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For those who have time for a little diverison, the WSJ published a great candid interview with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings yesterday (as he's currently promoting his new book 😜) that's been making the tech startup community rounds.

One particular note for the RC community, a line on Reed's frank thoughts about remote work:

WSJ: What elements of the Netflix culture are tougher to maintain now that so many employees are working from home?

Mr. Hastings: Debating ideas is harder now.

WSJ: Have you seen benefits from people working at home?

Mr. Hastings: No. I don’t see any positives. Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative. I’ve been super impressed at people’s sacrifices.

But more related to the topic of work-life balance:

WSJ: You wrote that value or creative worth shouldn’t be measured by time and that you’ve never paid attention to the hours people are working. Yet many people at Netflix describe it as a 24/7 lifestyle. Does the lack of work-life balance or potential for burnout concern you?

Mr. Hastings: Coming back to the athletics, think about a coach’s view: It’s not how many hours you spend in the gym, but how well you play. But if you’re going to play at an elite level, you’re probably in the gym quite a bit. It’s just not the goal state. The goal state is the effectiveness.

Agree? Disagree? At the startup I work in, we run primarily as an asynchronously remote team so we highly emphasize efficacy more than hours worked. But admittedly within our core team, this often leads to longer working hours. Is sacrificing balance simply inevitable if you/your company has a strong desire to grow?


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    Putting aside whether I agree/disagree, I find it odd that he see no benefits in working remotely, and yet Netflix is still producing more content next year than any year before. At some point, I think you just have to ask the question: when is enough enough? 

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      Haha, well said. I think he's just getting away by saying "I’ve been super impressed at people’s sacrifices". That is some narrow outlook.

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        He says:

        WSJ: What elements of the Netflix culture are tougher to maintain now that so many employees are working from home?
        Mr. Hastings: Debating ideas is harder now.

        I'm sorry but it's amazing how companies built on software tend to overlook software as the solution to problems. Uclusion is built to solve remote collaboration problems and specifically has Dialogs and Initiatives for debating ideas. I mean of course if you don't use Zoom or some equivalent WFH meetings will be difficult and if you don't use remote collaboration tools debating ideas will be harder.

        But on top of that was debating ideas in the office so simple? It might have felt that way personally for Hastings because as CEO he didn't have to worry about loudest voice wins type meetings. I suspect his problem with WFH is less about productivity, as Lindsay points out, and more about his own personal preferences.

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        Thanks for sharing Justin.

        I think it is easy for someone like Reed to make such statements, but probably a bit careless too.

        Having said that, yes it is tough to align the notion of work-life balance along with the goal of rapid growth in a startup. Netflix is hardly a startup, and I think at the scale that true startups are, this is an actual problem - less people but with so many things to do.

        So, it is tricky. I think in the short-term making it all about the goals always sounds logical. However, burnout is real. Maybe, Netflix is able to drown people in enough money to make them forget about the need for a life. But in my company, a few people quit earlier this year citing burnout. Finding replacements for them while battling with the implications of the COVID crisis was very tough. So, I don't think it worked out in the long-term.

        We have since made changes in our policies to make it manageable for everyone. Sacrifices are fair once in a while, but not as a lifestyle.

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          I have never been a big fan of people sharing extremist views - remote work is all sunshine or it is doomed, won't ever work out. We all know it depends greatly on how you approach it and also a lot on the context.

          Quora's CEO, Adam D'Angelo's thoughts resonated with me better. He's honest about his opinions & approach on remote work earlier and now.

          I was also browsing through the HN discussion that Ashley has mentioned and I could see ex-Netflix employees talk about this not being surprising at all. They've always had an extremist culture and opinion about WFH. In fact, their office structure and the humongous # of 3-4 person meeting rooms is a clear validation for that.

          I will probably skip reading Mr. Hasting's book 😉

          Although I am interested to know more about your asynchronous practices at Quidli, Justin. We do still have sync morning standups but stay away from real-time notifications in Slack + document heavily on Slite. Are there some pointers you could share for me to borrow over?

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            Hasting's really does appear extreme in his comments on remote work, doesn't he?

            Not sure what Netflix people think of him or the actual company culture he's helped build, but the Netflix culture document has been pretty influential in how we onboard our own people - we take great care to try and foster an autonomous environment based on delivery of results, which seems to mix quite well with the remote work ethos.

            Frankly speaking, it's kind of jarring for me to see Hasting's comments. But fortunately there are other companies that serve as better role models for the remote aspect of building companies 🤭

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              Knowing about Patty McCord's work at Netflix and the culture document that has circulated for years, I'm surprised to hear this from him. The two seem pretty opposite from each other. How do you have an open, autonomous, trust-based culture, but not support remote work? It seems like maybe they don't "practice what they preach". But it has also been a number of years since Patty McCord worked at Netflix, so perhaps the culture has changed since then. 

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                That's right. The good parts of their culture document align very well with remote working yet they've such resent towards it.

                I doubt though if there's been a change in their culture or practices, couldn't find anything around this.

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                Absolutely! Although if we look closely at the wording of the actual question & the answer, it doesn't seem he's particularly answering about remote work in general. He could as well come back and say that he's just referring to the sudden remoteness situation due to Covid (I myself doubt he would go back on this).

                WSJ: Have you seen benefits from people working at home?

                Mr. Hastings: No. I don’t see any positives. Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative. I’ve been super impressed at people’s sacrifices. 

                Because the very next line he says people aren't able to get together in person, internationally. That's very specific to the Covid situation and in the usual case, people would travel or get together often even when working remotely.

                Regardless, I do agree & believe that remote work by design fosters an environment where you judge people by their performance/ output and that's a great positive step. But the problem with Netflix's culture isn't judging people by their performance rather judging them too harshly. People seem to be daunted by the performance evaluations.

                In the usual case, I would take subjective opinions or personal experiences with a pinch of salt. But even in this interview, Hastings actually dodges a direct question quite skillfully.

                ... Yet many people at Netflix describe it as a 24/7 lifestyle. Does the lack of work-life balance or potential for burnout concern you?

                Mr. Hastings: Coming back to the athletics, think about a coach’s view: It’s not how many hours you spend in the gym, but how well you play. But if you’re going to play at an elite level, you’re probably in the gym quite a bit. It’s just not the goal state. The goal state is the effectiveness.

                No response to the original work-life balance point 🤷‍♂️

                But fortunately there are other companies that serve as better role models for the remote aspect of building companies 🤭

                Haha, true 😎

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              Thanks for sharing this Justin! Looks like Mr. Hastings has put forth quite a controversial statement here 😉

              Also sharing the archive link I found on HN - https://archive.is/6iK6Z to read the full WSJ article.

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                  For everyone's benefit, quickly pointing out how to embed gifs - 

                  1. Click on the image icon in the toolbar (could be hidden inside '...' depending on screen size)

                  2. Copy over the gif from Giphy - Copy link -> GIF link

                  3. Paste it in the image URL you see in the popup

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                The CEO of netflix has had a great career built in times when Remote Work was popular with an average of 4% of the workforce (by 2019). The probability is high that he actually has little experience with it and neither his personal structures nor those of his company are optimized for it. His statements suggest that rather the opposite is the case and that remote readiness is not very pronounced in his company. But that is normal, we all have to grow into the post-covid era. 

                New tools will emerge, as well as modern mindsets, processes and methods. We work with one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, highly successful, highly effective and since Corona almost 100% of the strategic processes are handled fully remotely. 

                There will be two types of companies in post-corona. A) with high remote-readiness and B) with low remote readiness. A-types will statistically perform better than B-types. I would recommend Reed Hastings to check this and adjust the attitude if necessary.

                Remote readiness means that teams tend to come together voluntarily and interact with high intrinsic motivation. We find that this tends to make people work more than in traditional contexts because they fully agree with the purpose of the project. In such cases, the control of work performance, as is common in traditional companies, does not play a role.  

                Of course, modern methods, mindsets, tools and capable facilitators must be in place.  

                In any case, he knows how to attract attention with pointed statements against the trend, which was certainly an essential building block of his impressive career. The future will show to what extent these statements are pathbreaking. 

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                  Very well said Martin. I think a majority of companies weren't remote ready prior to COVID. And for a company of the size of Netflix becoming remote ready is also not going to be an easy process.

                  Having said that, I expected him to say that they aren't remote ready rather than saying that remote work as a structure itself is un-useful. That's a pretty irresponsible statement.

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                  For someone high at his level, yes perhaps he would like to have everybody in the same room, under his own eyes, so it can probably be more intimidating? More pressure to work longer hours, when you see your peers do so? So from his point of view, there is no benefit in having employees out of his grasp. He can't give them the look when they leave at the end of the work day. It feels less threatening?

                  I don't know Hastings character, but from this interview, it does seem he's not focused on the employee's health. I bet most Netflix employees will have a different opinion about the pros of remote work. 

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                    Right Bashar. But that seems to be quite a old-fashioned way of being a leader - so that's not very smart of him.

                    I would probably understand if he thinks collaboration is becoming difficult in a remote context. But if his intimidation is the only thing driving people, that's a pretty poor culture built in the company.

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                      Yes indeed it is the old mentality, and I'm deeply disappointed in Netflix. This video sumes up perfectly what's wrong with this culture.

                       

                       

                       

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                        Haha, Basecamp at its best :)

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                        In a recent interview, he has stressed repeatedly that Netflix’s primary reason for success has been their “culture” - of taking risks, moving fast, freedom (no micromanaging). They even have a “Culture Deck”. But in fact, Netflix’s success has been because of two well-timed pivots rather than culture. So it seems like they are blind to what made them successful. And judging from his views on remote working, they are not even following their own formulated culture.

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                          Right Varun - I think culture doesn't get questioned much when the company makes money. But times have changed a bit and I think it won't be as easy to run a purely output-driven company without any employee empathy. Then again, only time will tell :)

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                        I’m actually surprised that he isn’t able to identify the consequences of long work hours.

                        I feel that he isn’t focused on his employees’ well-being too, especially when he says that all employees need to be at a star at his company. Mostly this would result in strong competition between peers and would definitely lead to burnout.

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                          Yes it's the workaholic culture many brag about, and most people live to regret it when they lose their health, family, and realize they're still not even financially set.