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Gleb Tsipursky

Management

Why Remote Work Will Win This Fall

And why it should

Published: Monday, August 15, 2022 - 12:03

The monumental battle over remote work is heating up this summer as more traditionalist business leaders demand that their employees come to the office much or all of the time. Yet what these traditionalist executives are failing to realize is that the drama, stress, and tensions caused by their demands won’t matter. Remote work will win this fall.

Google Maps workers, asked to come back to the office full-time recently, fought back with a petition and threats of a strike, and won a reprieve of 90 days. Elon Musk demanded that all Tesla staff come to the office full-time despite insufficient spaces at Tesla offices, which resulted in Tesla staff being recruited by other companies. Apple employees are pushing back publicly against the leadership’s demand for three days in the office, with a recent letter saying “stop treating us like school kids who need to be told when to be where and what homework to do.”

The same struggles are happening at smaller U.S. companies as well as across the globe.

The Biden administration predicts that the new coronavirus variants may lead to 100 million infections in the fall. The most dangerous is BA.5, which is much more resistant than prior variants to vaccinations or prior infections. Its capacity to evade immunity combines with what appears to be increased transmissibility and ability to induce a worse disease. Thus, it led to a rise in hospitalizations in Portugal, Israel, and other countries where it became dominant. We can expect the same in the United States as BA.5 becomes increasingly dominant later this summer.

Perhaps you think vaccines might protect us from this problem? Think again. A Kaiser Permanente study on the original omicron strain, BA.1, found that after two doses of Pfizer, vaccine effectiveness against hospital admission was at 41 percent after nine months. A booster shot increased effectiveness against hospitalization to 85 percent for a couple of months, but it wore off quickly to 55 percent after three or more months.

Note that this is vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization, not infection; the vaccine is much weaker against infection. It was formulated for the original omicron strain BA.1, not BA.5, which is much more capable of immunity escape, more transmissible, and causes more severe disease. Let’s not forget that fewer than three-quarters of eligible Americans are vaccinated, fewer than half of all vaccinated Americans received a booster shot, and fewer than a quarter of those over 50 received a second booster.

Moreover, a new study shows that after an initial infection, each subsequent infection results in higher risks of hospitalization and death. In other words, after an initial infection, you end up with long-term or permanent damage that is exacerbated by subsequent infections. Thus, it’s important to minimize the number of times we contract the virus.

Unfortunately, the government isn’t taking the steps needed to address this situation. Despite multiple requests by the White House, Congress is refusing to fund vaccines and boosters, treatments such as Paxlovid, and research and production of next-generation vaccines. It’s election-year politics at their worst.

The implication is clear: This fall will see a major surge of the coronavirus. Moreover, we’ll be more vulnerable than before, given the lack of government funding for vaccines and treatments, as well as BA.5’s resistance to them.

During both the delta surge and the omicron surge, traditionalist companies that tried to force their employees back to the office, and experienced extensive drama and stress over this coercive approach, had to roll back their plans, with all that effort wasted. Besides, the yo-yo of back and forth from home to the office and back home seriously undermined productivity, harmed engagement and morale, and impaired retention and recruitment.

We’ll see the exact same yo-yo in a few months at Tesla, Apple, Google, and other companies led by traditionalist executives. Why do they pursue this doomed effort to push their staff into the office? After all, these executives have the same information I do, and the implication is clear.

The key lies in what makes these executives feel successful and feeds their identity as leaders. In fact, one leader wrote an op-ed piece about this, saying “There’s a deeply personal reason why I want to go back to the office. It’s selfish, but I don’t care. I feel like I lost a piece of my identity in the pandemic... I’m worried that I won’t truly find myself again if I have to work from home for the rest of my life.” By honestly saying the quiet part out loud, this op-ed reveals how other leaders use false claims about how remote work undermines productivity, innovation, and social capital to cover up their true concerns. This personal, selfish orientation speaks to a mental blind spot called the egocentric bias, an orientation toward prioritizing one’s own perspective and worldview over others.

It’s important to empathize with and understand where such leaders are coming from, but following their personal and selfish predisposition will hurt the bottom lines for their companies. What works much better is a hybrid-first, team-led model: A flexible approach where individual team leads consult their team members to decide what works best for them.

That goes for large companies, such as Applied Materials, a Fortune 200 high-tech manufacturer. It adopted an “excellence from anywhere” modality that focuses on deliverables rather than where someone works. That also goes for midsize organizations, including the Information Sciences Institute, a 400-staff data science and machine-learning research center at the University of Southern California. ISI used this approach to gain leadership in hybrid and remote work.

Team members at Applied and ISI come to the office when they want to socialize or need to collaborate more intensely because for most people, intense collaboration works best in person. Otherwise, team members stay at home, since workers are substantially more productive working remotely. As Covid cases increase in their area, the teams flexibly adapt their approach to more fully collaborate and socialize remotely.

This team-led, hybrid-first approach provides the best of all worlds. It fits the desires of most employees, whose biggest nonsalary demand is flexibility. It also maximizes profits for companies because it boosts retention, recruitment, collaboration, innovation, and productivity. And finally, it addresses the risks associated with coronavirus variants as well as other emergencies.

The only obstacle is the personal, selfish orientation of traditionalist leaders, who need to recognize the danger they are posing to the success of their companies if they pursue their backward-looking, coercive efforts to get their staff to return to the office.

Discuss

About The Author

Gleb Tsipursky’s picture

Gleb Tsipursky

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps quality professionals make the wisest decisions on the future of work as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of seven books, including Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in more than 650 articles in prominent publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and USA Today. His expertise comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and more than 15 years in academia as a cognitive scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter@gleb_tsipursky, Instagram@dr_gleb_tsipurskyLinkedIn, and register for his Wise Decision Maker Course.

Comments

Facts out of order. Priorities out of order too.

"[The vaccine] was formulated for the original omicron strain BA.1, not BA.5, ..."

This is not true. The vaccines pre-date Omicron, and they were developed for the original Wuhan strain of SARS-CoV-2: not any variant that is circulating today. 

"The only obstacle is the personal, selfish orientation of traditionalist leaders, who need to recognize the danger they are posing to the success of their companies if they pursue their backward-looking, coercive efforts to get their staff to return to the office."

I think that the damage is already done. 

Any company that moved to implement President Biden's [...] vaccine requirements, prior to letting the relevant court challenges play out, demonstrated how little they care for their employees as human beings. There is nothing more selfish or coercive than forcing people to take experimental pharmaceutical products because it might be inconvenient for you to stand up on behalf of your employees' conscience or autonomy.

Threatening people's livelihoods over a private medical decision (it is now a matter of public record that the jabs do not prevent viral transmission) is an unforgivable slight against human decency. Asking you to come into work, quite simply, is not. 

[This comment has been modified by QD editors. One word removed]