- Extracts about WFH follow from an article in the HBR (Harvard Business Review) by Mark Johnson and Josh Suskewicz
Mark Zuckerberg recently shared his plans for the future of remote work at Facebook. By 2030, he promised, at least half of Facebook’s 50,000 employees would be working from home. “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale,” he declared in a follow-up interview.
A few days before, Jack Dorsey had announced that Twitter and Square’s employees would be allowed to work “where[ever] they feel most creative and productive…even once offices begin to reopen.”
After spending the last two decades building amenity-filled campuses that maximise the ”collisionability” of talent and ideas while enticing their workers to stay in the office for as much time as they can, Covid-19 has shown these leading-edge technology companies that their workers can be just as productive — or in some cases, even more so — when they stay at home.
And it’s not just tech. Executives in traditional industries who spent days and weeks on the road are discovering that a well-managed Zoom meeting can be as effective as a face-to-face — and a lot easier (and less expensive) to organise.
Will Apple’s new $5 billion HQ – aka The Spaceship – turn out to be a white elephant? Will Google abandon its Googleplex? Will corporations empty out their office buildings everywhere and shrink their physical footprints? Are we on the brink of a new paradigm for work?
Microsoft’s Satya Nadella isn’t so sure. Switching from all offices to all remote is “replacing one dogma with another,” he said in a conversation with The New York Times. “One of the things I feel is, hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”
We suspect that the workforces of Twitter and Facebook will be less remote in 10 years than their leaders are predicting today, but much more remote than they could have imagined six months ago.
The real issue, however, is not whose predictions turn out to be right or wrong (no one has a crystal ball), but whether those leaders are thinking deeply enough about what they want their new work paradigm to achieve — and whether they can architect and construct systems that will allow them to meet their objectives.
WFH is helping them muddle through the immediate crisis, but what do they want from it in the long run? Higher productivity? Savings on office space, travel, and cost-of-living adjusted salaries for workers in cheaper locations? Better morale and higher retention rates?
To know what’s “best” for your organisation’s future when it comes to remote work, you have to put it in the context of all the things that you are looking achieve. In other words, you have to have a conscious aspiration. Then you need to envision the “workforce system” that will make those things possible.
Having more or less remote work is not a “point change” in an otherwise stable system — work from home is a system in and of itself, with many interfaces and interdependencies, both human and technological. These include:
- The technologies (existing and yet to be created) that you will need to make your system workable, including collaboration, creativity, and productivity tools.
- The resources (your physical footprint, people, and the technology interfaces you use to organise them) and the policies, practices, and processes your system needs to function. These include HR considerations like travel, talent development, and compensation; operational issues like office design and logistical challenges like “hoteling”— making temporary desks available to remote workers when they need to work on site.
- The rules, norms, and key metrics you will need to prescribe to preserve and enhance your culture and values.
While you can model such a system up to a point, its design specs will inevitably need to be revised as they come into contact with reality; as such, experimentation and learning will be key — you cannot expect to have a one-time rollout.