I’ve come to realize that not all workplaces are created equal.
In fact, I think there are some things that are impossible to replicate when “attending a meeting” is reduced to staring at a screen of floating faces. When we returned to the office in June, many shortcomings of remote work became apparent to me; yet we continue to see it being lauded as a “job perk”. While there are some obvious conveniences that working from home offers, we should also be careful to observe its less obvious inequities.
Cycle Times for Problem Solving
One limitation of working remotely is the inefficiency of communication. Waiting for a response to an email when you have a question or need advice lends itself to wasted time. Inevitably, problems will arise which demand immediate answers; regardless of what communication tools you use, it often proves more effective to work out a solution in person. Since returning to the office, internal processes flow more efficiently simply because we can ask questions, get answers, and generate ideas in real time.
Local accessibility is one of the great assets we offer our clients. In fact, we’ve generated new business from clients who simply want someone they can meet with face-to-face. But this asset is obscured by the limitations of remote work. Since we have returned to the office, we have worked to make ourselves available any time a client wants to meet in person. Being a local, available resource is good for our clients, and therefore, good for us.
Organic Communication & Establishment of Culture
The most striking observation I’ve noticed since returning to the office is how much more natural it is to cultivate relationships. I recently attended a meeting at a client’s office that had both in-person and virtual attendants; the virtual attendants materialized on and vanished from the screen at the meeting’s scheduled start and stop times, while the rest of us lingered a bit as we left the conference room. On my way out, I crossed paths with one of my client’s new employees, introduced myself, and explained how our businesses work together. Interactions like these are precisely what remote working situations lack. These micro-social interactions were taken for granted until they vanished in the wake of virtual meetings: they often leave lasting impressions, and serve as fundamental building blocks for rapport, culture, and relationships.
Don’t get me wrong – working from home definitely has its advantages. I’ll admit that you can get an impressive amount of work done when you’re isolated from the distractions of working in a shared space. The solution then, is to strike a balance between the two. Working from home during the pandemic has proven that flexibility is valuable, but there are some experiences that just can’t be recreated through the barrier of a computer screen.