mother of unicorns. not a hacker. social distancing since 2018.
Zuckerberg is in the news lately for his announcement about his plans to take his workforce remote.
In his town hall video, he says that Facebook’s senior staff in Engineering positions, where the need for human interaction is lower in their job function, they could choose between an entire remote work scheme or still choose a full-time situation, with flexibility given for “in-betweeners“ and ample time for transition. They could choose to no longer be situated in the expensive Bay Area, but could have the option, with a salary adjustment, to move to another US city - anywhere they wished, it seems.
This got me thinking about how Singapore, my city, could adopt the same approach. We could have a better country. Even now, larger tech startups and tech companies have to ‘be seen’ at a city centre address, in order to do business development and push the chance of their success. It does look good to be ‘competitive’, after all, as we constantly take the gold medal for this.
There isn’t any other option to not be centrally located and this is true for many small cities the world over - if you are not in sight, you really don’t matter.
No one here working in tech startups really has the option of working where you liked and living where you wished. This economic approach to centrally located working really drives up prices for cafes, restaurant meals and offices in the area we call the financial district for a good reason, and it’s common to pay exorbitant amounts for an evening meal out with colleagues, which we usually do.
Having less options now - we depend on food delivery more than ever before - right now, we would never think to pay the same prices for that same evening meal to be delivered for our dinner.
And, if we no longer needed to commute to the city centre, and we could make most executive decisions while sitting at home, then perhaps that business developer is no longer needed. I’m nodding my head in approval to that, for I see business developers getting really good commission on celebrated products and services that are easy to sell, whilst their technical counterparts who suffer long hours and extreme deadlines to create that product or service usually aren’t as richly rewarded.
(As a caveat, I would say that niche fields in specialised healthcare to B2B tech with really talented business developers who are technical enough to talk to CTOs and executives, those people should remain as a valuable asset. I’m referring to people who could not find any other job to do, graduated from a B-school, and became a business developer in an easy-to-understand business service that does not need much ‘brain power’ to explain fundamentals, and their main job function is to look impressive in a suit.)
A “decentralized” Singapore would make the country as a whole, more interesting. Residents can now choose between wider options when before we were priced out of the city centre and its adjacent neighborhoods.
Several jobs that have moved out of the country due to the higher costs of living, the R&D jobs in scientific, engineering fields, could now return and by doing so, attract a more intellectual population; in turn, contributing to the peace, stability and economical outlook of the place. I would warmly welcome these people into my neighbourhood as their views and pursuits would be more interesting than those held by financiers and business developers.
The job functions of the well-paid, senior managers who are people managers with no other outstanding talent in their field than to whip their team members into producing results, (often with ancient methods resembling personal harassment), will be called into question.
I have met many of them in the workplaces, most were not significantly older than myself, but they already had a super old-fashioned attitude to work. For instance, they would often be the last to leave the office, signalling to others that they are hard workers, when in fact this behavior should not be encouraged. When I was a people manager, I often had more work to do and thus stayed late on some days, but I never encouraged my members to stay later than myself, or to only leave after I had left.
Furthermore, they embodied the behavior of middle managers trying to ‘manage’ their team, by “kissing upwards and kicking downwards”, in the singular pursuit of their own career progression. Perhaps it is not even worth mentioning that the junior team members who report to them would not have a fair chance at working on interesting projects, as they would scoop up those responsibilities for their cred. They have very little to show for their own hands-on work, and these behaviors are more common than expected, even today, even in tech startups.
Perhaps these behaviors are remnants of the copied behavior from looking at the successful careers of the earlier generation, who unfortunately still hold the keys to propel your career kingdom. It’s no wonder that so many well-educated, younger millennials want no part of this.
I’m hoping that truly visionary founders and leaders of tech companies will really think clearly how best to shape the company in the future, and in turn, the economy of the country. (Facebook is much richer than many small countries, so what Zuck says and does, does count for a bit.)
I hope job functions get ‘richer’, and those people who have really pushed ideas and are able to do the lengthy hours to have their product see the light of day, be well-compensated for their efforts.
It remains to be seen what those old-fashioned middle managers will do in the new normal, though. Having lived quite comfortably in a good economy for the last decade or so, will they be willing to swallow their pride and crawl up the ranks of a totally new job function in order to secure their employability?
I had expected this year to be quite like the last, gliding along smoothly in my chosen specialised deep tech work, already making plans to disburse my funds for travel and investment and savings and all that jazz. Unfortunately my well-laid plans were thwarted quite early in the year as my job function was affected more than others, in these times.
But in the grand scheme of things, I feel great, because it brings the world closer to my state of mind and my work routine. Having chosen the lonely route of being an independent consultant (inadvertently also choosing ‘social-distancing’ as part of the package), since late 2018, I honestly thought that the rest of the world wouldn’t have been ready to accept my type of work situation for at least the next 3 to 5 years. I was considered for plenty of leadership opportunities last year, but when push came to shove, no tech startup or tech company that headhunted me - not even the visionary ones, could agree with me and my role being completely remote. (With an option for myself to decide if I wanted to come work onsite, or not, at will.)
Only one tech startup allowed me to do so, and the bosses of that company readily agreed as they had known me for years, and I was less of a ‘flight risk’ than the newly relocated, young millennial employees they hired who often wanted to YOLO in Asia. True story.
So I am glad, in a way, to have already supported Zuck’s grand plan - even before he consulted his data team and decided to take charge of the future of working, of the way forward.