One of the great joys of this newsletter is that I don’t advertise it. I mean that in the sense that if you’ve found this newsletter, I imagine you care about remote work (or you were fascinated by that time I said “fuck” in a newsletter edition). But let’s assume it’s the former more than the latter. Which means I get to write this like a conversation.
Every week when I sit down to write this newsletter, I imagine I’m having a chat with each and every one of you. Sometimes it’s a rant, other times it’s my thoughts on a how-to, and other times still it’s analysis about what’s going on in the world of remote work.
In this case, we’re leaning towards rant territory, but with a half-decent reason: survey data.
We’ve been in pandemic lockdown work for over a year at this point. People have been working remotely for decades prior to this (like Fire Engine Red).
So WHY are we commissioning more surveys about remote work?
Here are three just from this week:
April 12th: 80% of middle market CEOs to allow remote work going forward
April 13th: CEO’s “predict” hybrid remote work going forward
April 14th: One third of hiring decision makers say remote is the new normal
To quote Taylor Swift: I think I’ve seen this film before.
We don’t need more opinion surveys about remote work
Unfortunately, these surveys don’t seem to do or say much.
First, they are vague by nature. “Predicting” anything is inherently weird unless you are a subject matter expert (and being a CEO does not a remote work expert make). Much like a startup founder asking someone if they “would” buy their product, people provide the answer they think you want to hear. Will you predict hybrid remote work is the future? Sure, why not? Hybrid is so flexible that it could functionally mean being in the office 95% of the time with some flex days. So what does that CEO have to lose? If remote work continues to hold at pandemic-levels, they are a genius. If it falls back but is still ahead of where it was pre-pandemic (the most likely scenario), they are still clever. And if the world boomerangs back to offices 100%, well then the prediction was wrong but the context was right - CEO still wins.
Second, it’s tautological. As Hailley Griffis eloquently put it: Is it a prediction if they are the ones making that decision?
Same goes for the hiring decision makers. If they say something is the new normal because that’s what they are doing, then… they are making it the new normal. That’s fine, but a survey about it doesn’t provide any real insight.
And third, they are contradictory to the point of irrelevance. I thought the media was bored of remote work, but apparently it’s rehashed its interest as the vaccine roll out continues. So with each survey comes a contradictory point. Just even in the three from this week: the majority of CEOs say hybrid is going to happen. But only one third of hiring decision makers say remote is the new normal. Why such a broad disconnect? Well, that would require another survey to find out - which would only serve to further distort the simple reality that remote work has been present (and will be present).
So do I hate understanding things?
Lol, no. Surveys can be incredibly valuable when it asks people the actions they are taking or the problems they are facing. But surface level questions about predictions or feelings make for cute headlines but little understanding.
As a general rule, I want survey responses to begin with “I” or “We” statements that hinge on action:
What I did was…
When we faced X reality, we did…
X experience made me realize we had Y problem, which led to Z action…
When Z action didn’t work at first, I tweaked it by suggesting ABC…
You get the picture. Tell me your context, your mental frameworks, then what you did. Or, if you must tell me you’re “predicting” anything, please explain your background in the space. And try not to make it tautological.
Thanks for reading!
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I chuckled a bit reading this! I agree, we don't need more surveys, especially not shallow ones. I've been working from home for 5 years (my own business) and partially from home 2 years prior to that for an employer. I love it. What I do think Covid did is show businesses that it is possible to have remote workers and still function. It may have even improved communication and data sharing. (maybe?) Are there things that need to be improved? Sure. Will there need be tax code changes (at least in US)? Possibly. Does everyone want to work from home? No. But I think offering employees a WFH option, can be a win-win for everyone. Perhaps some of the disconnect in surveys is because it's still a work in process for most?