‘Work at home’ or ‘return to office’?

September 7, 2023 by

The year 2023 has immersed the business world in a ‘remote work vs return to the office’ debate. We all have a view on this as workers but imagine yourself as a CEO. How would you chart a course for the best interests of your organization and its shareholders?

Benjamin Franklin famously used ‘T-charts’ to evaluate important decisions. The simple act of creating columns of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’, and comparing the two, provided a visual structure and order to appraising options (he also added an ingenious ‘weighting’ component’: look it up if you have an interest and want to know more).

If we apply the same methodology to the question of the value of remote work, we uncover some interesting findings, side by side:

In the left-hand ‘pro’ column, three advantages come to mind:

Pro – Hiring top talent. By choosing a full remote work approach, a company is no longer limited to hiring within a 100-mile radius of its physical office location. It can source top talent from anywhere

Pro – Improving operational resilience. Aside from quarantines and pandemics, there are no more snow days that shut down the business. Provided power is on and Wi-Fi is available, work can continue uninterrupted. The digital workplace provides resilience like never before.

Pro – Work-life balance for employees and workforce members. As workers, we love not commuting, as well as the savings from reduced wardrobe, commuting and lunch costs. If contented employees equal engaged employees, this is not just about making people happy: it can generate a productivity gain as well.

In the right-hand, ‘con’ column, three disadvantages must be considered:

Con – Collaboration and creativity . Creative companies like Disney want people back in the office because they value the creative energy that results when a diverse group of workers collaborate in person. When remote meetings end, everyone signs off. When in-person meetings end, small groups continue to chat while walking to their next engagement, pushing the conversation forward in sometimes unexpected ways.

Con – Quality, not quantity. Some work is best done heads down. Some work is ‘check the box’. Some work is heads up and requires input from more than one person. A question to consider: if working remotely increases the (heads down) quantity of work, does that also mean a loss of quality from having fewer opportunities to connect organically? Or are those organic connections irrelevant because the digital workplace gives us access to anyone (should we choose to reach out)?

Con – Corporate culture. In the world of sports, the experience of seeing a game at Yankee Stadium is considered a ‘bucket list’ item. We cherish such experiences in our personal life, and catching a game in a place that exudes the team brand is an experience for a sports fan that cannot be replicated by watching a Yankees game remotely on our personal screen. So why do we believe that the digital workplace can fully replace the sense of culture that comes from working on campus at Google or Coca-Cola?

That is my own personal Ben Franklin T-chart of the value of remote work vs in-office work.  What would you add or subtract on your chart?    

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Categorised in: Remote working, Workplace productivity

Kevin Olp

Kevin is a DWG research associate, freelance consultant and business owner in the financial services industry. He has specialty in digital adoption, sustainability and change leadership. He worked previously as a digital workplace executive at Northwestern Mutual, where he sponsored the development and implementation of the company’s current intranet. He is passionate about the integration of diverse digital tools into a single, seamless experience for users, without constraints of time or location. Kevin lives with his wife Cheri in Milwaukee, WI, US, where they are awaiting grandchildren from any one of their five adult kids.

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