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As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the once incipient revolution of remote work has suddenly settled as the new normal for companies across the globe. But old habits die hard, and though many will doubtlessly return to traditional office spaces once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, it’s likely they’ll find themselves more open to embracing the possibility of allowing their employees to work from home more often. After all, despite virtually no planning, as well as the dire circumstances that accompany a pandemic, many workers report their productivity has increased during this shift.
“I can’t stress enough how amazing it is that all-remote is more effective even though it is happening suddenly, without proper organization, and during a pandemic that itself is stressful,” tweeted Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO of the innovative remote-only company GitLab. Sijbrandij has long been an advocate of the work from home model, and firmly believes that its full benefits can only be reaped by forgoing an office altogether. In an insightful twitter thread, he expands on the reasons behind this, explaining that though many companies maintain an office space because they believe it fosters bonding and positive work culture, in the long run, it actually ends up alienating remote workers.
His concern is not unfounded. Building a strong and healthy corporate culture that celebrates diversity in all its forms is critical to a company’s long-term success. Bringing remote workers on board not only broadens the pool of talent a company can hire from, it also sends a signal to employees that management trusts and supports them to work outside of scrutiny. But what happens when only part of the team is collaborating in person, while the rest are working from home? Sijbrandij believes it becomes more difficult for remote employees to be included in the workplace dynamics. If you’ve ever been the only person to tune into a meeting virtually, while everyone else is huddled together in person, perhaps you understand how difficult it can feel to participate equally. The distance between office and remote employees then becomes not only physical, but social, as well, ultimately damaging the culture.
Wired recently reported on the hardships that lie ahead for companies, such as Facebook, that plan to implement a partial remote work scheme once the pandemic has subsided. The article cites Raj Choudhury, a Harvard Business School professor who studies the geography of work, who states that a hybrid of remote and office work is “a recipe for disaster,” adding that to pull off a successful pivot to remote “you have to have all or the majority remote, and you have to have managers who are remote.” Otherwise, you risk creating a legion of second-class workers who, feeling at a disadvantage for raises and promotions, will begin to display lower levels of motivation and, therefore, productivity.
Remote work is undoubtedly opening the door to possibilities that were previously inaccessible due to technological constraints. With increasingly sophisticated tools at the tip of our fingers, it simply makes sense to adopt a new way of working, one that cuts real estate costs, supports the fight against climate change, democratizes opportunities by embracing talented people living outside of major metropolitan areas, and allows for increased work flexibility. But as we move forward, we’ll find that we need to put in the work to ensure our mindsets transition along with our workspaces. “Office decor or fancy lighting or ping-pong tables were always a terrible way to define culture,” Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab, said to Wired. “The culture should be how you treat each other or clients.”