The speed at which technology and trends are evolving is faster than ever before. Sometimes it feels like trends can develop almost overnight, and good arguments and facts can get lost in the hype. This is true for remote work as well.
As a serial tech-entrepreneur, I’m used to embracing change and everything that’s new. I get easily fascinated by advances in technology, new trends and work patterns, but I’ve also studied philosophy at university and constantly remind myself to look beyond the trends and into the core of things.
As a digital, AI-entrepreneur, it feels almost counterintuitive to not encourage remote work. You feel old-fashioned; feel like you don’t understand the trends, or compare yourself to IBM’s Thomas Watson, who allegedly predicted a future with just five computers.
However, Watson never said this (it’s one of the many urban legends on the internet), and my concerns about remote work have got nothing to do with me being conversative or a managerial control freak. Instead, it’s deeply rooted in a desire to create the best possible workplace, company culture, and an attractive space for interacting with colleagues and creating a start-up full of creativity, empathy and passion.
Why you should think twice
Don’t get me wrong, I totally get the hype. People are trying to have more flexibility in their lives; reduce their stress levels; commute less and create a good work-life balance .
Despite all these noble intentions, we need to think twice about the impact of remote and hybrid work as a model the future of work. There’s a reason why my growing company JumpStory doesn’t encourage remote work. Well actually, there are three reasons, and I would love to share them with you to encourage you to think again when it comes to work outside the office.
Lack of human interaction
At JumpStory, we don’t believe that Zoom can hold a candle to in-person human interaction.
We trust our team completely, so the last thing we want to do is micromanage them. However, interacting on Slack, Zoom, and similar apps, is not real human interaction. It’s just as artificial as social media. It doesn’t really bring us closer together as human beings.
Talking about team spirit is not some Deepak Chopra-esque, pseudo-spiritual talk, but deeply rooted in the biology and essence of who we are as human beings. We thrive, even the most introverted of us (which I certainly am), when we feel that we belong somewhere – not just in our private lives, but at work, too. Real eye contact, physical presence and team culture activate our bodies and neurochemistry in a positive way. It’s not simply based on dopamine and serotonin, but with important hormones like oxytocin as well. It works against our feelings of isolation or demotivation
Even though concepts like workplace camaraderie and banter may seem old-fashioned given the increased professionalism at work, these things remain vital for our biology and our minds. That’s why coming together at the office as a team is probably more important now than ever before.
Lack of boundaries and stopping points
The importance of work-life balance is often used as an argument for remote and hybrid work, because of the potential of reducing commute-time and increasing flexibility in your work-life. Both meaningful points.
However, eliminating this “wasted time” can also be looked at from a different perspective. Personally, I’ve suffered from severe stress twice in my work-life. On both occasions it was because I was working too much, working from home, and always being online.
Having your work computer and environment setup at home can make it very hard to control for many of us. Especially if we don’t have clear stopping points, which are activities to stop yourself from working and give you something else to do.
My experience tells me that parents often have an easier time establishing these boundaries, simply because their children require their full attention. However, it is crucial for people without children to find other stopping points. Otherwise, your home office will become the thing that stresses you the most. The lack of boundaries risks driving your over the edge. Having a physical team office can avoid this because it makes it easier for leadership and management to enforce a healthy culture that balances the expectations between online and offline hours.
Lack of co-creation and innovation
Hundreds of people in my network have pointed out that their collaboration and co-creation suffered when working remotely. Does this mean that you can’t collaborate when you work remotely or in a hybrid model? Of course not. Nothing in this world is black and white.
However, the mechanisms that allow a team to work together creatively are certainly challenged and at risk of failing. The best creative work happens when a team is in a so-called state of flow – also known as ‘team flow’. It is much harder to solve problems together when you’re working from home. It also becomes harder to keep everyone engaged in problem solving when they’re not sitting close to one another.
Currently, there is no digital technology that can reliably create these flows remotely. I doubt whether we are be to develop something that works as well as the physical coworking environments and cultures.
The research behind the work of the future
It’s very interesting to notice that every time you criticize remote work, there are two kinds of critical responses:
1. That you’re old-fashioned and don’t understand the future of work.
2. That research shows that people prefer the remote work model and that it’s good for productivity.
When it comes to #1, only time will tell. As I mentioned above, I don’t see remote as the future of work, but as a trend that will have far less impact than people are currently predicting.
When it comes to #2, this is simply not true.
Of course, quite a lot of research has been done on the benefits and drawbacks of remote and hybrid work models. Especially the covid pandemic has triggered this, but it’s still way too early to conclude anything substantial. We’ll have to see how things evolve and progress.
Talking about remote work and hybrid work as interesting trends makes sense, but to conclude that this is the future of work is making a claim without in-depth research and facts. Therefore, you shouldn’t trust surveys that claim to document that everyone sees remote work as the future. As human beings, we’re very strongly influenced by the media and trends going on around us. We often reflect more deeply about the long-term implications of things at a later stage.
You could also point to other studies, such as the ones from Imperial College in London, in which people in virtual teams feel more like workers and less like a member of a family, causing them to lose morale and work much less efficiently in teams. My point is that the current research doesn’t tell us very much. That should encourage us to remain very critical when it comes to the hybrid-work hype, even if people might label us as old-fashioned for thinking so.
There’s no way to know where we will be 20-30 years down the road, so we can only look at what the data shows us now. In our start-up, we grew 230% last year. We have a super loyal team, and work happily from our company office 90% of the time. We have employees from 10 different countries and customers in over 150 countries. So we’re truly global, but our workplace is not.
We absolutely love it here in this small Danish city called Aarhus, and we just raised millions to continue our journey of growth. We’re not claiming to have the right solution, but it works for us.
Curious to know what works for you!