With Remote Work, Make Sure You’re Following the Science, Not the Trends
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With Remote Work, Make Sure You’re Following the Science, Not the Trends

Guest Contribution by Jonathan Wasserstrum, Founder and CEO, SquareFoot

Everywhere you look these days, you see a portion of or version of an ongoing debate and discussion about whether companies operate better with a traditional office space or a remote team of employees. Most people’s opinions on the matter stem from their own experiences up to that point – what works for them and their teams? How do they prefer to lead and to be led? While we should respect and value everyone’s perspective on this and really all work-related matters, there’s an important piece of this conversation that sometimes gets overlooked:

According to a 2017 study looking at “high-performers at a large technology firm,” for employees sitting next to others like them, that exposure “boosted performance in coworkers by 15 percent.” If they were beside people who were not high performers in their areas, however, those same employees saw a drastic reduction in their performance. Although this might seem fairly straight-forward to anyone who has worked on worthwhile and also lousy teams in their careers, having science backing up this assertion is critical. A few stray anecdotes do not make an argument, but if there’s evidence this is happening more universally, and consistently, we should trust what the data yields.

We can treat it then as follows: Your employees can make the most out of working remotely on a semi-regular or occasional basis, when the need turns up, but as a standard policy it’s possible to get more out of them by assigning them a seat at headquarters next to others, and the hope is that they, too, will see the benefits of their production going up. As a result of this fact, the conversation steers in a new direction: It’s not about where people get their work done best, rather it matters how you set up your office and your hiring processes to enable and ensure that your staffers are all at their very best.

A recent Fast Company op-ed argues that, “The right kind of communication is key to overcoming the trials and tribulations of virtual working. Employers need to put the right structures in place, such as scheduled video calls and regular team-building meetups, to build rapport. Bosses need to lead by example and create a culture where those outside the office feel valued.”

I agree with all of these points, but I don’t think they go far enough. For me, and my team, the best way to get remote work to be most effective is to place a satellite office in a different city, where your employees can convene and congregate on a regular basis. That way, when they talk among one another, it feels like a normal place of business. As we communicate office to office, we are mindful of including others and sharing documents, materials, and context to bring others into the fold. We’ve picked up little tricks and made some tweaks as we go, being responsive and receptive to feedback. We’re figuring out what’s best for all as we go.

Most important is to acknowledge that people’s preferences are changing. It’s happening not only in the commercial real estate industry, where I reside, but also in ancillary industries across how we envision, build, design, and inhabit office spaces. There’s no such thing as a perfect office space, for any company. But I’ve found through over seven years of running my own company and listening to clients and providing what they need that when I begin the conversation with them it’s never as simple as open office vs. closed office, traditional office vs. distributed team. We must understand and appreciate that there’s a tremendous amount of nuance that goes into this type of decision-making, which is why I and my team of brokers who work alongside me are providing a necessary service to people, as their representatives finding them the best space to match their vision.

So the next time you hear someone arguing about remote work being better, let them know that science indicates that is not true if the company has hired correctly and inspires appropriately. Get your hiring right, and your office will be a comfortable place with consistently better work emerging from it. Anything short of that level of quality and success, and you have to wonder where the issue is really taking place.

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SquareFoot Founder and CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum has worked for over a decade in commercial real estate. SquareFoot is a new kind of commercial real estate company that helps companies win at finding their next (and next) office, providing transparent access to inventory, brokerage services, and a flexible space offering. SquareFoot brings together technological innovation and human expertise to solve clients’ needs.

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