I was struck by two recent news themes. The first theme has been a series of studies that provide evidence of the productivity drag of remote work. These include a study by the NY Federal Reserve (Report) and a second from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that provide quantitative data suggesting remote workers are less productive than those that work in-person, with gaps ranging from 8% in the NY Fed study to 18% in the NBER research. The second theme was the widely reported news that Zoom, the company whose name is synonymous with remote work, has asked its employees to come back to the office at least several days a week. This is on trend with many of the most successful technology companies that are requiring some form of return to the office. I deeply agree with this trend.
I believe the data on productivity and I understand the drive by many of the most successful tech companies to get people back to the office to rebuild their “in-office culture”. I am convinced that many roles need to be brought back to the office and that an office, a set of offices that serve as a nexus, or set of nexuses are critical to the success and effective scaling of MOST software businesses. People might disagree with me or feel their company and its culture are different, but the data from studies and the behaviors of the most successful tech companies suggest there is a reason people work in offices.
The problem now is – HOW? “How can we bring people back to the office when our people are now spread-out across the country?” and “How can we attract and retain people who like the flexibility of remote work, if we require people to be back in the office?”
Here are some thoughts:
1. Make a three-year plan for regaining an effective in-office presence. Every company will approach a plan differently and may choose to do this only with certain key functions, such as inside sales or customer success, and not others, like regional sales, but establishing a goal and a plan that takes a time horizon into account will be critical to successfully getting back to the office—eventually.
2. Be realistic in terms getting people back in the office.
Many companies in our portfolio face the challenge of dispersed workforce and empty offices. I hope they start thinking about their three-year plan as this will be a board topic that I will be raising repeatedly in the coming quarters. Of course, each company in our portfolio will have a different approach as they are all unique in their own way.
I know there are many opinions that differ from mine including the argument that in a war for talent, you can’t be restricted by geography in your hiring. That might be true for the 10x engineers that you hopefully will find or the sales rockstars who move the needle serving large accounts. Though for 90% of the roles, you should be able to find the talent in your region or regions, and if not, maybe you need to rethink your office footprint.
We are walking the talk at Osage Venture Partners, where we have a policy of in-office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays (unless traveling for business) and have had this policy since February of 2022. Every full-time employee is located a commutable distance from the office. At times, we schedule on-site meetings on a Thursday or a Friday to accommodate an entrepreneur’s schedule, but we try to be flexible on attendance if certain team members are working out of town on those days. In tribute to the flexibility everyone valued during the pandemic, we are remote for the month of August, although we ask our people to take vacations during part of that month, if possible. We feel that this arrangement strikes the right balance of improving communication, collaboration, and mentorship while also offering flexibility that our team appreciates, and we hope that all of our portfolio companies can find the right balance for them to maximize team productivity.