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Today we discuss if ‘work from home’ as a concept is truly beneficial for the dynamics of employees and managers in an organization.
Thanks to the pandemic, many organizations switched to work-from-home, but some of them, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, etc., pull employees back to the office. They have realized that in-person interaction may outweigh the many stated advantages of a WFM culture.
✅Kevin says working from home enables an employee to take control of their time for a better work-life balance.
⛔Eli says working from home limits an employee’s growth within an organization and beyond.
In this episode of Contrarian Marketing, we discuss:
Impact of work from home on today’s workers
How work from home impacts the various players of an economy
Tips on how to work from home
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Working from home is great for individuals who are disciplined and can work independently. Consecutively, one should work on these skills to truly ace working from home.
Companies should choose between in-office or WFH culture but not mix since that could lead to remote employees being left behind in their careers.
Young workers and recent graduates should explore in-office culture for better opportunities and professional development.
Organizations should understand the mechanics of working from home to build or transition into a successful remote-first company.
Organizations should explore repurposing the cost savings from adopting remote work for employee benefits.
Kevin’s take: Work from home enables employees for a better work-life balance
Kevin states how working from home has significantly cut down his commute time:
“My commute is now five seconds as opposed to over an hour. When I lived back in San Francisco in the Bay Area, I had to take the train from Palo Alto to the city which took me over an hour one way. The time on that train was not very productive. You can maybe answer a couple of emails or do some things, but you're constantly interrupted and oftentimes you cannot sit down - so it comes with all this stress.
Now, I wake up, make coffee, make breakfast, and go into the office. I work a bunch of hours and then I go to the gym, and then I'm done for the day. I'm saving over two hours that I used to have to spend on commuting.”
Eli shares a different take by giving an example of how he used his commute time productively:
“I use my commute time effectively to listen to audiobooks, and read physical books, and podcasts. That's the stuff I don't do right now (during work from home) - I hardly ever read. I hardly ever listen to other podcasts cause I don't have that time.
There's no buffer time. To be fair, I love working from home - I love that flexibility, but I don't know that it's necessarily good for everyone. The idea of working from home is permanent and being granted to people actually takes away something that many people benefit from.”
Kevin states that a ‘Hybrid’ arrangement, where companies have employees working full-time remotely or in-office, is the worst form of WFM culture:
“If some people work remotely and others in the office, then the people working remotely don't have the same access to other people to build the same relationships. They're not as present, not as visible, and that is a losing position.
I remember when I worked at Atlassian, some people were allowed to work from home completely remotely on a full-time basis. But these people were always passed for promotions. They didn't get a lot of visibility or the best projects.
So, in my mind, it's an either/decision - either everyone can work from home or maybe contractors can, but full-time people should ideally not work from home.”
Kevin also highlights the ‘silent layoffs’ culture, where organizations tend to misuse the growing WFH trend for laying off employees:
“A lot of big tech companies hired in the pandemic and now that revenues are coming back to baseline after the pandemic, they still have these people. Now, they have to reduce their headcount, for which there's no way around.
So, some companies are forcing people to return to offices as a way to reduce their headcount because they know that not everybody can come back or will come back - they moved during the pandemic, bought a house somewhere else, moved to their parents, etc. Now they're forced to come back and there's just no way that this is going to work.
So they're quitting and it's good for the companies - they saved their severance because the employee decided to not come back to the office, which was originally stated in the contract.”
Kevin agrees with Eli’s take about the need for young workers to get some exposure to in-office culture:
“I will acknowledge that there is probably a difference for certain people. I think it makes sense for young people in their twenties and college freshers to go to the office because they want to be around and meet other people.”
He also mentioned how working parents may find it difficult to cope with focusing on actual work with the added task of managing kids at home.
On the other hand, remote work actually increases equality. For example, people with disabilities or caretakers now have a better way to work or exposure to better opportunities.
In the end, Kevin shares how he thinks companies need to rethink their workplace culture if they have to adopt remote work:
“I think companies just have to change their mindset, right? You cannot operate the same way when everybody works from home.
At Shopify, we went through that whole learning curve. We had these regular meetups once a quarter. Sometimes more often where we would spend all the time forging relationships, spending time together, and getting to know each other because trust is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to baking a high-performing team.”
Eli’s take: working from home limits employee growth within an organization
Eli believes that working from home and various tools that enable it are changing the lifestyles of workers such that it forces people to stay constantly online. Today, one places unsustainable expectations of being instantly responsive. Although it's great for work, it may not be ideal for one’s work-life balance.
People may choose to work from home, but that might not be the best option for them.
He mentions how many employees are not able to forge relationships with other teammates who tend to sit in other countries with different time zones. In-office culture helps one collaborate better because people know each other and what ticks them:
“I went to this company’s team get-together that is conducted four times a year. They pick a city in America, and they all gather together - there were like 200 people in the room. So, I went to their marketing gathering - and they didn't know each other!
In theory, they were on Slack, they were a fully remote company. They did stuff - a billion-dollar company, but they didn't really know each other.
I've never been in a situation where like I didn't know my teammates. I maybe didn't always like them, and maybe didn't know everything about them, but I knew what made them tick. I knew if I really need to like talk to someone, I can be like - let's go grab a coffee downstairs, or let's go have lunch together.”
Eli also suggests how providing flexibility (by, let’s say, allotting 2 days of WFM per week) and ‘forcing one to go to the office’ may actually be good because otherwise, one may never choose in-office to gain its benefits.
“I think some people need to be forced to go because when you're not forced to go, then some people will never choose in-office. I think being forced to go is a good thing.
There's this stat I read - women that have children at home, if they're not forced to go to the office, they may choose not to go because it's difficult to go. But if they're forced to go, again, it's not ideal, but they make those accommodations to go to the office. And when they make those accommodations to go to the office, because again, they had to, they are open now to more promotions and more business networks.
I think about how much consulting I've done with my former coworkers. I built that network by being in the office with them. I don't know that I would've built it virtually.”
He further adds how WFM shields one from the real conversations that happen at in-office meetings:
“When I worked at SurveyMonkey, they had an office in Portland and another office in Ottawa and we'd do a lot of work with those offices.
But once the video conference was turned off, that meeting continued. You just cut out those other people, and when it comes to building those relationships and knowing who to promote and knowing who does a good job - they're not a part of that conversation. That conversation happened with the video off.”
In the end, Eli states how motivated people are gonna work hard regardless of whether they're home or in the office.
“Goldman Sachs forced their employees back into the office.
The CEO said the reason that they're forcing the employees back to the office is because that's who Goldman Sachs is.
The people - they graduate college and work 90 hours a week at Goldman Sachs because they want to be forced into that brutal lifestyle and build those connections and learn, not because they want to work 90 hours a week on Zoom.
So they felt their differentiator for hiring is to make basically hell years of forcing employees to learn quickly and how to become whenever they become a Goldman Sachs.
If they didn't, then they were just another bank with recent grads on Zoom, so there was no differentiator for them. So, I thought that was fascinating.”
How does working from home impact the economy?
Eli shares a CNN source that mentions how few people are eating out since people are working from home.
“So in California Avenue, the second downtown in Palo Alto, there's a parking lot behind all the restaurants. I was never able to get a spot there anytime during the daylight hours because all those restaurants were always super popular and there weren't enough spots.
Now, whenever I go there, there's, they're like two-thirds empty. No workers are going out to lunch during the day. No workers are going anywhere. They're not going out to coffee. So I think that's bad for the economy. I think people sitting at home, they're not spending money is bad for the economy.”
Kevin shares a different take that working from home means people get to choose to opt for a better lifestyle for themselves:
“I'm not sure if it's a net negative (to work from home). You also have a lot less pollution from people, less crowded trains and streets. You have a lot more action in the suburbs as a result. Also, people just move out of the cities and meet new people.
On the other hand, companies have access to larger talent pools.
G2 has two floors of a large office building here in downtown Chicago - and that's some money you have to pay every month. It’s attractive to save that and repurpose it, where you can pay that back to the employees. At Shopify, we got annual grants for buying stuff like desks or chairs, gym memberships, and other stuff to make work from home easier.
So I think that money can be repurposed for a lot of good things.”
Does a work-from-home culture leave the essential workers behind?
Eli highlights how we should separate the WFM discussions concerning tech and non-tech workers:
“First of all, it seems unfair the tech workers can be home.
I was in California when the pandemic started and there was this attitude of - why can't everyone just stay home?
Whereas other places, especially essential workers - had to go to work. My wife is a teacher and she was home teaching on Zoom. That is very hard. How do you control a class on Zoom? The parents are off in the other room doing their zoom calls, and the kids are making fart noises on Zoom, destroying the whole class.
So essential workers, grocery store workers, doctors, and teachers - need to be present. And suddenly there's this unfair thing - they still have to commute. So that’s that part of it - the unfairness. But I think that there are companies that certainly pay it back, like the tech companies, as they want to retain these smart employees.
But there are other companies that maybe went work from home, and now they're looking at their cost savings - this is the employee's responsibility and they're going to have to take care of this themselves. I'll give them $10 a month for their lunch stipend, but they're saving all that money on rent and the internet.
So there is a total divide in the economy. I feel the sudden shift in the pandemic did something that we weren't really ready for. I don't know that we should ever be ready for it.
Maybe things change and we get back to a better equilibrium on who should be working from home and how should they should be working from home.”
Tips to productively work from home
Working from home provides one an opportunity to own their day and schedule as per what works best.
Here are some tips shared by Kevin and Eli:
Block your calendars by creating separate slots for deep work, meetings, leisure time, etc.
Plan the top 3 tasks you want to do the next day in advance.
Use tools that help control distractions during work hours and track time.
Start your day with a big task since you have more energy.
Get dressed to get in the zone of work. It helps differentiate between a workday and a weekend.
Prioritize tasks that require thinking and sharp execution in the morning.
Leave the house every day - maybe work from coffee shops, try to meet new people.
Deep Work - rules for focused success in a distracted world by Cal Newport: learn how professionals can prioritize work productively in the age of distractions caused by social media, the internet, home, etc.
Super Founders - what data reveals about billion-dollar startups by Ali Tamaseb: know about the patterns, backgrounds, and trajectories of successful billion-dollar businesses based on data-driven research.
McKinsey article - 58% work from home at least once a week, but 35% work from home five days a week.
The CEO of LinkedIn, in December 2022, said that right now, 50% of job applications go to remote jobs.
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Eli and Kevin