The future of working from home: 3 business professors speak
The future of working from home: 3 business professors speak
September 27, 2022
With “working from home” becoming the new norm, some companies are trying to lure workers into the office. Others argue that the return is unnecessary.
What are the benefits of online working arrangements? Is there something lost in the corporate culture as a result? Is working from home as efficient as in-person office environments?
BrandeisNow asked three different questions to three faculty members at Brandeis International Business School to get their perspective on the “new normal” of office cultures. Benjamin Gomes-Casseres ’76, Peter A. Petri Professor of Business and Society, Daniel Bergstresser, Associate Professor of Finance, and Ahmad Namini, Professor of Business Analytics Practice, share their thoughts.
What are some of the benefits of online working arrangements?
Gomes Casseres: The rise of remote work is a revolution – we suddenly discovered a new way to interact and collaborate. When communication technologies such as the telephone and the Internet hit the market, they revolutionized the way we live and work. Remote work technologies are changing the way we live, buy and work today.
Before the Covid, it’s as if we were content to live on an island without knowing how to swim. Then the island was suddenly flooded and we had to learn to swim. Once the waters receded, this new skill opened up new vistas, and it’s fun too!
This has happened with the way we work, especially in knowledge industries. Most companies were content with working in person, in the office. Then they were forced to learn how to work remotely. Now they’re discovering that working remotely can be productive and rewarding. Plus, it expands geographic reach and team diversity, reduces commute time, and helps juggle between home and work.
Depending on the sector and the task, remote work is more or less effective, or even feasible. Take telehealth – it’s a useful new modality in mental health, but not in podiatry. In my field, we find that remote learning can work well in graduate and professional studies, although we know that this is not the case in K-12. But either way, we’ve learned a new way of working, and that way will only get better, as new technologies develop.
Now that companies are working more online and with more diverse teams, they will need to learn how to manage this environment to get the most out of it. It’s not the same as running an office or an in-person meeting.
This revolution actually raises the stakes of in-person work in the office. That means those in-person activities need to be more efficient and engaging than before – otherwise the meeting might as well have been on Zoom, right?
This is why the back-to-work movement sometimes seems forced, or why it becomes a battle between bosses and workers, or between baby boomers and younger generations. How much remote work should there be? The push and pull we saw will likely be how the matter will be settled. After all, each new work technology has brought new conflicts in the workplace.
But there should be better ways to settle the matter. We should return to the island to re-evaluate why we want offices in the first place and how best to use them. At the same time, we recognize that online meetings and remote work can be superior for certain tasks and especially for certain people. Next, we need to find flexible ways to enable people to do their best work, regardless of location.
I know that’s easier said than done. But building an accommodating work culture and environment is a managerial choice. Organizations that seize this opportunity will attract top talent.
Is there something lost in the work from the culture of origin?
Bergstressor: I think remote work can be used successfully as a complement to in-person work. Companies are experimenting with what can be done in person and what can be done remotely, and I don’t think we have a general formula for success yet.
By working as part of a team, it is easier to build trust between colleagues in an in-person environment. If your team was built before the pandemic, there’s no need to develop that trust, because it already exists.
There is a tension between the interests of seniors, who often want to do what is best for them, and new generations of employees, for example our recent graduates, who benefit from these in-person experiences. In-person interaction is helpful for mentoring and building new relationships.
I think a certain amount of experimentation is needed to figure out what works well. A corporate environment can even be 90% virtual; many interactions do not need to take place in person. But I suspect that some in-person presence will continue to be useful in an increasingly virtual world.
Do you think “working from home” is as effective as working in person?
Namini: I think from a cost perspective, a hybrid format works better. I don’t think companies should continue to work in expensive offices, even though some professions have no choice but to meet in person. Health care, laboratory research and manufacturing come to mind. People are more efficient when working from a zoom on their desktop, even if they are not physically in an office. This flexibility and the reduction in travel time and costs allow people to put in more hours at work.
We also saw a new speed. In the past, if a meeting was held at 10 a.m., people would engage in small talk and end up wandering around the office. Now, if a meeting is at 10 a.m., people join and start on time. It’s productive and with more participants whose image is conveyed to all, people are more engaged, more attentive and offer more to the discussion. Private chats can still take place via direct chats as well as a chat broadcast to all participants.
Personally, I like coming to the office because I’m dealing with distractions at home, like the TV, the dog, and the fridge. But if people feel they are producing higher quality work from home, they should have that opportunity. For me, flexibility is what I value and the quality of my interaction with others during office hours, classes and general meetings seems better.
We’re getting to a point where work-life balance is as valuable as pay. I tell my students to join a company that treats you like a person rather than a commodity. If the job is done, employers shouldn’t worry about the location. I think it takes confidence, maturity and resources to manage this modality, but anything that improves the quality of life for human beings and improves economic productivity should be encouraged.