The Company Wants You Back in the Office ... Don't Panic - Make the Case for Remote Work
May 26, 2022

Dan Pupius

When execs talk with me about their desire to bring their teams back into the office in this new, post-pandemic world, the main argument I hear centers around the concept of "culture." An amorphous feeling that a return to the office is essential for teams to remain effective.

"But," I ask, "weren't your teams effective during the pandemic when we all had no choice but to stay home?"

According to a February 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center, the majority of employees who can work remotely would prefer to do so. So why are so many organizations — including major technology companies — insisting that a return to the office is necessary for effective, engaged teams?

My hypothesis is that the real underlying reason for the move back to the office is that organizational leaders are most concerned about performance management. Without the office environment, managers don't have the ability to sense into how their teams are doing or how work is progressing. They want to be able to keep a pulse on the energy of their entire organization, and believe that they can do this simply by walking amongst the desks and cubicles. In a remote-first world, it's too easy for underperformers to fly under the radar.

But that's not necessarily what developers want. In fact, most developers I've spoken with feel they do their best work when working remotely. With fewer distractions, more flexibility, and more work-life balance, who can blame them? So, when faced with a manager or executive that's seeking to limit or end remote work, what can developers do to push back on hybrid or office-first policies?

Address Performance Management Concerns

When making a case for remote work as a long-term practice, addressing executives' concerns around performance management is key to spearheading any conversation.

It's important to highlight the processes and systems your teams have put in place to measure performance, output, and team morale. Whether that's daily asynchronous check-ins, regular video standups, or a weekly email chain, there's strong evidence that these efforts work well and can produce great work.

The underlying fear you need to speak to is that out of sight, is out of mind; that it'll be hard to see if people are struggling or slacking off. In reality, there is an element of truth to this, and if you follow business-as-usual practices, relying on techniques used by in-person managers you are likely to have problems. But it has been shown by many companies that there are ways to keep your team motivated and supported even when fully distributed.

Showcase the Value of Deep Work

Development work, specifically, is incredibly conducive to remote work: It's all computer-based, reliant on spikes of solo work and then intermittent collaboration, and naturally utilizes digital artifacts — there's very rarely physical lab equipment required to do your work. Creating flexible work structures which allow for deep work, can improve productivity, while also having a huge impact on employee retention.

According to a 2021 McKinsey report, more than half of workers would prefer a more flexible working model — either hybrid or fully remote. What's more, the survey found that employees with these flexible options were more likely to report high levels of job satisfaction.

This is a case you can make for your whole organization — not just the development team. After all, if a company truly cares about its culture, they'll want employees to be happy and focused as well as getting their work done.

Prove Creativity is Still Flowing

Another common sentiment circulating in the remote vs. in-office work debate is around creativity. Many organizational leaders are concerned that creativity and the ability to brainstorm will go out the window if teams continue to work remotely — even though you likely know from experience that concern is simply unfounded.

Collaborative interfaces have made it easier than ever for people to create and collaborate virtually. Putting forth solutions like these to allay the concerns of your company's leadership will go a long way in not only establishing that you're confident in your team's ability to collaborate in a remote work environment, but also that you've done research to find tools that will encourage success.

Don't Just Rely on Data

There are lots of statistics you can present when it comes time to make a case for the benefits of remote work. But statistics, while compelling, should not be the only tool in your box as you sit down to have these conversations.

Personal anecdotes from your fellow team members can go a long way in driving home the point that working remotely is a valuable, productive experience for those in your company. Ask folks on your development teams to share stories of how working remotely has empowered them to do their best work and why remote work has boosted their productivity and morale. Present those stories to your organization's leadership as validation that the remote environment is ideal for your team.

Ask for What You Want

Sure, approaching your organization's leadership team and saying that you and your team prefer not to return to in-office work can feel incredibly daunting. But really, you have nothing to lose by asking — if you come to the table with an attitude of collaboration and a desire to find solutions that serve your company while supporting your development team, it's going to be a win-win for everyone.

However, as you advocate for remote work, be very specific. Come armed with details about how you have adapted your development workflows to suit remote work and how those workflows are sustainable for the long term. It's tough to argue with the facts, and if your advocacy includes this data, it will be that much easier for your company's executive team to say yes. After all, if what your team is doing works, why change it?

Leave the Door Open

It's not about convincing everyone that remote work is the best option for everyone, it's about allowing it to be a personal choice

Ultimately, while a remote working model may be your idea of the perfect work environment, there may be executives — or even fellow team members — who feel differently. It's not about convincing everyone that remote work is the best option for everyone, it's about allowing it to be a personal choice.

As studies and surveys have found, remote work is an attractive option for many — but if someone would prefer to take their work to the office every day and leave it there every night, who can fault them for that?

Let's acknowledge it as a personal preference and not an absolute that applies to all people. In the post-pandemic economy, our goal should be to accommodate the diverse needs and preferences of our workforces, such that everyone can feel happy and productive at work.

Dan Pupius is Co-Founder and CEO of Range
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