In-Office Proximity: Productivity Today vs. Advantage Tomorrow?

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“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
– John F. Kennedy

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I. Recent Study on Possible Career Effects of Remote Working

A recent article in The New York Times reported the findings of a just-published study of the effects of remote work on the careers of younger employees. The study’s conclusion can be summarized this way: remote work provides flexibility, and may promote productivity, but nonetheless often results in a “hidden professional penalty” from loss of frequent feedback, a critical ingredient of success, especially for younger workers.

In difficult “Covid Times” remote work was not easy for employers to deny, given the dangers of “commuting, elevators and air ducts,” and so it became near universal. It granted employees greater flexibility in both their work lives and personal lives. That flexibility then grew coveted, and is now not being surrendered easily. As employers are now urging employees to return to the “office,” many have objected, often basing their reluctance to do so on their view that remote work has resulted in greater productivity.

II. In-Person Interactions Found Especially Important for Younger Workers

The study’s authors – economists at the Federal Reserve, University of Chicago, and Harvard University – found that remote work often did increase productivity, yet denied those same remote workers the daily feedback so essential to developing good judgment skills and stronger in-house relations. And, too, opportunities for in-person mentorship did not replicate well on Slack and Zoom. As Natalia Emanuel, one of the economists on the study expressed it, “Face-to-face meetings are very different from FaceTime.”

The study also found that the loss of face-to-face interaction may take its toll in future years, when disparities in promotions, pay and job security arise. One study participant put it this way, “When you’re remote, you’re out-of-sight, out of mind.” The study also noted that remote working seemed to have a negative effect on career development for younger workers, less so for their older colleagues.

III. Our Clients’ Views – What Promotes Engagement is a “Win” for All

Having spoken to a good number of our senior executive clients about the study, we noticed that two interesting points often arose: First, that senior executives and managers strongly preferred employees’ working in-office as it provided them ready access to younger employees on a frequent and casual basis, and near-instant ability to assign tasks and encourage engagement. Second, clients in their fifties and sixties saw in-office working as providing them greater opportunities for deeper engagement in their group and team efforts, and for this reason less anxiety about possible future layoff or position elimination.

One Senior Partner shared with us her view this way: “I want my employees interested and engaged in their work, and that includes in learning what and who they need to know. That’s how I got where I am now.”

This brought to mind our “Second Rule of Negotiation”: “In negotiation, what you want is not as important as what your negotiating partner wants, because what your negotiating partner wants is the key to your getting what you want.” No, sacrificing all work-life balance is not wise, but the employment relation is often viewed as one long-term, continuing negotiation. In this context, it’s something to bear in mind.

In Sum . . .

While the hybrid-work model will surely be with us for the foreseeable future, it seems unwise – and potentially self-defeating to longer-term ambitions – to disregard the critical value of unplanned, informal and casual human interactions. The question-and-answer, the trusting grin, the unspoken but duly noted expressions of appreciation. It’s what makes working relations their most productive and valuable in the long view. And it’s those deeper and long-term relations that often get you wherever it is you want to go.

Remember . . . We are Always Here, For You.

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To our best knowledge, no one in the world helps you at work in these ways like we do.

Best, Al Sklover


SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the likely bumps in the road. Remember that relations are precious, and that “out of sight, out of mind” has not been repealed.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

Sklover Working Wisdom™ is a trademarked newsletter publication of Alan L. Sklover, of Sklover & Company, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of employees in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that Mr. Sklover is admitted to practice in the State of New York, only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, he retains the assistance of local counsel and/or obtains permission of local Courts to appear. Results obtained by some clients have no bearing on results obtained by other clients. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. For further information, contact Sklover & Company, LLC, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2000, New York, New York 10111 (212) 757-5000.

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