Over the past few weeks, the debate on remote work has become more intense. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told employees they could continue their hybrid work arrangements if they spend at least 40 hours a week in the office. This was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek way of telling employees they wouldn’t be working from home anymore. In fact, Musk emphasized that those 40 hours must be at the main Tesla office and not at a satellite location. Musk isn’t alone, as other founders and managers have voiced a similar sentiment.
Some key factors that will play a role in the “WFH culture” versus the “regular normal” life:
1) Firms may lose out on top performers who prefer to work remotely. Given the shortage of skilled labor, this may become a real issue. For managers who grew up in a world where everything happened in the office, letting go of this “attachment” will be difficult.
2) To address the issue, multiple questions must be answered: How critical is the office for day-to-day activities? Are there any activities that can be done remotely? Do I need my employees to be in the office every day? Can we still maintain the culture we want, even if some employees spend some time working remotely?
3) Some managers are taking the same stance as Musk, while others are acknowledging that they don’t know what the right approach is. This last group is choosing to allow for a new culture to emerge; one that is hybrid and, thus, more flexible. But there’s a risk here as well, of cultural divergence, when pockets within the organization have different sets of values, i.e., those who come to the office and develop a social life around it, and those who work remotely and have a virtual relationship with their teams.
4) To avoid divergence, firms must find different activities that can drive team cohesion and value alignment, such as arranging regular in-person meetings. Airbnb, for example, allows its employees to work remotely, but every team has to meet quarterly (also in remote locations) for at least one week at a time. Start-ups will also have to be much more careful and hire people based on cultural fit, knowing that it’s going to be harder to align values afterward.
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