Disclaimer: Unless otherwise stated, all opinions expressed below belong solely to the author.
Remote work while in permanent employment has been on the rise ever since the dawn of the internet, but the past 3 years have seen a real explosion of the practice due to the pandemic that kept billions of us locked at home for extended periods of time.
Now that Covid-19 is largely gone (or at least isn’t as disruptive) most people would like the new arrangements to stay (by some surveys as many as 95 per cent would be happy to work from home).
It saves time and money spent commuting, helps many people focus on the job at hand rather than being distracted by small talk and office politics, cuts useless meetings out, and so on.
However, as data reported by the Wall Street Journal shows, it also puts you at the front of the line of candidates to cut at the next round of layoffs:
“Workers logging on from home five days a week were 35% more likely to be laid off in 2023 than their peers who put in office time, according to an analysis of two million white-collar workers conducted by employment data provider Live Data Technologies.”
No face, no name, no job…
Since most jobs still depend on teamwork, i.e. people coming together to create something greater, interpersonal relationships are extremely important. We’re social animals depending on other people, and you simply can’t build the same sort of relations with others on your team or in your company if you’re not there.
The less time you spend in the office, the more you slide out of the picture.
The tasks you perform matter, of course, but a sense of unity with the team can often be just as, if not more, important.
This is certainly the case when managers have to make difficult decisions about who should get the boot. When push comes to shove it is simply easier to axe someone anonymous to most of the other colleagues.
It’s hardly surprising, isn’t it?
We all have our hierarchies of preference for different people. If you had to choose to let go of A. your friend, B. a colleague, or C. somebody you barely know, how much would their job performance matter over your relationship with them?
To keep his job, a remote worker with no allies in the office would have to make up for this social gap with qualifications and performance, i.e., be demonstrably more valuable to the company. This is rarely the case since, in complex projects, it’s often hard to track individual contributions.
In fact, some studies suggest that high performers are not necessarily better than well-functioning teams of less capable people, providing another reason why it’s easier to sacrifice yourself over someone else, even if you’re competent but simply prefer to stay at home.
Moreover, as many as 64 per cent of managers (according to a 2021 Gartner survey), tend to think that people perform better in the office and judge those workers more highly, even if it’s only because they can’t control if the remote worker is actually doing their job.
Your presence in the office gives the management a sense of control over you but also shows them that you’re at work, not trying to juggle it with house chores. It’s easier to imagine you’re slacking off, even if you’re not.
Seeing is believing.
…and no raise either
Even if you get to keep your job, you’re still more likely to be passed over for promotions or raises. The reasons are broadly the same, since the decisions are made by the same people. According to another study, remote workers are 31 per cent less likely to be promoted.
“Nearly 90% of chief executives who were surveyed said that when it comes to favorable assignments, raises or promotions, they are more likely to reward employees who make an effort to come to the office.”
And why would they reward someone who sits at home on par with his colleagues who show up at the office?
Other than just lacking the same relationships, it’s also driven by the sense that you’re not making quite the same sacrifices as others do. You don’t spend time travelling to and from work, you don’t attend meetings, and if you do overtime, it’s still in your pajamas.
Why would you be promoted? Why would you get a raise equal to someone pulling all-nighters on his desk downtown, in full view of the boss?
Woody Allen once quipped that “eighty per cent of success is showing up”, and while he meant it more as taking advantage of the opportunities that appear within reach, I think we can apply his wisdom here as well.
This is because showing up at the office is really all you need to do to improve your situation significantly. It’s more important than anything else.
This is why hybrid workers fared comparably to permanent employees in the same study — they come to the office regularly enough to be considered a part of the team.
And while there’s no mention of the ideal frequency of “showing up”, we can safely assume that once a month will not cut it. “Three days a week is enough.” suggests Nick Bloom of Stanford University, who co-authored some of the studies, cited by Wall Street Journal. “You’re not out of sight and forgotten about.”
Why that might be important we can witness every day of 2024, reading the stories of thousands of people retrenched by IT companies around the world.