Why is remote work seen as a gift?

Why is remote work seen as a gift?
Photo by Yasmina H / Unsplash

It’s hardly insightful to suggest that the last few years have substantially changed the day to day experience of a knowledge worker. Nearly overnight even the most remote skeptical leadership teams were forced to embrace flexible work practices like working from home.

But now, despite COVID-19 being a ongoing health risk for many, a non trivial number of companies are pushing employees back into the office. Almost no tech company has gone as far as mandating five days a week in the office, but many are mandating some number of days when employees must be in the office. They suggest, with little objective evidence, that “in-person collaboration is essential”. Never mind that there is ample evidence, including our own lived experiences, to suggest that remote work is not only possible, but can be more productive and more inclusive.

Remote isn’t perfect, but it is table stakes

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that remote work, or even hybrid works for everyone. Personally, I live near Intercom HQ and actually enjoy going into the office. I love jumping into a meeting room and whiteboarding an idea with a teammate. But crucially, how much time I spend in the office is my choice.

But there seems to be this returning perspective in the tech industry that remote work isn’t a fairly standard work practice, but is instead something that is a gift to employees. A privilege to be earned. A perk to bestow upon the most deserving.

A new normal to be embraced

Unless I missed a trick, the tech industry didn’t disintegrate over the last few years with everything grinding to a halt. Software still got shipped, deals still got closed, customers still got supported.

Was it an adjustment? For sure. Did we adapt? Absolutely. Arguably, we thrived. Companies suddenly had access to a talent pool that was always there, but they were ignorant of. No longer did they have to limit themselves to people who lived near the office, or have to offer hefty relocation packages. Real estate expenses fell through the floor.

Looking at benefits like that, it boggles my mind that companies are pushing back on remote work, or otherwise gatekeeping it behind requirements like the whims of a manager, the results of your last performance review, or a predetermined number of days in the office.

Just consider how ludicrous something like requiring an employee to have had their last two performance reviews meet some criteria. On paper, you could see the logic. They’re underperforming and might need extra attention to get them up to the bar. But if you scratch the surface, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Imagine if their manager works remotely, what difference will it make to their performance if they’re going into an office that their manager isn’t even in?

Embrace the flexibility, leave the past behind

There was a time when every tech employee had a desktop computer. We could only do work when physically sat at our desks. But as laptops became more powerful and more affordable, it became a de facto standard, and people were suddenly unshackled from their desks. We could work from anywhere in the office. And people did. Office layouts adjusted to include breakout areas, little nooks and crannies where people could work. The idea of only having a desktop computer now seems quaint at best, and a bit of a warning flag at worst.

All we need to do now is for people who are stuck with a “office first” mindset to carry that logic to its natural conclusion - It doesn’t matter where you work, as long as you get the work done.