work from home vs in-person
I'm "blessed" to say that I'm one of the lucky few in my generation to have experienced both in-person work and WFH, having graduated in the luckiest class in American history (shoutout class of 2019). Granted, my 9 months of working in person was for investment banking so it might not be perceived as the most ideal, but I surprisingly have very fond memories of those 9 months and think my banking career would've been severely more severe if it lacked that time. A big part of those analyst years is the camaraderie of working (enduring the pain) together, which isn't the same over Zoom.
It's actually mind-boggling to think that the past two graduating classes have lived half their college careers on Zoom, with many of them starting their careers on Slack. I have no doubt that the lack of in person social interactions will have life lasting impacts as well as a huge skills gap (and lack of motivation) that will be difficult to close as the impact scales. I can only speak to investment banking, but I've seen similar trends across the board, where the analysts that have started in-person have all left, those who did their summer internships and started their career remotely all feel grossly undertrained, understaffed and under-mentored, leading to a dissatisfied and disconnected organization. I wouldn't be shocked if the next economic downfall was caused by an employment gap as opposed to some fundamental financial issue.
Regardless of my career conspiracy theories, as I head to NYC for my first commute in close to 2 years, I wanted to reflect on the pros and cons of working from home as well as where I think the world is headed in terms of work.
It's hard to ignore the biggest benefit of working from home - the elimination of wasted time. If you're an efficient worker who can't do anything until all work is done (me), the unnecessary face time requirement is no longer. Of course, a big part of this depends on your company culture and their need for your Slack of Microsoft Teams (not sure if that's a real thing anymore) status to be online. But if your company stands on the right side of history, you no longer have to stay online or be present just to be present. Especially if your work is project based or work that you can pursue independently, only meetings stand in the way of your efficiency. Getting rid of the need to get ready, get on public transportation or churn through LA traffic, eliminating pointless hallway conversations or facing the one co-worker you don't want to talk to your day about has probably reduced are all WFH perks we now take for granted. I can't emphasize enough how beneficial it is to be able to go take a quick walk or bike ride in your neighborhood or run an errand, knowing the work will still get done while wearing sweat pants. As long as your work gets done, you can blog once a twice and make a Youtube video during the day, which I definitely have benefitted from.
Personally, the benefits end here (at least on an organization and career perspective, especially if you're someone rather ambitious). The amount of time saved by not going into the office and not needing to play Tetris to look like you are working is equalized by the amount of Slack conversations, emails and most importantly inefficient Zoom meetings that bombard your calendar. My current organization is very good about this, as we're focused on building and as a smaller group can prioritize what is necessary - bigger organizations struggle - I think a big part of this comes from the reluctance to step on others' toes and say "your comment is dumb we should move on to discussing the actual topic at hand." We live in a society where everyone feels like they have an opinion about everything and it's further enabled by video chat meetings. There's definitely benefits of "equalizing" the playing field without having someone at the head of the table - I don't think sharing your screen has an equal effect. But outside of giving the floor to a slightly wider population, most Zoom meetings I've been a part of at big organizations always deterred from the topic at hand, ended with no tangible action items, and were often scheduled just to show that people were doing work (when they weren't).
Speaking of work (perhaps the most important part of work from home), let's all be real with ourselves for a second, we've all had some form of college summer break since March 2020. Work doesn't feel like work and often times we all have an identity crisis of being a Fiverr contractor - an assignment gets sent to us from people we've never met in person, we complete it in the time frame that we set for ourselves, and then we send it back often times to never hear feedback or see results. I will say, I've heard that some people enjoy this as long as they're getting paid, but I firmly think feeling connected to an organization and its mission is essential for our sanity and purpose. It's crucial for human beings to feel like they're achieving something and contributing to a greater cause, which is impossible to have through the work from home environment that we've fostered. While individual efficiency may have gone up (I'll be the first to admit that there have been countless times I've slacked off as a result of no supervision, but it's far outweighed by the concentrated sprints I've had with no co-worker distractions or working environment anxiety), lacking this united purpose and connection to the working hierarchy has definitely led to a reduction in organization progress, especially for less defined companies.
My biggest concern with work from home is the lack of career progression, specifically for organizations that lack clear promotion cycles and mentorship programs. It's hard to grab virtual coffee or learn over the shoulder through screen sharing, and remaining visible in your manager's radar is difficult without oversharing over Slack and continuously updating them on your progress. Hopping on to ask a quick question or validating the work you've been pushing without "putting time on your calendar" is near impossible without having to go through the digital mediums that still feel inorganic. At the end of the day, human connection is only established at its full capacity through in person interactions (call me a boomer, but I'm very firm on this stance) and I truly believe the entry level positions will get the bad end of this stick as more and more time builds up with work from home. While companies are hitting record numbers due to the pure supply of cash and how rich consumers have become in the past two years, I believe that many companies will begin to crumble as the inefficiencies and lack of organizational unity builds up over time.
I'll make a Youtube video on this as a hot take.