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We Need to Talk About Remote Work

By Adrián Fernández de Mendoza Ibarra - Ibushak


Adrian Fernandez de Mendoza Ibarra By Adrian Fernandez de Mendoza Ibarra | Co-Founder - Wed, 06/07/2023 - 12:00

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Elon Musk, the mastermind behind Tesla and SpaceX, is widely adored for his bold ventures, including the occasional spectacular rocket explosion that he assures us was all part of the plan. Apple CEO Tim Cook is similarly revered by the legions of fans who eagerly snap up the latest iPhones and MacBooks. But who's even cooler than them? The co-creator of ChatGPT, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, of course.

"What forward-thinking visionaries," you muse, striking a sage pose.

"The world's better off with them in it," you proclaim, pouring a second cup of coffee still in your trusty old pajamas, ready for a day of endless Zoom meetings with people you’ve never seen in real life.

But wait. These three tech titans have one thing in common: They detest remote work, calling it "one of the tech industry's worst mistakes."

“How can they be so right yet so wrong?” you wonder, muting your camera and ignoring your Zoom call’s speaker.

Since March 2020, working from home has evolved from a sanitary precaution to a generational statement made by millennials and Gen Zers. Young professionals are now declining job offers and other opportunities because they refuse to spend any time in the office, saying things like: "They expect me to be in the office a few days a week? No way."

There are several undeniable reasons why remote work is highly sought-after by employees: It reduces the stress of commuting, saves money, and offers greater flexibility. However, some of these reasons are not as convincing to everyone, including employers. Let's delve into the aspects that no one wants to discuss.

Enhanced Productivity

It's almost impossible to resist the temptation to take a quick nap or run a personal errand while working from home unless you possess the discipline of a Buddhist monk. We all know this to be true. While there's nothing inherently wrong with taking breaks (after all, downtime is essential for our well-being), the claim that everyone is more productive while working remotely is overly ambitious.

The statement "I can work in peace and nobody bothers me" is partially accurate. Working from home can shield you from annoying and talkative colleagues in the office. However, coordinating a small group for a quick discussion and decision-making can be a monumental effort when using tools like Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. Moreover, the live interaction of adjusting tasks, scope, and other related activities can improve the productivity of in-office teams.

Loneliness and Isolation

Offices these days are cooler than they were 10-15 years ago. As a former Google employee, I know how valuable a nice office space is for building company identity and culture, and for interacting with colleagues.

A good friend of mine landed a gig at a convenience-store-chain turned fintech in Mexico City. On his first day in the role, he was thrilled and even hummed while commuting to familiarize himself with the new office and team. However, he recently texted me expressing disappointment in the empty super-modern office space. The office featured highly-rated desks with stationary bicycles, open spaces, phone booths, high desks, snacks, and even a ping pong table, but it was all unused. "What a waste," he said, and I couldn't agree more.

New reports show that remote workers are feeling isolated and disconnected, with low motivation. At a meeting in the office of one of Mexico's top e-commerce marketplaces, I asked an executive how often he came to the office. "Once or twice a month," he replied. "I do six to eight Zoom calls a day from the comfort of my home. It's awesome." I tried to hold back my grimace and excused myself to go to the bathroom. To myself, I thought, "That's definitely not awesome."

In the end, It’s All About Relationships

Even with rules, procedures, and job descriptions, personal relationships ultimately determine success in the workplace. Harvard research supports this, as studies show that social connections are crucial for fostering a sense of purpose and well-being among employees.

Moreover, effective management of social capital within organizations yields tangible benefits. It facilitates learning and knowledge sharing, boosts employee retention and engagement, reduces burnout, sparks innovation, and ultimately improves employee and organizational performance.

However, building positive, long-lasting relationships over repetitive video conferences can be challenging. While not impossible, it certainly takes longer and requires greater effort. Shared office spaces provide an ideal opportunity to get to know colleagues better, to understand their values and passions firsthand. If you're not willing to commute to work, it's unlikely that you'll be willing to meet your colleagues for a beer or two at the local bar after hours.

What Then?

As I watch my (scarce) popularity among millennials and Gen Zers evaporate, I can't help but feel a sense of peace. I believe it's not just in-office work that bothers people, but the lack of clear objectives, metrics, and goals. I yearn for flexible work and an open culture, not just sitting around counting down the clock until the big boss leaves so we can finally go home.

Aristotle famously said, "Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual." Wise guy.

As you slip into a pair of dingy shorts and well-worn Birkenstocks for a quick trip to the store, you can't help but wonder if this remote work lifestyle is really what you need to thrive. “Maybe I'll even shave and head into the office tomorrow. It couldn't be that bad, right?” The store clerk raises an eyebrow. “Nevermind,” you say.

Photo by:   Adrián Fernández de Mendoza Ibarra

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