NY Times: The Long, Unhappy History of Working From Home
As the coronavirus keeps spreading, employers are convinced remote work has a bright future. Decades of setbacks suggest otherwise.
Companies large and small have been trying for decades to make working from home work. As long ago as 1985, the mainstream media was using phrases like “the growing telecommuting movement.” Peter Drucker, the management guru, declared in 1989 that “commuting to office work is obsolete.”
Telecommuting was a technology-driven innovation that seemed to offer benefits to both employees and executives. The former could eliminate ever-lengthening commutes and work the hours that suited them best. Management would save on high-priced real estate and could hire applicants who lived far from the office, deepening the talent pool.
And yet many of the ventures were eventually downsized or abandoned. Apart from IBM, companies that publicly pulled back on telecommuting over the past decade include Aetna, Best Buy, Bank of America, Yahoo, AT&T and Reddit. Remote employees often felt marginalized, which made them less loyal. Creativity, innovation and serendipity seemed to suffer.
Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo, created a furor when she forced employees back into offices in 2013. “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings,” a company memo explained.
We expect that employees will continue to be more and more disenchanted with working from home exclusively as months tick by. While working from home has its conveniences (hello no commute time!), it also has significant drawbacks, namely a lack of boundaries between personal and work life, and a lack of synergy with coworkers.
We expect employees would prefer the flexibility a hybrid work style setup would give; one where they have both the ability to work from home, as well as the access to the office if they need it.
So where does that leave employers? In light of COVID-19 realities, it’s foolish to think that a “one size fits all” will work for all businesses or its employees. By giving employees flexibility around the way in which they work, businesses will likely retain more employees than those that force one particular work style on everyone. While this hybrid approach may lend itself to a smaller, reimagined workspace, it doesn’t eliminate the need for it entirely.
What about you? What do you want in a workspace….all office, all virtual, a hybrid approach, or an entirely different solution? Comment below with your thoughts.