Business leaders continue to push back against the proliferation of remote work—but the market may already be moving in the opposite direction and permanently embracing it.
- Speaking at a recent luncheon for the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate, billionaire Sam Zell told his audience that remote work is “bulls***,” further arguing that it harms productivity.
- He joins numerous other tech and business leaders like Twitter’s Elon Musk, IBM’s Arvind Krishna, OpenAI’s Sam Altman, Disney’s Bob Iger, and Lyft’s David Risher in arguing that the remote economy is bad for productivity, teamwork, and office cohesion.
- Pew Research reported in March that the majority of remote workers given the option to remote work choose to do so (35%) as opposed to those who never do (12%).
- 56% of survey respondents tell Pew that remote work helps them work more efficiently and meet deadlines, while 37% say does not affect their productivity.
- Another recent study from UK-based RingCentral found 59% of respondents reported increased productivity working remotely.
Why It’s News
The economy is changing—as numerous forces are pulling it in different directions. The forces of artificial intelligence, automation, the gig economy, and the working habits of younger generations are reshaping how employers and employees interact and what they expect from one another.
As we previously reported, companies have attempted to mandate widespread returns to the office in an effort to mend early concerns about productivity and team cohesion losses that may have resulted from the widespread embrace of remote work during the pandemic. This did not work, as millions of workers embraced “quiet quitting” and “the great resignation” or chose to seek greener pastures with better remote options.
Julie Bauke is the Chief Career Strategist at The Bauke Group in Cincinnati, Ohio. She tells Leaders Media that the concerns of business leaders about remote work are overstated and that companies need to embrace it to compete in the evolving job market.
“There has been no falloff in productivity. Recent studies have startlingly shown that productivity has increased. This doesn’t mean it is for every company or everyone; plenty of people don’t like it. As a leader, our responsibility is to get people involved in solutions. We want to keep employees and listen to them while making it clear that employees have responsibilities. The boss doesn’t always know best,” says Bauke.
Bauke disagrees with Zell’s analysis, saying there is no proof that productivity or teamwork is suffering due to remote work. While initial studies were mixed, more recent long-term studies are starting to show that remote work has no serious negative effects on productivity. She argues that the common thread with business leaders is a fear of lacking control over the office space.
“There are people who believe that leadership means ‘you’re not working if I cannot see you.’ These arguments are more about control than productivity,” she says.
There are some negative repercussions of remote work. Some jobs work well for employees who want to work alone and rarely need input, but others require an intimate collaborative environment and immediate teamwork. Some jobs are product-oriented and require employees to have their hands on the projects they are working on. And some employees prefer office environments due to the benefits of a clearly distinguished work-life balance.
“Sometimes you still lose those natural in-the-wild moments when you’re walking down the hall and bouncing ideas off each other. There will always be a cost-benefit to consider, but you can find ways to spark creativity and innovation in creative ways outside of traditional work cultures,” says Bauke.
Bauke argues that remote work is inevitable because it is what the market currently demands. Younger employees are proving willing to walk away from quality jobs that do not provide hybrid or remote options, an attitude that sets them apart from their baby boomer managers and leaders, who are used to older ways of doing things. Baby boomers have also grown to prefer remote options, and the mandates have coincided with widespread retirement and job changes.
“They left or retired from the workplace faster than in the past. When it was time to come back, they didn’t. They had never experienced remote or hybrid work and realized they liked this. They left full-time work at an accelerated pace, found other jobs, or retired early. It created a push-pull between the old working model and the new working model coming into place,” she says.
Hiring managers and recruiters will rapidly face the reality that a workforce of largely unengaged or uninspired workers will create a greater demand for remote work with less commuting and pressure. Office-only jobs will work for some employees, but closing the candidate pool for many qualified employees will come at the cost of closing the candidate pool and limiting options.
“We don’t require employees to be in the office. We really allow them to choose what’s best for them, what’s best for their team … This has been a real competitive advantage. When we announced this, the applicant pool for our new jobs shot up 30% almost overnight. And our attrition … has been probably half of what it is across the industry, and better than it was pre-pandemic,” Synchrony CEO Brian Doubles told Fortune CEO Alan Murray in a recent lunchtime interview.