COVID isn’t gone, of course, but outside of a few select countries, it does seem like nation-wide lockdowns and work-from-home mandates are behind us for now. Which begs the question, where are we with working from home?
First of all, it’s been rebranded. Maybe its because “work from home” has a lockdown ring to it, maybe its because people aren’t necessarily working from home because they’re not working in the office, but the new name for it is ‘remote’ (if you’re working away from the office all the time) and ‘hybrid’ (if you’re working away from the office some of the time, in the office at other times).
Another thing that is happening is that we’re seeing a divide in companies, with some embracing that if it worked during COVID, it’ll work now, and are continuing with the hybrid or remote options, while others are cracking down on it, declaring that everything must go back to the way it used to be.
We’re also starting to see academia take an interest. Because if on one hand some companies and many employees tout the benefits of flexible working conditions, and other companies talk smack about it, what are the actual facts?
One academic institution that is doing this is my alma mata, the Aarhus University Department of Business, where associate professor Franziska Günzel-Jensen, along with Ali Aslan Gümüsay, Miriam Wolf and Gorgi Krlev, has explored the level of business development and innovation in companies employing various options for flexibility (or not) in their study Crises and entrepreneurial opportunities: Digital social innovation in response to physical distancing. And their conclusion is clear: flexible working conditions are a key parameter to increased business development and success, and to innovation. This article recaps the findings, although in Danish.
The study is interesting, because most other studies have looked into whether it is possible for a company to survive in a remote setting, this one looks to innovation. And most companies who speak against working remotely usually point to innovation as the main reason why it can’t work. For innovation to happen, they say, people need to be together in the same room for long periods of time. This a point of view that they’ve pretty much all adopted from Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg’s book ‘How Google Works’, in which they propose exactly that point of view (they also propose the point of view that these people have to be huddled into small offices, so they’re literally elbow-to-elbow and back-to-back, another thing that wasn’t popular during the pandemic).
Schmidt and Rosenberg are both staunch critics of working away from the office, and continue to be so. But Google isn’t as anti-remote as they used to be, and have generally allowed for hybrid work in it’s location. This article outlines Google’s new position, along with a slew of studies on the viability of remote work.
Bottom line: academic studies show that flexible working conditions help improve business development and innovation, while at the same decreasing stress and burn-out among staff, and raising employee satisfaction. It is not a one-size fits all, though, and the exact model is up to the individual company to work out with their staff. Some workplaces with work best with an all-remote setup (though studies do indicate this one is hard to make work), others will work better with a combined setup.