The reason the software development industry remains divided over remote work is that we do not have a measure of developer productivity. If the amount of work produced were the same regardless of if someone was working in an office or from their home, the case for remote work would be substantial. Without a means of productivity comparison, however, the industry is forced to view working remotely as a perk rather than an irrelevant aspect of getting work done.
There are a few well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective attempts at measuring software developer productivity in use today. The most common is asking developers to estimate small pieces of work, and then track the time to completion. The resulting numerical values are then used to extrapolate a generalized formula to derive productivity for the entire group. This approach fails – often spectacularly – due to estimates being at times hilariously inaccurate, as well as productivity varying wildly from developer-to-developer. Additionally, the nature of software is that a system designed to maximize reuse and minimize redundancy eliminates repetitive work that could be estimated reliably. The net result of these phenomena is that an objective measure of software developer productivity cannot be derived using contemporary software development practices.
With an objective measure of productivity out of reach, a subjective measure appears to be our only option. At first glance, this may seem to be a significant step backward from our attempts to arrive at objective measures. In practice, however, subjective measures tend to have the most practical value in predicting relative work output from one developer to another. Unfortunately, contemporary management practices require that all employees be treated equally regardless of their work output. The effect of this misguided attempt at fairness is that topics such as remote work cannot be discussed using even the most rudimentary assessment of productivity. If this situation were different, our policies would reflect the undeniable truth: some developers can be trusted to work remotely, and some cannot.