The Downside to Remote Work

I have worked at an office the majority of my career.  Sitting in a cubicle or office surrounded by your colleagues was the norm.  My first experience with the hybrid set up started soon after Covid-19 arrived and my company only allowed essential workers at the office in adherence to city mandates.  I was okay with it since it saved me from my one hour commutes to and from work.  I’m also self-motivated and don’t get distracted easily so I wasn’t worried about not doing my work effectively.  We came back to the office much sooner than other local companies but we could not use conference rooms, we wore masks, tried to stay six feet apart, and relied on Teams for meetings.  Everyone managed okay but it was strange being in the office while limiting face-to-face interactions.  The New Product Development (NPD) team could have done the majority of their work from home but being in the office allowed us to brainstorm and solve problems more quickly.

After I got a taste of hybrid work, I kept my eye out for permanent hybrid and remote positions.  I was fortunate to land a role at a large corporation that decided to keep employees in hybrid and remote positions since the company continued to be successful during the pandemic.  The best part of my job is my work weeks are flexible and I go into the office as needed.  Americans struggle to balance work and life and this new work structure is positive at the employee level. 

Here are a few other advantages to hybrid and remote work:

  1. Companies are no longer restricted to recruiting and hiring locally.
  2. Employees save money by commuting less miles, paying less tolls, less frequent trips to the shop for vehicle maintenance. 
  3. More importantly, the time saved is priceless.
Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

As the title of this post indicates, there is a downside and it applies to team performance.  I haven’t met my manager nor several of my colleagues in person after almost a year and the majority of my interactions are via email and Zoom calls.  Teamwork is severely impacted once the social aspect of interactions is removed.  Why?  Teamwork is based on trust.  I cannot trust someone fully if I haven’t met them in person.  I believe this downside has been overlooked and underestimated. 

Executing NPD and other complex projects at a high level is never easy even if you had a team of smart, experienced, and cooperative individuals.  Some high performing teams literally eat, sleep, work and socialize together.  This extreme example allows people to form strong bonds and trust over time.  Teammates learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and can even anticipate each other’s thoughts and actions.  A hybrid or remote team can’t get anywhere close to this level of cohesiveness. 

So how do we compensate?  I suggest to have 1-1 calls with colleagues to get to know each other.  Sometimes I start project calls by asking people what they did for the weekend or ask what plans they have for an upcoming holiday.  Another idea is meet with your project team and colleagues once a month, once a quarter or whatever works to build bonds over time.  If you work in a hybrid environment, go out to lunch with colleagues and try to spend time outside of work.  Consider joining a softball or bowling league with your team.

Hybrid and remote work are here to stay, and I believe working in person is superior.  The bottom line is humans are social and you cannot be social if you are not together.  We will have to be creative to gain some ground on what was lost.  Monitoring performance will be key to see how you and your teams are doing especially compared to the competition.

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