Working from home quickly went from a benefit some companies offered to a widespread requirement for many businesses after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. For a lot of companies, working from home was a temporary situation until the pandemic subsided.
Then something happened—businesses began to look at telework not as short-term fix, but rather a permanent way of life. The reasons for the mind shift varied from the cost savings that came from employees staying home to a realization that employees were, by and large, just as productive working remotely as they were when they were in the office.
While a number of well known companies have embraced telework, the positivity towards it is not universal. The Wall Street Journal recently compiled comments from some of the top Chief Executives in the U.S. about how they felt about working from home and their reactions were mixed.
CEO’s miss face-to-face interaction
There was a common theme among the executives who had a less favorable view of working from home—they find in-person collaboration more beneficial. For example, Netflix Co-Chief Executive Reed Hastings said he didn’t see any positives about working from home. “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative,” Hastings said.
Hastings wasn’t alone in his thinking. Apple CEO Tim Cook also mentioned that colleagues working from home does not compare to being together physically.
“I can’t wait for everybody to come back into the office,” Cook said at a virtual conference hosted by the Atlantic. “I don’t believe we’ll return to the way we were because we’ve found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually.”
Andi Owen, CEO of furniture company Herman Miller, noted that unplanned interactions like stopping by a co-worker’s desk help build relationships and company culture. That doesn’t happen with everyone working virtually. Meanwhile, Waste Management CEO Jim Fish pointed to human nature for why he doesn’t favor telework.
“Most of us are not hermits,” Fish said. “We need that social interaction from a business standpoint, but truly from a personal development standpoint.”
Other executives like Rajat Bhageria, CEO of robotics startup Chef Robotics, don’t believe the work has been as good with employees working from home. JPMorgan Chase CEO James Dimon felt the same way about the connection between job performance and telework.
“I think going back to work is a good thing,” Dimon said. “I think there are negatives to working from home. We’ve seen productivity drop in certain jobs and alienation go up in certain things. So we want to get back to work in a safe way.”
The positive side of WFH
CEO’s who have a more favorable view of telework do in part because their operations have continued to run smoothly. Dana Canedy, publisher of the Simon & Schuster book publishing unit of ViacomCBS, said plainly that tasks are still being completed so she’s taken no issue with employees working from home.
“We’re all grown-ups and we have adapted to these new work realities,” Canedy said. “That’s going to produce permanent changes in how we all work. I’m getting my work done, and so are my colleagues. I don’t have an issue with it.”
Rite Aid Corp. Chief Executive Heyward Donigan noted its work from home policy has worked well—partly because the company takes pride in hiring “the best and brightest” even if they work from a different location. The philosophy has paid off for Rite Aid because now everyone’s working somewhere else.
“We’ve learned that we can work remote and now we can hire and manage a company remotely,” Donigan said.
“If you’d said three months ago that 90% of our employees will be working from home and the firm would be functioning fine, I’d say that is a test I’m not prepared to take because the downside of being wrong on that is massive,” Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said during the company’s bank earnings call in April.
Meanwhile, Berkshire Hathaway CEO and Chairman Warren Buffet noted that telework trend could change the supply and demand for office space going forward as more people have learned that they can do the same work away from the office. In that regard, commercial real estate owners may have to rethink how they do business.
“A lot of people have learned that there are other methods of conducting their business than they might have thought from what they were doing a couple of years ago,” Buffett said during Berkshire Hathway’s annual meeting in May. “When change happens in the world, you adjust to it.”
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.