To start with the same publication and date we finished with last week, in the September 28th Harvard Business Review Tsedal Neeley offered “12 Questions About Hybrid Work, Answered.” If there was any doubt, “extensive data across surveys indicate that most people want hybrid work arrangements – that is, a mix of in-person and remote work,” and “leaders need to design plans that combine the preferences of their workforce and the core work that their organization need to do well – and they need to be prepared to adjust as they go.” Neeley, who wrote a book on this subject, urged starting with standard procedures, as “each organization should identify the approach that best serves its stakeholders,” and that was only a small part of his response to the first question. Other key issues, for Neeley, included letting as many employees as possible participate, facilitating transitions to it, how to bring in new workers, ways to neutralize the aforementioned “proximity bias,” facilitating more trust, removing “tech exhaustion,” indicated changes to office spaces, and data security. All well worthy of consideration, and clearer and more in-depth than any of the other articles in this series.
The growing tendency of workers to quit their jobs has not avoided those based at home, and, for that and other reasons, it is no surprise that “U.S. employees look to prioritize well-being of remote workers – survey” (Manojna Maddipatla, Yahoo News, October 6th). I am not sure what “subsidized furniture” means – if providing such employees with the same expensive ergonomic equipment as is in good offices, that’s a good idea – but “home delivery of meals… to meet the rigors of working from home” (!) is something else. Providing food in offices is a blatant, if welcome, way of increasing workers’ time there, so why do that elsewhere? The same goes for “at-home alternatives for offerings such as subsidized healthy food choices in cafeterias or onsite gyms.” Perhaps all of this is designed to convince employees that management’s motives are pure, but I don’t expect any of it to catch on. In contrast, we had Terry Collins reporting in the November 11th USA Today “Work remote after COVID? Nearly 50% of US workers would take a pay cut for it, survey says.” He also found “74% say working from home would make them happier post-pandemic as a quarter of those surveyed said they will quit their jobs if they can’t work remotely.” So, for most (but hardly all), we can hold off on those home-delivered yoga mats.
More on management’s views came in with “What Bosses Really Think About the Future of Work” (David Gelles, The New York Times, November 14th). Chief executives, “struggling to balance rapidly shifting expectations with their own impulse” and “eager to appear responsive to employees who are relishing their newfound autonomy” are making a variety of choices, as shown by great intercompany remote-work differences. Otherwise, except for IBM’s CEO Arvind Krishna saying “he no longer cared whether office workers showed up at 5 a.m. or 11 a.m., or whether their workday ended at 3 p.m. or 9 p.m., so long as they were productive” – which even if he were sincere about, people between him and those choosing 4-hour shifts would be unlikely to agree – there was little new here.
The last piece presented a possibility that has doubtless caused nightmares, “The Worst of Both Worlds: Zooming From the Office,” by Emma Goldberg in the November 16th New York Times. There were several good insights in this foray into the “mushy middle ground” of modern work. We have not recently seen, as some expected, “the Great Office Reopening,” but, for one example, “as employees at the financial technology start-up CommonBond got Covid vaccines, and grew stir-crazy in their apartments, they started trickling back into the office.” While clear-cut for most one way or the other, workers have not all been able to choose between “teammates” and “pajamas,” and their management often hasn’t either. Although those at home “might be undercut” by being “muted in a heated discussion” and “shut out of lunchtime bonding,” “at many workplaces the in-person employees felt just as neglected.” One way Zillow has mitigated some of that is to require that if at least one participant must attend remotely, everyone else must also, hence the title. How we work this out, with the likes of Zoom hardly well liked, will not be easy.
What conclusions can we draw from the past three weeks’ worth of articles? I offer four. First, there are good and bad sides of telecommuting, and managers and line workers need to consider both. Second, the ground rules for remote and hybrid work, such as office equipment and the number of hours people must put in, whether or not aligned with my Brutal Truths, are totally unset between companies, let alone between industries. Third, we know nothing about what those wanting to integrate childcare with home work should be entitled to expect, and if that should vary from the needs and desires of others. Fourth, between the pendulum which has swung between office-is-best and remote-is-best for 30 years, the discoveries we have made since March 2020, and management’s choppy and shifting policies, how we will handle remote work going forward is still totally unsettled. Place your bets, take your chances, and make decisions, but don’t expect they will be correct. Only the future will tell.