Four CEO’s blasted remote workers last week, saying that employees who want to continue working remotely aren’t engaged with their companies.
Perhaps the most egregious and self-serving comment came from WeWork CEO, Sandeep Mathrani, who said at The Wall Street Journal’s Festival of Everything, “It’s also pretty obvious that those who are overly engaged with the company want to go to the office two-thirds of the time at least. Those who are least engaged are very comfortable working from home.” WeWork owns co-working office suits across the world.
Mr. Mathrani walked back his comments later in LinkedIn saying, “I want to clarify that it was not my intent to cast a negative light on those who are working from home, and I apologize if my comments were not clear.”
His view, notwithstanding his apology, is not alone. The Wall Street Journal reported that recent remarks of numerous chief executives suggest strong preference for in-person work and returning to work as normal. At The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit this month, JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said remote work doesn’t work well “for those who want to hustle.” Further clarifying his view of remote work, Mr. Dimon said, “We want people back at work, and my view is sometime in September, October, it will look just like it did before,” Mr. Dimon said. “Yes, people don’t like commuting, but so what?”
Yes, he really said, “So what?”
Perhaps, Mr. Dimon should consider why not all of his employees feel the same way. Long commutes cost young families a precious resource, time. They are already working long hours, juggling double careers, and raising children. Saving them an average hour of commuting time daily provides a lot of flexibility — and relief from stress.
Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called remote work “an aberration that we are going to correct as soon as possible” in an interview with BBC News. “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal.”
I have hope that Mr. Solomon will realize that hybrid working is not all in or all out. For those firms that are smart about it, office employees will be allowed to split time at the office or home depending on their job duties, the learning required, and the need to interact with other employees in a productive and innovative environment. They should not need to rely upon those disruptive open office bays, and history shows remote workers and managers can work our new communications and team norms. Certainly, apprentices can learn mightily from sitting next to those who are more experienced and should spend time in the office, but with today’s Microsoft Teams and Slack technology, it doesn’t have to be 24/7.
Cathy Merrill, the CEO of The Washingtonian Media wrote in her Sunday Washington Post opinion piece that business leaders had a strong incentive to change the status of staffers who are rarely in the office from full-time to contractor. Ms. Merrill spoke about the fear of missing out (FOMO) and missing out (MO).
“People considering just dropping into their office should also think about FOMO, fear of missing out. Those who work from home probably won’t have FOMO, they will just have MO. The casual meetings that take place during the workday. ‘Do you have three minutes to discuss X?’ These encounters will happen. Information will be shared. Decisions will be made. Maybe if you are at home you’ll be Zoomed in, but probably not. As one CEO put it, “There is no such thing as a three-minute Zoom.” Being out of that informal loop is likely to make you a less valuable employee.”
Ms. Merrill is correct that there is no such thing as a three-minute ZOOM call. There isn’t a three-minute staff meeting either. Many leaders share Ms. Merrill’s concern and have called me to complain that ZOOM only schedules in half-hour increments. I offer this advice, revisit the purpose of the meeting and how to run effective meetings. Stop blaming the technology. Some conversations only take a phone call or text, not a face-to-face meeting or ZOOM call.
Ms. Merrill’s comments sound to me like fulfilling the fear many remote workers have: working from home will derail their careers. When I implemented a hybrid workforce in 2012, career derailment was one of the chief concerns of our “hustling” employees who wanted to work from home, many of whom came from Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard. We assured them that their careers would not be derailed, and we measured our promotions and pay increases to ensure we kept our promise. It worked.
Well-designed hybrid work models can use new team communication and operating norms and technology ranging from the reliable phone, text messages, email, video conferencing—as well as face-to-face meetings. They will create a new work experience that is productive, provides timely learning, develops careers, and uses the digital technology today’s workforce grew up using—and expects at work.
There is plenty of research showing that remote workers and those workers in hybrid models are more productive, agile, and innovative than in-office workers. One of the most recent is from Gartner that published a study this year based on the feedback of more than 3,000 professionals. The study found that 75 percent of fully remote workers and 70 percent in a hybrid setting said they and their teams were able to adjust to shifting priorities, compared with 64 percent of fully on-site workers. Remote and hybrid workers also reported in larger numbers feeling comfortable taking risks and testing ideas. Junior employees and self-described extroverts, however, were more likely than others to say a physical office space was important for learning and brainstorming.
To all four of these CEOs, I have a simple message. There is a great tsunami coming of employee turnover. Those companies who offer a work experience that provides fulfilling and challenging work, learning, career development, and a flexible work environment that allows most of your office workers to work a few days at home each week will be the winners. Those wanting to go back to normal will be the losers.
For those of you who want to learn how to implement a successful hybrid work environment, I invite you to read this short piece, “Open office bays were a disaster. Steps to transition to the hybrid work environment.”
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.