In 2008, while working with a team of 40 people spread across several times zones, I suggested that we need a distributed work manifesto. This would include the requirement for collaborative documents, a group text chat, a focus on delivering content and not formatting for style, and reserving email for decisions and contracts. We are still not there yet and even during this pandemic managerial forces are trying to put distributed workers back into the office. The reality is that most workers want distributed work, most of the time.
“As companies come under pressure to offer higher compensation to staff and to recruit skilled workers, the national average base salary increase for 2023 is projected at 4.2 per cent, according to a recent survey from consulting firm Eckler Ltd.
A recent survey by productivity software company OSlash about the ‘great disconnect’ between bosses and workers found that 60 per cent of employers said they would offer employees a hybrid work schedule if they declined to return to the office.
Only 20 per cent would let employees go back to full time remote working.
Of the 800 work-from-home employees and 200 business leaders surveyed, nearly 80 per cent of remote workers believe their employers would fire them if they said ‘no’ to a return-to-office mandate.
Meanwhile, 78 per cent of employees surveyed said they would be willing to take a pay cut to continue working from home, with Gen Z respondents being the most willing to do so.”
—The Star 2022-10-07
In distributed work 2021 I summarized the issues I had observed throughout that year. Earlier this year I concluded in a presentation that for distributed work to optimally function, management must move first. Yes, management is moving, but often in the wrong direction.
Meanwhile in the Canadian Public Service, Doctor Nili Kaplan-Myrth reports today that — “Directors General will receive bonuses based on thresholds of hybrid work enforcement” — if they get enough workers to return to the office [updated 2022-11-04]. We have created a managerial class focused on perpetuating the status quo that got them into their positions.
Before the pandemic hit us, the evidence was strong that management is the major obstacle to distributed work. I think it is because people who become managers think they have to manage people, when they should be managing the system and helping people get work done.
“Our recent report showed that many workers we surveyed viewed managerial and executive resistance to telework as a major obstacle.
Through interviews, we learned that executives saw the benefits of using flexible work to their advantage as a negotiating tool for recruitment, promotion, retention and motivation, but they often worried about the costs of training and potential culture change.
They expressed concern that allowing telecommuting could create inequitable outcomes in the workplace, and possibly negatively impact morale.” —The Conversation 2020-01-09
Going back to ‘normal’ is the bias of management.
Hybrid work, such as three days in office and two from anywhere, is not good enough for many people with families, long commutes, mobility issues, or having to provide care at home. Many workers are responsible for families, and contribute to their communities. A lot of workers have a wealth of experience, often overlooked as it does not neatly fit into a job description.
The forced remote work of the early pandemic proved that not only is distributed work feasible, it often results in improved profits for the managerial class. So why are so many managers against it? Perhaps it’s because they cannot grow up.