Why Silicon Valley Hates Remote Work


Fred Perrotta

Yahoo was the first big name to go against the remote work trend and bring employees back to the office in 2013. Earlier this year, IBM, formerly a leader in telecommuting, announced that their 2,600-person marketing team would be "co-located" in a handful of offices.

While a few rebel tech companies, like Automattic and Buffer, lead the way in remote work adoption, the tech industry itself remains staunchly against remote work.

The irony is that technology makes remote work and collaboration easier. Yet the companies making this technology aren't fully taking advantage of it.

Remote work doesn't fit the story that the Valley tells about itself. Tech companies tell employees that they are making the world a better place (rarely) and could get rich from working there (almost never). Given those stakes (real or not), tech companies want startup life to be all encompassing: long hours, infinite hustle, and a life devoted to your employer.

How else would you act if you had a chance to get rich and save the world? Never mind the fact that your boss and the company's investors are the ones who will benefit the most regardless of the outcome.

Startups raise money to spend it on hiring people. Hiring remotely takes more time and requires a longer onboarding and training process. Startups don't have time for that. They're racing toward an exit or their next round of fundraising. Who has time to build a company or properly train people?

Venture capitalists and founders fall victim to the same ego traps as any other managers. They feel ownership over the company that they invested in or started. They want to be able to see it, to walk around the office, and to survey their kingdom. Trusting a distributed group of people takes humility, which is forever in short supply in Silicon Valley. Trust me, I've lived here for a decade.

Finally, I suspect that:

  1. Remote work is better suited to controlled growth than to hockey-stick growth, and
  2. Starting or working at a remote company is correlated to wanting a more balanced lifestyle.

Even Automattic, the largest and possibly most successful remote company, has been built slowly and for the long haul with a fraction of the headcount of bigger name tech companies.

In theory, you could start a VC-funded remote company in the Valley. In practice, you'll need to start as the latter, then raise money. You will have to show revenue and prove your growth trajectory in ways that "co-located" companies do not. Which is the right path for you, VC or remote?