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Returning to an office-centric culture

Earlier this week, Amazon announced that it plans to return to an “office-centric culture” as its baseline. Its rationale was that being in an office allows the company to better “invent, collaborate, and learn together.” All of this was laid out in an announcement that was distributed to its teams globally. On the other end of the spectrum, Twitter continues to double down on working from home. The company, which is currently hiring, is even trying to target talent that may be disgruntled by the fact that their current company is planning for them to return to the office. Two very different approaches. So which one is right?

This is, of course, a great debate right now and the right answer probably depends on a myriad of different factors, some of which are likely specific to the company. Dror Poleg has been trying to think through this problem with something he calls the talent equation (because it’s all about talent). It works like this: level of in-person interaction x overall size of talent pool = innovation and financial success. The basis behind this equation is pretty simple. In-person interaction is great for business. This much we know. But you also need the right talent interacting. Allowing remote work is one way of expanding the size of your talent pool. But again, you do this at the expense of in-person interaction.

In-person interaction is what makes cities the great organisms that they are. And I believe firmly in this side of the equation over the long-term. Even right now I find that when I go into the office, my call and Zoom volumes go down dramatically and I have more time to think, collaborate, and do, you know, actual work. This is because many interactions don’t require a Zoom meeting when you’re in the office. You stop by someone’s desk. You ask a thing (usually pretty quickly). And then you go off and action that thing. But I also acknowledge that for some companies, access to the right talent — and lots of it — may be a real challenge, particularly in smaller cities.

Like Amazon, I am a supporter of office-centric work cultures. But I do think that Poleg’s talent equation is a useful way to think about this debate right now.

Photo by Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

4 Comments

  1. Ruckus

    Gotta say the constant admiration of amazon on this blog leaves a bad taste in my mouth

    Like

  2. My current theory on this is that if your remote days are full of calls and Zoom meetings that’s probably a remote work failure mode.

    Speaking generally, do you need to have so much communication synchronously? Maybe (and if that’s the case, remote work probably isn’t a good fit). But I think it’s likely that in most workplaces a lot more communication can be done asynchronously. This can be through writing, voice memo chat, etc. It takes work (and new skills!) to do this effectively though.

    Personally, I have approx. three Zoom meetings a week. I’m more productive working remotely, since I have more control over my environment with fewer distractions. Those quick questions usually aren’t urgent, and end up disrupting flow.

    There are trade-offs here, and I don’t think that remote work is right for every role or workplace, but I think we should recognize that one will isn’t always be better than the other, and both can be done poorly (try doing deep work in the office sitting next to a sales team on calls all day 😄).

    I’m still bullish on cities even if remote work takes a more significant share permanently. City life is so much more than the office.

    Liked by 1 person

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