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Commentary: Continued remote work could torpedo business, career success

By Clint Padgett

The rise of remote work has changed the face of business, and in some cases brightened the outlook for employees weary of battling traffic during morning and late-afternoon commutes.

Many of those employees hope their companies will stick with this new work-from-home reality even after the pandemic is nothing more than an unhappy memory.

But despite the benefits, continuing remote work beyond what is necessary could result in serious consequences, says Clint Padgett, president and CEO of Project Success Inc. and the ForbesBooks author of “How Teams Triumph: Managing By Commitment.”

“Working from home limits the interaction between employees and their managers and co-workers,” Padgett says. “That might be fine for a short time, but over the long haul it means you aren’t developing relationships or communicating in ways necessary to create a cohesive team.”

So far, most people choose to focus on the upsides. More than half — 54% — of remote workers say that if given a choice they would want to keep working from home even after the pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center.

Padgett says employees and their employers may both come to regret that view. He says potential downsides of permanent work from home could include:

• Employee burnout. When someone leaves an office at the end of the day, they put both actual distance and emotional distance between themselves and work. With remote work, Padgett says, that barrier between home and work is removed, which could lead to greater instances of burnout. As a result, people are more likely to produce poor quality work or leave their current jobs in search of something they hope will be better, he says.

• The end of “serendipitous” meetings. In an office setting, not every exchange of ideas happens in scheduled meetings or formal brainstorming sessions. People see each other in hallways or the breakroom and start to chat.

“Those organic conversations often result in creative thinking and problem solving,” Padgett says. “That’s a missing ingredient in the creative process with remote work.”

• An increase of “silo-itis.” Even in an office, human nature leads people to seek out like-minded individuals, which means people within departments often stick together unless steps are taken to make sure they interact with others.

“With the lack of physical interaction that remote work gives us, we will be even more isolated, working only within the team structure,” Padgett says. “That’s problematic because you get better results when people come out of their silos.”

• The potential for lower pay. One of the perks of remote work is that people can live where they please and no longer need to be in the same general area as company headquarters. That means they can abandon high-cost areas in favor of communities where housing is cheaper.

But Padgett points out that there are already news reports that some employers are considering paying people less as a result.

Right now remote work is the reality for many people, so to get the most out of it, managers should be proactive about making sure remote workers are actively included in Zoom meetings, Padgett says.

“And while I know nobody wants more Zoom meetings,” he says, “people may need to schedule one-on-one time with co-workers or to gather virtually in small groups just to chat and discuss non-work-related topics.

“That can help restore some of those serendipitous moments and reduce the problems associated with a return to silos.”

1 comment

John Eldon April 3, 2021 at 5:01 am

I disagree emphatically. Telepresence, remote work, telemedicine, etc. are the wave of the future, for good reason. This is simply the single most effective way to save money, save time, and reduce our collective carbon footprint. It is trivial to create opportunities to connect with colleagues and managers over the Internet, and it is easier to set up early morning or late afternoon meetings that would otherwise impose a hardship. I have brought work home for decades, even before working by remote, so the blur between company time and personal time was already there. Enlightened managers evaluate employees on productivity, not face time in an office.

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