Work From Office
Audio Recording by George Hahn
Work from home is polarizing. Last week I was on Smerconish, and after articulating the benefits of remote work for four minutes, I spent 30 seconds on the downsides: Offices are where young professionals establish relationships with mentors, colleagues, and mates. In sum: Put on a shirt and get into the office. Cue the Tesla-bro-like pushback. On Twitter: “Garbage,” “It’s not 1954 anymore,” “Really dumb take.” In sum … you know … Twitter.
Remote work generates heat because it matters … a lot. Since the onset of the pandemic, the dispersion of work has morphed from an experiment on the fringes of the economy to the mainstream. As of September 2021, almost half of all U.S. employees were working remotely at least some of the time. Among knowledge workers, only 34% were working full time at the office in May 2022. Think about that: More office workers in the U.S. are remote, at least some of the time, than are in their traditional place of work full time … a cornerstone of our social construct is disintegrating.
Mary Tyler Moore, ER, and The Office were about … the office. The Sopranos and Homeland were (sort of) about remote work. But I digress. With WFH’s widespread adoption, we are beginning to get real data on the most profound shift in how human capital intersects with our economy.
Work From …
We call it “work from home,” but that’s a misnomer. It’s “work from not at your employer’s location,” but that makes for a lousy acronym. We’re really discussing remote work, an ephemeral sounding phrase that’s reaching for permanent status.
The trend is not without opposition, but something that buttresses remote-work evangelists is that the strongest advocates for returning to the office have the least credibility. Jamie Dimon, David Solomon, and Howard Schultz (note: I’ve worked with all three, and they’re great leaders) built their success in the Before Times and had the resources to live close to work and ensure their kids were looked after. For most workers, not so much. So, yeah … works for you, boss.
This isn’t a populist uprising, however. The WFH movement is (another) transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Money is the transfer of work and time. Research shows people who cannot work at home are more likely to be lower-income, rent their home, lack a college degree or employer-provided health insurance, and be non-white. Uber drivers, Amazon warehouse workers, FedEx drivers, and meatpackers don’t have Zoom accounts. It’s bits vs. atoms, and bits are managed by higher-paid information workers.
But remote work could also empower. Our aging population, the spread of technology that’s depressing our youth, and increased economic stress on young families all need significant investment in one thing: care. We often lose sight of the whole point, the whole shooting match of the economy — it exists to provide people with the security to form and strengthen relationships. I believe we need a new classification of employees: care workers. People who are caregivers for children or aging parents, or who find themselves in circumstances where they need to provide self-care. People struggling with mental health issues or unable to find affordable housing near work might also qualify. Companies should make a forward-leaning investment in workers fitting this new classification to ensure their career trajectory holds steady while they’re providing care. The option of remote work makes these arrangements more feasible.
There are moral arguments to be made for this, but the easier argument is economic. With birth rates declining we have to find new sources of workers, full stop. The pandemic set female participation in the workforce back decades, and we need the most educated cohort in history (young American women) to return. But making that happen will require going on offense and investing in a care worker classification. Because, let’s be honest, most of the responsibility for caring for children and aging parents falls to women, and that will likely continue. Ensuring women, and some men, can maintain professional relevance and equal pay through the leverage of technology is the big unlock.
An attention economy brings time spent and valuation together. TikTok now commands more attention than Facebook and Instagram combined and, accordingly, tripled its revenue last year. The platform also capturing more attention is your home, specifically residential real estate, which — despite fears of a recession — has seen an unprecedented increase in home values and rents. Office space, meanwhile, is to residential what print was to online media in the aughts; its owners in denial as it hemorrhages share, jobs, and value.
Be wary of predictions that we’ll see an exodus from the cities to suburbs, however – the death of cities has been often and greatly exaggerated. Yes, Midtown at lunchtime feels muted … but lower Manhattan is more vibrant and pulsing than I’ve witnessed in my 20 years here. Some workers will move to more beautiful rural areas for balance. (I hate that word.) They may or may not find it. However, it’s more likely they will find career stasis.
An old-economy winner will be resort hotels. Business travel is a bull market right now, because event planners are suddenly strategic assets. Companies with a high share of remote workers need to get people in the same place some of the time, so they’re investing to make those moments an experience that sets an aspirational tone for the firm. They book the One Hotel in South Beach, fly in managers from around the globe, and charge the event planner with creating 2.5 days that will make people feel better about their employer the other 363 days. I know this, as my speaking business has thrived.
But is remote work more productive? Are people working from home, or just … at home? We are starting to see some early data. And … it’s mixed. Proponents of remote work point to two recent studies that found increases in productivity: Researchers at Stanford and Harvard studied call center workers, and found productivity (calls per hour and customer satisfaction) increased 13% and 7.5%, respectively. But call center work, which is relatively low-skilled and closely monitored by management, is not representative of higher-value knowledge work. Another study, this one tracking “skilled professionals” at a large IT services company, found that output stayed the same when workers went remote — but that workers put in 30% more hours.
That’s a terrible outcome for workers but also for employers, because expecting your employees to work a third more hours for the same pay isn’t sustainable. Remote work doesn’t have to be more productive to make sense, but its other benefits become less attractive if you have to work longer for the same outcome(s).
One Is the Loneliest Number
Similar to most technological innovations, there is potential for enormous progress (see above: care worker), but also externalities (e.g., depression, addiction, misinformation, polarization, etc.). Remote work, poorly implemented (which is typical), is awful for young people, especially young men. The office has been an enormous source of social capital, and we’re getting poorer. Where do we mix with people from different backgrounds? The mall? The movie theater? No and no.
My first client at Prophet (a brand strategy firm I started in B-school) was Levi Strauss & Co. — a wonderful firm. The head of Europe was a guy named Carl Von Buskirk. I once saw Carl at the Bay Area HQ and asked if he was there for a meeting. He responded, “No, I come once a quarter to be visible and get drunk with people who matter.”
Remote work for young people is often … a bad idea. The office is where you build relationships and find mentors. And mentors are the people who become emotionally invested in your success. That same Harvard study of call center workers found that, despite greater productivity, working from home decreased the probability of getting a promotion by 12%. Another study found that people who work from home are 38% less likely to receive a bonus. There are usually several people qualified for each promotion. The job will typically go to the person who has the best relationship with the decider. And relationships are a function of proximity. If this sounds unfair, and just bullshit facetime … trust your instincts. The corporate world and small injustices will be synonyms for a long time. This isn’t to say young people shouldn’t have opportunities for remote work. However, the conversation coming is … “OK, but you will make less money.” In some cases, it may be worth it. Some.
If you’re an employer, the office is your primary tool for facilitating culture. Holiday parties and post-work drinks aren’t sunk costs — they’re investments in happiness, innovation, and relationships. The greatest driver of retention is if someone has a good friend at their workplace. Without a workplace, your employees have fewer points of contact. Sixty percent of remote workers say WFH makes them feel less connected to their colleagues.
I sit here, at 1:12 Friday a.m., and wonder … who is this week’s newsletter for? Two thoughts: Ask not what remote can do for you, but what it can do for the country? The U.S. has registered so much prosperity, but without commensurate progress — wages decoupled from productivity five decades ago as we prioritize shareholders over the middle class. We’ve lost sight of the endgame, to help others love and care for the people important to them. Remote work offers the opportunity for caregivers to earn a living and care for people at the same time. That’s a profound opportunity, and worthy of investment by corporations and the government.
My best friend’s mother has progressive dementia, and another good friend has a son who is severely autistic. The best caregiver for both is also the breadwinner. Remote technologies and a new classification of worker could bridge the gap. After all, what does all of this mean if we can’t take care of our families? If we can’t love them? Really, what’s the fucking point?
In contrast, for those of you starting your career — before you collect dogs and spouses, find an employer who offers an increasingly important benefit, an office. My time at UCLA was rewarding. But my first job, at Morgan Stanley, was more educational. In two years I found a mentor who was irrationally passionate about my success, learned (sort of) how to read a room, navigated around a senior exec who kept asking me out (yes, this happens to men), and learned how to succeed, or not, in a society called the workplace. If you do not enter the physical workplace early, you’ll miss opportunities and stressors that will make you stronger and more capable.
Remote work offers a huge unlock for caregivers. Also, the physical workplace offers guardrails, structure, and connections for a generation that’s been robbed of relationships and growth. We are a social species. We live in a capitalist society. Find mentors, colleagues, and mates … get to the office. All of these things can happen on a screen, most will not.
Life is so rich,
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Totally agree. I think WFH versus office for me is a constant “grass-is-always-greener” sentiment. Even with the tedious commute, the hate for driving, meal prepping, and general “waste” of time, I find it more beneficial to be in the office—the separation of work and home, the fraternal element of talking to colleagues, the lack of distractions. I think more importantly instead of home versus office, people need to be given more autonomy: the ability to come and go from the office as needed as long as their work is complete.
Life is so rich, as are your insights; on this topic in particular.
In my business we have experienced clear drawbacks from the growth of home-working and see the solution in accommodating our trusted staff’s needs as a variation from an office-based default. What we have noticed most is the common friction between what benefits the individual and the negative impacts that arise for colleagues, and of course customers and suppliers. The early surveys referred to in the blog don’t seem to explore the impact on colleagues and other third parties, but I expect this element will be explored in time.
Beyond the topic, the tendency to read (and seek out to read) content that confirms one’s existing views appears to have grown with the advent of the social media age. Everyone has a megaphone and that seems to have turbocharged our focus on using our one mouth in favour of our two ears and two eyes. Something to be less optimistic about.
You say, “With birth rates declining we have to find new sources of workers, full stop'”. No! We need to restore full, legal immigration levels. There are many qualified people in the world who want to come to the US. There are many qualified people who should come to the US, whether from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria or other parts of the world. Of course, if those people come as refugees, they may need some initial support. Why do we look at this as a closed loop?
Your comments about the benefits of the workplace also highlight the necessity of picking the right firm. You mention your time and MS and the value of the experience. Making sure that something like this happens should be one of our main criteria when we are deciding where to invest our time.
Agreed. Scott lectured about this topics with a incredible impartiality. Not typical for Prof G. People always read stuff from their own perspective, weighting in their traumas and fears. Welcome to the chaos of social media era.
Non-farm labor productivity declined by an annualized 4.6% in 2Q22 after declining by an annualized 7.3% in 1Q22. I’ve read these are some of the worst results in 70+ years. There are certainly many contributing factors (rising wages, etc.) but I heard a representative of ZipRecruiter (may have been the CEO) on Bloomberg this week comment that “work from home” has materially contributed to this outcome.
Scott, you are so right. When I was a younger me the office, however erroneous, was the place to be. Face time, meeting with more advanced folks, a wealth of learning and aggressive learning situations. Travel time round trip 40 minutes. Then comes the SF bay area. Travel time 2 to 2.5 hours one way. Leaving at 5 in the morning to get to the office by 8. Leaving at 5 and getting home at 7:30 or 8. Mostly having a bleary eyed spouse wore out by wrangling kids all day. Fortunately there was an answer. The IT guy in my group found an unused phone line, added a 19K baud modem, and I took home a “work station” (apple desktop kinda thing) with a 19k baud modem. Tried it out. Talked to management. 2 Days a week WFH. Tuesday and Thursday. 1994. When the kids got older and the hardware got better, ISDN, a home PC with windows, 3 days a week WFH. MWF. Well it came to the point where my manager asked me why I was coming in at all circa 2000. They moved me to a cube, then took the cube and now I am a “REMOTE” worker. I use VPN to get to my “office” and I use my cable internet provider to do so at my cost. My company does provide me a sweet laptop as a monitor :).
I work in a group of fairly older folks and we have worked via email and phone for over 25 years together. I have worked on the road and am now working from Oregon in the Summer and Florida in the Winter. It is not for the young or even for everybody but I worked into it and developed habits that worked for me.
If my company says ” butts in seats” then ” I am outa here”. Time to retire. Work and home “balance” has always been a big thing with my wife. I have to agree with her. She put up with me being at the office for 36 hours at a time and me being out of the country. It is the least I could do for me and my family.
For me it has worked and worked well.
Thank you for your post . I found couple interesting phenomena when I came back office to work :
1. We are still using Zoom/ team etc.. to have an internal/ external meeting – no more difference compared to WFH
2. WFH is becoming a very popular topic in office – more and more ppl are looking for different excuse to WFH – it is sort of unfair
Thank you for the post. Regarding “With birth rates declining we have to find new sources of workers, full stop. The pandemic set female participation in the workforce back decades, and we need the most educated cohort in history (young American women) to return. “, I would think the recent decision reversing Roe v. Wade will likely cause birth rates to increase somewhat as women in pro-life states will be forced to carry to term and this will hinder female participation in the workforce. However, remote work may allow some to cope with unexpected pregnancies in pro-life states (possibly working remotely for companies headquartered in pro-choice states). We won’t have mature data for some time. As some comments alluded to, the commute is a very big issue for many and this post may not have explored that concern in depth. I would love to see some data broken out about average commute times and the associated gas expense, bridge tolls, car repair expenses, etc. Also, as someone who has had a major accident trying to fight traffic to get to work, I wonder how many less injuries/deaths there are since the start of the remote work revolution. As far as young people needing mentors, that is true but with the mentors most likely the ones that want to work remotely, that could be an unsolvable issue. Frankly, there are sometimes going to be major changes in how we work (think pre-PC times vs. post-PC times or even just pre-email vs. post-email) and no doubt the youth of today have been dealt a very difficult hand. That said, today’s youth may end up embracing the remote work revolution and creating new avenues of collaboration and productivity in the future (e.g. the much hyped metaverse). It is not always obvious when the world is changing before your eyes but we are clearly living in a new work paradigm and it will be as futile to fight it as it would have been to fight the PC/email revolution decades ago.
It’s amazing how people read what they want to read. Scott is saying some positive points about office work as well as not being the only way to work. He is not saying the hell with WFH.
If you take a look at the comments, it’s incredible how people just cannot understand what he is saying.
It’s like he was threatening all people who love to WFH.
He is not. These days, people are free to choose how to work. If you do not like the working models your company offers, switch company.
But please promise you’ll make and effort to understand that in some cases, office work offers better conditions for you to evolve as a professional. It does not hurt.
You are spot on. Reading comprehension skills … yeesh. The message is clear and I think correct. If you are young and emerging into a career then being at the office can help your growth. As family and other important life events evolve then WFH becomes more important. Not sure what’s controversial. One topic that deserves more discussion is how employers can help socially engage WFH employees so their efforts are recognized.
Yep. Interesting how people comprehend. Or don’t. WFH can be good later your career but early benefits from the office experience are socially imperative.
Agreed. Scott lectured about this topics with a incredible impartiality. Not typical for Prof G. People always read stuff from their own perspective, weighting in their traumas and fears. Welcome to the chaos of social media era.
“If you’re an employer, the office is your primary tool for facilitating culture.” Most work culture SUCKS. All the talk about how you are “family”. Until some financial blip happens and 20% of your siblings are disowned.
“Holiday parties and post-work drinks aren’t sunk costs — they’re investments in happiness, innovation, and relationships.” Wait, did you just say happiness? Being “voluntold” to drink and performatively socialize? It’s not the same as hanging out with your friends – status differences and financial realities mean it’s a kow-tow-fest with your fake family. Fuck that, I’ll be friendly on company time.
There are workplace bullies that know zero about you and will take every opportunity to step on others on their way to the top. These aren’t collaborators or mentors. I’m talking toxic strangers who live to humiliate you for their own gain. Maybe that’s fun for a bro-dude on his way up the (outdated) latter, but not someone trying to make a living and pay rent. How is that productive for our US economy? Or, the ones who constantly interrupt your work to chat about how much they don’t want to be in the office because they’re sick, but “had to” come in. To add to your point about companies dropping a whole workforce in a day, in the late 90’s in Silicon Valley, I once went to work to find a line of people collecting their last checks. I got in that line. I was lucky to be a newbie with a couple of years there, but some people there had been there 30 years and had no notice. I don’t know the answer to this workplace dilemma, but I do know the warm and fuzzies (and mutual loyalty and respect) just aren’t there for many people. Also, why is there no mention of the workplace overhead? How much are these businesses saving? Can we study that?
“Another study, this one tracking “skilled professionals” at a large IT services company, found that output stayed the same when workers went remote — but that workers put in 30% more hours.
That’s a terrible outcome for workers… ”
Is it though? I haven’t gone through the paper to find out how the measured hours but I’d happily trade the almost three hours of commute (per day) that I assume they aren’t counting and I KNOW isn’t considered by my employer for logging on a bit earlier while I make breakfast… Same with logging off at 430 to help with dinner and eat with the kids and hopping back on after they are asleep to wrap a few things up.
I understand the concerns being described here but I think they are oversold. I still think about a stage early in my career years ago where I worked in an office but my actual colleagues were in different locations around the country and world. I spent my day in a physical office where I didn’t work with any of my physical officemates but worked with colleagues and managers remotely. It was formative. It sounds weird, but I distinctly remember phone calls, and team conference calls and even IM conversations where I learned and grew. I am still friendly with those colleagues who still don’t live near me, who I only saw in-person infrequently.
A lot of people who talk up “the office” are focused on the experience of people who traditionally are considered “rockstars.” I think this may be a blind spot for some because most workers don’t get this same level of treatment where “mentors” pay special attention to them. Some people, for whatever reason, get elevated, not just through promotions but also with opportunities to connect with senior people through meetings or social occasions. But the average worker doesn’t experience this. So, it’s no surprise that in general, most workers are happy working remotely.
Social isolation and loneliness are major issues in our society right now, and it’s right to work to address that. But this was an issue before COVID. I personally have gotten much more involved in my local community through volunteering, and feel more connected to the “real world” than ever.
Many people here seem to be missing the point (again). Scott isn’t advocating against WFH but correctly stating that as of now, there are things people with limited experience and working only remotely just don’t get. Whatever the other advantages and whether they really need that missing part that much is another matter. It highly depends on the industry and varies country by country.
I like your new care worker category. I think folks who work in that category should receive a monthly guaranteed wage or salary. When my first husband became ill and eventually terminal, this monthly pay would have been a godsend because I was only able to maintain limited minimum wage work but outside of the home. Often when he was critical I had to quit a job and look for other work when he got better. He was sick for 5 years. Thank you for recognizing the true need for this category.
90% of those who write against WFH are male and white (usually bosses). If you hear women, especially people of color, we all love WFH. It was the first time that only THE WORK mattered and we didn’t have to navigate sexism, microaggressions and so much more on a daily basis. Men usually take all the room in offices and offices are just hell to the rest of us.
Do you have evidence to support that 90% number? Or evidence to support your general statement that all females love work from home? From an HR and cost reduction perspective, I’d love to read more on it.
An important post, which, when one reflects on it raises some important questions, as an employee and an employer. The key are to understand flexibility and productivity. These mean different things depending on the industry and the stage of your career. No one size fits all. We have run, thru the pandemic, remote internships, excellent for finding a broader range of global talent, poor for being able to develop working relationships and as such that loses a large chunk of what it is to be on an internship – ie working with people, not with constructs (Zoom/Email/Slack etc..) that you can control in a bi-directional manner. Pro’s and con’s accordingly for both. Thanks for writing the post, this has triggered a few thoughts on how we can do things better, for ourselves, our team and our company.
> Cue the Tesla-bro-like pushback. On Twitter: “Garbage,” “It’s not 1954 anymore,” “Really dumb take.” In sum … you know … Twitter.
So you choose to ignore the hundreds of thoughtful replies you’ve gotten — many of which were from women. and decide to call them “tesla-bros” instead. The ego on this man… Jesus christ.
You totally brush over what those who are not in their 20s and have families are supposed to do in this situation. And you are one of the very entitled elite who have risen to the top in a different era, one where there was no such thing as high speed internet to every home. As technology and our work evolves, so should humans. I would personally much rather work 30% more at home than to have to waste that time commuting, packing lunches, fake socializing, sharing a nasty communal bathroom and all the other things you seem to forget are the norm for the office life (and I worked in investment banking and tech).
I agree that in your 20s it’s easy to not care and like the office- I went through that phase myself, probably unhealthily going to the office almost every single weekend just to get the free food and cab ride. But as much as I embraced that lifestyle in the past, I have now seen the inherent sacrifices I made. I have no family, no children now but I value my flexibility and my time to do so. I also dated in the workplace and your advice for people to go into an office to meet their future spouses is so absurd as to be ignorant. Even after a successful “office romance” I would not condone that for others. There are PLENTY of better ways to meet people now notwithstanding apps, including Meet Up groups, Facebook events, local networking events etc that don’t carry the risk and downsides of dating a coworker.
Also, working from home as a caregiver and not having it impact your career simply will not happen if working from home is not normalized by the company for all its employees. Otherwise others will be resentful, as I had often felt for my coworkers taking 6 months off for maternity benefits while I had to slog on with work in an office.
And as a single woman now in my 30s, one could say I have no reason to not be in an office. But I’ll take the career stagnation risk for the flexibility and the ownership I now feel over my time and my life.
Thought provoking Scott, and something we’ve been thinking for some time. I believe there is a middle ground on WFH, but to your point the office as a concept is critical to growth of both the worker and the company. The big question is what is the office going to look like..
on WFH, while many companies are invoking policies such as T-Th in office M&F flexible, or minimum 2days in office/week, there needs to be flexibility of policy to attract those who need flexibility, for whatever reason, however flexibility to accommodate a gig such as Uber during peak periods (rush hour) is a problem.
For the 20 & 30 somethings your point around bonuses, I.e. relationships I think is prescient for in a downturn who will get dumped? Those who are well known or…
Great piece Scott
Interesting piece. As a Gen-Xer who rarely worked from home before the pandemic, I now get the appeal of working from home, and especially on a Friday. And I agree it enables a higher level of care for yourself and others. But best in moderation, in my opinion. For me, WFH is like comfort food. It goes down easy and makes you feel good, but if that’s all you eat…it’s not enough nourishment and you get fat. And it’s tough to build a career within an organization if you’re wholly remote.
I am old school. Totally agree with the thrust here. After 40 Plus year career Tech company CFO
It will be interesting to watch that correlation between remoteness and wage change over time. Remote workers in the the first world are going to increasingly be in competition in a global market place. Those who are needed to turn up do not have that competition. Perhaps finally nurses, teachers, policeman etc.. will be properly valued and remunerated.
When my son finished grad school this spring and reentered work full-time since January 2020; he wanted to be in an office. Pre-pandemic he’d had a job with too much autonomy for entry level. He never found his footing. He wanted that experience of learning from more senior people. People who know more and are willing to give counsel. He found that and he’s thriving. His sibling is in a different field and with a few years of experience. She works remote on occasion and would like to do more of it. It’s not going to be one size fits all.
I read the article you wrote about remote work. My thoughts:
I can see all the economic pros and cons from it. I think that honestly most of the pushback on having to come back to the office is because after having had to work from home, people realized they’d been spending 98% of their time at work. And not just the hours spent “working” at the office, but even commuting (traffic, public transpo), eating meals, doing more work at home (“overtime”), etc.
For a lot of people they realized that they didn’t have to live like that. They could spend more time with their kids in the morning or take them to school, squeeze in a workout before their first meeting, or spend their lunch hour doing something that builds them up. More control over their schedule and not feeling like their company was “hovering” over them.
Then there’s money. Companies will offer perks like gym memberships, free lunches, mediation rooms, etc….everything but pay their employees a wage that can help them afford economic stability on their terms.
I don’t really buy the “bring your whole self to work” thing; at the end of the day it’s a transactional relationship with employer and employee, but the employer can provide a culture that makes the time employees spend there more pleasant.
A lot of people don’t want or need the extra fluff, especially if extra pay is sacrificed. They just want to not feel completely shitty about their job, not feel micromanaged, work with people that aren’t completely insufferable, make money to overly afford their needs and some occasional luxury, and if they’re lucky, love what they do.
If those things were addressed people would probably be stoked to come to the office occasionally or at least a couple times of week. People I know that work remote do miss meeting people in person so hybrid feels like the best way to go. Work is important but should be something you do, not who you are
Serious question, how often do you go into the office for work, Scott? I think every piece written about returning to the office should have a disclaimer about the author stating how (in)frequently the go into the office, and for how long they’ve been working like this. It seems very disingenuous to write about the benefits of going into the office when the authors themselves never step foot in the office. Even more so if they haven’t for a long time now. The recent Malcolm Gladwell article, and appropriate controversy, come to mind
Even if he lives in the office 24/7, it wouldn’t be the same, so it doesn’t matter anyway. Being the boss is a completely different experience from having someone breathing down your neck asking you about your progress every second.
As someone who was fired from his upwardly mobile career for being a care worker this article rings true. Our family made some drastic life changes so we can have care for our son with severe special needs and still work and earn a living. Society is not reading for the long term implications of what medical technology provides.
1. Re care giving. My extended care insurance is with Smith & Wesson.
2. Was the Morgan Stanley exec who asked you out male or female?
The best thing that ever happened with the shift to work from home was we got to know our neighbors. That’s a great start to making the world a better place. Not cozying up to my bros in the office or the physical proximity to my boss make a true difference to the well-being of my life and others. Without neighbors during the pandemic, many of us would not have survived. My boss wasn’t delivering food to me or checking in to see how my mental was. Don’t invest your life to the office, or to some self serving leaders who measures your productivity by the hours you “put-in” at the office. Bull$hit. Scott’s works for the establishment and wants you to obey. Where do you think his six figure speaking gigs come from? When the choice comes to work from home or “the office” make a moral judgement that’s not only centered on your career but lifestyle and values. Been there done that, I took the wrong path once, now working and leading from home and giving my employees the freedom to live life outside of work.
The problem with articles such as this is the overwhelming bias to work from office with limited critical thinking why in just 2 years, there is a huge part of the office economy that is able to work from home and do not want to work from the office 100% of the time. Please stop these innate justifications for working from the office based on previous mandatory work from office policies of the past. This global experiment has been a huge success and I think we will not be going back to pre-pandemic normalcy ever again!! Get over it and enjoy both options as required.
This is an interesting read and one that resonates with me. I find that it is even more important to not just be in an office but to be in a HQ of a company. I have worked at multiple satellite or smaller offices of companies, but the time I spent at HQ was always what helped me progress fastest. Be at the parties, be in the office, be social, but also only do it when you can. It is not a must to be there 5 days a week, but when you are there, leave your mark and be ready to climb the proverbial latter at times.
Great read. Sharing this with my genZ daughter who had a hybrid internship this summer. She balked at having to GET to the office (midtown) but always returned with stories of interactions with, compliments from, and lunch outings with staff who were generous with their time and perspective. I hope she concludes that her in-person days offered her way more than the “convenience” of staying home with a laptop.
Thanks Scott – Great read 👍
I predict the huge uplift in energy costs in the UK will drive people to their offices to minimise their home heating bill. There are now plans of opening “Warm Banks” (cf. Food Banks) where people can go to keep warm during the winter because for the low-waged the choice will be “heat or eat”. Financial pragmatism will fill up the offices.
One of your finest articles by far. No zing or zane. Just pure, respectful advice with deep insights and thought. Thank you, Scott
“navigated around a senior exec who kept asking me out (yes, this happens to men)” – haha, first time I’ve ever seen that mentioned by another man. And it’s true, happened to me in the late 70’s/early 80’s. (yeah I’m one of Scott’s fans that’s older than him.)
Makes sense, even obvious that being in the office is critical for younger people but forcing everyone to commute every day, filling highways, making pollution, seems like ancient history. The right balance is needed and avoiding peak commute times is also good.
Re: Smerconish last week — surely CNN has been told they misquoted you in the headline “If you’re young and single, get into the office”. What you said was “If you’re young and ambitious …” The misquote amplifies itself by saying that “relationships are important”. I’m sure you are in favor of young people hooking up, Scott, but that wasn’t quite the point you were making.
Could be it was an intentional misquote — it’s definitely more clickbait-y that way.
Once again missing the mark and failing to understand the appeal of WFH for so much of the workforce. You say that your career will stall out, that you won’t get promoted as quickly, and that you won’t be eligible for certain highly visible work assignments.
The remote worker response is: …… and?
Believe it or not Scott some are Both aware of that trade off and willing to accept it. In a world where we all strive to have everything, it simply isn’t a reality. Remote work allows the individual to control their schedule and location, working closer to family if they choose or maybe follow a spouse for their career without sacrificing their own. They may get promoted less, but the lower COL opportunities unlocked by remote work easily negate that nice job title and tiny Manhattan apartment. Not having to commute (upwards of 45 minute plus for NYC) means more time for exercise, healthier eating, and green space. For those more ambitious then the pathway to advancement has never been clearer. For those who seek more balance (yes that word has actual meaning) then they have the flexibility as well. Not everyone is consumed by their employer to make it their primary drive in life.
You can have (almost) anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything. It’s about time we gave workers their own choice
FINALLY one comment that acknowledges that not everyone is focused on a quick career growth, getting more work (often meaning longer work hours because the resources somehow never increase at the same pace as the workload), or socialising with their elders in the workplace to get the mentoring for faster/easier professional growth. Give people a true choice, and normalise care work by making remote/hybrid truly accessible to all, not just those (often females) who *need* to provide care.
Nowhere does Scott mention you must chase the things that come more easily in an office or depend highly on relationships. He’s pointing out that WFH comes with its own drawbacks and not everyone seems to be aware of them. For some people the knee-jerk response is “ok, boomer” or “trying to save your middle-management career” but in 5 or 10 years a subset of the workforce will bemoan the opportunities lost by completely refusing to engage with work in person.
Ryan, I appreciate your perspective. But your post brings up an uncomfortable question I always return to (for the record, I am a worker not an owner).
You wrote that “remote work allows the individual to control their schedule and location”. My serious and troubling question is: does the worker have the right to this control? Or does the employer, by virtue of paying wages to “rent” a worker’s labor, have that right?
I wonder if, at its core, the WFH issue essentially boils down to this control issue. I don’t know. I suspect that market forces (namely, the need for bosses to be able to hire good workers) may help answer the question, but that implies potentially big asymmetry in worker outcomes and power.
Wow. One of your most thought-provoking emails to-date. Most intriguing is the idea that Gen Z may be able to address some of the social and emotional losses they’ve experienced due to COVID-19 and technology by entering the workforce in offices.
I really enjoyed this post. As a woman in my 40’s with aging parents to assist & a spouse who has been going through multiple surgeries, I found my (temporary) opportunity for WFH to be incredible but (as you noted) our young staff were far less happy about it (they were at first but quickly became unhappy & disconnected.) I think it’s very honest to conclude that there are no “right” answers or solution that fits all but that maintaining a hard line in either direction is not helpful to anyone. I think flexibility & setting expectations are key but it will be interesting to see where this all goes.
I love you, man! I’m spanish native speaker and had to improve my english reading skills to a fine catching of your thoughts. Thanks for keep the fire burning…
You might want to update your median hourly wage graph. The electricians in my area all make in the $30-$45/hour range on the check. Benefits are extra. Total package in the $40/hour range.
I love that Scott talks reality. And I hate the reality re: women as caregivers. This is unacceptable. Make it normal to involve daughters AND sons AND outsourced caregivers as being okay! Nothing to do with Scott Galloway who brings an excellent perspective.
Great article. So many treat this topic as black or white…home or office. I think you articulated very well that they are many types of jobs and careers and home lives and giving options gives people freedom and opportunity.
What bothered me most, after two years of a pandemic working productively from home (speaking for my amazing coworkers), was the “you need to come back to the office for productivity reasons.”
Two years of a pandemic took a mental tole on everyone and through it (again speaking for my office) everyone did exactly what they were required and more. Even through the pandemic we managed to have diversity activities, trainings, book clubs and discussions during the George Floyd tragedy. All remotely.
My job is internal communications…and my workload was immense as the virus, and policy, changed almost weekly. But the HR team suddenly dealt with people who didn’t have internet at home, or childcare issues, or worst, were dying. What was once a view of the mountains, was now a view of refrigerated trailers lined up for the dead at the hospital across the street. Probably a good thing we weren’t there.
They’re performance and attitude was exceptional and we all felt we were doing our little part to make life better for our 17,000+ employees. Our frontline customer service people traded days to be in office to take care of any in-person paperwork that needed to be dropped off. The other days they used an online phone system to take calls. We dramatically shifted antiquated procedures to efficient online paperless processes. Things that were slow to happen pre-2020 in a big bureaucracy, flipped a switch in a matter of days after COVID.
To use the word productivity felt like a real slap to everyone. If they would have given any other reason, or no reason at all, I guess it would have never hurt as much. Is it too much to ask that we get some small “reward” of a better work/life balance for making it through some really fucking challenging times?
Scott, you nailed perhaps the most impactful and underused tool for getting people to want to come back to the office in your 2nd to last paragraph, in mentioning your mentor at Morgan who added real value to your growth. When people around them see more C-suite denizens modeling that behavior, they’ll know the interest is something more than selfish, and will react accordingly.
Yes Bill, I think this is a big part of the reason that people don’t want to go back into the office. A lot of people have never experienced having a boss who cared enough to mentor them. Why go back into the office when there won’t be much waiting for you there?
“In FY 2021, the SEC received more than 12,200 whistleblower tips—the largest number of whistleblower tips received in a fiscal year, which represents an approximate 76% increase over FY 2020.” https://www.natlawreview.com/article/sec-whistleblower-program-attracts-record-number-tips-and-pays-record-awards-fy-2021
I can see why Dimon and Solomon want their IB and Trading bros elbow-to-elbow on the trading desk. It’s too easy to narc on your colleagues when you don’t have put up with them all day.
Prof Galloway/Scott, I ask that you examine this movement through more than a Wall St. Bro/Jamie Dimon lens. True enough (unfortunately) in certain sectors like banking, it seems indeed to be important to “be seen by important people”, etc. But that does not define the vast majority of other sectors that (hopefully) have evolved beyond the “I need to see you at your desk” style of management. I would argue that the modern “office” has evolved (or is evolving) beyond this concept to embrace new forms of mentoring and relationship building that don’t depend principally on, say, having a drink with the boss (who is the boss, actually, in many new orgranization models?) To many of us, the need to tie advancement an d achieving greater levels of responsibility (ie, a career) around physically hanging out unnecessarily burdens the search for a better model of working in an organization. In my opinion, it is the organization that needs to evolve to better meet the needs of a cohort of workers that is for the most part networked (I prefer that term to WFH or remote.)
I’m a huge fan and I appreciate the expertise shared.
I believe writing an essay on WFH and barely mentioning COVID is one big reason for negative responses (in addition to the widespread toxicity of social media, of course).
None of the research seems to ask, would you like to pay money for the chance to put your long-term health at risk? None of the articles seem to ask the CEO, have any meaningful investments been made on risk mitigation?
If there was a rollercoaster ride with a 10-20% chance of seatbelts failing to lock, would you buy a ticket? In this scenario, does it matter that the ride is really cool and includes a free snack?
Of course we can’t go our whole lives without fun (which by the way, I never asked for. Somehow the only choices are to ride every day or else ban rollercoasters), and you’re willing to ride carousels all day with no problem, and anyway there’s no guarantee you fall off the ride with no seatbelt. And yet I suspect you wouldn’t buy a ticket for yourself or your family. Unless of course you own the theme park.
We’re doing everything possible to declare the pandemic over except actually ending the pandemic. 500 people are still dying every day and some higher number will struggle to function for who knows how long. Anyone with a chronic illness will tell you-it’s not about the f**king pajamas.
Excellent excellent point.
I worked in an office for years. My work relationships were stronger and I connected with colleagues outside of my specific work function in the kitchen. I also spent 3 hours of every day commuting and plenty of time ‘looking busy.’ I don’t think I got any more (or less) work done in the office but spent waaaay longer ‘working.’
I’m remote now, and I simultaneously miss seeing people at the office and can’t fathom how I’d ever go back while doing things like taking care of my family and actually sleeping. It’s a mixed bag.
Perhaps some form of hybrid (2-3 days in the office for multiple full teams) may be the answer, though I hear mixed things from people I know in hybrid workplaces too. Hopefully, we’re figuring it out.
Did he just accidentally argue for traditional single-income households where the stay-at-home provides care?
I think a lot more people than you think might welcome some form of that – in a world where you could actually care for a family on a single income (which is not my world or the world of most people I know).
As a young woman early in my career, I find this blog post particularly frustrating. You mention that work from home is a great opportunity for women to stay in with workforce while simultaneously being care workers for their children and parents. Moments later, you mention how important it is for young men to be present in the office.
When I read this, it feels almost as if you’re saying it’s great for men to be in the office so that they have access to mentors/promotions/career growth, and it’s great for women to take a hit to their career to try to multitask caregiving and working remotely, leading to much worse career outcomes.
I hope that other readers will realize the need for more comprehensive plans from employers for both men AND women to grow their career and have opportunities to care for their families, and not prioritize men’s growth at the expense of their female counterparts.
Agreed. I’m an older woman (software developer who didn’t feel like I had much choice but to lean out of tech when I had kids). I think Galloway’s super power is explaining to men why caring for others is valuable. So while I’d love to see this care economy (Pete Buttigieg spoke articulately about this when he ran for President), the low hanging fruit is convincing men that they will benefit from participating in caring for their families and community. The revolution will nearly be won if men would do that work.
Alicia I think you hit the nail on the head. Prof’s listenership is dominantly young male professionals, and he’s good at speaking to them.
In the 01APR21 Prof G Pod episode (How Software Ate Finance) Scott made a strong case for investment in mothers and why it would make a world of difference in their lives and for everybody else (start at 52:04)
Flexibility is crucial. Keep the office open and ensure teams meet regularly 2- to 3- times a week. My formative years in business were enhanced by eating and drinking with the boss…in every job. It builds trust as long as you don’t get too hammered and puke on said boss (I never did).
Pete, you nailed this whole thing right there. I’ve worked in a remote environment where we met regularly and I’ve worked in a remote environment where I didn’t hear from my boss for weeks. The latter sucked. Staying engaged CAN happen, but managers have to make a planned concerted effort. Some just don’t want to do that or don’t know how.
My current boss of 5 years has asked me to lunch exactly zero times. I can count on one hand the number of times my previous boss of 13 years asked me to lunch. And never alone…always at least one other person was present. They are male — and they seem to be okay with going to lunch & golfing with other male employees, but they definitely avoid activities with their female employees. In the remote work setting, I was on a more level playing field with my male co-workers.
My boss is in SF, and I’m based in NYC. In multinational companies with distributed teams, how exactly does this work? I’m in the office sitting on video calls most of the day anyway.
Galloway refers to office workers as “capital”. I don’t think human beings are “capital”.
I may have to disagree with some of your points at least for knowledge based jobs…I truly believe that millennials are comfortable and can readily learn from peers remotely. They are the most tech savvy and communicate just fine remotely. I do believe corporate culture is important but that can be done in small team meetings where maybe a group meets once a month. I do see some value in collaboration, but that can be done by picking up the phone and calling someone, or using a virtual whiteboard. I believe companies can and should support team events and fun outings for building cohesion, but going in the office just for the sake of going in is somewhat pointless.
What I find interesting is that cities haven’t died out but have adapted to the times. I’ve seen it in DC, where I live. Fewer people are coming downtown Monday thru Friday but on the weekends, all the bars and clubs are packed. The K Street corridor is emptying out as people work from home and offices are being converted into apartments and condos. The bottom line for the city is even more tax revenue, with residents replacing commuters.
One major problem: how does a person simultaneously work a challenging remote job and care for loved ones at home? Have you tried focusing for a meeting or delivering a remote presentation while children are looking for your attention, or an elderly relative is hungry and waiting for their meal? You are an on-call software engineer whose presence is urgently needed to bring critical services back up, but your husband works in construction so he’s always on-site, you thought you could squeeze out 30 minutes to get the kids started with their homework, but now you are letting them game into homework time because your team needs you. It just doesn’t work and sounds like a hell of doing two jobs, one that isn’t paid but is just as stressful as the other. Better to be in the office, and get child care help during crunch times when you know you will be working late
I’ve heard of promotions. I’ve heard of hiring-from-within. That was fifty years ago and it’s gone and the culture is gone. Oppportunities are through keywords on Linked-In and HRs practice of not even acknowledging applications. A company paying for a course relevant to their business and your future? Gone. Management that builds a team with a common culture? Gone. A trademark, a style, three MBAs and a Chinese supplier has replaced the great industrial names with stock market hustlers. Management has no loyalty, no allegiance and no history longer than ninety days. As they’ve sown so shall they reap. Or, in my own language, the fish stinks from the head.
Would love to hear your view on the rest of us: mature women, in the final chapter of career, disrespected and ignored. I’m happier, more productive and safer at home, especially since the majority of my “teammates” are much younger and in a different life chapter. I’m grateful that my progessive employer allows (not mandates) an office visit, when I want it, and when requested by managers. I return home after such days, looking forward to my quiet space of productivity, freedom from having to be fake to generational members whose priorities I reject, and the lack of daily commuting stress. Good for the environment and mental health, are bonuses of working “not in the office.” I’ve spent my career working very hard, to the detriment of finding my dream man, so in addition to the solitude of WFH, the mate selection/potential in the office is nill.
Thanks always for your awareness and ideas.
That’s me somewhat as well. Although far from disrespected and ignored. Going in to the office where I’m 25 years older than the rest of the staff is painful, but no where near as painful as “team building outings”. Some of us just want to work, deliver value, and live our lives. I do agree that younger people need to get into the office, careers are built there. But a lot of us older workers do great work remotely and don’t need to hang out with the kids at happy hour to build social capital.
WFA? Work From Anywhere
Always enjoy your articles, Prof. Galloway… told like no one else can. Pushback for the “return to office” (in Canada) continues to gain steam. I wonder… The 1960s and decades thereafter bore witness to the massive offshoring of manufacturing and production in the pursuit of lower cost.
Will the 2020s and beyond be the age of reshoring/onshoring (repatriation) of value adding manufacturing with new and emerging technology (ex. 3-D printing) and the mass offshoring of “knowledge” workers (office) workers in the pursuit of lower (administrative, indirect) cost, increased productivity, and (possibly) better service? “What is good for the goose is good for the gander?”.
Be careful what you wish for office workers (including civil service). Perhaps you had better start thinking about retraining in the trades and manufacturing?
“output stayed the same when workers went remote — but that workers put in 30% more hours.” I think that if you look closer, those workers were still working those 30% more hours, they were just doing in on trains and car rides.
The study ran through the first 5 months of a global pandemic. And those with children performed worse than those without. Oh, and meetings increased significantly. But sure, blame it on WFH.
Professor you’re like that one uncle who won’t stop repeating himself. We form relationships in pickup soccer, church, weddings, schools, picnics and bars 😅Not over excel spreadsheets and Jira work tasks uncle Scott