At this point you might be as bored of reading about the ‘office versus remote’ debate as I am of writing about it. But alas, a day never seems to go by without it getting thrust back in front of us, with our consent or not.
This time round it’s the odd and ironic pivot of Zoom to force its people back to the office. In a leaked all hands meeting, Zoom’s CEO told its people living within 50 miles of an office that they must return to the office for at least two days a week.
Is hybrid the compromise?
The reason? Zoom (the technology) isn’t very good at maintaining relationships in the workplace. While it initially sounded like a ‘Ratner moment’ (a name given to a situation where one harms their reputation by making ill-advised remarks) I actually think their structured hybrid approach might be the only way to satisfy all parties.
In my recent book I describe remote and hybrid working as an opportunity but also a ball and chain for employees and employers.
As someone who has worked remotely for more than 10 years, I am a huge advocate for the benefits of doing so. I’ve seen first-hand how remote working boosts employee financial wellbeing and work-life balance.
But I’m also acutely aware of the times employees have struggled to feel part of a culture and felt left out at work too. Conversely, I’ve seen how hard it is to run a meeting when 90% of the attendees are in a room and the rest are dialling in.
As someone who has worked remotely for more than 10 years, I am a huge advocate for the benefits of doing so. I’ve seen first-hand how remote working boosts employee financial wellbeing and work-life balance
A double-edged sword
I know how hard it is to manage a remote team and how difficult it is to build team psychological safety when everyone doesn’t get together very often.
I’ve also been historically against return to office mandates as they make no effort to understand exactly why so many employees report being happier and more productive working from home and the consequences of forcing such policies on everyone.
However, employers are just as complex as employees; each is different, and each has needs that should be met. Trying to satisfy the needs of both parties in this relationship is incredibly difficult and I suspect this is why the home versus office debate persists so much.
Doing away with the debate
I am a remote worker who works 120 miles away from my office. I also manage a team that is an aeroplane trip away.
I’ve written two books that leaned heavily on remote, flexible and hybrid working, and I’ve been researching this issue for almost 10 years and have spoken to hundreds of employers on the issue.
In an attempt to close the debate off (at least for myself) I’ve decided to tell you what I think you should be doing.
But first I want to highlight 10 of the most pertinent factors at play.
I know how hard it is to manage a remote team and how difficult it is to build team psychological safety when everyone doesn’t get together very often
- For us to be successful in a team, we have to spend time with the people in it
- Technology is good at maintaining relationships, but not very good at forming them
- A commute buffers us against role spillover and offers us an important moment of quiet reflection
- Social distancing harms our wellbeing – we rely on being among a community
- ‘Always on’ rarely happens in the office
- Time spent with others in person establishes high-quality, regular communication, understanding and cohesion
- Representation of diverse and marginalised groups drops when we aren’t together
- Career success relies on networking internally
- Large social networks at work buffer against stress and burnout
- In person social interaction increases positive feelings, altruism and mental functioning
I’m a huge believer in choice and enabling employees to work in a way that works best for them. However, if we are to consider all of the 10 evidence-based points above, we need to ensure that the days our people work in the office are the same.
I think for our teams to be successful, we have to deliver a structured hybrid approach that works for the majority
A structured hybrid approach
What is the point of offering such flexibility if the days our team members choose aren’t the same? So I think for our teams to be successful, we have to deliver a structured hybrid approach that works for the majority.
But, rather than Zoom’s mandated all company approach, I think by doing this at team level, we are able to cater for the needs of the majority in that team while also ensuring the right people are together frequently enough for the above benefits to happen.
Ensuring everyone’s happy
Too much of a good thing isn’t good at all. Therefore it is the view of this writer that two mandated days a week in the workplace is the compromise that may just satisfy all parties.
And, for me at least, this is the last I will write on the debate.
If you enjoyed this, read: How remote working is shaping the office of the future