Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes permanent remote working could be detrimental to employee health.
Nadella’s comments came in an interview with the New York Times, during which he said permanently working from home could be damaging to the social interaction of workers, which could lead to mental health problems.
Microsoft was one of the first companies to allow its employees to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has extended this remote working policy until at least October.
While Nadella acknowledged raw stats revealed many of the company’s employees had shown improved productivity while working remotely, he believes this is not a reason to “overcelebrate”.
Virtual meetings cannot substitute physical interaction
It appears Microsoft is not considering the permanent remote working approaches taken by other major tech firms, as Nadella stated a total remote approach would be “replacing one dogma with another dogma”.
“One of the things I feel is maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote,” Nadella said.
According to him, virtual meetings cannot replace certain aspects of in-person interactions.
“What I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after,” Nadella said.
Remote working plans of major tech companies
Several other major tech companies have revealed their employees will be allowed to continue working remotely indefinitely or until at least the end of 2020.
Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey notified employees they could continue working from home even after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
Only staff with jobs which require their physical presence – such as those who maintain servers and security detail – will need to report on-premise.
Meanwhile, Google has told most of its employees who can work remotely they should plan on doing so for the remainder of 2020, while Facebook has also given its employees the option of working from home for the rest of the year.
Apple, however, has taken a different approach. According to a report from Bloomberg, the company is planning to return employees to its physical offices in phases.
The first phase will see employees who are unable or struggling to work from home return to offices. This has already begun in certain regions and will expand to Apple’s major offices in May and early June.
A second phase will return even more employees to Apple’s offices globally in July.
What research says
Nadella’s view is both supported and contradicted by research on remote working over the last few years.
The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions compiled a research report on remote working in 2017.
It found 41% of remote employees experienced higher levels of stress, compared to 25% who worked from an office.
However, a Mental Health America and FlexJobs survey conducted in 2018 revealed 71% of respondents would prefer to work from home to alleviate stress related to their daily commute.
In addition, 75% of respondents said remote working may help limit stress experienced due to distractions in the office.