Ethan Bernstein, Hayley Blunden, Andrew Brodsky, Wonbin Sohn, and Ben Waber wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled The Implications of Working Without an Office (July 15, 2020).

« The most meaningful personality trait in explaining whether employees adapted better (in terms of the measures above, from satisfaction to stress) was a high level of agreeableness — a trait often associated with an individual’s proclivity toward maintaining positive relationships, feeling others’ emotions, sympathizing with others’ feelings, and being interested in others and their challenges. »

« History is littered with failed work-from-home experiments… This time, everyone in an organization had to do it, and they collectively strived to figure out how to overcome the challenges. »

« As Bob Moesta… put it, “Virtual before had to be as good as the office. You couldn’t have a kid walking in the background, because the reference point was being in the office where that would never happen.” »

« A study of virtual workers conducted by Caroline Bartel of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski, and New York University’s Batia Wiesenfeld that was published in 2011 found that when only some employees are virtual, those who are — regardless of their tenure — tend to feel left out and less respected, and identify with the organization less, than those who perform their jobs in the office. »

« Why, then, not stay virtual… Physical offices cause people who don’t normally work with each other to connect accidentally — bumping into each other in the hallway or the cafeteria — and that interaction sparks new ideas. Steve Jobs thought such serendipity was so important that he specifically designed the building for Pixar Animation Studios, in Emeryville, California, to maximize such interactions. »

« There also tends to be less schmoozing and small talk among virtual workers, which… leads to lower levels of trust. The decline in such spontaneous communications and trust can have a big negative impact on innovation and collaboration. »

« Virtual work could undermine three other activities that are critical to long-term organizational health: [1] Onboarding new employees… [2] Creating “weak ties.” … Weak ties have been shown to play an important role in organizational performance, including innovation, raising or maintaining product and service quality, and attaining project milestones. Yet they are difficult to create virtually… [3] Fostering relationships… managing by walking around does not translate into managing by emailing around. »

« Many of the benefits of having everyone work virtually may be lost if companies send some employees back to the office. »

« If hybrid work environments create two tiers of employees (e.g., those who are in the office and those who are not, or those who have the ability to informally interact with senior leaders and those who do not), virtual employees risk becoming a “lower class.” »


Ben Waber is author of People Analytics.

[ Corona virus, COVID-19 ]

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