If there is one thing everyone can agree on when it comes to the pandemic, it's that remote work is going to be a lot more common when it's over. That sounds like a good thing to me. I've been working remotely for over a decade and shudder in horror at the thought of going back to an office. But will everyone fair equally well when they no longer have to show their face at work?
In a recent blog post, writer and founder Sean Blanda makes the case against remote work, and while I find some of his points more persuasive than others, one argument rings especially true: Remote work really sucks for workers just starting their careers.
Remote work is going to be bad for young workers.
I love remote work, but I am a middle-aged mom with an established career. Back when I was starting out, I learned an immeasurable amount from editors who would walk by my desk, look over my shoulder, and say, "It would be better if you tried it this way ..." or "Cut that--it's terrible." It was from hanging out in an office that I picked up the lingo of my industry and made relationships that later launched my freelancing career.
All of this mentorship, informal learning, and subtle acculturation to the rules of your industry won't happen when you're on the sofa with your cat and your laptop. And that's going to be a nightmare for young workers in our new work reality, Blanda argues.
"When you work remotely, mentorship is stifled because there is no learning via osmosis. You can't model your behavior on your successful teammates because you only see them on Zoom and in Slack. Whatever process they are using to achieve their results is opaque to you," he writes.
He also points out that most arguments in favor of remote work are based on the assumption that you're in the middle of your career. "When you're young, you don't need 'focus' or to 'get things done,'" Blanda says. "You need exposure to new ideas and people. You need the serendipitous fortune of sitting in on the right meeting, attending the right happy hour, or earning the respect of the right observer. All of the above is more difficult in a remote environment."
Finally, while remote work is great for, say, actually getting to see your kids, when you're young, you're often willing to trade flexibility for a chance at greater advancement. Which honestly, is often the deal when it comes to flexible working: It's great for your sanity but usually not a rocket ship to insane success (unless you've already established yourself as superstar). In short, when you're young and hungry, remote work can limit the scope of your ambitions without giving you much in return.
A word of caution for leaders
If you are a young worker in the age of Covid-19, there's not much you can do with this information. The virus is going to decide whether you work remotely or in-person for a while yet.
But if you're a manager, Blanda's words are an immediately useful reminder that not everyone is fairing the same with virtual work. Parents are hard up because of lack of child care, of course, but surveys show Millennial workers are missing the office the most. This might be because Blanda is right and the youngest employees understand they are losing the most from the new remote arrangements.
For a leader, knowledge is power. If you've thought through all the ways remote work might be holding back your younger employees, you can also think through all the ways you can help them regain some of the networking, learning, and personal development opportunities they've lost, from more frequent informal feedback and training opportunities to a happy hour-style Slack channel for informal banter and bonding.
Do you agree that young workers lose out the most when work goes remote?