You’ve undoubtedly read more than enough about the shift to remote work. It was abrupt, rocky (at best), and definitely unplanned. Now the world is coming around to the idea of a permanent shift to remote work, but there’s still this nagging sense that it happened to us. There’s a passivity in this transition, as though even now—years after the initial shift—the work world is suffering from collective inertia, simply going along with the trend.
I can’t speak for other leaders, but I can say that I never want to lead by inertia.
Remote work shouldn’t be viewed as a concession. It’s not a trick to lure more employees. It’s not something you have to do to appease people when it’d really be better if everyone were in the same room.
Remote work can and should be a conscious, intentional, and thoughtful choice. It’s not a last resort. It’s a strategic move, and I think it’s the way forward.
A few years ago, I never thought I’d say anything like this. If I’d had a crystal ball, I would have assumed that I’d be one of the final holdouts, insisting on a swift return to the office. I was all in favor of working in the same place at the same time. Until, that is, it was proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that remote work is not only feasible, but in many critical ways, it’s better.
I’ll never forget being on the phone with someone when companies were just starting to push for a return to the office. Omicron had just begun to pose a serious threat, and this person was cheering for Omicron because it would delay the opening of her office at a major multinational tech company. I thought, “We should not be cheering for a deadly pandemic.” This person wasn’t being heartless about the human toll of the pandemic, but they felt so strongly about freedom and flexibility at work that they lost perspective. And they weren’t alone.
Now we’re hearing plenty about leaders pulling out all the stops to try to woo people back to the office. Free food! Nap pods! Private concerts! Or, conversely, they’re threatening people to get them to come to the office. Either way, these leaders are accepting that they’re going to be leading a company rooted in opposing desires. If you have to convince or threaten someone to be there, you’re already behind.
I’d much rather lead in a place where people can show up as they are, with transparency, authenticity, and accountability. I don’t want to force people to do anything they don’t want to do. I don’t even want to tell them what to do. I want to hire great people and empower them to do their very best work in the way that they work best. I don’t care if that’s at noon or midnight. I don’t care if that’s behind a desk in a suit or on a couch in their PJs. I am data-driven to my core, and I care about outcomes and people. If my people are happy and have the right tools and true freedom, they’re engaged and productive. If my outcomes are where they need to be, I’m happy.
Hours worked has never translated automatically to outcomes.
Time spent in a cubicle has never translated automatically to outcomes.
Physical space has nothing to do with inviting people to bring their curiosity and inventiveness to your organization.
So why are so many leaders still pretending that the office is the only way forward? If you feel the need to control and micromanage your people, something else is fundamentally wrong. I’m incredibly fortunate to have an incredible team, and I have found that when people aren’t given prescriptive instructions, they often go above and beyond the role, innovating and delivering in amazing ways that we wouldn’t have even thought to tell them to do.
Face-to-face connection is still important, which is why we make sure to allot time and budget for occasional gatherings, but these gatherings are about building relationships, not about all ticking boxes in the same room.
I believe that the world of knowledge work is going to move toward an overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, remote structure in the years to come. Critically, remote work is more inclusive. It also allows people to work better and live better. I think we’ll all be better off for it.