Let’s get right to the point. Consider two groups, A and B. Group A: Knowledge workers who want the option to work remotely, or hybrid. Group B: Managers who want them to come back to the office, issuing Return to Office Mandates. In today’s labor market, Group A outweighs Group B by a staggering margin.
If we wonder which way this is going to go, consider this. No one under the age of fifty-five has ever lived in a time when the U.S. unemployment rate was lower than the one reported at the end of December 2022: 3.4%. Notwithstanding the few high-profile layoffs in the news (largely among a handful of tech giants), most employers are struggling mightily to find and keep talented and committed people to make their stuff and serve their customers. There are simply too many jobs chasing too few workers. Not the best time for managers to get heavy-handed.
In short, workers have lots of options. Employers… not so much.
And so the ongoing battle between managers who are eager for everyone to work in a common space, and workers who are equally eager to work from anywhere they like remains perplexing. With stiff headwinds blowing against recruitment, retention, and employee engagement, adding to the strain is costly.
I have no vested interest in one model or the other, per se. Both can work. And certainly not everyone wants to work from home. But what I am a fan of is creating a workplace that attracts, retains, and engages excellence in pursuit of an organization’s mission. AND making decisions based on fact, not conjecture.
When conducting leadership training, I often ask those in the room to make a list of the pros and cons of remote and hybrid work arrangements. BUT – they’re only allowed to list what they have actually witnessed, observed, and experienced – NOT just what they think.
Boy does that throw a kink in the works!
When pressed, most participants admit that while they have plenty of opinions on the matter, they don’t really have much evidence that, in their workplace, remote/hybrid work is a bad thing. Some acknowledge that, in fact, it has some distinct advantages.
That’s consistent with a formidable body of data from people who’ve looked at this thing under a microscope for going on three years. Probably the most significant conclusion of this research is that offering a remote/hybrid option – for those whose work can be done remotely of course – greatly increases the likelihood of recruiting and retaining the people they need, and that NOT having this option puts them at a painful competitive disadvantage in the quest for labor.
McKinsey and Company reported late last year that 87% of U.S. knowledge workers want remote work. Gallup says it’s more like 91%, and that 33% would leave their current job without it. And Forbes reported on three new studies that it says “end the debate over the effectiveness of hybrid and remote work”.
For those wondering how to fight wage inflation, a study by Stanford and the University of Chicago may offer some hope. They found that the option to work remotely equated to the value of an 8% salary increase.
I’ve heard the arguments for the other side, although they’re few in number and weak in substance. “But what about teamwork?” The new world of work abounds with examples of highly functional teams the members of which have never met in person. “And what about the chance encounters at the water cooler, where some of our best ideas emerge?” First, does anybody still have a water cooler? And if you’re relying on chance encounters, you’ve got more problems than where people do their work.
And as for engagement, Andrew Brodsky’s and Mike Tolliver’s December 6, 2022 Harvard Business Review article “No, Remote Employees Aren’t Becoming Less Engaged” is but one of many that make a compelling point.
Beyond these, just about the only other objection I hear is: “But how will I know if they’re getting their work done?” To which I reply, “How did you know before?”
This strong desire to have everyone under the corporate roof may well be masking an underlying deficiency in leadership skills, including the abilities to hold people accountable, manage their performance, and get the very best from the members of their teams.
Without pointing any fingers, the question deserves to be asked, “Is this really about control?”
Skilled leaders can and have learned to lead the people and manage the processes required for remote and hybrid arrangements to work very well, making the job of recruiting, retaining, and engaging the workforce much more doable.
I could go on all day about the benefits of remote and hybrid work. But I’m not sure any of them are as powerful as the benefit of people working in the environment where they’re happiest and most productive.
I’d much rather have a happy, enthusiastic worker, focused on their work, than a reluctant and begrudging one, with one eye on LinkedIn, thinking about their next job – no matter where they happen to be physically located.
The desire to have everyone under the corporate roof may be masking an underlying deficiency in leadership skills, including the abilities to hold people accountable, manage their performance, and get the very best from the members of their teams.
If you’re in charge of the business, you can run it however you like. And if you can find enough people willing to give you their very best, working under your rules, by all means, go for it! If not, it’s time to change some of the rules.
It’s your choice. Choose wisely.