Beneficial Intelligence

Back to the Office

August 06, 2021 Sten Vesterli Season 2 Episode 22
Beneficial Intelligence
Back to the Office
Show Notes

In this episode of Beneficial Intelligence, I discuss whether you should force people back to the office. This will be your most important leadership decision this year.  

Apple told everyone to report back to the office. Apple CEO Tim Cook says that "in-person collaboration is essential to our culture." Google is expecting 20% of employees to work from home in the long term, while Facebook is expecting 50% remote work. The big Wall Street banks, on the other hand, require everyone back in their New York offices five days a week.  

Remote working presents two problems: Culture and promotion.

  • Management guru Peter Drucker said, "culture eats strategy for breakfast." That means your culture and the implicit knowledge is much stronger than anything you write down. Your culture is how you actually do things, which is sometimes very different from the written rules. New hires can only assimilate the culture in person through small talk and watching others. We are already seeing lower retention among new hires that joined during the pandemic.
  • The second problem is promotion. You are an enlightened leader who will not let your promotion decisions be influenced by whether someone is in the office every day. But other leaders in your organizations will be less able to overcome the bias towards people they see in person. The data is clear. The more you are in the office, the quicker you will be promoted. Unfortunately, the people who say they want to work more at home are women and minorities. Exactly the people you need more of in your leadership team. 

Deciding on a remote working policy is your most important leadership task right now. Not making a decision and letting people work it out for themselves is the worst option. It will mean that experienced employees will stay at home and the new hires will wander the halls of empty offices, quickly quitting again. And your leadership team will become less diverse.

Your job as a leader is not to be popular. Your job is to do make decisions that ensure your organization meets its goals. This year, that is likely to involve forcing some people back to the office.

Beneficial Intelligence is a bi-weekly podcast with stories and pragmatic advice for CIOs, CTOs, and other IT leaders. To get in touch, please contact me at