For the last five years, an increasing chorus of engineers, designers and professionals have claimed remote work is the future. Recently, Twitter, the service, was buzzing with pundits calling it the end of office space as we know it after they announced that employees can work from home indefinitely..
Some advocates for Work From Home find they have more time to exercise, cook and be with the family when working remotely. Conversely, though, activities that need high-bandwidth collaboration and communication are harder. Certain aspects of team and company building are also much harder to achieve.
You can find plenty of pro-WFH articles out there but here are several arguments for why WFH isn’t always unicorns and rainbows.
1. That’s not what your team signed up for
Part of choosing a company to work for is to identify with their work culture and their values. For a lot of people, it was the desire to work side by side with other folks. For others, it’s a cool office space in a buzzing neighborhood. A switch to remote work is a bait-and-switch to your employees. Yes, some folks will welcome this change. Some won’t.
2. Fewer social interactions
Why do people go to a restaurant if they can cook at home? Why pay for a gym membership if they can buy exercise equipment to use at home? Why do people go to movies, shopping malls, crowded parks, sporting events? It’s because we are social creatures. We crave people watching, human interactions, and, for the more extroverted ones, the love of the chat by the water-cooler.
3. Complex change of process and procedures
If you learn from the companies that do have a remote workforce, you’ll see that it’s not simply a policy change. It’s built into the DNA of the company and its communication, recruiting, planning, meetings, messaging, prioritization, etc. Changing a company policy is easy. Changing its DNA is hard.
4. Siloed knowledge
I have no official statistics to quote, but recently I’ve heard from two founders who run 100+ people operations about the same issue with siloed knowledge. If you believe in “out of sight, out of mind,” you’ll understand that with remote teams there is a higher chance someone won’t get invited to a meeting, or someone will not receive important communication. When you are in the office, it’s not unusual for you to pass by someone and realize they should be invited to a specific meeting.
5. Two classes of employees
One of the biggest traps of a flexible WFH arrangement — as opposed to “we don’t have an office so everyone must WFH” — is that it creates two classes of employees. The ones that are at the office get more visibility, more opportunities, and are more in the know. It shouldn’t be like this and there are ways to improve it, but yet it happens. Every. Single. Time.
6. Difficulties with employee on-boarding
On-boarding an employee who’s not at the office is one or two orders of magnitude more complex. It’s logistically more complex (laptop, access keys, set up, passport checks, etc.). It’s also more complicated to get them to know the team and the work. Above all, it’s harder to get them to absorb the company culture.
7. Challenging for interns and new grads
One might argue that a remote workforce creates more opportunities for a person to work for a company without having to relocate — a legitimate concern in some instances of immigration, disability, or family-care limitations. It’s also true that interns and new graduates get a lot more value when they are sitting side by side with their manager, mentor, and peers. There is so much in communication that can get lost when working remotely.
8. More effort to maintain culture
Every company has a culture that’s influenced by the founder. Often, it’s implicit and unwritten. Even when a lot of the culture is written, there is a lot more between the lines. It takes a lot more effort to keep the company culture when teams are working from home. The risk is the brewing of sub-cultures and countercultures. Executives or HR can’t take their eyes off the ball.
9. Undetected disengaged employees
Very few managers are exceptional at managing people well. For most people at a company, their manager is their interface with the company. Great managers, after many months of knowing an employee, can understand what motivates that employee. Through a lot of interaction and data points, a manager can determine the level of engagement of an employee at each interaction. With remote work, this is harder because there will be fewer data points. Worse, a poor manager will go unchecked for much longer in a remote work set up. It takes a lot of additional effort from the management chain and HR to check the pulse in the organization.
10. Personal discipline challenges
For some people, the discipline of working from home comes naturally. For most, it requires careful behavior monitoring and adjusting. Everything from personal hygiene to knowing when to stop work can become a challenge. And everything that affects an employee’s health, physical or mental, can end up affecting their work.
11. Lack of respect for boundaries
When does the day start and when does it end? As much as you establish company policies and guidelines about respecting people’s working hours (lunchtime, breaks between meetings, calendar working hours) there will be exceptions. Sometimes, the exceptions become the rule.
A results-oriented work environment (ROWE) should be the goal of any company. For the office-centric companies, the future of work will likely be a hybrid approach, which, of course, presents its own set of challenges. The companies that can adapt and change their culture and DNA will fair better. Turns out, they always do anyway.
When The Fulcrum Group sales team was invited into the conversation of WFH advantages and returning to work at our last Microsoft Teams Sales Meeting, it didn’t take long for the topic at hand to quickly devolve:
Michael Schmidt: “Collaboration is so much easier!”
Jason Kramer: “For me, its about challenges with project management and workflow control. Its way harder to confirm product arrival, project milestones, etc when working from home “
Jason Kramer: “However, at least in the office my kid isn’t interrupting every 5 minutes…”
Jeremy Adams: “Coworker interruptions are definitely more productive than cohabitant interruptions.”
Michael Schmidt: “Hey, when we return to work, most – if not everyone – will be forced to finally take a shower!”
David Johnson: “We’ll all have to get hair cuts…”
Jeremy Adams: “We’ll finally get proper use from those fancy suits and dress shoes…”
Michael Schmidt: “All my suits are moth ridden and shoes are dry rotted…”
Adrian Rodriguez: “I don’t even know if i’m going to be able to fit into anything when I come back in …!”
David Johnson: “Good point, Adrian.”
Jeremy Adams “Solid reason to buy new suits and dress shoes”
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