Proponents of working from home have found a silver lining in the chaotic days of our global pandemic.
Long touting the option as a way to create work-life balance and increased productivity, remote workers felt further validation as tech giants Twitter and Facebook offered work-from-home as a permanent solution for their employees.
One executive I recently spoke with, JT McCormick, president and CEO of Austin-based Scribe Media, says, "Not so fast."
While Scribe Media closed its offices and went to remote work before the state mandated that citizens shelter in place, McCormick says they will never adopt permanent work from home as an organization.
"Remote work can and should be part of a company's organizational design, but adopting it exclusively long-term could be a big mistake," McCormick says. "We've been so focused on the novelty of distributed teams that we haven't stopped to think about the inherent dangers it presents to our businesses."
McCormick knows a thing or two about company culture. With an impressive track record of turning multimillion-dollar companies into Best Places to Work award-winners, he says with confidence that a fully remote workforce could have substantial negative implications on a company's long-term innovation and growth.
Solution: A dynamic work environment
Moving forward, McCormick says a dynamic work environment -- where companies maintain a physical workspace with the option to work from home a few days a week -- is the ideal solution for businesses and employees alike. Here's why.
As it turns out, casual banter between co-workers is more than just a form of idle entertainment. "It builds a foundation of trust between team members by creating a bond outside of the work itself," explains McCormick. These spontaneous social interactions breed psychological safety -- the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes -- and in turn, that psychological safety breeds a fully engaged workforce.
According to a team performance study at Google, individuals on teams with higher perceived psychological safety were "more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, bring in more revenue, and [are] rated as effective twice as often by executives."
There's no such thing as a great remote culture
Remote working doesn't allow co-workers to establish meaningful relationships in the same way that working in the office does. While this might seem like a low-priority concern, the data suggests otherwise.
A study by Gallup indicated that those who have a best work friend are "seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, [and] produce higher quality work" compared with those who don't.
Of virtual culture, McCormick explains: "No matter how advanced our technology gets, humans are social creatures that rely on nonverbal communication. Even with the very best of intentions, there is no getting around the fact that virtual happy hours and team bonding efforts feel forced and unnatural." Without a sense of established camaraderie, the culture suffers as a result.
Proximity breeds productivity and innovation
A fully remote workforce also hinders a company's ability to innovate and problem-solve on the fly. Instead of gathering all the necessary parties into a room to hash out details rapid-fire and in quick succession, everyone has to sync their calendars and get on a Zoom call, which makes discussions awkward and disjointed.
Additionally, McCormick firmly believes that communication platforms like Slack and Zoom "don't lend themselves to the same off-the-cuff riffing that happens in the office." As a result, people keep their big ideas to themselves and there is less experimentation among teams, which ultimately leads to slower innovation as a whole.
On one side, not commuting every day certainly has its advantages: less spending on gas, car maintenance, or ridesharing, which means more money in remote workers' pockets. Additionally, eliminating a daily commute means that people no longer need to live within a certain distance of the office, which makes it possible for people to relocate to more affordable locations outside of the city hubs where real estate prices have soared.
On the flip side, companies can realize reduced costs in the form of smaller workspaces in less expensive locations with fewer people in the office every day.
While the current benefits to remote work are clear, McCormick believes that the dynamic work environment will be the new normal in the post-pandemic world. He maintains that offices aren't -- and shouldn't -- go away, but if companies and employees meet in the middle, then there are benefits to be had for both, leading to success for all.