The media, social and otherwise, is awash with stories speculating about the future of hybrid work. Will it persist, or will workers return to pandemic emptied offices? Yesterday’s Boston Globe featured an article by Jon Levy, detailing the reasons why he believes the hybrid workplace will not last. His arguments, while multiple, are not compelling, particularly as they fail to take into consideration that fundamental lubricant of our national economy: Money
First, permit me to summarize Mr. Levy’s four arguments:
Allen’s Curve: A 1970s theory based on a study by MIT Professor Thomas J Allen that showed that communication among employees increased exponentially the closer their desks were positioned. Even in this age of Zoom, Slack, Instagram, Email and other communication methods, “out of sight is still out of mind.” Mr. Levy argues that remote work will result in less recognition and fewer promotions.
Trust: Working closely with co-workers builds trust. It is difficult to build trust while working long distance and organizations suffer as a result. Mr. Levy further cites the so-called Ikea Effect as a reason to work in person: We care more about something we build or work on (either alone or as a close team member).
Working from Home is Too Convenient: According to Mr. Levy, “Things that are convenient are not necessarily good for us.*“
Belonging: Author Levy asks whether it is possible to have a well-functioning workforce that is largely but not entirely remote. He believes that humans are social animals and that in-person interaction is best.
While it is tempting to offer counter arguments to each of Mr. Levy’s points, I will limit myself to addressing his last one about well-functioning workforces: Does he truly believe that all businesses that operated with largely remote workforces the past 14 months performed poorly? Seems difficult to prove. Yes, the US economy shrank last year but numerous businesses, many with fully remote or partially remote workforces, thrived. Ask countless Wall Street workers still working from second homes or AirBnB locations? Lawyers, accountants, and other professionals managed remote work quite well. Indeed, my one manufacturing client had a record year, achieved while rotating on-site staff to comply with state and federal Covid guidelines.
No, the future workplace will still include hybrid work models. Many companies learned that they can save on office rents and related expenses by combining remote work with desk sharing arrangements. Employees, meanwhile, grew accustomed to the money (and time) saved by not commuting. In a year of proposed higher taxes, these savings are compelling for both employers and employees. Hybrid work is here to stay.
To quote Bob Woodward: “Follow the money.”
* Mr Levy may not realize it, but he is quoting my grandmother, a heretofore unrecognized management genius.
Peter has spent the past twenty-plus years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of small businesses in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He is a co-founder of Keurig.