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Businesses Open Source Linux

How the Linux Foundation Runs Its Virtual Office 52

Posted by timothy
from the looking-out-for-number-1 dept.
CowboyRobot writes "The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit that manages much of the day-to-day business behind the open source operating system, maintains a small office in San Francisco. Stop by, however, and you probably won't find anyone there. That's because the organization's 30-something employees work virtually. It's like the anti-Yahoo: Just about everyone, including Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds, works from home. 'We really wanted to have that effectiveness and nimbleness of a virtual organization,' said Amanda McPherson, Linux Foundation's VP of marketing and developer programs. 'You have that commitment and ownership of your job more than when you're just sitting there in that cube farm,' McPherson said. 'For us, if you hire the right people who are motivated by that, you just get more commitment. [You get] people who really love their jobs and like to work, but also like that they can go to the gym at 2 in the afternoon when it's not crowded. In an office, [people would say]: "Why isn't he at his desk? It's 2. There must be something wrong."'"
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How the Linux Foundation Runs Its Virtual Office

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  • Scuba doo! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 14, 2013 @08:59PM (#44012967)

    I stopped by the office. They were all scuba diving.

  • Yeah, right (Score:5, Funny)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Friday June 14, 2013 @09:53PM (#44013067)

    I listen to This American Life - I know what an office with no employees means.

    These guys are patent trolls.

  • Let's be real. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shavano (2541114) on Friday June 14, 2013 @11:09PM (#44013263)

    How much do you think office space in San Francisco costs? It's cheaper to have the developers work from home and use their own computers instead of leasing office space and providing the stuff people need to do their work.

    So they rent a tiny office a little off the beaten track so they at least have a mailing address and it's no doubt close to somebody who can actually go by and pick up the mail, and maybe it has a room big enough for a small meeting.

    Whether working from home is more effective, I really don't know, but I doubt it. There are all kinds of issues that come up that can be resolved in five minutes or less if you can just talk face to face with the right person. I can't count the times I've spent hours on things that could have been resolved immediately if I had just had access to somebody who wasn't around at the moment.

    • Re:Let's be real. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by oranGoo (961287) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @12:58AM (#44013505)
      Working virtually is not what makes someone unavailable - I work in a nice mix that allows for comparison. We have four people team: two people at one site, one person off-site in another office (at +6 hours) and another person off-site working from home in the same time zone.

      Virtual meetings i.e. voice and sharing a desktop tend to be more more productive than cramping around a monitor or booking a meeting room in most cases. If you manage to add video you can recover a part of non verbal communication channel and sharing control and switching desktops from one person to another allows for very productive work for up to four people to the extent that we sometimes prefer it even when all participants are at the same site. On the other hand the time zone difference of one team member indeed leads to some issues having to wait.

      Therefore it is not virtual work that makes it less effective, but it is the working times flexibility or time zone differences that needs to be offset with attention to scheduling that you are highlighting as a cause of productivity loss - and that is a matter of working hours policies not real life vs virtual office setup.
      • by Shavano (2541114)
        I agree, in part. However, in my experience there is no substitute for being able to walk into someone's office and ask them a question.
    • I can't count the times I've spent hours on things that could have been resolved immediately if I had just had access to somebody who wasn't around at the moment.

      So send them an email and wait for them to get back to you so that you don't waste your time working on something that either isn't needed or is being done wrong. Instead, work on something else that you can make progress on or complete in the meantime. This isn't a less efficient way of working overall and it can be more efficient than having the task blinders on and interrupting everyone else every half hour just so that you can complete your important task in a few hours on the same day. I really dislike

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        Email is not a solution for questions that must be answered quickly. That's what phones are for. People do not feel compelled to answer emails promptly. If somebody sends you an email, the implied priority is: read this when it's convenient. When you call on the phone, the implied priority is: we need to talk right now.

        Also, it's not always possible to work on something else without serious impact. There is often a large difference in the immediate importance of what I am working on currently and my

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      There are all kinds of issues that come up that can be resolved in five minutes or less if you can just talk face to face with the right person.

      And there are all kinds of issues that waste a lot of your time if you work in the office. Like people eating up five-minute chunks of your time while you're in the middle of a coding fugue, and totally blowing your concentration. It's a tradeoff; you want them to be less productive so that you can be more productive. That might actually make business sense, but it also might not.

  • ...I'm not at my desk at 2pm either.

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Friday June 14, 2013 @11:57PM (#44013367)
    I made a game 100% telecommuting. In a way, this should be the way of the future for coders. You save on commute time so you get more work done. You save on commute costs so you don't demand as much pay or save up some more money. In meetings, everyone has access to the software being developed and their own computer. You can recruit the best talent across the world instead of relying on local talent. There's so much good that comes about through telecommuting that I'm surprised it isn't the norm yet.
    • There's so much good that comes about through telecommuting that I'm surprised it isn't the norm yet.

      It depends on a large number of factors. Telecommuting works for a narrow subset of jobs where interactions can be done exclusively by computer with highly independent tasks and the employees are highly motivated.

      But some jobs just don't work that way - some creative ones require a high degree of interaction that just cannot be achieved virtually - people bouncing ideas off each other, reviews of materials that are unfeasible to be done electronically (stuff like prototype cases, blueprints that demand large paper, etc). And of course, stuff that requires exotic or expensive hardware - hardware design for example - where prototypes must be debugged and requiring access to expensive test and lab equipment. Then of coures, comes the customers - if your business has customers dropping over for meetings and collaboration, then you better have a way for them to meet the team.

      For stuff like pure software development, customer support (phone/email/chat), yes, telecommuting is a transparent option that should be explored. For a lot of other jobs, it's doable, but not ideal. And for other jobs, it's just impossible.

      Finally, the employee has to have strong motivation and will - some just aren't suited for it. And there's others who thrive with social interactions that are more in-depth than just IM and phone calls - put them in a room by themselves 8 hours a day and they'll go stir-crazy.

      • I partly agree, the analysis sounds a little too black and white. Many corporations are just too large to let everyone in the teams meet face to face with one another. There are periodical team meetings and more frequent subteam ones. The bottom line is, shared workspaces when you're in the office, a variable amount of telecommuting days for much of the workforce. As usual tailored solutions are the best.

  • by Nomaxxx (1136289) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @04:52AM (#44013987) Homepage
    I would like to "work virtually" too. Unfortunately, as a postman, it's impossible. Well technically, sendmail and postfix already took my job. :-(
  • by Drunkenfist (879004) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @06:21AM (#44014153)
    Virtual offices are awesome but better suited to mid-senior or older employees who have learned the discipline be productive unsupervised and are jaded enough to hate the bullshit office politics. Younger people still fundamentally want to feel like they are "part of something" or a real company so imo you still need that office structure if anything train them up. This is probably the next thing colleges should focus on, getting people "virtual-ready" from the get-go. This should be avoided at all costs for freshers straight out of college or only with college experience since the mentality is entirely different, to them this is a signal that they can slack or blow-off. There needs to be a minimum of one thing finished or shipped on their resume before they are given trial privileges. The downside is that if you have an entirely virtual office you also limit yourself to the mix of people who are either more senior or otherwise "fit" the personality for it and younger guys without having developed the structure from office experience may never get it. Self motivation not just for sprints, but for the long haul is key. The office structure is a by-product of military command and control evolution predicating on the assumption that people start out worthless to begin with and need to be whipped into shape. On the other hand the virtual office structure assumes people are competent and anything inbetween ends up with some level of added cost one way or another
  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @06:51AM (#44014203)
    Is that if you are working on something important you don't have to worry about somebody walking over to your desk and interrupting you. (Which gets more annoying when you realize this was explicitly discussed in the stand-up but the person couldn't be bothered to pay attention.)
    • by Lennie (16154)

      There seems to be a larger barrier to calling someone by phone than walking to the next cubicle to ask someone.

      But people will call you.

      Some companies do some other tricks. I believe Github uses a chatroom as their main communication channel. Look up How GitHub Works.

      • by PPH (736903)

        But people will call you.

        Voicemail.

        I believe Github uses a chatroom as their main communication channel.

        Why not e-mail? Its a 'pull' technology that allows me to manage my own time. If people need real time communications, they can set it up (chat, in-person meeting, etc.)

        The whole 'meeting' thing is a power game played at many companies (you jump when I tell you to) and needs to be minimized in flatter organizations. Or some PHB wanna-be's will abuse them.

  • by PPH (736903) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @10:45AM (#44015059)

    The IRS is going to shit themselves if this sort of thing becomes widespread. Who is a direct employee? Who is a contractor? Worse yet, why San Francisco? Why not an office in the Cayman Islands? Is that guy just a low level coding grunt or the principle owner of the corporation? The only thing that gets reported is the salary or contracting fee payed back into the USA. All other requests for info from the IRS (or FBI/CIA/NSA) are met with a 'Fuck off. We're out of your jurisdiction.'

    • Er? The rules of legal paperwork don't change because of telecommuting. Contractors normally have to sign contracts that designate them as contractors. Direct employees normally have paperwork that say they are employees. When a corporations files their paperwork, they have to list key staff like an owner. If anything, not having an office means there is fewer line items in the company's tax forms.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Contractors normally have to sign contracts that designate them as contractors. Direct employees normally have paperwork that say they are employees.

        And you don't think federal and state revenue departments challenge this status all the time?

        When a corporations files their paperwork, they have to list key staff like an owner.

        US corporations have to list this somewhere inside the USA. Foreign corporations list wherever they are chartered as required by their laws of incorporation. In some cases, its in a jurisdiction that protects its subjects privacy rights. Good luck finding the names of the board of directors, CEO or shareholders.

        Working for such an entity (within the USA) I have to report my revenue. But any other questions the IRS

  • I have workers in differnt states of the country, some of whom I have never seen their face. I just need to know they are Online and they are delivering their work on time ad complete. The virtual office is just used for receiving bank statements and tax notifications. The first seven years of operation the virtual office was not even needed but I had to get one to be able to print my presentation cards with an address in a business zone instead of a residential zone like I was doing in the past.

    Personal fa

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