Why Rewriting the Rules of the Modern Workplace Is Wrong

I wanted to wait before speaking out on this issue until I could prove the indisputable necessity of having my team return to the office to be together, to work together, and to once again function as the collaborative, inventive group of passionate individuals who make this company great.

And, we did it.

But, not without first feeling the emotional power of being together in the same physical space and expressing a shared faith that as a group we can achieve greatness. That means sharing beliefs in our company and its mission, listening to each other, reading body language, and overcoming obstacles together – not at a virtual distance.

We’re all tired of beating the drum about how much the pandemic changed our lives. But, as we continue to sort through the collective shifts that the COVID caused, a lot of damage and confusion has been done to the global workforce and the perception of work, the workplace, and its value in our lives.

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While many enjoyed the novelty and convenience of remote work and the security of remaining sequestered in their homes, no employee segments have been more affected by office shutdowns and remote-only mandates than younger generations, and the people entrusted to manage them.

Early in the pandemic, many workers entered a hyper-productivity mode, partially driven by work invading former commute hours, and partially by fear of uncertainty. This period was followed by burnout.

Fast-forward a few quarters and as we decide on this piecemeal work future and how to accommodate our post-pandemic aversion to the office, the sanctity of corporate leadership is dangerously under threat. Even The Wall Street Journal recently flagged what my leadership team has asserted all along: In-person interaction is critical to growth for both businesses and employees.

Vocal drivers of the “Great Reshuffle” will continue to seek greater flexibility and control over where and when they work, prioritizing their needs and well-being over the sacrifices they’re willing to make for their jobs. But crowdsourcing the future of work among those who feel empowered to redefine how they engage with their jobs is unsustainable for our businesses and our standing in the competitive global economy.

By committing to a permanent “negotiable” work schedule, we forfeit the humanness and the humanity of working shoulder to shoulder. We lose the energy and excitement of collaboration, and the exhilaration of shared progress, achievements, victories and defeats.

While the unquestionably smart and discerning younger generation are entitled to want what they want, they don’t yet have the workplace or professional experience under their belts to understand what they’re losing out on by disappearing into the virtual work void.

Historically, managers have preferred to have their teams together in person. And, while yes, global business leaders have long been challenged by offices scattered across time zones, relying more on phone calls, emails and web conferencing than international flights – they at least had the comfort of knowing that regional managers were in those global offices making sure that staff had the help and resources they needed.

Ex-Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt put it simply when he pointed out to CNBC last year that the in-office style has proven effective for decades. Office settings help develop management styles, meeting etiquette, presentation skills, workplace politics, and dealing with competitors, both internally and externally, Schmidt noted. “If you miss out [on that] because you are sitting at home on the sofa while you’re working, I don’t know how you build great management. I honestly don’t.”

We’ve all learned at the knee of someone at some point in our career who taught us something invaluable that made us better at our jobs. By ignoring the importance of the physical workplace, we also compromise our ability to train or build up managerial fortitude, which requires bravery, intuition and in-person connection.

These are all skills developed from social listening, human bonding, idea sharing, informal socializing, and ultimately interdependence – and they help our leaders do their jobs more expertly by knowing the personal and professional traits of their employees.

You can’t do these things virtually, in remote teams.

As business owners and leaders, we are here, obviously, to grow these businesses and to be as successful as we possibly can. But we are also here to contribute to the greater good of our industries and, in some cases, society. And that is done by building great offerings and fostering great talent.

Our own journey through these strange and interesting times has been filled with many learning opportunities. With 70% of InMobi employees working in-office a minimum of three days per week now, I can confidently say that there is absolutely nothing better for morale and productivity than being back in the office with a shared passion for our future and what has always served as the nexus of the start-up world: productivity, togetherness, inspiration, and innovation.

Some companies may think they rewrote the new workplace rules post-pandemic, but “two people in a garage with a shared dream” sits at the heart of many of our most powerful and successful tech companies. This enduring “startup” mentality is based on a common vision, drive, and intensity that continues to fuel new thinking, ingenuity and ultimate success – and so it will be for us.