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Harvard professor: Work from Anywhere is our destiny
Accept it or you're in denial, says Prof Raj Choudhury
I’d been looking forward to chatting to Professor Raj Choudhury for weeks and it didn’t disappoint. Choudhury’s research has made him headline news - and has led to him being consulted by a growing roster of firms. His study has led him to conclude that we’re all in something of a state of self-deception at the moment. He’s certain that if we want to understand how workplace norms evolve, we need to look - not at the average workplace - but at the edges of the job market. Specifically we need to look at what top talent is demanding. And top talent is demanding Work From Anywhere.
Choudhury explains that for too long ‘we’ve shackled people with the chains of geography’ leading to spouses having to abandon their careers to follow the main breadwinner, or people having to leave their towns in pursuit of bigger jobs in cities.
In contrast Work From Anywhere has four clear benefits:
better hiring opportunities
cost savings to the bottom line
productivity (via greater worker satisfaction)
Choudhury’s article was the cover piece in HBR last year. As I was talking to him I found myself wondering if tradition was the main thing stopping me accepting the inevitability of WFA (especially when he explained his rule of 25). This morning I listened to a joyous reminiscence about the old days of the offices of Smash Hits. It sounded like a glorious cacophony of manual typewriters and bolshy sales people who spent eight hours a day broadcasting their chat down phone lines. At the time this was what was needed to make the magazine thrive, but as the podcast hosts discussed it’s irrelevant today. Demanding workers come into the office five days a week seems to be as superfluous as insisting they spend all day on the phone.
People often greet me by telling me that I’m too rabidly anti-office. Not a bit of it, all I ever do is look into the data and research of what is being reported. Data about workers’ tastes, data about emerging trends, research of why people are quitting their jobs. Personally, as trivial as it sounds my first love is sitting around laughing with people, and being around people makes me laugh significantly more than slouching at my desk, I have no preconceived desire to come down on one side or another. But it’s hard not to think that we’re moving to something significantly different to the hybrid model that lots of firms are experimenting with right now. And once you’ve accepted that then it’s time to get on with building something better.
The UK Prime Minister’s intervention on remote working was baffling to me. Walking to the fridge to eat cheese wouldn’t be in my top 1000 associations with WFH-life:
But on Wednesday he doubled down on it, convinced that working remotely is desperately unproductive. I’m surprised that politicians are choosing to get involved in these things (especially as what he’s saying surely can’t focus group very well with the wider workforce).
Some of the most iconic firms in the world are losing top talent because they are insisting on inflexible policies about office working. It’s happening to everyone: Apple sees its director of machine learning quit over WFH policy
Apple employees wrote an open letter criticising those policies - their complaint is that a rigid MonTueThu schedule is regressive and doesn’t match the outward marketing of the brand
This data on office occupancy from the Financial Times is consistent with what Leesman said last month:
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