Saturday, October 1, 2022

Malcolm Gladwell opposes WFH while he works from his couch for the last 20 years

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It’s not in anyone’s best interest to work from home, and corporate leaders should be telling their employees to get back into the office so they can “feel part of something,” according to writer Malcolm Gladwell.

Speaking on the Diary of a CEO podcast in late July, the Canadian journalist and author, whose works include The Tipping Point, David and Goliath, and Blink, said being physically connected helped people to “feel necessary.” And now that the podcast has come to light, he’s receiving strong pushback online.

“As we face the battle that all organizations are facing now in getting people back into the office, it’s really hard to explain this core psychological truth, which is we want you to have a feeling of belonging and to feel necessary,” he said.

Gladwell added that it was “not in your best interest to work at home.”

“I know it’s a hassle to come into the office, but if you’re just sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, is that the work life you want to live?” he questioned. “Don’t you want to feel part of something?”

He added: “I’m really getting very frustrated with the inability of people in positions of leadership to explain this effectively to their employees.”

Spotlight on Gladwell’s WFH history

Gladwell, however, is a longtime remote working aficionado.

In 2020, Gladwell penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he admitted he had written in coffee shops for a living for “much of my adult life.”

He had told The Guardian in 2005 that he started his working day writing from home—but always from his couch as he “hates desks.”

With this contradiction front and center, many took to social media to criticize Gladwell’s seeming hypocrisy after a Friday NY Post article highlighted the Diary of a CEO podcast episode featuring the writer.

I worked at The New Yorker for several years. I didn’t once see him at his desk or in the office.

— Michael Donohoe (@donohoe) August 7, 2022

This guy used to work at local coffee shops all the time. I would see him in the village. He likes the freedom too.

— Lindsey Boylan (@LindseyBoylan) August 7, 2022

Others pointed out the benefits they felt they enjoyed through being allowed to work from home, with Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments—the payments firm that made headlines when it decided to pay all of its employees a minimum salary of $70,000—saying that remote work had increased interest in the company from job seekers and helped with both revenue and staff turnover.

I’m CEO of a company that went remote two years ago. Last year we had our highest revenue and lowest employee turnover in our history (in 19 years). We also had about 300 applications per job opening.

— Dan Price (@DanPriceSeattle) August 8, 2022

A divisive topic

Last week, it was reported that Spotify’s “Work from Anywhere” policy led to a huge drop in employee turnover.

However, many employers appear to share Gladwell’s approach to remote working.

Tesla chief Elon Musk said in an internal memo in late May that remote work at the company was no longer acceptable, and later said on Twitter that remote workers were just pretending to work.

Despite a number of firms wanting their workers back in the office, many of America’s biggest companies are still struggling to encourage, or even mandate, employees to return to the office more regularly.

A recent survey found that 76% of Apple employees are unhappy with the tech giant’s return-to-office policy, which requires corporate workers to be on-site once a week.

Meanwhile, only around half of Goldman Sachs employees showed up to work at the company’s Manhattan headquarters when the office reopened in March, despite CEO David Solomon’s famous belief that remote work is “an aberration that we’re going to correct as quickly as possible.” 

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