My friends, this has been an interesting month for remote work so far, and it’s only the 11th. But one thing caught my eye more than others. It actually was an article from February 1st in Fast Company, entitled “Why employers might not offer remote work options to junior staff.”
This showed up in my Google Alerts, which come promptly at 8 am every morning. As I saw that headline and visualized a future where remote work was yet again a “privilege,” I thought to myself… Do I want to be angry this morning? Is this how I want to start my day? Long story short, yes it is how I started my day and yes I eye-rolled a lot.
According to Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work, a whopping 97.6% of remote workers would like to work remotely for the rest of their careers. Further, 97% of remote workers would recommend remote work to others. Now, being able to work remotely does not necessarily mean people don’t like offices. Hybrid remote work is a major trend that can’t be ignored. It also doesn’t mean remote work doesn’t come with it’s own challenges, for example upward management.
But let’s jump back to Fast Company.
The intro paragraph states: “concerns over the productivity and preferences of newer and younger employees are leading some to consider instituting different rules for junior staff.”
Different rules for junior staff, they say. It’s an odd thing to think about, since it’s both very real and very necessary for most things.
The article smartly lays out a few concerns younger employees have with permanent remote work:
Missing out on networking
Not getting the right onboarding
These are valid concerns, and I am happy that they are being brought to light. One could argue they equally apply to mid-career workers who are looking for the next big promotion, so I appreciate the gravity of the situation.
What irked me though, was what came next: numerous quotes about how remote work isn’t sustainable, doesn’t work, and junior employees need to be in the office.
As I was reading, I just kept thinking: you know hybrid remote work exists, right?
Deniz Caglar, the Principal for Organizational and Workforce Strategy for PwC US, has numerous quotes as an expert in the article. I don’t know if it’s the editing or what, but the guy talks like he is inventing hybrid remote work on the spot during the interview.
Here’s one quote that stood out to me:
“Our recommendation would be to treat junior employees and new employees a little differently,” he says. “You have to set the expectation that it can’t be all remote work all the time; there’s going to be some need for training, physical interaction, and onboarding that will require some hands-on, face-to-face time.”
This idea is presented as if it’s entirely new and no one has thought of it before. I was a bit confused, since most companies that are going “permanent remote” are actually doing hybrid arrangements.
Eventually, the article got to the concept of hybrid.
In another quote, Caglar said:
“I can see more seasoned folks being in the office, because they want to coach, guide, direct, they see their value being engaging in person, but perhaps middle managers, more tenured staff may say, ‘I know what I need to know, and I don’t need to be in the office—I’ve earned my right to be away,'” he says. “It might be like an hourglass; more seasoned people in the office, the middle layer might be missing, and then the frontline [junior staff], which would be an interesting makeup.”
… “earned my right to be away”? Excuse me?
This is exactly the kind of attitude that remote work does not need.
Do remote work advocates need to stop suggesting that people who like offices are stupid? YES. Yes, they do.
But does remote work need to be earned? Yikes. Step out of the 1990s. Remote work is a tool. A process. A way of working. It’s not some privilege for the élite few.
What we’re looking at here is not a question of can remote actually work.
It’s a question of how you base your culture.
If you want to base it on in-person interactions 100% of the time, that’s ok - but realize its limitations.
If you want it all remote, that’s also ok - with its own limitations.
I don't like the false dichotomy that “you can’t do remote work!!!!! You need an office!!!!” when in reality the article just describes what most remote work advocates have been saying all along: it’s not black and white. You need to assess what interactions your company needs. you can plan what works for you.
Thankfully we end with some sense in the article: Prithwiraj Choudhury, an Associate Professor at HBS:
“You need to replace the old way of mentoring and onboarding with a new way of mentoring and onboarding, and absent that of course the new employees won’t be productive, but that’s not their fault.”
Thanks for reading!
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