Is Going to the Office a Broken Way of Working?

A conversation with Chris Herd, who foresees a future in which most companies are remote-first.

As Herd told me when we spoke, people are sometimes surprised to learn that he’s against the idea of remote-only companies, in which employees never collaborate in person. “The quality of your work is increased by having time together,” he said, “because you have a better sense of shared empathy and coördination.” The problem, he clarifies, is the belief that the best way to support these interactions is by signing a long-term lease on an office building that you force your employees to use every week.

In Herd’s vision, which he calls a remote-first strategy, relevant teams gather less frequently—he suggests once a month as a good interval—in varying locations that suit the work that’s being done. Because these meetings are relatively infrequent, there’s no need for employees to live in the same region. He used his own company as an example to illustrate this point. “We are all over the place: we have people in Belgium and the U.K., in the U.S. from the East Coast to the West,” he said. “Our tech team is meeting in New York next week. Our sales team is meeting in London the week after.” He even imagines a future in which specialized resorts will arise in locations conducive to brainstorming or strategy formation, where teams will work with the help of professional on-site facilitators. These semi-frequent off-site gatherings might sound expensive to those steeped in the office-as-factory mind-set, but, Herd suggested, they’re cheaper than maintaining a permanent space for everyone, and such meetings would support much of what’s lost in a purely virtual strategy.

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