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Microsoft CEO warns against permanent remote working

Satya Nadella says companies risk losing out on a connected workforce

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, spoke with The New York Times to share his thoughts on how the coronavirus has impacted work and social environments.

While many across the globe have been forced to spend the last 8-12 weeks at home, Nadella warned that the permanence of remote work is bound to have an impact on teams overall.

In his interview, Nadella said he foresees the world going through three phases during the pandemic. The first phase includes responsing to the impact of office closures and cutting costs, and the second addresses recovery and, according to Nadella, will be more like a dial than a switch. In the final phase, Nadella predicts businesses reimagining their processes simply out of necessity. 

Nadella warned, however, that shifting to a permanent, all-remote team in response to the pandemic may not be the best long-term choice. He noted that while productivity has risen for many of Microsoft’s workers, that’s not something worth excessive celebration.

Nadella said: “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.” 

According to Nadella, transitioning from in-office teams to an all-remote setup would mean “replacing one dogma with another dogma.” Without face-to-face interaction, companies risk losing out on a connected workforce, which could also impact things such as mentorship programs, team building activities and the like."

Nadella questioned what other impacts an all-remote workforce would have, asking: “What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like? What does that connectivity and the community building look like? One of the things I feel is, hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”

Though the stigma around remote work has shifted in recent weeks, the impact of a long-term shift remains to be seen. As stay-at-home orders lift across nationwide and many businesses get back to work, we’ll soon see how many businesses stick to an all-remote workforce and how they fare in doing so.

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