After Covid-19, are programmers entitled to work from home?

I know several young developers who have demanded a work-from-home arrangement from their company or else they will quit! According to numerous articles on the internet, they are not alone. Let’s examine the good and bad sides of this trend in relation to software engineering.

First, let’s consider the root cause: Covid-19 forced shutdowns moved many jobs to remote work. Millions of workers used the internet for online video conferencing, message groups, instant messaging, and other forms of online, cloud-based collaboration.

The Internet enabled remote work

As predicted in my last technical book, The Great Cloud migration, many companies accelerated their move to the cloud. The fact that billions of workers across the globe could successfully work from home is a striking technological achievement for the Internet and cloud-based computing. The technical industry should see this as a feather in their proverbial cap! Given that that such remote work was possible and companies continued to run (though some in diminished capacity), workers naturally believed that there was no difference between on-site and remote work. Thus, a feeling of entitlement emerged.

Is entitlement a form of laziness? Is this a poor work attitude that is the result of a “pampered class” or “snowflake” class of individuals? Is it a coincidence that the people I know that are demanding work-from-home are young? Or is this just capitalism at work in a surging economic environment where the workers are in the driver’s seat?

Specifically, entitlement is the expectation of the employee to control their work-life balance. This can be in the form of flex hours, working less than 40 hours a week, and recently in some amount of work-from-home. Given a taste of “more freedom” due to Covid, workers do not want to give that up. This is also a testament to how many people truly hate commuting. As a manager of employees in a congested area, I have witnessed many people change jobs simply to improve their morning commute.

Crowded commute

Programmers are even more prone to this feeling of entitlement since they spend all of their most productive time interacting with a computer in the “development cycle”. In my latest book, Lazy Programmers, I depicted my typical day in the figure below:

My development cycle

All of these steps in the cycle are performed on a computer, so I spend the super-majority of my day on the computer. Again, given that, it is natural to think that I can be extremely productive anywhere on the globe! Furthermore, there are numerous videos and stories of programmers working in remote places, even on boats! Thus, the entitlement of remote work is even stronger for technical workers.

Now, we are ready to get to the crux of the matter: is such entitlement a form of laziness and thus a detriment to employee productivity? To make such a judgment we must examine the negative side of remote work. Again, I will make this specific to the development process as that is what I manage and participate in on a daily basis. So, what do you miss when employees work remotely:

A paycheck programmer

It is the last bullet (a strong sense of mission) that I believe is the most serious. Additionally, I believe that so strongly, that I see it as the key reason a programmer (and actually any employee) should be willing to work on-site instead of working from home. If you have a strong sense of mission, you are more concerned with supporting that mission than the additional flexibility. For me, this is the tie-breaker and dictates what I would choose.

For programmers that are interested in being on the “A-Team”, interested in better team cohesion, and interested in the highest level of mission support — there is only one answer.

Software Engineering Professional and Well-known Author