The personal benefits of remote work, especially working at home, are well documented. I have read less about the costs. The August 16, 2021, edition of The Wall Street Journal included a special report, “The New Workplace.” In an article “Here Comes the Two-Tier Workplace”, Peter Cappelli of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School addressed some of those costs:
- “Face time still matters.”
- “On-site employees will get the bulk of the attention – and the promotions.”
- “Employees in the office get more access to leaders.”
- “On-site employees get first crack at opportunities that pop up because they are likely to see them first.”
- Attending meetings remotely more problematic than physically being present.
- More work for managers to manage remote workers versus on-site workers.
- “Companies will have a two-tier workplace.”
Cappelli suggests a key to insure fairness is objective performance outcomes for all workers regardless of where they work. However, as he acknowledges, most organizations have difficulties with objective performance management, eliminating biases “is frankly an impossible task.” He does offer a caveat: if remote workers only do so occasionally, “the differences between in-office and hybrid won’t be all that great.”
He also makes an important point often overlooked: "The pandemic past isn't a reliable guide to the pandemic-free future." It is one thing to have to work remotely; it is another to choose to work remotely.
1. As I stated in Decoding the Workplace, “we are more likely to interact with others who are around us physically than with people who are farther away.” This is especially true comparing on-site and remote workers. All things being equal, in most organizations managers will be more inclined to favor the on-site worker they see every day over the remote worker with whom they interact virtually. As Cappelli suggests, a two-tier system will naturally develop.
2. In past positions I have had offices close to senior leadership and offices far removed. There were definitely differences in interactions and effectiveness. I once had my teams moved from near senior leadership offices to a location several miles away. Even though our relationships with senior leadership were well established, the more remote location made some daily activities more difficult. Location can matter in many jobs.
3. Cappelli’s comments are consistent with our understanding of workplace dynamics. Will this two-tier system develop for all organizations? Of course not. Some enterprises are more compatible with remote work. However leaders, and employees, should be aware of the potential for a two-tier system developing.
Cappelli, P. (2021, August). Here comes the two-tier workplace. The Wall Street Journal, R4.
Image by freephotocc obtained from https://pixabay.com/photos/cup-of-coffee-laptop-office-macbook-1280537/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2021. All rights reserved.
Decoding the Workplace “Is this a must-have for managers and would-be managers? Yes.” Academy of Management Learning & Education, June, 2018. Available as ebook, hardback, paperback, audiobook, and audio CD. The best-selling audiobook, and CD, are narrated by Timothy Andrés Pabon.