Working from home is “not sustainable”, says global CEO

Mondays and Fridays are worst, according to a study

Working from home is “not sustainable”, says global CEO

A growing chorus of global leaders are bemoaning the fact that current circumstances are forcing them to allow their global workforces to work from home.

The latest, Sergio Ermotti is the Group CEO of UBS. Speaking to Bloomberg, Ermotti said that 85% of his 70,000 staff working from home was just not sustainable. In fact, he asserted, the company’s sweet spot should be between 20% and 30% working from home on any given day.

And Ermotti isn’t alone. Last week Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan’s CEO said that working from home for too long would cause both social and economic damage. In fact, analysts for the company have found that productivity is suffering for the company with its workers offsite – particularly on Mondays and Fridays with younger staff members.

The work-from-home “lifestyle” particularly affected younger staff, “and overall productivity and ‘creative combustion’ has taken a hit,” JP Morgan’s consultants wrote in a September 13 note to clients, according to Bloomberg. 

Although it may be easy to pin the “work in office = good, at home = not good” on an old guard of industry captains, it’s not just the traditional business leaders who are bemoaning the loss of the corner office.

Netflix boss Reed Hastings has also been candid with his thoughts. “I don’t see any positives. Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.”

Apple’s Tim Cook agrees – to an extent. “In all candour, it’s not like being together physically. And so, I can’t wait for everybody to be able to come back into the office.”

Laszlo Block, CEO of HR start up Humu, and former HR chief at Google sums up  the growing concerns of senior managers: “There’s sort of an emerging sense behind the scenes of executives saying, ‘This is not going to be sustainable.’”

The hard truth is, however, that these global giants may not have much of a choice – JP Morgan had told senior staff to bring back sales and trading staff by September 21st, but on September 13th the company had to send staff, who had already returned to the office, back home following a Covid-19  outbreak  on their premises.

The problem is a global one – Barclays have had a similar situation in London, trying to open a trading floor and then having to abruptly close it again.  However, perceived lower productivity may have to be something that we have to accept – UBS COO Sabine Keller-Busse has said that up to a third of the financial giant’s  staff may work permanently from home in the future. Tim Cook also sees some good from the WFH experiment, adding “I don’t believe that we’ll return to the way we were because we’ve found that there are some things that actually work really well virtually.”

Some companies are trying to embrace the change. Brad Baune, of Braune Financial told FT Advisor that he feels his business has adapted well, but it has taken some adapting by the management too – and those changes in mindset will last.

“This shift has caused me to think about what a flexible working arrangement will look like on a go-forward basis.” He said, “When interviewing new team members — and interacting with current employees — I’ve been thinking about work-life balance and scheduling completely differently. I’m careful to not call it ‘working from home’ because that implies a location.

“To me, it is more of a ‘virtual working relationship’ and thinking through what guidelines need to be put in place and how we can continue to manage accountability. This has also meant adapting to the necessary schedule changes of team members (i.e, working earlier, working later) to allow time for additional personal responsibilities they’re assuming. Leading in the work environment will certainly change following the pandemic — and a willingness to be more flexible with some of these factors is something I believe will stick.”

The argument over whether  working from home is more or less productive is one that will be around for a while – but even some proponents of working from home are  having doubts about whether it is a one-size fits all solution for a post – COVID-19 world.

“We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days,” says Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom as he warns of a pending “productivity disaster.” In the past, he’s been known for his pro- WFH stance. His previous research has linked working from home to a 13% rise in performance and a 50% drop in employee departure rates.

And the good/bad discussion may be more linked to the employee’s circumstances than the employee’s nature or work ethic. More than 50% of people working from home in the US work from shared rooms or kitchens. Less than a third of Japanese workers feel they are more productive at home, and in Deutsche Bank’s monthly assessment of productivity, only 11% of staff felt they were more productive at home.

What are your thoughts on working from home? Do you plan on returning to the workplace – or are you investing in remote work for the foreseeable future?

Have your say in our global HRD survey here.

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