We’re having the wrong discussion. As we sail past the six month mark of the massive global remote work experiment, the conversation is starting to shift to pontification about whether being in the office is better than working from home.  And in doing so, people are completely missing the point of remote work.

Remote work is not about the location of the work being done, it’s about autonomy. It’s about giving workers the opportunity to choose whether coming into an office on any given day is going to make them the most productive. It’s about giving workers the ability to choose how they want to get their work done.  It forces managers to manage outcomes rather than facetime.  It allows workers to have more control over their lives.

Most good managers know that they should manage to outcomes, rather than micromanage all of the tasks that lead to the outcomes.  But, knowing is not the same thing as doing.  For managers who are used to management by walking around, it has almost certainly been challenging to figure out how to motivate employees when that ability was taken away from them. Figuring out how to humanize the connection between team members when you can’t eat lunch together can be hard. In fact, there is a long list of challenges that are associated with remote work.  But, for every challenge there are benefits; and when we tally everything up at the end, studies show that remote workers are more productive and happier

Whether you buy into this argument or not is almost certainly much less relevant than it was prior to COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, if you were resistant to utilizing remote workers, you could probably get away with it quite easily. In fact some companies even had policies against hiring remote workers.  All that has of course changed because everyone who was able to work remotely was forced to give it a long term try and the results are now available for everyone to see.  The genie is out of the bottle, and for the best workers, they aren’t going to allow an employer to force them back into the bottle.

Instead of discussing whether we are better off in offices or not-in-offices, let’s move the discussion to talking about worker autonomy and how companies can best support and leverage that autonomy. Let’s figure out what an office should look like when employees are given the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to come in on an hourly, daily, weekly or even permanent basis. Let’s figure out how to collaborate and build teams with a default assumption that both in person and remote options will always need to be supported. 

This should not be a binary discussion about whether certain people should be required to be in an office or not. To do so completely misses the thing that people care about most with remote work – autonomy. Solve for autonomy, not location.

Categories: Remote Work


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