The opposition of startups to working from remote locations (known, unfortunately, as working from home) is nothing shy of being self-destructive and grotesque. I say this because it comes at the same time that companies are struggling to attract and retain the talent they need during a massive talent shortage.
It is as if C-level executives argued on their boards: “This shortage of workers is hurting us badly and must be fixed. But as long as we are here, let us make the shortage much worse by undermining the policy of remote workers.”
Apple is a great example because the nature of its operations is well suited to a distributed workforce and has seen firsthand all the benefits – and almost none of the downsides – in the past two years. However, the rabbit hole fell down the rabbit hole “Let’s get our workers back to the corporate buildings.”
Talented Workers across Apple protested this reversal and very much wanted Machine learning director resigned, citing remote site reversal as the main reason.
If Apple – or any other organization – had argued that physical failures at remote sites forced this change, that might be different. If you argue that efficiency has gone down (it wasn’t), that quality of work has been damaged (it wasn’t), and that managers struggled to get their teams to follow instructions (they didn’t), then perhaps it wouldn’t be so unilaterally.
However, the truth is that the remote sites worked admirably well. There was a foreseeable IT cost to securely prepare everyone, but that money has now been spent and won’t come back. This means that there is no argument, “We had to incur these new costs during the early stages of Covid, but these expenses are no longer justified now.”
These programs have also delivered all the promised benefits: happier employees; less time wasted (and once we severely reduce unnecessary video conferencing, the wasted time will be reduced even more); And employees who can translate those commuting hours into doing more work, getting more sleep and improving work-life balance.
Maintaining (as opposed to creating) such a program has few costs, no disruptions, and helps make the workplace happier. Hence, it is clear that Apple and others should try to stop it.
To address and remove a simple argument, it is clear that some situations require a presence on site, such as some assembly line workers, building security, cafeteria workers, building maintenance, and pesticides. But for organizations today, the vast majority of workers – especially professionals – can most of the time work perfectly well remotely.
Apple started by setting one day a week in the headquarters building, then made it two, and on May 23 it will make that three days a week. This does not make sense for most situations. There is a better way to deal with it. Here’s how the policy should go: “If there is a valid reason for any particular employee to be at headquarters, the manager of that employee will discuss it individually. Managers will be instructed that it must be an important cause to be done, and it can only be done At HQ and it can only be done by this employee. However, we limit it to once a week maximum.”
In other words, there must be a tangible reason for the employee to travel to the company premises. “It’s Thursday” doesn’t come close. Once / twice / three times a week is arbitrary. It should be akin to, “Whatever time required to perform your job, based on a written opinion from your supervisor. You can appeal this decision up the chain of command, of course. The last thing we want is for someone to come when it is not necessary.”
Many corporate executives feel more comfortable dealing with personal interactions, as this has likely been a lot of what they have done throughout their careers. In their minds, this is how business is done.
COVID-19 is part of the confusion. The virus is still very much with us and will likely stay with us for years, if not forever. Has the flu continued its course and disappeared?
Here’s the confusion: COVID was what forced companies to move to remote work immediately. It is not the reason for remote control. In fact, it should have been introduced years ago, but at least it is being implemented now.
Once executives understand that the pandemic has been the driver rather than the only cause of remote, they will see a temporary lull in COVID-19 cases as a cause for remote mitigation.
And there is still the problem of recruiting/retaining talent. Why undermine efficiency, a better work-life balance, and happier employees at a time when hiring is an issue? If executives want more people on their premises, start slowly. Start with this: “As of now, we welcome all employees and contractors who wish to return to our company premises to do so. Please do so safely, but by all means, come back if that is what you want.”
This should not undermine morale and will not prompt anyone to leave the company. However, it gets more people into the office.
Far likely behind this movement is a vague belief among some executives that creativity and idea-sharing have waned. Can they prove it? And if so, are there ways to address this problem shy of having a successful remote program?
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.