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February 21, 2014

Google Developer Tim Bray Resigns after Disagreement about Remote Working

It’s not hard to conclude, after watching the way the U.S. tech industry works, that remote employment – working from one’s home office – is the wave of the future. Thanks to voice over IP telephony, video conferencing and technologies such as WebRTC, there is a belief that any employee can be part of a team even if he or she isn’t physically present. While it’s true that more and more American employees work remotely today, in the technology industry, it would appear to go only so far.

Google developer and Android advocate Tim Bray recently announced that he would be leaving the Mountain View, California-based tech giant as a result of a disagreement over remote working. The Vancouver-based Bray has declined Google’s request to move to the Bay Area, and Google has declined to open a Vancouver office. Bray, writing in a blog post, has called the split “amicable.” Bray seems to harbor no grudge against Google, noting that he probably would have been more effective if he had packed up and headed south.

“I’m pretty sure it’s possible to build a company around the notion of a distributed workforce, but I don’t know how far you can scale it,” noted Bray in his blog. “Anyhow, that’s not the kind of company Google has chosen to build. How reasonable is it to argue, given the results they’ve been getting?”

Bray isn’t the only high-profile example of the limitations of remote working in the tech industry. Last year, Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer ended the company’s remote working policy in a memo to employees that noted that, “We need to be one Yahoo.” The decision didn’t sit well with some workers who had been hired with the explicit understanding that they could work remotely.

"To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side," read the memo, which was leaked to All Things D.

Of course, there’s a difference between Google and Yahoo: the former is seeing business booming, while the latter is struggling to keep up. Not all high-profile executives are seeing the shine come off of home working. Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson, who himself frequently works from the Caribbean, criticized Mayer’s move at the time, calling it a "backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”

For Bray’s part, he expressed in his blog that he has no new projects and isn’t itching to join one soon.

“I suffer from possibly-excessive cynicism and haven’t seen a new technology in a while that struck me as a real life-changer-at-scale. So I have trouble imagining a product I could get behind with startup-level commitment.”

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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