I heard Malcolm Gladwell speak at the WorkHuman Live conference earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised. It’s not that I expected to not enjoy his keynote but I didn’t expect to enjoy it either. To be honest, I didn’t have any real expectation. I was busy trying to stay COVID-free! That said, I did enjoy his speech that day. Fast forward to today and I see this headline come across my timeline: Malcolm Gladwell slams working from home: ‘What have you reduced your life to?’ Really, Malcolm?
The article goes on to state that Gladwell believes that remote work is hurting society and that coming together in an office is necessary for employees to develop a sense of belonging.
“As we face the battle that all organizations are facing now in getting people back into the office, it’s really hard to explain this core psychological truth, which is we want you to have a feeling of belonging and to feel necessary.”
He even went as far as to classify remote workers as folks who are just sitting at home working in their pajamas and questioned their life’s purpose if they are just working for a paycheck as opposed to wanting to be part of something.
“If it’s just a paycheck, then it’s like what have you reduced your life to?”
Um – to needing to earn money to live on, maybe. Bills, bills, bills don’t care where you sit or who you sit next to.
I am thoroughly disgusted by this mentality. First of all, there is NOTHING wrong with working for a paycheck only. Work =/= reason to live. Secondly, this type of ‘folks need to be in/go back to the office’ mindset completely ignores the myriad reasons why some folks prefer remote work. There’s the time and money saved by not having to commute. There’s more time to spend with family or friends or on self-care. There’s greater flexibility to get things done like errands and appointments. And lest not forget, for employees who are Black, Indigenous, people of color and/or members of other marginalized groups, there’s not having to code switch or deal with endless microaggressions (or worse) in toxic environments. It’s not about wanting to work in your pajamas, although folks shouldn’t be shamed for that either.
Over the course of the past two years, I have seen many accounts of individuals whose lives have significantly improved due to being given the opportunity to work remotely. I’m talking about improvements in mental health, physical health, and family relationships. Of course that hasn’t been the case for everyone and remote work doesn’t work for everyone, but to reduce wanting to work remotely, as many people do now, to just wanting to work in your pajamas is insulting. It’s also wholly inaccurate that a sense of belonging can only be developed by people being in the same physical location.
Remote work and distributed workforces are far from a new thing, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced several employers who had previously been opposed to allowing remote work to change their way of thinking in order to maintain business operations. In doing so, many of them learned that *surprise, surprise*, folks could still be productive not being in the office – even during a pandemic! Technology made this much easier to do. There are so many tools and methods for team members to communicate and collaborate. It’s a lazy leader that believes the only way for a team to feel connected is in person. As a leader, if you desire to create an inclusive culture where folks feel connected a have a sense of belonging, you do that, regardless of where they are located. It’s possible. Just like it’s possible to have everyone in the same location and not have any of this.
I know this isn’t the case for everyone, especially during the COVID pandemic, but my mental health improved from working remotely and I know I’m not the only one. If your employees want to work from home, or you are noticing that more candidates or new hires want to work from home, ask yourself why. Ask THEM why. Instead of downplaying the desire or demeaning people, figure out how to make it work for all parties involved. That’s your best bet. Don’t worry about what folks are wearing while working at home- as long as they are dressed during video meetings! Don’t force folks to have their camera on though. 🙂