HBR's Adi Ignatius On Remote Work, The Evolution Of The Workforce And Putin’s Favorite Beatles Song
What is the office for?
That question would have seemed strange if asked in 2009, when veteran journalist Adi Ignatius became the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. Today, however, many of HBR’s millions of digital readers and paid subscribers are pondering this question — or they should be, he said.
Ignatius, who was the guest on this week’s Walker Webcast, told host and Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker that many business leaders view the work-from-home vs. office question as a “strategic calculation.”
“There are plenty of employees who are leaving because they are finding jobs where they can be 100% remote,” Ignatius said. “And I think there are people who didn't realize that was important to them but who now feel like it is essential in what they do. That's the reality, and once that kicks in, then you can think, ‘If I have five floors in the building, then maybe I have people come in one or two days a week and I can get rid of a couple of those floors.’”
But to Ignatius, that calculation perhaps misses the bigger picture. He cited a study led by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom that found that remote workers reported greatly improved productivity and a better work/life balance.
However, many of those same employees said they also felt they were missing out on promotion opportunities compared to their peers who commuted every day to the headquarters office. So, while productivity rose, something less tangible but very important was missing.
“What people aren't answering is ‘what is an office for,’ and that's the most interesting question,” he said. “Think of it as a tool in your toolbox. It's not just a place that people go to work every day, we're past that.”
Ignatius cited former Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, who has likened the company office to a clubhouse where an organization’s culture is created and maintained. That is not something that Zoom calls can easily replicate.
“The office is where we come together to connect and to celebrate and to create and sustain culture,” Ignatius said.
Meanwhile, he added, companies remain “all over the place” as to whether working from home is ultimately a good thing.
“I think [future] research will probably tell us what we should be doing, but we definitely are not there yet,” Ignatius said.
One clear benefit of remote work is that it allows employers to draw from a much larger and more diverse pool of potential employees, something Ignatius said he has seen firsthand at HBR. Research has shown that diversity is an asset for a workforce.
However, a scattered workforce might make it more difficult for an organization to mold its internal culture.
“We can hire people from anywhere and that helps us tap into pipelines of diversity and talent, and then we’re more diverse on paper,” he said. “But are we more diverse as a culture when we're still distributed and remote? That gets back to the clubhouse idea where we need to bring people together physically. It's a big challenge. But if we weren't allowing people to work remotely a significant amount of time, we would be losing people. That is just a reality.”
Before he wrestled with questions like that, Ignatius was the Beijing and then Moscow bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and later deputy managing editor for Time magazine. His assignments included interviewing Vladimir Putin for Time’s 2007 “Person of the Year” cover.
Walker asked him what that experience was like.
“He was very intense,” Ignatius said. “We were at his dacha for three and a half hours, and we commented later that we couldn't remember seeing him blink.”
Ignatius said it was clear even then that the Russian leader felt a sense of “humiliation” at his country’s reduced post-Soviet stature and nursed an ambition to restore Russia to its former glory.
He recalled that Time’s photographer tried to get the poker-faced Putin to relax during his cover photo shoot by asking him to name his favorite Beatles song.
Putin’s reply? “Yesterday.”
“Clearly he was a former KGB guy who'd like to restore the USSR and maybe the Russian empire, but his country now was viewed as kind of a lesser, unimportant state,” Ignatius said. “That was the battle he was fighting rhetorically in 2007 and that he's fighting militarily now.”
For more information on the next Walker Webcast, visit here.
This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Walker & Dunlop. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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