Bob Clark is Founder and Executive Chairman at Claycoa design-build company with over 30 years of experience in the industry.
Many leaders think that remote working is the new norm, but I believe that for productivity and collaboration purposes, it’s not for everyone. The world has changed a lot in recent years, and so have the lives of many. We’ve faced unprecedented challenges that companies could have easily pushed back, but with incredible dedication and talent, teams have successfully overcome obstacles together. While the pandemic has caused many companies to change the way their workforces work, in my opinion remote working isn’t always something it does in certain industries, including those my company operates in: construction.
When the rest of the world ground to a halt, our industry stayed in the field. A key to success and maintaining momentum in this industry is to be persistent, even in times of uncertainty. The energy that comes with an office full of talented and hardworking people is exactly what motivates us to reach new heights and common goals – and I’m not the only leader to think so.
Elon Musk requires Tesla employees to work in the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week. He also noted that the older you are, the more visible your presence should be. While Musk and I don’t agree on everything, I think working remotely can make it more challenging to create a truly cohesive team. And while some employees have found working from home makes them more productive, for others, remote working can have a negative influence their productivity. Leaders can learn from how Musk communicated Tesla’s work policies with his team members. From my perspective, he was transparent and honest about what he believes should be the requirements to work for Tesla and why.
Some other companies that rely heavily on collaboration and relationships to work effectively tell teams it’s time to (safely) return to the office. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon ordered employees to return to the office full-time. Solomon said this kind of work isn’t ideal for the company and isn’t the “new normal.” Last year at a conference on the financial industry, he said the shift to remote working is “…an anomaly that we are going to correct as soon as possible.” Fortune reported.
Data has been collected on more than 60,000 Microsoft employees during the first six months of 2020. The survey found that remote working “made the collaboration network more isolated” and that “synchronous communication decreased and asynchronous communication increased”. Researchers expect that these changes will affect productivity and innovation in the long term.
This is especially true for companies like mine, which have a strong focus on partnerships and output. I’ve found that working remotely can make it challenging to build internal relationships, build trust, and maintain a strong work ethic between teams when they’re not in the same space. Whether you’re in the field or in the office, community is at the heart of our industry. For my team, there is no substitute for working together in a common space with commitment, creativity and trust. As builders building offices, it sends the wrong message if we don’t spend time in our own time.
Leaders in similar industries should consider the same question when thinking about remote work: what message does it send to your customers and team members? Additional questions to ask whether remote working is right for you and/or your business include:
• Is most of your work done together or independently?
• How productive are you and your team members at home?
• Are there business-critical operations that work better when people are in the same room?
Individuals considering working from home should also consider both the potential benefits and risks of remote working. A study by the World Health Organization (download required) noted that remote working “can improve work-life balance, reduce traffic and time spent commuting, and reduce air pollution.” However, the study also noted that feelings of isolation, eyestrain and several other conditions can be consequences of working from home if organizations don’t take appropriate action. In addition, I think there is a risk that we will be left behind or even be first in line for reconsideration as companies start cutting costs due to a potential recession. At some companies, people in the office and on the front lines may be the safest.
Of course, there are a few sectors, such as social media and technology, where remote working can be effective. At Airbnb, for example, CEO Brian Chesky said that employees can “work remotely forever”. according to Business Insider. Chesky noted that as an alternative to the traditional hybrid model, team members could meet for about a week per quarter to personally deepen relationships. To me, this shows that even companies with remote policies understand the value of face-to-face collaboration.
I believe there is a big message that bringing people back to the office, especially in core cities, could be good for the economies of metropolitan areas and support shopping and dining in those communities. For my team, it’s time to show the industry and customers that our version of “normal” is fundamentally based on togetherness, both in proximity and in mission values. Being back in the office is what drives our success as an organization.