While remote and hybrid modes of work have distinct benefits, they are not without other disadvantages. Mixing two modes of work into one week can be emotionally and physically draining, say nothing of the very real phenomenon of proximity bias
In July, Malcolm Gladwell caused a workplace-related kerfuffle. The author said on the Diary of a CEO podcast that, “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 pajamas in your bedroom – is that the work life you want to live?”
Cue instant outrage. And perhaps it isn’t so surprising: 75% of Gen Zs, and 76% of Millennials surveyed in Deloitte’s 2022 Millennial Survey said that their working preference is remote or hybrid. Gladwell wasn’t actually writing off remote working, or at least not for himself. He is on record as preferring to do his own work either at home or at a rotating list of nearby restaurants and cafés.
His point was about the opportunities workers miss when they don’t come into a physical location – at least occasionally. “I think it’s very hard to feel necessary when you’re physically disconnected,” he said. “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.”
In a nutshell, what Gladwell is speaking about is something called proximity bias. In remote or hybrid work environments, this is a phenomenon where managers (or other team members) can begin to assume that those in the office are working harder, or are more productive, than those working remotely.
A 2021 LinkedIn study of over 1,000 workers in the UK found that 44% believed that those who work from the office are more likely to be favoured by bosses or senior management. Nearly 39% said that working from home could have a negative impact on their career due to having less in-person time with superiors. And 33% said they believed that being in the office would ultimately benefit their career.
The issue also negatively affects those who are already battling inequalities in the workplace. Slack’s Future Forum Pulse discovered that executives, white knowledge workers, men and non-parents are opting into in-office work at higher rates, therefore gaining an advantage over those who remain remote. The company pointed out that this could lead to an entrenching of existing inequities.
While remote and hybrid modes of work have distinct benefits, they are not without other disadvantages. Mixing two modes of work into one week can be emotionally and physically draining. A recent global study from Tinypulse found that 80% of people leaders said it was exhausting for employees. Meetings are often more difficult as we struggle with the juggling of a team that is both WFH and in-office. And many companies downsized during the pandemic, selling offices or letting leases expire. What happens if your company does the same, and you come in on a day when there is literally nowhere for you to plug in your laptop?