The employees who return to the office after a year of remote work aren’t the employees their bosses remember. They have spent over a year adjusting to a radically different rhythm—both in terms of work and their personal lives...After a year of working in solitude, many have come to expect more control over how, when and where their work gets done, and to have greater autonomy relative to their managers and organizations.
That’s the beginning of my story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, How Working From Home Has Changed Employees. It’s the cover story in today’s C-Suite report, and has already started a great conversation about how managers can support the newly independent employees now returning to the hybrid workplace. (Our book, Remote, Inc., aims to help both managers and employees adapt their working styles to this new reality.)
Anticipating the next story
It’s the kind of article that’s tricky to write, because it required us to look around the corner: When we started developing this piece, organizations were barely starting to think about re-opening their offices, and it wasn’t easy to anticipate the challenges that would be top of mind when they did. So today I’m sharing a story about how to get that kind of foresight, because in the case of this particular story, it came from the most surprising place: Clubhouse, an audio social network that I joined in September of last year.
Clubhouse was where I had found several of the folks we profiled in Remote, Inc., like Simone Alexander (who used remote flexibility to create an innovative support program for women immigrants in Barcelona), Hollis Robbins (a university dean who models how managers can help remote employees create the space to work effectively), and Adin Miller (whose leadership approach will inspire other managers to focus on outcomes, not hours).
Those conversations inspired me to return to Clubhouse as we approached the date of our book launch, as a way to build interest and readership. I schedule a few different events that worked great—and I also organized one where nobody came.
A glimpse at the return to work
Well, not quite nobody. Over the course of thirty minutes, while a slow trickle of silent faces drifted in and out of the room, I did my best to simulate a conversation. I just had to get through the scheduled hour.
Despite my efforts at conjuring conversation from thin air, I soon found myself alone in the room with just one other user: A young Saudi guy who was really just there to practice his English. It turned out that he had lived in Vancouver for a while, very close to our former office, and so we talked about that neighborhood for a little bit. Then I started asking him about his experience of remote work, because I really had no idea if remote work was a thing in Saudi Arabia during the pandemic, or for that matter, before Covid. He told me that it had been virtually unheard of before Covid, and that even during Covid, it was relatively short-lived; when we spoke in February or March he'd already been back at the office for months and months.
I asked him what it was like to be back in the office after working remotely for the first time, and he told me that he was finding the transition quite challenging. His boss just did not understand that he had learned to work more independently over the course of his months working from home, and was trying to micromanage my new friend just like he had before the pandemic.
I found his story fascinating, and wondered if it was a taste of things to come: Would people in the U.S., Canada and other countries have the same experience once they returned to work? It was all too easy to imagine that bosses would need to adjust their management styles to the new reality of workers who'd learned to work very differently during Covid.
From pitch to publication
In early March, I pitched this story to the editorial team I work with at the Journal. The Journal’s team came back to me with the idea of interviewing some organizational psychologists or management experts who had thought deeply about the challenges of managing remote workers, or who had studied the way Covid and remote work had changed productivity and working style on the part of workers themselves. I did some digging through academic articles to find researchers who had looked into these questions, and interviewed several business professors on three different continents.
The published story reflects a mix of their research and insights, the guidance we offer to managers and employees in Remote, Inc., and my own emergent thinking as a result of the many conversations I’ve had about remote work over the past several months. We are really just at the beginning of a wholesale reinvention of work and management, as the shift to hybrid challenges us to rethink our approach to working and managing, both at home and at the office.
I would love to hear your own thoughts about how remote work has changed you, and how you think these changes will affect the way you work and manage as we return to the office. Just reply to this email, or reach out on Twitter.
How To Be Productive While Working At Home Or Anywhere Else. My hour-long interview with NPR Wisconsin is packed with practical advice on how to create a satisfying approach to remote work, even after the office re-opens.
Four Ways to Keep Working From Home When the Boss Wants You Back. Bloomberg's Sarah Green Carmichael shared my recommendations for holding onto at least part-time remote status in this practical, engaging piece.
Remote work is here to stay—and that's good for the planet. My data-driven story for Canada's National Observer shows what's at stake for the planet if we return to the office 4, 3, or 2 days a week. You can also watch a video recording of my related conversation with Editor-in-Chief Linda Solomon Wood, featuring cartoons by Rob Cottingham.
For those of you living in places where vaccines are allowing you to get out of your home office and out into the world again, I hope you're taking advantage of this newfound chance to explore one of the great delights of remote work outside of a pandemic: other people!
I'll be back in two weeks with more tips on enjoying a new approach to the hybrid workplace.