Friday, March 24, 2023

The End of Remote Work

Here is a follow-up to our posts about remote work. You recall that the business press was all agog over the possibility of having people work from home and online. And you will also recall that famed business guru Adam Grant, of the Wharton School, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed proclaiming that remote work is the future of work.

For our part, we have been skeptical about what appears to be the latest business school fad. And apparently more than one company has discovered that remote work is not all that it’s knocked up to be. 

Callum Borchers explains in the Wall Street Journal. He is referring to one Allan Jones, chief executive of Bambee, a consulting firm:

Mr. Jones says he and most executives in his professional network have concluded that the initial success of remote work is unsustainable. Facing a global crisis that threatened to drive companies out of business—and often did—a lot of employees cranked up their effort. They worked well on Zoom and Slack with colleagues they already knew. Sure, there were a few distractions in the house, but no one was sneaking off for a round of golf or a leisurely lunch at a restaurant during the workday because everything was closed.

He continues:

A couple of years on, things are different—and less efficient in the eyes of managers like Mr. Jones. He says he recently told his roughly 175-person staff that he’s tempted to require five in-person days a week but will preserve two remote days and add a third in the summer if the team’s output doesn’t lag behind.

So far, it doesn’t look great. Alone in the office when we spoke by video, he picked up his phone to check how many clients were signing up for Bambee’s HR software and management service. 

“Our new subscribers today are half of what they normally are at this time,” he reported, adding that a 30% drop is typical when everyone is at home. It isn’t principle or personal preference that sours him on remote work, he says. “It’s in the numbers.”

He didn’t say how long he would give his team to close the gap before mandating more office time, but some companies, even in the ostensibly remote-friendly tech sector, are running out of patience in the face of a potential recession.

Uh, oh. Once the novelty wears off and people cast a cold eye on the latest and greatest innovation, things do not look quite as rosy. 

And then, larger companies are seeing the light.

Meta Platforms Inc., a leader in remote work, recently told employees that it is pausing new applications to work from home. Salesforce Inc. executives said on an earnings call this month that remote hires took too long to get up to speed and that increasing sales representatives’ in-person schedules to four days a week was part of the company’s renewed focus on efficiency, along with layoffs.

As we recall, the Silicon Valley Bank, counting now as one of the largest bank failures in American history, had its executives working remotely.

And we know that Meta and Salesforce have been laying people off in very large numbers. One understands that these mammoth corporations have figured out that they had been managing for perfection, managing on the assumption that working from home was as valid as working in the office. Remote work eliminates human interaction. And, as we know, human interaction is fundamental, not incidental.

Now, the bloom is off the rose and things are returning to normal.


Anonymous said...

If WFH doesn't end then the next financial crisis may be from the commercial real estate market.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

The commercial real estate market is shaky right now, especially in places like New York City. And, see also this, from the Wall Street Journal, this morning: