Career & Jobs

SVB Blames Remote Work For Failure: 6 Shifts To Get Remote Work Right

After the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), followed by failures of several other banks, business resiliency has become a bigger focus for all companies. The skepticism that companies used in the past is now being used by some SVB employees, blaming remote work as the cause of its collapse. According to Axios, in its 2023 annual report, company leaders stated that the adoption of remote work led to employees struggling to balance work and life which could result in “reduced productivity and/or significant disruptions in business operations.” However, the accusation doesn’t hold water, according to top business leaders and the scientific research.

Remote Work Boosts Productivity Plus Company Profits

More companies are restricting remote options in favor of in-office work, despite the fact that scientific evidence contradicts the idea that remote work reduces productivity and disrupts business and, in fact, has shown the positive effects of remote work. Some business leaders insist that if remote work is the reason your company is failing, you’re not implementing it right. David Chadwick, founder and CEO of RealResponse, told me that employers are not properly communicating with employees in a productive manner before implementing return-to-office mandates or in some cases, not at all, causing added strife. “But with the proper tools, employers can make more informed decisions based on feedback from employees, and subsequently employees feel respected and heard, even if they disagree with the decision,” he adds.

When employees are not consulted, Chadwick says it further incites employees. He gives the example when Amazon recently announced an in-office mandate which meant long commutes and a lack of flexibility (especially for parents). “Many employees took to internal Slack channels and expressed their displeasure at the directive, and some even went as far as initiating a petition against the mandate,” he says. “We are also seeing a greater number of younger employees that have little-to-no experience working in an office setting and may have reservations and even anxiety about having to work in an office setting.”

When done correctly, remote work can be a valuable tool from both a talent and business success standpoint. Studies show that offering the ability to work remotely does not result in a drop in productivity. In fact, 94% of 800 employers surveyed by Mercer, said productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely. Other research by Tracking Happiness finds that when workers have the ability to work from home, they are happier at work, and happier employees are more productive. This finding was significant as workers who worked from home 100% of the time were 20% happier on average than those who didn’t have the ability to work from home. When workers are happy, they are more engaged and productive, plus they contribute to the company’s bottom line. This finding, together with other statistics on working from home, provides more encouragement for companies to offer their employees the ability to work remotely. I spoke with Tracking Happiness founder Hugo Huijer, who commented: “Our study shows that employees who have the ability to work from home are happier than those that don’t. On top of this finding, we saw a strong negative correlation between commute times and employee happiness. In that sense, companies can improve employee happiness by simply allowing them to work from home more.”

Dr. Tacy Byham, Chief Executive Officer at DDI told me by email, “Many businesses in the banking industry have called employees back to their offices, citing the need to maintain a strong corporate culture and ensure mentorship opportunities. Yet, research from DDI’s 2023 Global Leadership Forecast suggests remote work can strengthen an organization’s talent pool, trust and productivity. We found leaders who work remotely are 22% more likely to trust senior managers, with this trust being a critical driver of innovation. In addition, 53% of remote leaders reported they work to contribute beyond what’s required, compared to only 41% of in-person leaders.”

Byham believes corporate culture doesn’t live within office walls—that it’s within the people. “The success of remote work hinges on strong leadership development and a culture of trust between senior leaders, managers and team members,” she emphasizes. “A critical challenge remote companies are facing is that few train their leaders in virtual leadership skills—only 27% of leaders say they are very effective at leading hybrid or remote teams.”

Six Shifts To Support A Successful Remote Work Culture

Byham contends that the data clearly show teams can be highly engaged and productive when working remotely when leaders support a successful remote work culture by making six shifts:

  1. Create an “open calendar” policy. “Leaders should give remote workers the same access and support that comes with a traditional open-door policy by mixing formal and informal check-ins and blocking off time on their calendars when they’ll be available to only their team.”
  2. Carve out time for career discussions. “Shorter interactions in the virtual world mean there’s a tendency to focus calls on tactical work rather than planning—leaders should set up regular meetings with team members focused solely on their career development.”
  3. Inspire employees around a shared vision. “Information flows less freely in a remote setting, so it’s easier for employees to become siloed and disconnected from the organization’s mission. Remote leaders should help their teams understand the rationale for organizational changes and give them the psychological safety to ask questions and voice feedback.”
  4. Cultivate networking opportunities. “There are fewer opportunities for casual run-ins in a remote workplace, so leaders need to be purposeful about fostering long-term connections that go beyond introductions during onboarding. Leaders should also be mindful that introverted employees may need more networking support in a virtual environment. A 30-minute coffee chat could make all the difference in increasing team morale and connections.”
  5. Encourage peer-to-peer collaboration. “To avoid employees relying too heavily on leadership for support, leaders should create spaces for team member brainstorming and provide the team with structure and accountability such as assigning rotating peer coaching partners and clarifying when to seek advice from colleagues.”
  6. Proactively retain talent. “It’s often more difficult for leaders to detect signs of burnout in a remote environment. To get ahead of turnover, leaders should conduct regular retention discussions, take pulse checks on employees’ well-being and address employee feedback promptly.”

According to Chadwick, the bottom line is that employers are beginning to recognize that going back to five days in the office won’t appeal to current or prospective employees and that landing on an office/remote hybrid model is more reasonable. “There are several methods in place for employers to collect and aggregate employee feedback, and that communication channel will only grow in importance as workplaces revert to older modalities,” he concludes. “It is critical that employers are aware of their employees’ concerns surrounding return-to-office mandates and other matters. Employers must recognize that employees react differently depending on their own unique circumstances, so it is just as important to be sensitive to personal situations and to try to alleviate their concerns. Communicating the return-to-office policy should be handled strategically and thoughtfully.”

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