Parsing Signals on Remote Work From CEOs

Recent remarks of numerous chief executives suggest the culture of workplace face time remains alive and well. At The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit this month, JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon said remote work doesn’t work well “for those who want to hustle.” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has called it “an aberration that we are going to correct as soon as possible.

WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani—whose business relies on office space—sparked an uproar on social media and beyond after he said employees who are “uber-ly engaged” with their companies would want to go to the office at least two-thirds of the time. So did the CEO of Washingtonian Media, which publishes Washingtonian magazine, when she wrote in an opinion piece that business leaders had a strong incentive to change the status of staffers who are rarely in the office from full-time to contractor.

Wall Street Journal – May 23, 2021

Lets face it, most leaders are manipulative. If you’ve ever been part of a group being led by someone, you’ve experienced it. A common example is the reframing of your views that starts with the phrase: “The reality is that…”. And you are surprisingly receptive to that kind of direct manipulation because you realize it’s one way to get it done. So you allow that utterly nonsensical phrase to wash over you as you align yourself with the team and focus on the task at hand.

But fuck that. We’re individuals with our own preferences. Sovereign individuals if you like. A better way to persuade thinkers is to assume they’re at least as intelligent as you are, trim away the cliched propaganda, and tell it like it is: Here’s where we’re headed, this is why, this is how we’re going to get there, this is what you’re contributing and this is your reward and skin in the game. At this point we’ve all read Cialdini, Kahneman, Dawson and friends and we know the game so we shouldn’t have to put up with it.

So why do we? Lets parse Jamie Dimon: Remote work doesn’t work well “for those who want to hustle.”:

  • I’m introducing you to a word “Hustle”
  • This word is framed to sound like personal ambition and to describe someone who is goal oriented
  • Having you think of it that way works for us because…
  • It stimulates a competitive response in you. “Do I have ‘hustle’?”
  • When in fact what we’re seeking is control
  • We get that by putting you in an office environment where we can monitor your availability and behavior and modify both with inducements and enticements
  • We want you to think that to have ‘hustle’ i.e. ambition and goal focus, you should want to work in an office
  • We’re also implying that the opposite is true of those who work remotely
  • If office workers have ‘hustle’ then remote workers must be ‘slackers’ or a similar antonym
  • So by wanting to work remotely, you must not be ambitious, not be goal focused and are probably a slacker
  • And we won’t hire or retain you unless you comply with our requirement that you work in an office and buy into this idea that winners work in an office and losers work remotely.

This is obviously bullshit because knowledge workers who put in a full 8 hour day are extremely productive no matter where they are, as long as the environment works for them personally. But Dimon has done a great job of casting the reality distortion field far and wide with a single phrase.

I find myself both excited and relieved by these utterances because our team is 100% remote and it has been a competitive advantage for us in hiring. Having companies that employ tens of thousands go back to the office lets us retain that competitive advantage. Go Jamie!

Goldman CEO David Solomon just takes it head on by saying that remote work is “an aberration that we are going to correct as soon as possible.” – Solomon is so myopic he doesn’t realize that for most of human history we haven’t clustered in the human infestations we call cities and the labor megaclusters we call offices. It is the office that is a post industrial revolution aberration. For most of human history we have worked as individuals, families or in small groups. The Internet has enabled us to return to our unaberrated state of living where we want, spending our time with who we want and doing what we love on our own terms. Goldman will come around as their recruiters find it hard to compete with rational companies who are focused on outcomes rather than overlords.

Mathrani said employees who are “uber-ly engaged” with their companies would want to go to the office at least two-thirds of the time. He is CEO of WeWork who, surprise, rents office space where they use cringe to try to make an office appear hip.

Source: Twitter

Anyway, at this point you get the idea. Mathrani signaling you’re a loser if you’re a remote worker and fully engaged if you rent their office space with their skate ramp that’ll never feel the pleasure of a skateboard truck grinding that rail, but will instead stare longingly out the window of a high-rise at an urban landscape filled with skate rats that it will never experience. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night thinking of that ramp.

Lets dispense with the bullshit, the mind games, the doublespeak and the manipulation. The reality is that 😉 remote is better for productivity, better for the environment, better for mental health, cheaper for companies, and those savings can be passed on to the team, and remote lacks the toxic control and manipulation mechanisms that infest the office environment.

Don’t believe their lies.