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How the Linux Foundation Runs Its Virtual Office

timothy posted about a year ago | from the looking-out-for-number-1 dept.

Businesses 52

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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Yeah whatever (-1, Troll)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about a year ago | (#44012935)

They are just lazy frat boys surfing the internet for Siberian pornorefy instead of working, which is why Linox is losing ground to Frisbsd everywhgere. I mean, really, what is your problem, if you are too lazy to go to work you should not get paid you slacker. Linorx is the reason that the economi is crape.

Re: Yeah whatever (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013225)

what is that; English as an optional language?

Re: Yeah whatever (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013393)

Which part of "Microsoft Product" did you not understand?

Re: Yeah whatever (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013395)

Remember Chinglish? That was Drunklish.

Re:Yeah whatever (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | about a year ago | (#44015155)

Frisbsd? Does that run on the Wham-O architecture?

Scuba doo! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44012967)

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

Re:Scuba doo! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013147)

Oh noes! He said NIGGER. That means mod him down! Bad post, bad!

Re:Scuba doo! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013181)

what?!

Re:Scuba doo! (0)

davester666 (731373) | about a year ago | (#44013659)

Yeah, they added the ability to work remotely to Windows XP, so the Linux Foundation has been able to do this for quite some time.

Yeah, right (5, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about a year ago | (#44013067)

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

These guys are patent trolls.

Re:Yeah, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013327)

Except they're not. And, yes, I just listened to the same segment last weekend myself. It was quite good.

I'm trying to find a concept more repellent to the global Linux community than patent trolling. The protracted legal battle with SCO over "Linux's IP" was perhaps the ugliest episode in Linux's history.

The Linux Foundation is a non-profit focused solely on Linux advocacy. They do not exist in any way to protect Linux IP which, as far as I know, is not protected by patents in any way.

Check your facts next time, TROLL.

Re:Yeah, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013361)

You have a wonderful sense of humor.

capcha: UPSETS

Re:Yeah, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44014867)

LOL!!!

I know how (-1, Troll)

Osgeld (1900440) | about a year ago | (#44013239)

by sending out nasty emails throwing a tantrum, cussing out the voluenteers, trying to fix 6 year old bugs!

do I get a "fuck your mother" email from Linus now?

Re:I know how (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013501)

do I get a "fuck your mother" email from Linus now?

That's a Russian thing. Linus is Finnish.

Re:I know how (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013655)

Really, the whole point of the "Linux Foundation" is to give Linus a job where he can insult people endlessly with recycled Andrew Dice Clay sexual euphemisms without having to get called into HR.

Let's be real. (5, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#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. (5, Interesting)

oranGoo (961287) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:Let's be real. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#44015293)

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 work from home (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013521)

I'm probably *more* available to people in alternate timezones because I'll (rarely, when necessary) take calls at 7am as well as 8pm. Not a regular thing, but it can be handy when dealing with contractors on the other side of the world. I try to not work too much though, it's easy to lose track and work extra hours.

The fact that everyone deals with me via IM/phone/email, and my phone is a SIP client, means that I can literally work from anywhere with a decent internet connection. That means the family can go hang out and visit with family/friends in another city and I can work while they go play. (Useful when I don't want to use up my vacation days.)

Yes, there are times it would be nice to physically be in the room with people drawing on a whiteboard or something...but I've worked from home for almost 10 years now with only good feedback from management so it must be going reasonably well...

Re:Let's be real. (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | about a year ago | (#44013567)

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 it when people do this to me at work because it presumes that my time isn't worth very much to those who are interrupting my work to "pick my brain" or "ask a quick question".

Re:Let's be real. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#44015335)

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 next highest priority. The same is true for many other people in my organization. When that's the case, any switch to another task will likely cause a big loss of either productivity or schedule time or both. My organization and many others do development on schedules. If you don't finish tasks on time, the delay and loss of productivity flows down and impacts eventual delivery and profitability.

Re:Let's be real. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44014305)

Big difference: Everyone employed in Linux Foundation is probably experts and can find the answers themselves, or just ask on a mailinglist.
Less bureacrazy and size also means less time spent trying to figure out who does what, how to do what and when it should be done.
It's not like they need marketing, advertising campaigns, logistics, physical distributions, sales and whatnot. Their entire domain is virtual, so virtual offices makes the most sense.

Re:Let's be real. (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#44019375)

another big difference: My company has development schedules.

Re:Let's be real. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44014457)

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.

Re:Let's be real. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44017381)

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.

My experience has been diametrically opposite to the scenario you painted with the attitude exhibited my most management types. Occasionally we'd be allowed to work from home when the weather conditions made driving to the office either impractical or simply dangerous. On the occasions I worked from home remotely connected to a Microsoft Terminal Services environment my productivity increased significantly. I was able to work on process improvements minus any manager saying "That's not your job. You're not paid to think." Ha! Every process automation capability I analysed, designed and implemented saved my team in excess of 40 hours each week. Management hated me because the workforce was not constantly hunched over their keyboards and watching their monitors mindlessly manually executing tasks better handled by computers. Of course management couldn't understand that such improvements could result in the team taking on more work from the client.

There must be something wrong (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013283)

yea its nice to work at home and fuck about when you have a lolly gag job that has to fart out an update totally at its leisure, but in the real world if Jim disappears at 2PM and is holding the important file with him its a real fucking pain in the ass cause the customer wants this shit done by the morning or else they are going to start reconsidering their decision to work with you, IF your lucky enough to get the file from Jim then you gotta stay at work till 11:30 making it happen or its your ass as well.

in other words, great, but I dont fucking care how you do it cause you don't have real jobs

Re:There must be something wrong (4, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about a year ago | (#44013455)

if Jim disappears at 2PM and is holding the important file with him its a real fucking pain in the ass

Maybe that's why Linus wrote his own revision control system that has as little to do as possible with people 'holding files".

Anyway, with probably close to one billion "customers", whether a particular release happens by midnight tonight isn't really relevant to this organization. What matters is productivity averaged over time.

Re:There must be something wrong (4, Informative)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about a year ago | (#44013513)

I've worked (mostly) from home for the last 15 years or so.

Guess what? Deadlines mean exactly the same thing to me as they do to anyone else.

Re:There must be something wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44014267)

Bad news, you don't have a real job, you're just pushing paper around. It's OK though, when we abolish your job we'll make sure there's some sort of video game or something you can play to get the same satisfaction out of your "life".

Re:There must be something wrong (1)

brickmack (2537604) | about a year ago | (#44014751)

Businesses still have issues with people holding files? Why not just have it on some network storage that Jim can access from anywhere, and all changes get saved to that. Then Jim can go do whatever he wants and everyone already can access his files

I must be virtually unemployed.... (1)

Bob_Who (926234) | about a year ago | (#44013363)

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

In my last job, I never met my coworkers IRL (4, Interesting)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:In my last job, I never met my coworkers IRL (5, Insightful)

tlhIngan (30335) | about a year ago | (#44013391)

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.

Re:In my last job, I never met my coworkers IRL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013751)

I really think, if your job doesnt require your presence, then why havent you been replaced with a script yet?

Re:In my last job, I never met my coworkers IRL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44013891)

If a job does require your presence, then why hasn't that part been replaced with a script yet?

Re:In my last job, I never met my coworkers IRL (1)

bestalexguy (959961) | about a year ago | (#44013921)

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.

Work virtually... (3, Funny)

Nomaxxx (1136289) | about a year ago | (#44013987)

I would like to "work virtually" too. Unfortunately, as a postman, it's impossible. Well technically, sendmail and postfix already took my job. :-(

Better suited for older/more senior guys (4, Insightful)

Drunkenfist (879004) | about a year ago | (#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

I bet one nice thing about this (2)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | about a year ago | (#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.)

Re:I bet one nice thing about this (1)

Lennie (16154) | about a year ago | (#44014349)

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.

Re:I bet one nice thing about this (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#44015011)

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.

Re:I bet one nice thing about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44021573)

you have no kids obviously if you think work from home is not providing any interruptions. Then - standups are called that because we assume standing makes meeting shorter which is not true for majority of people but still it is just exchange of information about latest progress and nearest future plans so if someone needs more information then it is better to ask for details later on. This is true for almost any meeting - instead of wasting all peoples time you better take the detailed discussion outside. If you do not want to be disturbed there are means of doing it. I saw people in open space offices putting semaphores and red flags on their desks. I personally used headset with microphone. It alls has some disadvantages but work is not for fun and if you could have worked alone you would, if you cannot then you take it.

IRS (2)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#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.'

Re:IRS (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about a year ago | (#44015229)

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.

Re:IRS (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#44016821)

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 has, I direct to my boss overseas. When he gets inquiries from US government officials, he suffers major bouts of side-splitting laughter.

It was stolen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44024685)

Anyone remember Unix, it wasn't free.

I have a virtual office for 499 MXN a month (1)

KBrown (7190) | about a year ago | (#44047407)

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 face-to-face meetings are sometimes required but they are way too expensive, cheapest plane tickets range between 1400 and 1800 MXN but some times I have had to pay 5,000 and some other times two or more people need to travel to the city the meeting is taking place on. So, after all that much expense and a sucessful meeting with a client not as upset as he was before the meeting, it's always a good oportunity to have some beers with co-worker friends before every one has to fly back to their homes and keep working as always.

I have some international clients but I don't have international workers (yet). I have had good experience working with international freelancers hired by a couple of my clients to participate in a particular project, but my experience with national workers has been as good enough as not to need to hire somebody outside of the country. It might happen some day but not yet.

Not an OS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44076427)

Linux is not an operating system. It is a kernal that OS's or Distros are built upon.

Skype? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44079851)

So they are working for Microsoft?

Distributed organizations work really well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44111145)

I used to work in Finland for company called Nomovok that has had this same model from the very beginning (more than 10 years now). When I left the company, there was more than 100 people working for the company around the world. Company has also some offices, but people go there only when they have hardware or software that needs to be inside secure premises or when having customer meetings. Rest of the time, those offices are more or less empty.

Working from home is really relaxing and productive and unlike people ofthen think, communication works very well when you have completely distributed organization. If you have part of the team working in an office and some people remotely, communication doesn't really work. Also if you have teams working in separate locations, then communication doesn't seem to work very well. So only way to have well working communications model is to have everyone in some space (that doesn't really scale) or make everyone to work remotely. Nothing between seems to work that well and I prefer the later one.

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