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Innovation

Malcolm Gladwell says working from home is 'not in your best interests'. The reality is much more complicated

The challenge for managers is making the most of what remote working offers, not worrying about whether staff are working in their pyjamas.
steve-ranger
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on
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Malcolm Gladwell

Getty/J. Kempin

Malcolm Gladwell doesn't think people working from home is a very good idea. The best-selling author made the points when appearing on the Diary of a CEO podcast, where he noted that the people most likely to leave his company were those who came to the office the least, or were hired to work remotely.

"I think its very hard to feel necessary when you're physically disconnected," he said. "As we face the battle at all organizations are facing now, 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, we wanted you to join our team, and if you're not here it's really hard to do that."

He added "It's not in your best interest to work at home. I know it's a hassle to come to the office, but if you're just sitting in your pyjamas in your bedroom - is that the work life you want to live?"

Gladwell said he was "very frustrated" with the inability of people in positions of leadership to explain this effectively to their employees.

After two years of enforced remote work, it's certainly the case that the limitations of working from home are becoming a lot clearer.

Too many people are still working from kitchen tables and peering into tiny laptop screens, whereas in the office, they would have a much more comfortable setup.

Many people are missing the networking opportunities and social life that the office can offer, especially younger workers, who are less likely to have a comfortable workspace at home. 

Remote workers feel lonely and cut off from corporate culture. They may not understand where the organisation is going. They may wonder why – and even if –  their work matters. And while getting the day-to-day job done is (for many) easier without the distractions of the office, it's also hard to be inspired if you only have the cat for company.

But you have to put these disadvantages up against the many advantages of remote working. Flexibility and better work-life balance encourages people who have traditionally been under-represented to take on knowledge worker jobs. Remote work opens up opportunities for people who might not want to live in big cities, while the environmental benefits of less commuting are clear and can give workers back hours a day.

The real challenge is managing remote work, not arguing against it.

Too many managers think that remote work is going to go away, perhaps soon. For much of this year in a booming economy, workers have had the upper hand; too many bosses hope that they can force workers back into the office again if the economy starts to struggle.

In reality, remote and flexible working are what have kept most organisations operating over the last two-and-half years, and enabled them to perform significant digital transformation at the same time. To argue that remote work doesn't work isn't far from saying that no business can ever be larger than what the boss can physically patrol. 

Remote work isn't going to go away – the challenge to managers is to work out how to optimise it, rather than worry about whether staff are wearing pyjamas in the middle of the day.

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