Do Remote and Hybrid Work Resisters Deserve the Benefit of Doubt?
It's easy for anyone who's ever worked remotely prior to the pandemic to wonder why there's such a fuss being made over the work-from-home or hybrid work models.
In my career, I’ve worked for two fully remote companies, a company that moved from hybrid to digital by default and a company that was only in-office but allowed me to do hybrid work for six months. I’ve also contracted for many companies that I still haven’t met in person.
I've had to adapt to several types of culture, and my in-office colleagues also had a lot of learning to do, from adjusting communication methods and creating spaces — both physical and mental — to get our collaborative work done. But over the past two and a half years, that has changed. Most workers are now used to remote and hybrid work. Working with a teammate who's not physically near you has become the norm more than the exception.
Yet, several leaders continue to think these work models aren't sustainable. They remain adamant on bringing employees back to the office, even if this means losing several benefits — and employees — along the way. Truth is, there are employees who feel the same. So what is causing this reluctance to change?
Culture and Productivity Concerns
Some of the most common reasons for leaders requesting a return to the office are fears that the company culture will suffer and that productivity will decline. Both are legitimate concerns. Yet, both are unfounded.
Despite having thrived in a remote work environment for the past decade, I love being able to see colleagues in-person. It definitely helps build stronger bonds, but bonds can still be created without face-to-face events. There are ways to create connections and share a common culture without meeting in-person — although it does require more work and intent. Companies that truly put weight into what their employees want will find ways to keep the culture strong.
Same is true about productivity. Some workers may not have the self-discipline required to work effectively in a remote environment. This can make the case for employers offering a hybrid work model, where employees who want to come into the office can do so. But employers can also provide the tools and training these workers need to excel in the new environment.
Related Article: Is the Future of Work Still Remote?
Tracking Productivity in Remote or Hybrid Work
In a recent story on Charter by Time magazine, an anonymous executive shared their concerns about whether people who have worked through one of the most disruptive periods in modern history are being productive enough. “Are people working as hard? Nobody wants to say that out loud,” the executive wrote.
This belief also assumes that employees are at their most productive when in the office, where many distractions abound. How was productivity assessed then? By attendance? There's a solution for that in a digital workplace. By delivering on assignments? By the quality of the work? Speed of completion? All of those metrics can be measured in a remote or hybrid work environment as well.
In the end, tracking productivity is a company's responsibility, regardless of where the worker is accomplishing the task at hand. How well that executive's company is doing in that regard isn't shared in the article and that may be a vulnerability.
Similarly, many executives value in-person meetings over remote video calls. But do they actually make people more productive, or is it just something they feel is more productive? More of the latter, probably.
Related Article: Improve Productivity by Focusing on Employee Needs
Here's the True Culture Killer
“On average, the majority of people seem to want to be remote when we survey them. But are they as engaged? Will they stay?” wrote the executive in the Charter article.
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What would happen if every member of your team came to work focused on finding solutions and creating better results?
Here’s a hint: If you ask people what they want and you still do whatever you want in spite of that, that’s a good way to get them to disengage and leave the organization. Some companies want to play a game of chicken with their employees on the issue of returning to the office full-time, and I wish them good luck. Both the research and anecdotes are not on their side.
Asking employees for input and failing to hear them is a sure-fire way to lose your workforce's trust and respect. That alone bears higher risks of killing the culture than implementing a permanent remote or hybrid work policy.
Related Article: 3 Ways to (Re)gain Your Team's Trust
The Talent Advantage
Remote or hybrid work opens doors to opportunities companies didn't have before. The location of a company's headquarters no longer dictates its access to talent and ability to compete. This is particularly significant in the tech industry, where top talent used to reside in very saturated markets.
Today, workers have moved to different cities, states and, in some cases, countries. Most have made the transition seeking a better work-life balance, a more affordable cost of living and a location where they can be their most productive.
Organizations that offer remote work have unparalleled advantages in this tight labor market; they can tap into talent pools across the country, and the world, broadening the availability of critical skills, often at a fraction of the pre-pandemic cost. Many have already taken advantage of this transition, and mandating a return to the office — in full or in part — carries the risk of losing that edge.
Related Article: How to Grow a Global Talent Pool
Push for a High-Trust Environment
Great employees don’t want to be managed as the lowest common denominator. If a great, talented employee wants to work from home and has done so successfully during all of the disruption of the past 2-plus years, they probably deserve some trust back.
Companies that are trying their hardest to make this new reality work have already gained the trust of their employees. They don’t need to write anonymous articles online requesting the benefit of the doubt. Companies that deserve the benefit of the doubt have already earned it.
If your workforce doesn’t trust your judgment and decisions, that’s on your organization’s leadership. A few of your employees can be wrong, but it's unlikely all of them are. If your people as a whole aren’t giving you space to figure it out, it’s time to look inward.
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About the Author
Lance Haun is a leadership and technology columnist for Reworked. He has spent nearly 20 years researching and writing about HR, work and technology.