The inimitable beatnik Maynard G. Krebs recoiled and shouted “Work!!!” with a little fear in his voice whenever the subject of employment was broached by his pal Dobie Gillis. But during the early 1960s when “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” was aired on television, “work” was universally acknowledged as something you did someplace other than home. Were the fictional Maynard alive in today’s era of hybrid and remote work, he may well have embraced gainful employment with more vigor.
The pandemic triggered endless challenges for businesses, ranging from a dramatic shift in spending patterns to supply chain difficulties due to closures in major Chinese manufacturing centers, but it was also a catalyst in driving the biggest workplace transformation since the Industrial Revolution: hybrid and remote work.
The shift has been a long time coming. Ever since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, we have dreamed of being able to work from anywhere, but it was only in recent years that the security model, cloud storage and bandwidth capacity, increasingly sophisticated collaboration tools, and easy videoconferencing have rendered remote working functionally the same as, or even better than, going to the office.
Work will never be the same again
To a boomer like me, work has always meant putting on a jacket and tie and going to an office, having meetings in a conference room where somebody would provide coffee and donuts, and socializing at lunchtime with co-workers. And though I miss those extended martini lunches, there is no place for nostalgia in business. What worked yesterday is just that – yesterday’s success. Companies that refuse to innovate and change, do so at their own peril. Remote work has brought, as Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen called it, a “permanent civilizational shift.”1
Though most companies were forced into remote/hybrid models due to a global health crisis, there is incontrovertible evidence to show that not only did they continue to operate remotely, they also delivered unexpected value.
We have discovered that remote work was more than just a pandemic-fueled workaround. HR departments are now able to significantly expand their recruiting universe to seek out the best possible talent regardless of location. Most notably, the concept of locating headquarters in a major city with expensive real estate is rapidly becoming obsolete, and we are already seeing Silicon Valley being replaced with a host of regional tech hubs throughout what was once colloquially referred to as the “Rust Belt,” where remote workers can purchase a house with a mortgage payment equal to about the same price they would pay for a parking spot in Manhattan.
Why remote still doesn’t work at some companies
As processes, technologies, and everything from supply chains to service offerings change, so too must the company culture. Yet there is always resistance to change of any type, and decision-makers rooted in the face-to-face culture of yesterday’s office environment continue to balk at a permanent remote model.
Some tech CEOs at companies including Google, Apple, and Microsoft, who ought to know better, are already calling for a return to the office. Yet surveys indicate that in remote/hybrid workplaces employees are happier and enjoy a better work/life balance, retention rates have improved, and companies enjoy a larger talent pool.2 The bottom line is that companies that increased retention rates through remote strategies are more likely to have grown revenues and profits.