This week’s so-close-to-getting-it award on the topic of hybrid work goes to former Google CEO Eric Schmitt, who, in defending the idea of bringing people back to the office, told CNBC, “We spent decades having these conversations about people being close together ... the discussion at the coffee table and going to coffee. Remember all of that? Was that all wrong?”
Or, more precisely, it may not have been wrong at the time (the past several “decades”), but it’s clearly wrong now. The heart of Schmitt’s concern, like so many executives of his generation, seems to center on an inability to imagine or believe that critical knowledge can be transferred, particularly to younger workers new to the workforce, other than in person. Yet, the fact that so many enterprises’ processes adapted and even thrived during the pandemic suggests that it is possible to build a new kind of culture around remote work.
Of course, the question is what that culture should look like, and for IT the challenge is supporting whatever the culture becomes. I’m encouraged that IT leaders may be getting it, even if upper management has their own agenda. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the IT leaders’ summit that I moderated at Enterprise Connect 2022 (EC22), and in that conversation, I was impressed by the approach that all of our panelists seemed to be taking toward supporting hybrid work.
The word that kept coming up in that and other conversations I had at EC22 was “flexibility.” One of the things that’s so jarring about Schmitt’s comments is that he seems so sure of himself. He doesn’t seem willing to imagine that (a.) things had already been changing gradually over the past few decades, and (b.) the changes that occurred over the past two years can’t just be undone.