There is no doubt that working remotely or virtually is more productive for employees. And in some cases it can be more effective. But the tragedy of the commons could come into play when organizations encourage individual remote or virtual work to abandon their shared culture.
The efficiency of remote working is easy to measure. Companies need less office space. Employees save all their commute time and can seamlessly transition between work and personal life throughout the day.
Virtual meetings are more effective in some situations – especially when more people with different perspectives can participate. Note that this only works for remote-only or virtual meetings. The best recommendation for interacting face-to-face with remote participants in hybrid remote meetings is not to. Karma is remote and live meetings do not work.
The tragedy of the commons happens when individuals make choices that are right for them but wrong for the common good. Presumably this led to excessive cod fishing in the North Atlantic or overgrazing of communal lands.
The dots connect almost by themselves.
Expect individuals, especially older people, who are fully educated and familiar with the culture and people, to prefer working remotely. Expect them to be at a stage in their lives when the benefits of flextime outweigh the benefits of working in the same physical space as others. Notice that Emma Goldberg and Ben Casselman make a big point in The New York Times about what young people are missing about the power of intimacy — mostly mentoring and education.
At the same time, culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage; therefore the risk for the collective, the organization, the common is existential.
Fifteen years ago, management at MD Anderson Cancer Center was concerned about nurse retention. With their location at the Texas Medical Center, which consists of more than 60 medical facilities, most of which are organized around a central parking lot, caregivers could change hospitals without changing parking lots.
Now employees can switch companies without leaving the home office.
Gallup recommends 12 questions about employee engagement. Let’s consider these in a virtual/distant world.
Do I know what is expected of me at work?
If you really never go to work, the answer is probably no.
Do I have the necessary materials and equipment to do my job properly?
Perhaps. But not at work.
At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
NO. Because you’re not actually at work.
Have I received recognition or praise for good work in the past seven days?
If you don’t have a particularly appreciative boss, it’s much less likely if you’re working remotely.
Does my manager or someone at work take care of me as a person? It seems very unlikely if they only recognize you as an image on the screen.
Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
Again, less likely when you’re not at work.
Does my opinion seem important at work?
Do you understand? You are not at work
Does my work feel important because of my company’s mission/purpose?
If it really mattered, wouldn’t they want you to show up?
Do my colleagues have an obligation to do quality work?
You would know better if you were in the same field as them.
Do you have a best friend at work?
It’s hard to form deep relationships when you’re only using two of your five senses. You get sound and some sight, but no smell, taste, or feel.
In the last six months, has anyone at work spoken to me about my progress? It’s actually less likely when you’re not at work.
Have I had opportunities to learn and grow at work in the past year?
Only if you actually went to work