A few months ago, the ex-CEO of Google shared his opinions on working from home. He’s dead-set against it, and he’s especially concerned about the fresh crop of managers who are still developing their skills. He says you can’t learn great management while you’re “sitting at home on the sofa”.
And, of course, when Elon Musk took over Twitter, his first move was to bring everybody back to the office.
We shouldn’t be surprised that at least 50 per cent of companies plan to force people back to work. They’re worried about productivity, office culture, and so on.
I can’t speak to how this will affect the economy, the environment, or the spread of the virus. But I know how it’ll impact workplace productivity.
Businesses are shooting themselves in the foot. Burnout rates will go up again, and so will turnover. Most people don’t want to go back to the office. Nobody wants to be steamrolled by management.
The anxiety of control freaks
I’ve worked as a remote and international team manager for nearly two decades.
I started way back when work-from-home was still seen as an odd option. There was a stigma attached to it, and I remember acquaintances asking confused questions: “So does that mean you work part-time? Is this a temporary thing? Is there a reason you can’t work with other people?”
That was the assumption back in the day: that remote work was a solitary affair, and you sat around all day like a hermit in a cave.
That was never true. Way back before any of us heard of Zoom, it was easy and rewarding to develop an online office culture.
My teams and I would have yearly (or quarterly) meetups, maintaining easy conversations online. I’ve always liked to host monthly wellness meetings, which were never mandatory.
People like to talk to each other, in my experience. They can get to know each other and develop team cohesion just fine over screens.
But this is crucial — this won’t happen if you keep hovering over their shoulder.
The assumption is that everyone who works from home will slack off 24/7 unless their managers keep breathing down their necks. Sure, some employees may do that. It’s your job as a team manager to know people and recognise problems in time.
But for most people, that doesn’t sound rewarding or honourable. They’ll be perfectly happy to work without constant surveillance if the conditions are decent.
Shitty managers are terrified of losing control because they don’t trust other people at all. They have this idea that everyone needs to be pressured to do things, or they’ll become stagnant.
Get with the times already
I assumed everyone had figured this out by now, but apparently not. Remote work increases productivity as long as you make full use of its upsides.
High-control managerial styles simply don’t work over a distance. You can’t easily create an atmosphere of fear. And if you do and your employees start to resent you, they will start cutting corners.
Instead, smart managers use the flexibility offered by working from home. They let people arrange their lives in whatever way works best for them. They create a culture of accountability — which means regular check-ins and careful synchronisation — but they respect their teams’ autonomy.
In my experience, remote work makes it much easier to tell who’s been doing a good job and who hasn’t. There’s less office politicking, less lying, and less time wasted on pointless issues.
People have better focus when they know they’re free to go pick up their kid/go take a walk/just stop and think sometimes. The absence of stress does wonders.
All panicking managers could achieve a healthier, more productive, and more sustainable office culture. They’re just too afraid to lose control.
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