Working Remotely Doesn’t Have to Take the Humanity Out of Work
Famed writer and journalist Malcolm Gladwell recently made headlines with his claim that working from home is not in workers’ best interests. During an interview on the Diary of a CEO podcast, Gladwell claimed that remote work cannot replicate the feeling of belonging that comes from office work and expressed frustration with CEOs who overlook this perceived pitfall.
Spawned out of necessity early in the pandemic, work-from-home arrangements have produced mixed reactions from employers and employees alike. It’s perhaps no surprise that many workplaces have begun shifting towards a hybrid model, hoping to offset some of the cons that come with work-from-home structures while ideally keeping the pros.
This is not a question of whether remote arrangements “work” per se, but whether they work for your particular business. Effectively managing a hybrid workforce requires a deep understanding of your business’ needs and a clear notion of what you actually hope to achieve through these arrangements. Business leaders who ask the right questions and engage others in discussion stand the best chance of achieving that elusive middle ground for working remotely.
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that 39% of employees worked entirely from home while 42% followed some form of hybrid arrangement. While there are a variety of benefits to be had from adopting a work-from-home structure, recent data paints a complicated picture.
53% of remote workers reported feeling concerned about being left out of in-office events such as meetings. Still others find that a lack of direct, in-office communication leaves them feeling anxious and disconnected. Some managers, entrepreneurs, and other leaders have complained of difficulties fostering creativity, connectivity, culture, and coordination in work-from-home and hybrid work scenarios.
In light of ongoing labor issues, these issues take on large-scale significance. A recent survey found that 60% employees would leave their jobs if they felt disconnected from work. On the other side, an overwhelming majority (85%) of HR professionals surveyed agreed that maintaining meaningful connections at work should be a priority. All of this goes to show that business leaders simply cannot afford to take these issues lightly.
These above-mentioned stats may seem to validate the wholesale rejection of non-traditional working arrangements. However, it’s important to remember that numbers alone do not tell the entire story. To really figure out what’s going on, we need to think about why certain people feel this way and address these root causes instead.
For every worker who feels anxious and disconnected, there is another who is overjoyed to be able to work through problems on their own. This may have something to do with differing personalities, but it also has a lot to do with an individual’s role in a company. Employees such as coders, whose jobs are already tech-heavy, may actually perform better when they are given maximal autonomy over how and when they work. Business leaders who take the nature of the tasks their employees perform each day into account when deciding on a work arrangement stand a much better chance of creating one that maximizes their workers’ various skill sets.
Consider the Individual
It’s also important to look into how factors such as age, gender, salary, and past experiences with a company might impact an individual’s perception of online work. If a workforce consists of longtime co-workers who have developed camaraderie over years of sharing office space together, imposing a remote arrangement might damage company culture and even spur resignations. Conversely, a company that employs lots of recent graduates, who may not have access to cars, might want to consider eliminating the need for a frustrating commute or an expensive apartment near the office by moving entirely online.
Businesses should also think hard about what their corporate values are and how the various working arrangements support or detract from those values. Companies that prize individual creativity and innovation might benefit from a remote arrangement, while those that put an emphasis on the warmth of team bonding might want to return to the office.
Even for hybrid and virtual companies, though, some form of team bonding is a must. Hybrid workforces need to consider how to make their occasional in-person meetings as meaningful as possible. Fewer overall gatherings opens up space for more memorable and engaging ones, such as team events, experiences, and gift-giving activities. For remote workforces, finding creative ways to take these kinds of activities online goes a long way towards fostering meaningful connections.
While Gladwell is right to point out that remote and hybrid workforces may have their downsides, it’s important to look closely into why this is before dismissing them entirely. Business leaders should pay attention to the statistics, yes, but they should also look at their particular business model and the unique individuals who comprise it. Regardless of where one stands on the remote vs. in-person work issue, one thing is clear: COVID showed us that there is no single way that a workplace has to be. The challenge, going forward, is to figure out what the right way is for your unique business.
Contributed by Zain Jaffer, a tech entrepreneur and the founder of Zain Ventures. Zain is an active investor and mentor, engaging with startups at an early stage in the span of their journey.