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Bosses disagree on remote work

When it comes to the future of work, bosses and employees rarely agree on what is important. However, there are differences even inside the C-suite, particularly in regards to the different treatment that in-office and remote employees may receive.

According to the Future Forum, a study consortium supported by Slack Technologies Inc., younger executives named these discrepancies as their top concern regarding flexible work arrangements, whereas their older counterparts put the same issue dead last. The majority of the nearly 100 senior executives in the study, who were in their 50s, indicated productivity and learning were their primary concerns after scheduling hybrid workdays. The 400 or so younger executives worried about scheduling and culture as well.

The study reveals a generational gap between managers in their 30s and 40s, who are generally more accepting of hybrid arrangements and keen to ensure they are beneficial to everyone, and executives who are closer to retirement age, who have spent decades in offices and prefer to manage employees they can see in person. Women and people of color are more likely than other groups to prefer working from home, according to previous Future Forum surveys. This finding adds to concerns that the movement to return to offices could exacerbate already-existing workplace inequalities.

It’s troubling, said Brian Elliott, a Slack executive who oversees the Future Forum research, which surveys more than 10,000 white-collar workers quarterly. The risk we run is that the older generation of executives is missing the fact that their diversity and inclusion goals and their future of work plans are tied together. 

Recently, employees have started returning to their offices, but this year’s expected mass exodus hasn’t happened. Numerous white-collar workers have persisted in working from home despite juggling childcare, the grind of commuting, and concerns about the increase of Covid-19 cases. According to building security company Kastle Systems, office occupancy in ten of the top US business districts has remained stuck below 50% for the whole year, and managers are hesitant to fire employees in a competitive labor market. However, concerns about the recession and a wave of hiring slowdowns at companies like Apple Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. may give managers more power to push employees in the opposite direction.

Organizations must invest time and effort into developing their flexible-work policies, which typically require a good deal of trial and error, while that push and pull is in action. According to research from the HR Policy Association, which represents employers, the largest obstacle to adopting more flexible work patterns is the misalignment of expectations between the freedom people long for and the amount of time senior leaders desire to spend in the office. According to continuous study by researchers led by Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom, the difference between what employees want and what their employers require continues to shrink.

For instance, businesses that balance remote and in-office workers frequently attempt to preserve equality by insisting that if one employee must dial into a meeting, then everyone must as well. Collaborative teams usually decide in advance which days will be used for more collective projects and which hours can be set aside for focused individual work.

Even still, “proximity bias,” the phenomena where people who enter the office advance, still exists. According to studies conducted by professors at North Carolina University and the University of California, Davis, simply showing up to work can have an impact on performance reviews, promotions, and job stability.

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., is one of many Baby Boomer-generation executives who has argued that spontaneous idea generation that occurs when running into coworkers at the coffee machine cannot be replaced by remote work.

However, Sheela Subramanian, a Slack executive and co-founder of the Future Forum, stated that underrepresented groups “want flexibility in both where and when they work.” The virtual collaboration software company Slack benefits from having a remote workforce.

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