Elon Musk infamously said that people who are working from home are pretending to work and urged employees at Tesla to return to the office. While he received a lot of backlash for his statement, those of us who have worked from home know that there is some level of truth to what he was saying.
Working from home has many merits and remote work kept a lot of companies afloat during the pandemic. Distance is no longer a barrier for hiring talent and rapid technology adoption has accelerated digitisation. The flexibility of remote work especially has allowed working mothers to strike a better balance between managing career and family. When I worked in consulting, managers with young children often quit the job due to long working hours and travel requirements. The pandemic proved that many in-person conversations and collaborative efforts can also take place online.
On a personal front, I noticed my own productivity improving at home. By working from home, I could eliminate my daily two-hour commute, and instead snagged some time to workout during the day or sleep an extra hour. Not to mention, the ability to work in my leggings was quite blissful. Even now, as I am setting up my own company, my colleagues are based in three different time zones, but we easily collaborate over platforms such as Zoom and Notion. Pre-pandemic, a global team like ours would have been seen as a hindrance to success.
However, to be honest, my improvement in productivity has been more so on a personal than professional front. Although I enjoy the flexibility of working from home, working with colleagues in an office environment makes me more efficient and prevents me from procrastinating. In numerous instances, like Elon said, many of us have “pretended” to work while working from home. I remember seeing my flat-mate multitasking, picking up her parcel while on a work call. Or another friend blaming his shaky internet connection as an excuse to skip a meeting he deemed unimportant.
While it’s fair to demand a certain level of flexibility from our employers, there are many merits of working in-person that remote work cannot entirely replace. Showing up in the office is most important for career progression. The main benefit of working in the office is the “face-time” you get with senior colleagues which creates an opportunity for mentorship. Physical presence is also important for building professional relationships and trust with both management and clients.
Many of us can get our work done from home and quite a few companies will keep allowing us to do so in the future. However, if your end goal is to lead teams and aim for management level positions, then working remotely in entirety may not be the best move for your career. Looking ahead the future of work will be a hybrid setting. There will be a degree of flexibility to work remotely, and we will continue leveraging digital platforms, but employers are bound to require some level of in-person work soon.