Is In-Person Time with the Boss Necessary?

Posted by Adam Hoffarber on 5/9/23 8:24 AM
Adam Hoffarber
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In-Person Time At Work Needed?

It’s a question most of us – whether we’re employers or employees - have tackled at some point over the past three years: how important is in-person face time with the boss? Is it essential to achieving long-term maximum performance? Or is it just an old habit we cling to, based more on a fear of change than any conclusive evidence?  

While it may be too early to know the answers to those questions, here’s what we do know:  pre-pandemic, remote, and hybrid work arrangements were clearly shown to organizations, teams, supervisors, and employees.

In fact, as far back as 2013, researchers were finding strong evidence that telecommuting was a highly beneficial, yet significantly under-leveraged working arrangement. Among these, according to Michael Boyer O’Leary for U.S. News & World Report, were “dozens of studies analyzed by scholars at Penn State,” showing that working from home not only “boosts productivity, performance, job satisfaction, and overall life satisfaction,” but also “positively affects relationships with supervisors and reduces turnover, stress, and work-family conflict.”

Why then, the growing angst about remote work today? 

A lot has changed since then. Consider the often-cited, 2013 study of 16,000 professionals, conducted by Stanford University economist  Nicholas Bloom. In his research, Bloom found that working from home led to a 22% lift in performance, in addition to significant improvements in employee retention. Yet today, even Bloom says that the current state of remote working is a different story. In fact, a growing stack of data seems to validate managers’ worst fears: the mass wave of work-from-home (WFH) arrangements – borne out of pandemic-related necessity – has, in some cases, led to drops in performance, productivity, and employee engagement.  In a recent interview with Michael Chui of McKinsey, Bloom described it this way: “Anyone that wears glasses on a Zoom or a Teams call, I often see the colors on their glasses changing. And I’m like, ‘You’re watching Netflix, you know?’ You’re so not paying attention.” 

We shouldn’t be surprised. But we should consider what has changed.

Before covid forced us to leap into remote work, the organizations leading the WFH movement were doing so after much forethought, strategic preparation, manager training, and the establishment of clearly defined rules of the road. These programs were managed with intention. Contrast that with today’s vast patchwork of cobbled-together, highly reactive, WFH situations. Most managers today have been left to fend for themselves, with precious little evidence-based skill training – or the organizational support necessary – to effectively run remote teams. In other words, for maybe the answer isn’t to end remote work.

Maybe it's about leading remote teams differently.

Time will tell. But for many professionals who have experienced WFH’s positive effects on work-life balance, the call to return to the office can be devastating. Trapped between the binary choices of going back or quitting, many will resign – to the long-term detriment of themselves and their employers. Before you choose either of those options, take a beat to carefully consider what’s really at stake.

I am under no delusions that there is only one correct way to lead highly effective teams. But I think there is a better way to survive the current battle of wills between happy, productive remote workers and the managers who want them back in the office. For most, it will involve the development of new skills, an embrace of new ways of monitoring and nurturing employee contributions, and a willingness on everyone’s part to find win-win compromises.

In my recent blog, How to Win Back Your WFH Job, I point to a recent Forbes article by Caroline Castrillon, in which she outlines a smart, successful strategy for winning the Work-from-Home wars. I hope you’ll check it out. 



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