Companies Start to Think Remote Work Isn’t So Great After All

Wall Street Journal, 2020-07-25

Your mileage may vary. It’s far from impossible to organize remote work for jobs with low-to-medium uncertainty in their structure.

Rose Glasses: ON

  • In the first couple of months employees were able to juggle home duties, childcare and work – without detriment to any of the three.

  • Let’s all work from home (safety first) and save on real estate.

When the Music Stopped

  • Initial productivity gains have long levelled off (people are less scared of the unknown now). Fear-driven productivity is not sustainable.

  • Hiring and integrating new employees is harder [more team and management time commitments].

  • Professional development of young employees is not as rapid as in the pre-COVID era. No apprenticeship/peeking over a more experienced colleague’s shoulder. Less questions being asked – less knowledge and culture transfer. Slower promotion pathway.

  • Remote collaboration is more challenging when everyone’s remote. Logistically more complex.

  • In certain areas product quality goes down [MK: actually sounds like process failure more than anything].

  • Spontaneous interactions are gone [MK: on a bright side – not all of them are useful, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater]; scheduling calls for random (but useful) things doesn’t work.

  • Some companies find that their staff are finishing up with the old projects (low uncertainty), but are struggling to find new projects to work on.

After the Dust Settles

  • Remote work is here to stay. But many face-to-face jobs still require presence in person. [MK: this also applies to effective Board meetings]

  • Looks like the solid middle ground is hybrid work, with some days/hours in the office for team collaboration and the rest of the time – elsewhere.

  • Getting children to school / daycare is a very important factor for remote work productivity.

  • Many companies want their staff back in the office; will the staff want it, too?

  • [MK] Looks like an emergence of a competitive advantage: whatever company can accommodate staff in their offices and ensure safety wins.

  • [MK] End of office campus megalomania.