The war on WFH | Blackstone boss is latest CEO to claim remote staff 'don't work as hard'

Blackstone boss is latest CEO to claim remote staff 'don't work as hard'

Remote workers are choosing to stay away from the office because they believe it allows them to be less productive and save money, a major executive has said.

During a panel discussion at the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Steve Schwarzman, the CEO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, stated that many employees have opted to continue working remotely because "they didn't work as hard, regardless of what they tell you." 

He also attributed this trend to the financial benefits associated with remote work, including saving money on the daily commute, buying lunch and needing to buy less formal workwear.

On the same panel, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, shared his company's approach to remote work. Solomon had previously criticised remote work as an "aberration" that needed correction "as soon as possible."

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He stated that his firm was now operating in a manner similar to its pre-pandemic state, with employees returning to in-office work in recent months.

A recent survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of business leaders expect their employees to return to the office five days a week within the next three years. Additionally, a majority of company executives believe that compensation and promotions may become tied to employees' physical presence in the workplace.

Another day, another CEO calling remote workers lazy

Whether you agree with Schwarzman on this issue or not, what can’t be argued is that his comments are unoriginal.

Many high flying executives have made their thoughts on remote and hybrid working known in recent times. Tycoons such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Lord Alan Sugar have been among the most outspoken critics of working from home.

Musk most recently branded the working model as “morally wrong”, while Lord Sugar has frequently expressed disdain for remote workers, previously saying: “The lazy gits make me sick. Call me old fashioned but all this work from home BS is a total joke. There is no way people work as hard or productive as when they had to turn up at a work location.”

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Whether there is truth in these qualms remains to be seen. There is a lot of conflicting evidence when it comes to the link between remote work and productivity, many studies suggesting it leads to more productivity, while others saying it leads to less. Beyond this, it feels fundamentally wrong when successful business leaders scrutinise a work model that puts employee needs at the forefront.

Despite the widespread adoption of hybrid work arrangements by many office-based companies during the pandemic, a KPMG CEO Outlook survey found that 64% of global business leaders, and 63% of those in the UK, anticipate a full return to in-office work by 2026.

Such figures have left some spectators wondering if this is the start of the end of the remote model many have grown to love.

Remote and hybrid models have been shown to increase employee wellbeing, reduce burnout, and even bring about equity in the workplace, with research suggesting that workers, especially from younger generations, are prioritising flexibility over their salary. In a survey taken after the pandemic, nearly half of UK workers said they would consider leaving their job if it stopped offering flexibility.

If studies are showing across the board that a significant number of workers want remote work as a default aspect of their working lives, it seems out of touch for business leaders, who arguably don’t have the same concerns as most of their workforce, to be openly criticising a model their own staff likely desire.

This is summarised perfectly by Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, who suggested that CEOs wanting an end to remote work are “going away to the Hamptons for the summer or going to Europe in August.” The online homestay company went fully remote earlier this year, allowing its staff to work from anywhere in the world without being subject to a pay cut.

Maybe there is sense in the anti-remote work messages these executives express. We are still in the infancy of mass remote work, and so haven’t been able to accurately track its impact on the economy over a significant length of time. That being said, plenty of business leaders still suggest that remote and hybrid work has contributed to productivity and business growth, which is why almost 50% of UK workers continue to operate in this model.

Regardless of this ambiguity, there is something to say for the fact that remote employees are 22% happier than on-site workers, and unlike many business figures slating this model, likely don’t have the means or money to go on lavish vacations whenever they please. Suggesting that those business leaders condoning an end to remote work, could be at a fundamental disconnect with a significant chunk of their workforce.

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