As millions of workers adapted to remote work over the past year, many discovered unexpected benefits to working from home. Even in the stress of a pandemic, advantages such as the lack of a commute, or even the opportunity to dress more casually, have left many employees less interested in returning to the office full time.
Some CEOs have realized the benefits remote work offers employees. However, some leaders have been vocally against the trend.
One of the loudest critics has been Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, who called remote work, “an aberration that we are going to correct as soon as possible.” While Solomon’s comments suggest his company has somehow been damaged by remote work, it seems the opposite is the case: Goldman Sachs reported nearly $18 billion in revenue and $7 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2021.
With numbers like those, it’s difficult to argue remote work is ineffective for Goldman Sachs. In fact, Solomon is just one of many remote-resistant leaders who may find that drawing a line in the sand is likely to create real recruitment and retention hurdles for the business going forward.
A financial executive should know that supply and demand always rule in free markets. In a recent survey I conducted of over 2,000 workers, only two percent wanted to return to the office full-time. CEOs need to consider the possibility that their employees won’t want to return to the office in the same capacity after seeing the outcomes of the past year.
Employees crave flexibility
It’s remarkable how confining a standard nine-to-five office workday can feel once we’ve experienced the flexibility of remote work. Remote employees have learned that working from home gives them the opportunity to avoid a stressful morning rush to the office, structure their schedule around school pickup and drop-off, and even fit in extended breaks for workouts in the middle of the day.
More importantly, employees have proved an ability to get their work done and collaborate while working remotely. While some leaders have struggled to manage their teams without daily facetime, many others have realized an essential principle of effective management: it is more important to hold employees accountable to the outcomes they achieve for the business, rather than fixating on when and how often they are working. This is especially true when you are asking them to work 100-hour workweeks.
Leaders who are determined to return to the office are ignoring these two crucial truths: not only do many employees not want to return to the old normal, the trend for a more flexible work environment was already accelerating even before COVID-19, and is likely not going backwards. These are hard facts to ignore, making Solomon’s proclamation seem more like a powerplay from a bygone era.
It’s not all or nothing
Companies that have only experienced remote work during the pandemic haven’t seen the best version of the model. In normal times, employees can have both flexibility and the ability to collaborate and socialize with their peers in person.
Many remote companies hire employees in hubs, or large pockets of talent in certain geographic areas. This allows for in-person collaboration and teambuilding, as well as easier in-person interviewing during the hiring process.
Some companies have even started renovating their offices to better serve a hybrid model. For example, Dropbox has converted their offices into spaces intended only for in-person collaboration, meetings, training and teambuilding. The expectation is that employees will work remotely most of the time, but still have a space for in-person activities when needed.
Companies can also can create highly impactful in-person connections. Even something as simple as a well-planned, engaging all company summit can put a year’s worth of connectivity into a few short days of bonding and learning.
Employees will pursue flexibility elsewhere
In evaluating their go-forward strategy for remote work, companies must also consider that employees are making lifestyle changes that are not conducive to returning to the office full time, or at all. Many Americans have surged out of cities expecting to be able to work remotely permanently.
If an employee has made a lifestyle change enabled by the flexibility of remote work and has performed at a high level and you require them to return to the office, do you believe they are more likely to sell their house and uproot their family, or just look for another job that allows the flexibility they seek?
According to a recent study by Silkroad Technology, 40% of employees are actively considering leaving their current employer post-pandemic. Some of those exit plans were put on hold during the economic upheaval of the pandemic, but as things improve, many will resume their job searches with far more options available.
Employees interested in working remotely will find far more suitors on the job market. Many companies, especially agile, values-driven organizations with strong cultures, know that a fully in-person workplace neither guarantees, nor is necessary for, an effective business. These are the businesses that will take employees from the companies that refuse to allow remote work.
If a leader wants to take the Solomon approach and denounce remote work as a temporary aberration, they can do so—but they should be prepared for the logical consequences.
Robert is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners. Join 200,000+ global leaders who follow his inspirational weekly newsletter Friday Forward or invite him to speak. Robert is also a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author. His new book, How To Thrive In The Virtual Workplace, is now available for preorder.