I’m not even sure it’s up for debate anymore – working remotely is not lowering productivity. Several employers (90%!) are saying this (perhaps surprised with the findings). There was a lot of concern and hand wringing about this in the first part of the 2020 decade, but the experiments have bore out data that largely suggests it’s a viable option.
Working remotely has not been without its issues. Communication remains a concern and always will be, whether that is with coworkers or management, parents have more to deal with, and virtual meetings carry their own set of logistics that we’re all still navigating. But productivity has – surprisingly – been upheld despite the massive shift.
So this brings us to the next problem on the horizon – what happens once the pandemic is over, specifically with regard to remote work? Will workers want to return to their offices (assuming they are still available)? Will it affect a company’s entire workforce, or will it be left up to individual employees to decide? Could a hybrid system work?
“Hybrid can be horrible,” says Gitlab CEO and co-founder Sid Sijbrandij. Gitlab has functioned as a fully remote company since its inception, and now has over 1,300 employees across 66 countries. They have written an extensive book that covers their processes for maintaining this setup, which has seen an increase in downloads since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sujbrandij explains that, “If you try to do hybrid you will have an A team and a B team, those in the office and those deprived of information and career opportunities.” This will create a disconnection between both groups, and will ultimately result in a breakdown in communication between those who work remotely versus those reporting into the office. This can lead to a number of potentially damaging scenarios – favoritism, knowledge being hidden away and siloed, and creating unfounded myths about productivity and commitment.
In other words, companies – once given the opportunity to return to a centralized workspace – may fall into the incorrect assumption that there can be flexible rules that apply to everyone under the guise of personal preference. This is a great idea in theory, but sounds a lot like the time Jim tried to celebrate everyone’s birthday on the same day. The ultimate joke of the episode is that the plan fails spectacularly – there’s so much unforeseen logistics and opinions and requests that everyone ends up disappointed; Michael comes back and consoles a broken Jim, stating that he’d tried that before.
Prithwiraj Choudhury – a professor at Harvard Business School – weighs in with similar advice, stating that companies need to take this transition seriously, with the potential for several months or years to fully complete the process. A recent article he authored explores this idea, with a huge emphasis on the idea that we will not simply work from home, but from anywhere, embracing a future where employees will be able to choose to live in other cities, states, or countries.
He further elaborates that this will be a necessity to help attract and keep key talent, and that this should be one of the primary motivations. “You really need to be convinced of why you are embracing this model. … This is the way to attract and retain the best talent. There are real estate costs and other benefits, but those are secondary.”
One way to help this is to ensure that everyone is on board – that even the C suite executives need to work remotely, functioning as a “shining example” that emphatically and enthusiastically embrace knowledge sharing. They can utilize Slack channels (or other communication avenues), and pursuing all necessary methods to ensure access is evenly applied across the board and given to all employees.
As we enter into a new year where a vaccine becomes more readily available, there will come a time when companies must re-evaluate their approach to working remotely again, making sure to have protocol and process that is definitive.