We talked last year in TiB 117
about the potential for the massive, COVID-enforced experiment in remote work to boost innovation: you lose in-person collaboration but, the argument goes, gain access to huge, previously untapped talent pools (I wrote this piece in Wired
on the topic). Not everyone agrees. Claire Cain Miller has a good piece this week in the NYT
on the battle for the future of post-pandemic work. As she notes, remote-averse CEOs tend to cite the importance of serendipitous office-place interactions for innovation.
But there’s little evidence for this. Miller points to this piece by Ethan Bernstein
of HBS, which suggests that modern open plan offices are actually peculiarly bad at facilitating in-person interaction. This thread
by Richard Florida presents the counter argument. The Allen Curve
- the idea that communication is inversely proportional to physical proximity - seems to have held up
in the internet era, at least in the pre-pandemic world.
Nevertheless, remote work is here to stay. This new paper
suggests that working from home will likely be four times as common in the post-COVID equilibrium as it was before the pandemic. Moreover, expect the debate on remote work to take on a culture war dimension. As Miller notes in the NYT (and evidence such as this paper
underlines) remote work tends to have particularly strong benefits for some marginalised groups. I suspect there is no return to the status quo ante.