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Debate Over Remote Work Continues to Evolve

JP Morgan Chase wants its managing directors back five days a week. CEO Jamie Dimon believes remote work is not good for business. He says, "It doesn't work for young kids or spontaneity or management." Dimon did concede that remote work can "help women" with the caregiving duties that disproportionately fall on them. Dimon recommends "modify[ing] your company to help women stay home a little." Notwithstanding the gender bias inherent in that statement, many employers are trying to negotiate with employees pushing for more flexible workplaces.

Dimon wants senior management present, in part, to "teach and advise, and they should always be accessible for immediate feedback and impromptu meetings." This viewpoint aligns with a recent report in the New York Times pointing out the value of in-person guidance for younger workers who entered a workforce without face-to-face time. During the pandemic, "[m]ore than 50 million Americans, largely in white-collar jobs, began working from home at least part of the time."

A recent paper on the "power of proximity" from the economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the University of Iowa, and Harvard studied engineers at a large technology firm. The economists found senior engineers increased their productivity while working remotely. However, the senior engineers provided less feedback to the junior engineers, and these junior employees were more likely to quit the firm. Female engineers received a more pronounced decline in feedback while working remotely. It is a very limited study. Yet, it reflects an unsurprising outcome of a remote workplace: training and mentorship were less successful. It is harder to replicate the natural guidance received through unexpected in-person run-ins and the ability to drop in with quick questions. For younger employees with the most to learn, working in person with supervisors likely provides the biggest benefits.

Employers are faced with balancing this need by junior employees with the real benefits of remote work for those juggling responsibilities at home. “In a survey from FlexJobs, the remote job search site, 60 percent of women and 52 percent of men said they would consider looking for a new job if they could no longer work remotely.” For hybrid workplaces, employers are still figuring out how to balance the need for flexibility with the need for interaction.