Recently, I ran across an article in the WSJ in which CEOs of major companies whined about remote work being “unsustainable”. Their biggest complaints were that production times have slowed down, training/onboarding new people is harder, and many teams aren’t as coordinated. The article also includes quotes from some employees who don’t like working remotely.
As someone who has worked remotely for several years now and who happens to have earned a business degree and worked as a manager, I had zero trouble reading between the lines and very much wished I could Gibbs-slap the lot of them.
Remote work isn’t unsustainable. It just hasn’t been invested in.
The article freely admits – albeit somewhat breezily in passing – that all the companies whining about remote work “problems” essentially sent their traditionally-trained, formerly office-bound staff home with their laptops in the middle of a pandemic somewhere around March. They made up new policies and practices on the fly and adopted apps based on convenience at the time and how quickly they could get them up and running. They then just kept rolling forward that way and now are scratching their heads as adrenaline-fueled panic wears off and fatigue is setting in. “Why isn’t this working any more?”
The ability to work well remotely is a skill. It is a collected set of behaviors, both personal and corporate, just as working in a centralized location is. Just like working productively in an office environment, it is something that can be taught, learned, and refined. There is a certain amount of training and infrastructure involved in doing it well, and every company will find that they need a different combination of tools and procedures to really thrive with some or all of their employees working remotely.
Most companies have taken none of that into consideration, much less properly invested in it. Is that understandable? To a degree, sure. No one planned for a pandemic, after all. And many companies have been lying to themselves and their employees for years that remote work “isn’t appropriate” for their field in order to avoid the slowly rising trend, so their stuck-in-the-sand heads had zero information on how to get started with remote work to begin with.
But it’s far past time that modern companies sucked up the fact that they’ve been lumbering, limping behemoths mentally stuck in the 1950s who only adopt new things when they think they can use it to screw over their employees and make more money. It doesn’t befit a CEO to whine over “problems” they have misidentified out of convenience.
Is remote work right for every company and every worker? Of course not. But done properly, it can revolutionize a lot of aspects of American life for the better. This change shouldn’t have to be driven by a pandemic or by workers on the bottom. Companies and their “leaders” need to get off their butts and actually lead. They need to check their assumptions and their laziness at the door and invest in the future.
The rest of us need to help them out with a well-placed boot, where necessary. So the next time you see someone spout nonsense like this, please feel free to politely tell them to lay off the jargon and simpering, roll up their sleeves, and get their butts in gear actually solving problems like the managers and leaders and innovators they’re called to be.