No longer a problem

Turning the world into a case study. Plus, 7 other things worth your time.

Another day, another email inbox filled with messages and press releases talking about one of two things (or both):

  • Companies announcing that they’re going to delay mandating that employees return to the the office.

  • Consultants and thought leaders who want me to write about their ideas for how to recruit and retain people in the midst of the Great Resignation.

I think we’ve learned that there's no uniform answer regarding whether people have, in fact, been happier or more productive at home—or whether what works for one business might work for another.

Still, a month or two ago, as part of an article for, I started asking employers who actually had insisted that their employees return to share with me the arguments they used, and whether they were effective.

Mainly, they fell into three categories:

  • The business necessity argument. One founder of a 20-person SAAS company said she realized her employees were less productive remotely, and that it was significantly affecting her bottom line. When she told employees that they had to return or else the company might not survive, 19 out of 20 did so.

  • The fairness argument. A web design founder told me he tried to be a good guy and let employees decide if they should come back or not, but the worst-case scenario happened: Out of 12 employees, 7 came back and 5 stayed home, and the 7 started to resent the 5. (Eventually he changed the rule and required everyone to return.)

  • The “I’m just sick of it” argument. Being the boss has its privileges, I guess; another founder told me he was “frankly tired of having kids show up during Zoom meetings,” so he made return-to-office mandatory. Of 22 employees, 19 returned, he said, and “we're in the process of figuring out firing the remaining three.”

Doctoral degrees and academic careers are going to be made on the things we’ve learned about working remotely and collaboratively over the past 18-plus months.

Up until early 2020, it was hard to write with authority about how to manage teams remotely, or whether companies that let their employees work from home were more productive, or less.

It was hard simply to find groups of people to study—especially if you hoped to compare two groups of people, both doing the same job, where some worked remotely while others worked in an office. 

As a result, a very small number of studies—a Harvard study about patent examiners, for example, and a Stanford study involving travel agents—got a lot of attention.

To put it lightly, lack of case studies is no longer a problem.

I don’t really have a neat and tidy bow to tie all this up with today. But I am curious to know what you think.

Have you been working remotely during the pandemic? Did already you work from home beforehand? Would you be willing to return to an office? Or does this whole question seem silly and inapplicable, because you never had the option (or the desire)? It’d be great to hear in the comments.

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7 other things worth your time

Thanks for reading. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, and not for the first time. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.