Are the Tensions Over Remote Work Eroding Trust?

We’ve seen a great deal of back and forth on the topic of remote work. It’s been declared dead. It’s been called the new normal. And on some days we come across headlines that make both assertions. Or sometimes it just feels that way. 

And from this an awkward compromise called “hybrid” work emerged that often feels more like a child of divorce’s weekly schedule than it does a normal adult work life. 

“On Mondays, I work at the office. On Tuesdays, I work at home. And on Wednesdays, I stay at my dad’s.”

Lately, we’ve seen more examples of big companies trying to stick the cork back in the Jeanie bottle of remote work. Will Jeanie listen to Mark, Jamie, and all the other big, powerful CEOs and stay put in the bottle? Or will she pop out the cork and keep making trouble?

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What got me thinking about this again was the recent news that Meta, led by former remote work and current MMA enthusiast Mark Zuckerberg, was telling its employees that the good times are over and it’s time to return to the office. For three days a week at least. 

Why does every hybrid work scheme seem to involve three days in the office?

Swipe That Stinkin’ Badge

Meta’s plan doesn’t completely eliminate fully remote jobs. It just limits them to those with at least 18 months’ tenure. And those who pass that screen must first apply for fully remote status. My assumption is that not everyone who applies will be approved. That sounds like a win for HR paper pushers. 

Everyone else will be back to swiping their ID keycards. For three days a week at least. 

And those badges/keycards are important. They provide the data Meta will need to measure who is naughty and who is nice. Or at least who is adhering to the three days in the office policy.

The security badge as a surveillance mechanism is not unique to Meta. We expect it will be a key feature in most corporate back-to-office schemes. 

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These card swipes have already become an important data resource for those with an interest in tracking how successful corporations are at bringing workers back to their cubicles. 

In fact, in July we wrote about a security firm called Kastle Systems that tracks key card swipes reporting that office utilization was on the rise. We will be interested in seeing how this data tracks over time.

The tension between remote and back to office isn’t going away. But in my view, it all comes down to two words. Trust and control. 

By trying to get workers back in the office, bosses are signaling a lack of trust. As well as a need for control.

These two words are likely somewhere in the recesses of leaders’ minds even when they express other ostensible motivations – like improving collaboration and teamwork. Or even a seemingly candid response like a desire to make use of space they are already paying for. 

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