or 3 months for a couple of days. At all other times I'm more productive working singly or in teams over remote comms.

syxaxis profile image
George Johnson

When COVID first hit I really love WFH, we had access to it but it was a 1-in-a-fortnight type thing. Then suddenly we had it permanently, I really enjoyed it, hard at first to get disciplined but I found it was such a breath of fresh air.
My company has been almost exclusively WFH for 3 years now and I'll be honest the shine is starting to wear off. We have the usual laptops and hotdesks and I've been making an effort to get into the office 2 days week without fail, just to see some other human beings. I love my wife to bits but when that is the only person you're with 24/7 even the best partnerships get put under strain.
I found 2 days IO is perfect for me, I get to chat with whomever is in that day, often it's people I don't know from the rest of the biz. I get the commute which after a hard day it forces me to just switch off for 90 mins home, just do nothing but stare out the window of the train and day dream or think about tech ideas I'd like to try. Going to work means you have to make an effort to shave, find some half decent clothes and plan the day ahead, gets me focused.
My company is starting to float the current hybrid trend of 3-in-2-out during the week and one reason I'm "practising" now in case the make it mandatory. Most of my team hate the office, they WFH all the time but it started sending me stir-crazy!

Don't get me wrong, I love WFH, those glorious sunny days when you can leave the windows and doors open for a nice breeze over air-con, the cat wanders in to see me sometimes but I'm left alone to get on. I can wear my favourite Slayer or Decapitated t-shirts and just keep the camera off on big teams calls. I get decent coffee I like, not the cheap crap in the office kitchen, I get a decent and very cheap lunch at home over £6 for a dried up sandwich in the shop next to the office! Obviously you finish and quit and then just wander off around the house to be home.

Swings and roundabouts I guess, I like hybrid thing and hopefully going forward employers will be more open to that, we suffer a small hit on productivity sometimes but mostly we're still churning out the code!

jiasheng profile image

Thanks for sharing your own expeirence. I feel we are the same kind of people😄

ivorator profile image
ivorator • Edited

For most people it's not the office it's the commute.

If I love my work I would rather spend the extra hours actually working, not commuting to work.

It's simple, "you" ask me to spend 2-3hr a day extra getting to the office, spend extra money for car or public transport etc.

You want me full time on site, better be prepared to pay 30% extra than full-remote job.

From employee PoV it's irrelevant if they are more effective in the office, if the cost of that (in commute time and costs is larger). And frankly in IT, you will be far more effective using the wasted commute time actually learning new skills than driving to an office.

This "productivity boost" at the office (which is actually questionable looking at many people), comes at a cost of extra time in commute employers somehow think does not exist. Also time wasted not learning new skills and becoming more productive.

Wasting 10hr a week in dumb meetings explaining basic stuff to incompetent management which spend most of their time politicking - productivity my ass.

It's business, not an "entitlement". Free labour market yo.

vjnvisakh profile image
Visakh Vijayan

Work from anywhere. Just the work needs to be done. Even at office you are inside 4 walls. Why travel to a place to get the same work done when you can do it from where you are. It's good to network. Make a day in the week to do that.

lucaspsilveira profile image
Lucas Pacheco

To me, Musk's speech says only about how he cares about consumerism to keep selling more cars e more things. It is more often a person who needs to commute to work have to buy a car then another person who wouldn't. I agree that office can be productive, in fact I think that for some people it is the best. But as you said, the option should not be taken from us.

stkuwanda profile image
Simbarashe Tanaka Kuwanda

For me the optimal solution is indeed discretion to go on-site or not to be given to each person. They can exercise this discretion as needed and output can be evaluated to assess performance. Exclusive on-site work is often not an optimal solution depending on a number of factors.

aodagit profile image

I like WFH,but not always,I think 2 or 3 days is better at home for WFH,because you know sometimes terrible traffic is shit 💩,i dun want waste my time on that,but i think meet colleagues meet people is important,we are in a social,we need connections

vickyktk profile image

Well Musk point of "Morally Wrong" because others around you will have to go to work is quite "lame". It is the productivity that matter. If I more productive that means my office will produce more jobs which will in return give more opps to people around me. My office will pay me well, which means I will pay more to those people around. So the bottom line is "Productivity"

juanfrank77 profile image
Juan F Gonzalez

Before c0vid I loved going to the office especially because some offices where I worked were super-duper cool (one space even got an interior design award).
And then with the lockdowns I started to appreciate more the time been at home with my parents and not having commutes.
But then, it went on longer than I expected and I grew increasingly restless.
And I thought to myself "is this the type of work that I want to keep doing 2 more years?"
My answer became a resounding "no". I was wasting myself away being a mere frontend developer. Feeling like a monkey in a very fancy cage.

lucasbp8186472 profile image

Morally wrong is when the guy preach to keep people in the office when he spend most of his time traveling around!

If he keeps his jet for a whole month in his office I go back as well!

Use the phone Elon!

zachrt profile image

A combination of both is the ideal for me.