“Last spring, I wrote that we should let people choose,” he says. But newer research has changed his mind. In fact, he says, giving people complete freedom to choose whether and when they work from home could have serious ramifications.
“If you look at who wants to work from home, it’s not random. People with disabilities, people with children and women all tend to have a higher preference for more days working from home. What could happen, if you let people choose, is that young ambitious single men who don’t want to work from home come into the office and charge ahead. Women who are at home with children fall behind, and don’t get promoted. A few years down the line, there’s a lack of diversity in leadership.”
As comfortable as many have become using tools like Zoom and Slack to stay connected to colleagues over the last year, Bloom believes having some members of a team working remotely while others come to the office will inevitably disadvantage those working from home. “Anyone who’s ever tried to join in on Zoom with a group of people who are in the room together knows how hard it is,” he says. “It leads to a two-track system of insiders and outsiders.”
The simple solution, says Bloom, is to keep everyone on the same kind of schedule. “Either everyone works from home, everyone comes in, or everyone on the whole team – including the managers – works from home two days a week.”
The formation of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ groups can also be avoided by being deliberate about team building. There are a lot of effective ways to do that virtually, says Cristea. “I know a team that uses an online platform where you can play Risk or Settlers of Catan online together,” she says. “Anecdotally, this seems to work. Even if you’re not seeing people or talking regularly during the day, if you participate in group events, you’re making yourself visible and being part of the team.”
Cristea says the pandemic “has shown companies that remote work can be done” and she expects to see many industries transition to permanently working from home. There will be some kinks to iron out and a period of experimentation, she says, but “with the proper training for leadership and team members, this can work”.
It’s working very well for Ali. For the last few years, he’s been at a fully remote company, which he says has changed the promotion equation completely, and for the better. Not only is the playing field level, but with in-person happy hours and breakroom politics eliminated, the game is based entirely on merit.
“Ten years ago, getting promoted was just about being the most popular person on your team,” he says. “Now it’s like, well, if you’re all distributed, no one’s really popular. So, it’s going to be based on effort and skill, and how well you do your job – even if there’s no one watching you do it.”