Quora CEO - why Quora is Remote First

Adam D’Angelo, Quora CEO, tweeted that they are going fully remote first and explained why in his blog post:

https://www.quora.com/q/quora/Remote-First-at-Quora

I think it’s worth the time to read it, below are most interesting parts,IMO:

" … despite growing up as a company centralized in a single location, despite years of investing in culture and processes built on that assumption, despite the stress people are feeling from the state of the world, despite the distraction involved in adapting to that world, despite the burdens facing parents with small children and no schools or childcare, we have been very productive. And many of us have actually been more productive than before."

“The first factor is the commute. People lose large amounts of precious time and energy getting to and from the office every day, and the process adds stress to their lives.”

“The second factor is the ability to focus. … we had an open office plan, with all of our desks out in an open space, without cubicles or walls dividing them. … but they turn out to be quite distracting to employees, who often need to concentrate on solving hard problems or writing code…
Some people argue that these costs may slow down individual employees in the short term but help all employees as a whole in the long term because of the increased communication. However, both the data and my own personal experience point toward the conclusion that open office plans actually significantly decrease communication, because people keep quiet in order to avoid bothering their neighbors.”

“The third factor is the housing crisis in the Bay Area. The severely restricted housing supply, along with poor public transportation, makes the cost of living here much, much higher than it would naturally be.”

“The fourth factor is the visa and immigration situation in the US.”

“All of this is not to say that remote work is better in every way than office work. Videoconferencing technology is far from perfect, Zoom has a long way to go as a product, and other software to facilitate community among a remote workforce is still lacking. Socializing remotely probably won’t be competitive with socializing in person until AR technology comes along.”

“As a result, Quora will be a remote-first company starting immediately, and 60% of our employees have chosen not to work from an office even after covid-19 is no longer a threat.”

“I expect this freedom of location is going to unlock many other benefits that we can’t even anticipate yet. And all of this is on top saving the incredibly valuable time and stress of commuting.”

“I am excited to see how this develops over time. What will the world look like when people are freed from the constraints of job locality? How much will Zoom and other collaboration tools improve over the next few years, as everyone rushes to address this suddenly-huge market? What kinds of products can be built better by a remote team than one in a single office? What kinds of innovation will become easier rather than harder?”

Andrey,
long ZM

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Thanks Andrey,
That was a very interesting post, and reading the CEO’s rational was very interesting. It’s interesting that 60% of his employees chose to continue working remotely after Covid (it’s probably a function, among other things, of how far they live from the office and how long their commute is). I imagine that we will see a lot of different proportions at different companies.
Best,
Saul

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I had not thought about this previously, but I am becoming more concerned that this WFH trend will lead to outsourcing more types of jobs to people in other countries. If companies are saying that they are not seeing a drop in productivity from people working remotely, then the next logical step is going to be looking for ways to lower the labor costs by hiring people in the cheapest areas of the country/world.

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And that’s why you’re invested in the companies.

My guess is this will lead to a lot more “contract workers” both domestic and international. It’s pretty fake, because most of the independent contractors only have one client, which is supposed to negate the claim of independence, but it continues to grow.

You can’t worry about that with your investments, though. You invest for money, you volunteer, vote and donate to alter or remedy society, as you see fit.

-Another Rob

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I am becoming more concerned that this WFH trend will lead to outsourcing more types of jobs to people in other countries.

Yes, this has been a discussion point in other threads/boards. I’ve heard of at least one company in Silicon Valley tell employees working remotely that if they move to a different area of the country - which they can do since they don’t need to come into the office - their salary may be reduced since the cost of living where they’re going is almost certainly less than the SF Bay Area.

This is going to be a pendulum that swings back and forth for a while. I’ve seen this play out decades earlier, with a large software company at which I worked moving a substantial chunk of development out to India, with execs rationalizing that they could pay those engineers 30% of what they paid US workers. Unfortunately, they did not budget for the decrease in communication (no Zoom back then), but also time zone issues (which are huge), accent/understandability issues, and increased management requirements. We ended up needing to send team leaders around the world to meet in person every quarter to keep things aligned. So while execs booked a 60% savings, they were lucky to get 30% - and only at the cost of delayed completion dates.

I’m sure companies are smarter about this today. And while the tools (like Zoom) are much better than they were, as the Quora CEO says, they’re still not great in terms of equalling in person collaboration.

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while the tools (like Zoom) are much better than they were, as the Quora CEO says, they’re still not great in terms of equalling in person collaboration.
as a small ZM stockholder I would like to know what these issues are, so that I can watch for remediation of them. Aside from the obvious ones like handshakes , eye to eye , etc ,tools that people use ,often subconsciously, to evaluate other human beings.
Zoom meetings do not mean you can’t have the other kind too, just less often.

My take is that Quora is looking to virtue signal their real desire to cut costs. The company has raised $226 million and the only leak I have seen in terms of revenue puts it at $20 million. Yikes.

while the tools (like Zoom) are much better than they were, as the Quora CEO says, they’re still not great in terms of equalling in person collaboration.

Is theater better than film and TV?

Is a soap box better than radio?

Is a town hall meeting better than an online forum?

While the “personal touch” has certain advantages mass communication more than makes up for it. Not only will it get better in time but we learn how to take advantage of the new medium. Frankly, I would not sweat it.

Much more interesting for investors are the effects of the labor mobility that the Quora CEO explores.

Denny Schlesinger

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Chiming in with Denny, here, I think that while there may be some apparent downsides, there are clearly many upsides as well.

For starters, there is no lost time getting to and returning from the meeting, which is obviously substantial for meetings with people not in the same building.

Also, there is no special considerations for the size of the meeting. With an in-person meeting one progresses from in office to finding a conference room to arranging for a meeting hall or just flat out having too many people to address at one time. With Zoom, the only controlling issue is the license of the presenter. Want 3000 employees to all hear a special communication … no problem, just call the meeting.

Even the supposed advantages of the in-person meeting may be more historical assumptions about comparisons with other forms of communication than they are true about a Zoom meeting. Virtually all content one is likely to share is likely to be on the computer anyway, so no need to marshal a set of exhibits.

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The biggest problem with all electronic meetings is lack of true “full duplex” audio. This is where even if you’re talking you’re hearing others talk simultaneously. That, plus the time delay across countries or continents makes a truly interactive session, such as brain-storming, much more difficult than in-person.

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This is where even if you’re talking you’re hearing others talk simultaneously.

I.e., with remote meetings one needs to be more polite?

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”This is where even if you’re talking you’re hearing others talk simultaneously.”

I have participated in 100’s of Zoom calls and find what you point out to be a Negative is actually a Positive. It promotes an environment of active listening and respect rather than giving the typical “know-it-all” the opportunity to butt in on every point in an attempt to take up all the oxygen in the room.

We have all been in various forums where ideas are being exchanged and there is always that one person that thinks if he/she is talking the most or talking the loudest or typing the longest posts, then they must be right and they must be winning winning.

I say full duplex audio be damned!

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Too black and white. There are little moments of overlap that cause audio clipping that can be very disruptive to the meeting. Even among a polite group this happens. I agree that this is still the biggest problem. Still, Zoom seems to handle even this better. Not fully, but better. I dont get why they can’t mix the audio in the cloud and deliver it without clipping and such.

By the way, this includes background noise from one person causing clipping of another person talking. It happens. In “real life” you can ignore the odd external dog bark, for example, but when it clips all the audio in a digital meeting that is just not good enough.

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"The second factor is the ability to focus. … we had an open office plan, with all of our desks out in an open space, without cubicles or walls dividing them. … but they turn out to be quite distracting to employees, who often need to concentrate on solving hard problems or writing code…

This is just a CEO finally telling everyone that the “open office” planners, like the emperor, has no clothes. Young people (even smart ones) think it is cool when they get their first job. Probably because the socializing is great. For people doing real work it is distracting.

WFH is also great…for a while. Like when you are working on a well defined project with known team leaders and known job assignments. But new project definition, brainstorming and initial planning doesn’t work as well when everyone is in a different location.

Mike

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There are little moments of overlap that cause audio clipping that can be very disruptive to the meeting.

RafesUserName is right that clipping from background noises and dogs barking is worse in meetings than in real life, but also because of the lack of a different directionality for those noises. It’s easier for me to ignore a noise from in back of me than in front of me, where the person speaking is.

But my original point was that the type of meeting matters. When you have one person presenting to a group, it’s not a problem - most people go on mute to avoid noises interrupting the meeting. Then you might have a status meeting, where you go around the room with each person presenting their group’s status. That’s a bit more interactive since there are questions and interactions. My wife’s weekly family Zoom calls are kind of like that - people taking turns, but laughing and adding/interrupting with memories they want to share.

I’ve been in startups and incubators, but even at large companies there will be brainstorming sessions where new ideas are discussed, promoted, discarded, etc. These are highly interactive sessions. Multiple people drawing on the same whiteboard, even at the same time on occassion. Sometimes these meetings kick off with team-building exercises to both get people comfortable with each other as well as to get the creative juices flowing. Interruptions happen. This isn’t due to a lack of politeness, but due to the nature of creative energy. This is encouraged.

I don’t see any video conferencing solution as able to support those kinds of meetings today.

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I had not thought about this previously, but I am becoming more concerned that this WFH trend will lead to outsourcing more types of jobs to people in other countries. If companies are saying that they are not seeing a drop in productivity from people working remotely, then the next logical step is going to be looking for ways to lower the labor costs by hiring people in the cheapest areas of the country/world.

This would not be good for the employees who hold the jobs now. Their wages would be at risk for being lowered. However, if you are a shareholder rather than an employee, then lower costs mean higher profits.

Chris

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