It’s no wonder that remote work has evolved from a perk to a must, particularly for startups. It has also become a clear prerequisite that candidates demand while looking for a new job in the tech business.
Like any other, this significant shift in the job market has supporters and detractors. When opponents of remote working speak are of so-called traditional sectors or professions, their voice is not even noticed in the startup environment. But it’s hard to ignore such criticism from Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the company that launched ChatGPT to the world. Altman referred to remote working as an “experiment” and deemed it a mistake at a talk held by fintech company Stripe, as originally reported by Fortune Friday.
“I think definitely one of the tech industry’s worst mistakes in a long time was that everybody could go full remote forever, and startups didn’t need to be together in person and, you know, there was going to be no loss of creativity,” Altman said.
This is an essential point of view to pay attention to since Altman was the founder and CEO of Y Combinator for many years, one of the world’s most prominent accelerators that helped launch well-known firms like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Reddit. It is also significant because Sam Altman is a crucial member of a group of people who greatly affect tech startup businesses worldwide. Even if he has nothing to do with individual investments, he molds the way startups function, establishes trends, and inspires many entrepreneurs who will take whatever advice he provides very seriously. So, if such a well-known figure believes that remote working for startups should be phased out, there is little doubt that this working paradigm is in jeopardy.
Altman is hardly the only one in the IT business with such strong views. Another confirmation of lost faith in remote work comes from Mark Zuckerberg, the well-known Facebook Funder, and CEO, who shared thoughts on his Facebook account several weeks ago that “In-person time helps build relationships and get more done” and even described his observations on tech specialists productivity saying that “engineers who either joined Meta in-person and then transferred to remote or remained in-person performed better on average than people who joined remotely.”
Hubert Palán, the co-founder and CEO of Productboard, the most valued Czech company, expressed a comparable viewpoint, proving that it is not only a question of foreign attitudes. He commented for CzechCranch that “the key to building successful innovative products that solve real problems is one thing – having people together and allowing them to work in personal contact. Because remote teams will never be as creative, innovative, and productive”.
It may be indicated that numerous IT companies, even startups, continue to evaluate their performance by comparing pre-pandemic office-based work to an entirely remote post-pandemic model. But what counts is that these businesses were forced to restructure their business models unexpectedly, with little time to adapt. So the hypothesis I would explore is whether unexpected underperformance arose from a fully remote working style, or rather transition process mistakes, and managerial errors. If this is accurate, then the failure of the transformation cannot be undone by introducing a new company policy together with revised expectations regarding employees and contractors.
However, some well-known businesses have been attempting it in recent months. Companies such as Amazon, Starbucks, and Disney have established new policies requiring workers to spend at least some weeks at the office. In this case, what works for businesses is unlikely for workers. These are the employees’ voices that should give feedback on corporate changes affecting back-office practices. So that’s why employees at the firms mentioned above speak out against new corporate policies. And, as often happens, organizations may choose to ignore it and proceed with their business as usual, but this will undoubtedly harm their performance. And, once again, missteps in organizational transformation would have immediate consequences.
What startups can learn from corporate wrongdoing is that the major reason founders and CEOs find remote work unproductive is not the working model itself but the business culture itself.
What has a genuine impact on performance, regardless of the working paradigm, is Ragnarson’s prescription for keeping employees completely engaged when working remotely: trust and adaptability. Startups should promote team member trust and bonding, especially while working remotely. Encourage open communication, team-building activities, and casual encounters to help replicate in-person cooperation’s sense of connection and shared purpose. It is also critical to remain adaptive and flexible in changing conditions and evolving employee preferences. Evaluate the success of remote work regulations regularly, listen to employee input, and be open to revising work arrangements as needed.
Startups may leverage remote work and in-person collaboration benefits by adopting these lessons into their work culture and practices, resulting in a dynamic and productive atmosphere. And it’s probably impossible to change founders’ or managers’ minds about which working model they prefer for their team. Every experience is unique, but generalizing the remote work paradigm as guilty of lowering performance is extremely unfair since it separates this judgment from a specific context of a particular company.