Mozilla announces layoffs

I really mean it when I say my heart broke today:

But you know what, I get it, and I’m not mad. Or worried, even. I would gladly pay for their products and services because I want companies like them to stick around for the rest of my life. And I know it takes money to support and keep just the right type and amount of staff that can create products that people are willing to pay for. No doubt they’ll find a way to make sure people who can’t pay can still have access, without strings attached.

They’re one of the handful of companies I have a crush on in the industry. This news was saddening, but it is better than slow-dancing in a burning room. I hope this pruning bears fruit, both for Mozilla and the affected employees as well.

A quality critical take on distributed work

I’m a proponent of distributed work, but I totally get why folks are skeptical about this way of working. Luckily, most of the time the concerns are elementary, and really get at something deeper that’s also present in physical offices. Like the belief that designers can’t design if they’re not together physically with a pack of sticky notes. Or the idea that Millennials are lazy because they think it’s important to make space for self-care. Really, most people just want to be trusted to do good work, and not be lonely.

Look, if you had trouble getting your designers to focus in the office, maybe you shouldn’t have hired people who clearly want to be making jewelry or scarves instead of enterprise software for a proprietary universal compression algorithm? And if you have control or ageist issues, well…one day a Millennial will probably be your boss, and you will have a really weird time processing the ways in which they will enable you to improve your work-life balance and maybe even find a therapist.

Anywho, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been filing away lots of observations 🙃. The very valid concerns people speak up about are nuanced, multi-variate, cultural, and changing. Each one of those could fuel a bunch of new blog posts each. In other words, I don’t think broad generalizations will help us make progress. That goes both ways, both for arguments that say distributed work is all sunshine and rainbows, and those who say it’ll drive us into the ground. Instead, looking at things from a systems perspective can show us how things aren’t immutable, things can be taken apart, and things can be fixed. Because at the core of lot of the concerns people are raising is the reality that there are certain aspects of human society that seep their way into any place people spend time and work together. It’s the not acknowledging that these things exist or will arrive–that for some reason your organization is immune–that does you in, makes the problems harder to fix, and hurts people. And we’re being very human about it–i.e., so uncomfortable with actually naming these things for what they are, and blaming it on distributed work.

Compound that with the other realities of human society that we have had to face in a very raw way lately. It makes sense that this blog post would piss off advocates and critics of distributed work alike:

“Our remote work future is going to suck” on Sean Blanda’s blog.

This is my third year of working 100% distributed, in addition to 3 years where I was one of a small minority of employees who were not allowed to work distributed but everyone else was, and a few more years where different roles and teams had different options in a massive old tech company. And a few years in an office where working from home meant you had to take vacation for it. Lots of variation, and my working take on it all is that if you’re going to “go remote” your best bet is to bite the bullet and go fully distributed. (Ever met someone who said they were gonna go part-time keto and then felt both hangry all the time and didn’t lose weight? It’s sort of like that.) The “mixed methods” approach…might seem to provide ways to give yourself a break to ease in or change your mind…but in my observation it provides more loopholes for the problematic stuff in that blog post to fester. This one is the hardest for me, because I see why others, and myself too, miss going to a place, or need to go to a place for part of the week. I just know this approach will further hurt folks who are already marginalized.

I did not have the concerns going into my first fully-distributed gig that are referenced in this post. Now I do. Yet they weren’t enough to get me back into an office locally or move to a bigger tech hub. I now know I can do quality work this way and from an office. But I’m much wiser about spotting the things that will prevent me and others from doing good work in a distributed organization, and pushing back against flawed claims that if one has these concerns, it means one is not fit for distributed work. These issues really often are a reflection of a conflict between upholding an idea or tradition over the needs of a business or its people. There is so much room in there for privilege and marginalization, with the added ease of never having to look people in the eye. So the more businesses and people work distributed, the easier it will become to call out the things that should not be the way they are.

(PS, I tend to write on the curt side, so I’m not throwing shade here. Just blogging….Con mucho mucho….amorrrrrr.)

How about that empathy

As much as I could, want to–and need to–there isn’t too much time for me to post right now. But I wanted to drop down a thought here. A snarky, spicy one. On empathy.

Yesterday, I was listening to Design Observer and Group Therapy, and hosts were discussing the unexpected universality of this truly shared human experience. As someone who has been called “Empathy Robot” before, the startling similarities between two discussions on very different podcasts pinged my subroutines, so to speak. We designers are some of the most inauthentic and even irresponsible proponents of empathy. The crux of empathy is being able to enter communion with the experience of another. Claiming to be able to have empathy for users as we enable the creation of things that we implicitly know will undermine their dignity…well that’s a variable load of bullshit, right?

For the first time in many of our designer lives, we’ll actually know empathy. I wonder what that’s going to do to all of us once we come out the other side of all of this. Will we throw around that word so cheaply?