Returning to the workplace

Chief Human Resources Officer

Georgette Verdin | Chief Human Resources Officer

There’s a topic looming on the horizon for many organizations: Whether we’ll be returning to the workplace full-time, part-time, or rarely. The insights come from a Hidden Brain podcast interview with Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economist who focuses on analyzing management practices. This is one of my favorite podcasts, Shankar Vedantam does a terrific job raising provocative questions and drawing out smart ideas. In this episode, he dives into the very of-the-moment topic of working from home.

Here are some things I took away from it:

  • A Chinese travel agency did a fascinating experiment on the benefits and drawbacks of working from home. They divided the team up; half came into the office as usual and half worked primarily from home, coming in just once a week. The results?
    • WFH led to 13% more productivity
    • BUT the WFH group wasn’t happy. They wanted to come back to the office: they were lonely, had FOMO (the fear of missing out) or were losing out to the bed, the fridge, or the TV at home
    • The ideal balance for this group, at least, was to work from home twice a week, allowing frequent contact with colleagues in the office
    • Attrition rates dropped significantly – by 50% – for those WFH
    • However, promotion rates were much lower for those working at home – roughly half as many got promoted, compared to the desk-bound set. Apparently, it was a case of “out of sight and out of mind.” The WFHers may also have lost out on important intel about office politics and promotion opportunities from the lack of casual chit-chat
  • More generally, 20% of the workforce wants to WFH. Typically, people say they want to WFH 2 days a week, but there is huge variation in the actual numbers

It was also interesting to reflect how much times have changed. The guest recounted a pre-pandemic experience when he was the only person WFH on a gig in London. People used to tease him about “shirking from home.”

In case it isn’t obvious to anyone, the home-office mix is a complex cocktail that needs to be balanced carefully. This podcast provides you with some deeper insights into how to build a successful balance. (And the comment about creating a “sound-bunkered room” at home for Zoom calls made me laugh!)

On a related theme, you may want to read this Forbes article by a colleague of ours, CEO coach Sabina Nawaz, about the importance of remaining visible and being sure your voice is heard in a blended work environment, where some but not all of the team works remotely.

My main takeaway from this piece: It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Proactively update your manager on your progress, without checking in at every turn. (As she writes, “Be low maintenance and high visibility.”) And look for opportunities to connect with the team beyond immediate needs for your particular projects. Ask your manager about challenges they face and opportunities they see. Find ways to pitch in to help the broader team. And keep your eye on the company’s overall goals, so you can be sure you’re contributing to the bigger cause.