Strong opinions, weakly held

Why not just hire more remotes?

Matt Mullenweg of WordPress on Paul Graham’s argument that we the government needs to grant far more U.S. visas for software engineers:

I agree that the US deserves dramatically better immigration policies, but in the meantime I’m confused with the head-in-the-sand approach most tech companies are taking simultaneously complaining that there are lots of great people they can’t bring into the US, but being stubborn on keeping a company culture that requires people to be physically co-located.

Recruiting is about tradeoffs. One of the easiest ways to expand your pool of potential applicants is to remove the requirement for physical proximity. Managing a fully or partially remote team is a different and in some ways more difficult job than managing a group of people who all show up at the same office every day, but seems more feasible than changing U.S. immigration policy to make it easier to bring more engineers from overseas to the Silicon Valley.


  1. It’s not that simple. First of all, from a company perspective, hiring someone remotely would be more risky – how do you know if they’re doing their job properly when they’re many timezones away? Not only that, but remote communication is hard. Emotions don’t translate well into written text so there might be misunderstandings about actual meaning of certain chats etc. Also, when you have projects that are fairly confidential, you don’t want to talk about it remotely or run the risk of other people seeing the project in question.

    From an employee perspective, being hired remotely might mean that they get paid less or more based on his base country’s incomes. That wouldn’t be fair since the remote employee wouldn’t be living on similar standards as the U.S. counterpart potentially. The other problem is again timezones. Being remote means having a different day rythm if it means working at similar times as the U.S. folks. This greatly reduces the work-life balance of said person since they might be working at night and sleeping by day. That’s insane to think about. And lastly, being remote might prevent employee from feeling part of the team (or the team thinking of him as a member). This could lead to frustration, lack of productivity etc.

    Co-presence is a much better way to go and leaves little room for compromises. Expecting companies to take on more remote workers would potentially decrease productivity and create a more tense environment for everyone.

  2. I think all the times my company has used remote workers in another country, it’s taken more resources to manage them than if they were local (or even remote in this country).

    But also (and this is the more appalling aspect, to be honest), workers on H1B visas working for American companies are in a much more precarious position with much less mobility than workers working remotely in their home country, and corporations can and do use that to their advantage.

  3. To be fair one of the advantages that Automattic has is that it has always been a distributed company. Everyone and every team is distributed, which eliminates the issue of some people being “at the office” while others are remote ( and often left out of the loop ).

    One of the things that Matt didn’t bring up in his post is the physical meetups that also happen. The whole company gets together once a year, and teams organize their own meetups as well. These help with team bonding, and and in the case of the whole company meetup, spending time with people you don’t normally work with.

  4. In my opinion PG’s essay has many problems, and he’s very clearly talking his book. On humanitarian grounds I think there are arguments to be made for more open immigration across the board, but that isn’t the case PG tries to make at all, and at any rate he is in too deep and not in a position to make such a case convincingly. PG should go post in favor of much higher top marginal tax rates and closing the carried interest loophole instead.

    So I think criticism is well deserved here, but I always think it’s important to be fair. In this “well why not hire remotes” discussion, almost everyone has missed the fact that he was definitely talking about one of his portfolio companies* that is extremely remote-friendly.

    It is true that most SF companies are not remote-friendly. I just finished a remote job search and was pretty surprised at how remote hostile SF companies are compared to companies in other hubs. But PG’s specific example is already hiring remotes.

    • educated guess, based on his acknowledged proofreaders.

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