Working From Home isn’t Working
Working from home and productivity. “In-person time helps build relationships and get more done.” Mark Zuckerberg
In the last six months Meta has effectively cut about 30% of its workforce.
In November 2022, Meta laid off 11,000 employees. On 3/14/2023, Zuckerberg announced another 10,000 layoffs. Together that represents cutting 26% of Meta’s workforce. Additionally, they aren’t filling 5,000 open positions. (nytimes.com)
Working From Home isn’t Working:
Meta is encouraging people to move back into the office. Zuckerberg posted a company update that included the following sentence,
“I encourage all of you to find more opportunities to work with your colleagues in person.”
Meta’s early findings on working from home:
- Hire in-person. “Meta in-person and then transferred to remote or remained in-person performed better on average than people who joined remotely.”
- Work in-person. “… engineers earlier in their career perform better on average when they work in-person with teammates at least three days a week.”
- Build trust in-person. “… our hypothesis is that it is still easier to build trust in person and that those relationships help us work more effectively.”
4 problems with working from home:
- Mistakes. Working from home increases your risk of making mistakes. Daily Mail
- Creativity. The best way to generate great ideas is solitude AFTER you’ve generated ideas WITH others. Fast Company
- Accountability. It’s easier to do the right thing when someone is watching. BBC
- Promotions. People will forget you if they don’t see you. Recency Effect
The flourishing factor:
The #1 factor in the good life isn’t genes, exercise, career achievement, money, or a healthy diet. CNBC
“Positive relationships keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer. Harvard Gazette
We need people in our lives. Virtual relationships are wonderful. Face-to-face is better.
Read: 7 Reasons Returning to the Office is a Good Idea
When does working from home, work? Not work?
We adopted a hybrid schedule of 3 days in office and 2 WFH when we transitioned back from full remote work a couple of years ago and it seems to be a nice in-between. New employees always start in-person and most of their onboarding activities are in person-we noticed that it is more effective. They ask more questions and are much more engaged compared to the zooms.
Thank you for joining in today. It seems several organizations employ a hybrid approach.
Your experience is valuable.
Check on back story with Meta and overhire. I find hybrid works ideal and I can hire and get more talent than in person. Also in pursuit of wellness mind and body along with hard savings of not commuting by time and expense is a creative benefit and way to retain and reward higher performance without sign on and retrain for us managers who cannot compete with virtual offices. It’s a competitive market. I love your posts and still continue to read daily but seems this one was out of touch. Realize in office is where you need to go before telling us readers it’s a fail. I reward and track productivity and quality and changed my management style and KPIs and communication boards went virtual. I needed to change to support team. Feel free to email if need more background. Again, pleased to read daily but had to interrupt this conversation with a reality check from the middle management world. Invite a robust discussion to this as I am not perfect but it’s changing with the workforce time!
Thank you. I anticipated some interesting comments in this post.
The ability to hire beyond geographical boundaries seems huge.
Glad you stopped in.
I am with Sara on this. We went fully virtual back in March 2020 and have no plans to resume in person work. It takes a lot of effort to build camaraderie when everyone is virtual, but we have done that. It is worth the effort if you want to give everyone flexibility in their day and save them hours of commute time. Like Sara, we have lots of statistics that we track and we have found our people to be at least as productive, if not more productive, than when they were in the office.
BTW, I don’t think over-hiring connects to the general usefulness of working from home. It was a factor for Meta, but trust-building is still easier face to face.
This was a thought-provoking article. I can see why some would feel pretty strong one way or the other. I was in a situation where I was granted one work from home day per week. I was stressed beyond belief and felt like I could never catch up. Most of my coworkers were able to work from home three days per week. This flexibility is nice, but the struggle was that it was hard to get everyone in on the same day to discuss important topics.
I changed roles and I am now in the three days/week category and I find that I am less stressed and that I am able to achieve more work. With that said, the new group I am in prioritizes getting together so we are usually in the office together at least one day per week, if not two.
Therefore, my opinion is that hybrid works when the team values and prioritizes their in-office time together.
I think it really depends on the job, as if you look you can find articles about how casual dress = a casual and less professional attitude, or how jeans and a t-shirt lets people be more creative. I’m assuming its the same with this one. Both sides can be debated rather well.
Having said that, that points you bring up are the strong arguments for working in-person.
I feel some HR areas, lump this in as a benefit to “work for us”, instead of finding the right candidates, we put out bowls of sugar to get people to come to us.
Like the “open concept, free food, foosball tables, unlimited vacation” type of offers from not that long ago. They are draws to get people to come find the company, instead of the company drafting who they really need.
My thought is there is this belief that “competition to get talent” needs to happen. What about making a job and compensation package people are happy to accept? Maybe in-person is better for some roles, and at-home fits better for others. It should be offered for what works, not as an enticement.
That means the leaders of a company need to define what they need.
It is so much easier to say “just attract people to work for us”.
I’m in a different situation than probably most of your readers. I’m a licensed social worker and I’m at a non profit agency that works with the public. We’ve gone through multiple versions of hybrid since the pandemic but this last version seems to be the best. We are in the office Monday – Thursday. On Friday everyone has the option to work from home. The phones switch automatically to voicemail. This gives everyone the chance to complete our necessary paperwork that comes along with the job. I look forward to Fridays because the stress relief on that day is palpable. I believe hybrid works for many industries. It just may look different at each business or agency. We can’t compare against each other because we might be comparing apples to oranges.
Dan, I read your posts religiously. Your thoughts on leadership are brilliant. In this area of work from home I suspect you may have a blind spot or some bias.
When does working from home work, not work?
WFH works when people are held accountable as I saw in some of the comments. Managers need to set clear expectations and have metrics/measures/means to see that those expectations are met. This does not mean software that says how long someone is at their computer. It means measurable outputs towards a defined goal. In most cases it means predefined electronic dashboards automatically monitoring agreed output measures.
WFH does not work when managers are used to taking credit for their people’s work, or where communication up and down reporting chains is the only allowable option. Bureaucracy disables the productivity advantage work from home can provide. WFH needs open communication lines in all directions and a flat organization to take advantage of the speed of communication that a WFH environment allows. This is particularly true for multi-national companies where central resources may be supporting many local sites.
WFH works where the company culture embraces WFH and fails when company culture is biased towards in person work (Twitter 2.0 is a great example of failure, but I will refrain from passionately commenting further on that point). Many companies and leaders of companies believe that innovation and culture can only be effectively tackled face to face. Because they believe this, it becomes so. In fact, that is not the case. Having led both in person and remote innovation sessions I can honestly tell you that remote sessions are definitively more successful at generating creative ideas because you can very rapidly cycle between group and induvial work taking advantage of one of the principles in your post, and you have zero travel cost. I’ve even led sessions where the problem statement we were tackling was related to culture. Culture is built on human interaction. Human interaction does not have to be face to face. Having worked remotely for decades in a global company I can tell you that there are many people I have never met face to face who would come to my aid if I needed their help. I have open invites to stay at homes in Ireland, Australia, China, and various parts of the USA. This is because I worked for a company that supported work from home, embraced the value and was open achieving results through remote relationships.
I acknowledge WFH is not for every person or for every company. It is however a superior model for many people and for a surprisingly large subset of companies. The pandemic proved that many jobs can be accomplished remotely. The genie is out of the bottle and a growing number of people are no longer buying the in-office arguments that are largely based on assumptions from a prior world where in-office was the only option available.
WFH seems to work very, very well for some people, less so for others, and in some cases is an impossibility (I can’t take the contents of the lab home and set up in the garage!). There is an element of “spin” around WFH – it depends on whether you think it’s a good thing or not. Some people are firmly convinced that every employee is a workshy little dodger, who will spend all day on Facebook if he doesn’t have a manager breathing down his neck, while others find that not having to pay to rent, clean, light, heat, ventilate and provide security for office space represents a massive saving and people are just as productive. Either way, the worms aren’t going back in the can now, and it really is a case of leaders and managers coming up with the best ways of making the situation work for them and their organisation.
I’m fascinated by all of these comments, and appreciate the variety of situations in which WFH can be valuable. As someone who is working from home, I really appreciate that I can engage with colleagues across the country, and access their input and contributions without getting on an airplane. In person is nice, but travel just isn’t fun anymore!
The non-profit business office in which I work went WFH during the pandemic, but most have returned to the office. Due to my disability and difficulty in commuting I have remained a WFH employee. I go into the office once a week, if possible, mostly for camaraderie with my office friends, and really notice the amount of work I am able to complete at home far exceeds being in person. Granted, my position is an unusual one, as I have always worked on solitary projects with no team input.
Lots of comments today, I work 5 days in office. Most of my team is hybrid ranging from 1-3 days in office. I find 1 day in office is a waste of time and everyone on such a schedule views it as a waste of time to come in. 3 days is a good sweet spot as all three days tend to be productive.
Also remote has its problems as tax and personnel laws have started to open up huge issues for full remote people in our company. We have found some people have moved to California, one even to France for 6 months, and has opened huge problems for us as we try to stay legal. I figure a lot of full remote teams are skirting such laws, but it is a small matter of time (mergers, acquisitions for example) before companies get hit with huge fines and/or lose a lot of company value from when legal analyzes it (we are doing an acquisition right now and had to not bring over multiple people due to such problems).
Another thing that is mega concerning is price. US Citizens now require anywhere from 3-5x pay of other countries I work out of remotely. It is only a matter of time before US Citizens are unemployable financially and the full remote workforce producing close to or even output to them. Expect continued mass layoffs across the tech industry, even for the “good people”, if they don’t make being “in office” a thing again in some fashion.
That said, you were probably just focusing on the culture aspects of in office. I think most people are finding social connection with people they live by again, instead of just ‘in office’ – but that only widens the apathy gap for the business you work for. That gap, as it grows larger, is the reason workers find out they just don’t have access one day, out of no where. I mean, if you don’t even care enough to come to work every so often, the respect will just get colder and colder. It is a dangerous game to play for the $200 in gas money every month you are saving.
Every mode is good. WFH is also good if you have control over yourself. Why there is a need for someone to look over you in order to do the right thing? Are you saying that you are not desciplined enough? Every thing was working fine when there was pandemic. Why? Because there was no option other than that. Now companies have option to call you back to office, and they are doing it. You say people are more responsive in person than in virtual. In virtual, people are more straightforward, they will not ask you anything just for the sake of asking, and they will definitely ask you if you make yourself approachable and if there is a need of asking.
This will be a never ending debate. I will just say, use your brain, think, rather just following a heard.
In office work isn’t about ‘watching them’ (in a good culture that is). It is about in person, social connection and easy access to trust building, impromptu conversations and creativity. Not saying you can’t have that remotely.
“You say people are more responsive in person than in virtual.” did I say that? I don’t think I did. I’m way more responsive remote than in the office, but that hurts focus. Turning off my slack notifications is actually easier to get targeted by the “watching overseer” type bosses IMO (they can see the green light, the away status, etc). It also makes it look like I’m “away from work” rather than “just focusing” – A good use of the technology (with the right status updates) though can mitigate problems like that, but a bad boss will be a bad boss regardless of being in office or remote.
I like that there are more options than ever to fit people’s lifestyles and approaches to their work, I’m only sharing concerns or things I see on the horizon. We had “remote work” long before covid, it worked then as well. Many times though it came with a “1099” (ie. “Contractor” status), and usually higher pay (and less benefits). Contractors usually came with financial benefits to the company of being able to expand and cut to meet budget at a moments notice, where W2’s had more protections. It is only a matter of time before companies revisit those tradeoffs with their full remote workforce.
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I would love to see a post that addresses how working from home can benefit women and people of color, people with disabilities, trans and gender non-binary folks, working parents, and many other groups that experience barriers in the office. WFH definitely benefits a lot of people if they have appropriate support and connection from their colleagues and bosses.