What Young Workers Miss Without the ‘Power of Proximity’ (2023)


Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

One of the first major studies on remote work shows a hidden penalty of flexibility: less supervision.

  • Send any friend a story

    As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

  • 1042

What Young Workers Miss Without the ‘Power of Proximity’ (1)

By Emma Goldberg and Ben Casselman

Emma Goldberg, who covers the future of work, and Ben Casselman, who writes about economics, reported this article from home and the office.

At least 10 times a day, Erika Becker, who works as a sales development manager at a technology company called Verkada, turns to her boss with questions. “Did I handle that correctly?” she asks. “What could I have done better?”

Ms. Becker, 28, comes into her office in San Mateo, Calif., five days a week, along with all her colleagues. The routine is a stark departure from her previous role at Yelp, where she worked from home and often spoke with her boss by phone just once in a day. Ms. Becker has rediscovered an upside of the office: feedback. Lots of it.

“It’s like if there’s something in my teeth, I want you to tell me,” she said. “Because I want to move up in my career.”

Since the start of the pandemic, sweeping workplace changes have arrived far faster than the research examining their effects. More than 50 million Americans, largely in white-collar jobs, began working from home at least part of the time. Many of them, especially working parents, became fiercely attached to the flexibility. In recent months, as large employers — including Amazon, Disney and Starbucks — have tried to call workers back to the office, thousands of employees have objected, pointing to a track record of productivity at home.

But remote workers may be paying a hidden professional penalty for that flexibility, according to a working paper from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the University of Iowa and Harvard. The research is among the first major studies to demonstrate the professional downside of remote work.

The economists — Natalia Emanuel, Emma Harrington and Amanda Pallais — studied engineers at a large technology company. They found that remote work enhanced the productivity of senior engineers, but it also reduced the amount of feedback that junior engineers received (in the form of comments on their code), and some of the junior engineers were more likely to quit the firm. The effects of remote work, in terms of declining feedback, were especially pronounced for female engineers.

“We find a now-versus-later trade-off associated with remote work,” said Ms. Harrington, an economist at the University of Iowa. “Particularly for junior engineers who are new to this particular firm, and younger engineers, they receive less feedback from their senior colleagues when they’re remote.”

The study’s findings are preliminary and relatively narrow, directly measuring just one form of interaction among one set of workers at one technology firm. But the authors said their findings suggested something broader: that the office, at least for a certain type of white-collar knowledge worker, played an important role in early-career development. And the mentorship and training people get in person had so far proved hard to replicate on Slack and Zoom.

“It’s what grandparents have been saying for a long time,” Ms. Emanuel, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in an interview this month. “Face-to-face meetings are very different from FaceTime.”


For some major employers, the research confirms a sentiment that has guided their decision-making on hybrid work: “It’s hard to replicate the opportunities for apprenticeship and learning that come from in-person interactions,” said Sara Wechter, head of human resources at Citi, where most employees are in the office at least three days a week.

At Verkada, the Bay Area-based technology company that called its workers back into the office five days a week, interviews with several employees showed why some people were choosing to leave jobs with flexible work arrangements in search of an office where they could cultivate relationships.

Morgan Shapiro, who joined Verkada in November 2020, had previously worked at Lyft, where she struggled to manage her team of recruiters once the pandemic sent workers home. When questions came up throughout the day, she worried about reaching out to her employees spontaneously, because she knew the anxiety that a sudden calendar invitation could provoke.

During her first week at Verkada, back in an office, she realized what she had been missing. She bumped into the company’s chief executive in the hallway, and he invited her to set up a meeting to talk about her department’s approach to compensation, which had come up during her job interview. She emailed his assistant to schedule the conversation right away.

“I also knew his assistant because I had gotten coffee with her,” Ms. Shapiro, 36, said. “If I was remote, that would have been a lot harder because she would have said, ‘Who is this person trying to get time with the C.E.O.?’”


Ms. Shapiro, who had a baby this year, noted that increased flexibility in her field had also made it easier for in-office employees to give priority to child care when crises arose. “Of course if you need to be home, be home,” she said. “Home is first.”

Ms. Shapiro’s experience highlights a particular challenge for companies and workers navigating return-to-office tensions: The career penalty for remote work may be greatest for women, young people and people of color, who often lack the professional networks that being in the office can help provide. But numerous surveys find that those same groups of workers are also the ones who value flexible arrangements the most, and who are the least likely to return to the office voluntarily.

“Those who want remote work — those who will likely take advantage of remote work — are likely those who will lose jobs or at least lose out on opportunities because of remote work,” said Kweilin Ellingrud, a director of the McKinsey Global Institute who has studied how remote work affects career development.

Worse, Ms. Ellingrud said, the price of flexibility may not be obvious to workers or companies until years later, when disparities in pay or promotion emerge.

Take Jackiez Gonzalez, 36, who works remotely in social impact for Best Buy, and signed up for a mentoring program for employees of color. She was told that participants would gather regularly to discuss career development. But she learned a month after signing up that she’d been accidentally left off the calendar invitations for meetings.

“When you’re remote, you’re out of sight, out of mind,” Ms. Gonzalez said of the experience, adding that while she has largely felt positive about her flexible work arrangements, “there are growing pains.”

The intangible benefits of in-person work have been challenging for researchers to study because they are, by definition, hard to measure. Existing studies of remote work have tended to focus on call centers or similar workplaces where productivity is easy to define and measure — but where creativity, collaboration and mentorship may be less important.

Ms. Emanuel and her colleagues focused on software engineers at a Fortune 500 technology company, which the researchers had agreed not to identify. Before the pandemic, some engineering teams at the company were working in the same building, holding meetings in person and interacting with colleagues in the cafeteria. Other teams were split between buildings and held most of their meetings online to avoid the 20-minute walk across the company’s campus.

The economists were able to measure feedback by looking at the number of comments that engineers made on one another’s code — a routine and essential form of interaction at most software companies. They found that before the pandemic, engineers working in the same building received 21 percent more feedback than those working in different buildings. Once the pandemic hit, and everyone worked remotely, the feedback gap virtually disappeared, suggesting it had been physical proximity — not some other difference between the groups — that had led to greater feedback for in-person teams.


The “power of proximity,” as the researchers call it in their paper’s title, was particularly large for newly hired engineers, younger workers and women. Engineers under age 30, for example, tended to receive more feedback, especially from their more experienced colleagues — but only if they were all in the same building.

“These effects are really concentrated,” Ms. Emanuel said. “The folks who really benefit the most from being in person are junior engineers and also are younger. Those are the groups that you might imagine have the most to learn.”

Notably, engineers — especially younger workers and women — who had previously been on teams that were all in the same building were more likely to quit their jobs once the pandemic sent everyone home. There was no such surge in departures among people who had previously worked on teams spread across multiple buildings. That suggested workers missed in-person interactions, Ms. Emanuel said.

The challenge for companies is that remote work has also brought real benefits for many employees, particularly for working parents and others juggling responsibilities at work and at home. In a survey from FlexJobs, the remote job search site, 60 percent of women and 52 percent of men said they would consider looking for a new job if they could no longer work remotely; 62 percent of women and 56 percent of men said better work-life balance was a benefit of remote work.

“Employee sentiment on remote work is crystal clear,” said Reyhan Ayas, senior economist at Revelio Labs, which collects and analyzes job postings, layoff notices and other work force data. “Employees, if they are able to work from home, would like to work from home.”


Many companies have embraced a hybrid model, permitting some employees to work remotely while allowing or requiring others to be in the office. Still, the “power of proximity” paper calls that approach into question: The economists found that the benefits of in-person work apply only when an entire team is physically together.

“If you have even one remote teammate, that can still result in less collaboration between the remaining teammates,” Ms. Emanuel said.

Still, many hybrid-work experts maintain that companies can find inventive ways of supporting their remote workers. There are even technologies emerging to enable that, including Gatheround, a videoconferencing platform that, among other functions, ensures all meeting participants get equal time to speak — by cutting people off once they’ve gone on longer than their colleagues. Lisa Conn, Gatheround’s chief executive, advises companies offering flexible work to have in-person attendees, even if some are together in the same space, join hybrid meetings on their own laptops.

Back at Verkada, Ms. Becker attributes parts of her growth at work to the time she has spent in the office. She has become a more critical manager, comfortable with prompting her 19 sales representatives to discuss ways they need to improve.

“When I came in as a manager, I was everybody’s biggest cheerleader,” she said. “What I struggled with is having tough conversations.”

She made the shift because of advice she got from her own boss, who sits next to her: “It’s having a mentor tell you — ‘Hey, you gave that feedback. Are they implementing it?’”


Continue reading the main story


Why is working remotely the best way to work? ›

Benefits of working remotely
  • Work from virtually anywhere. ...
  • Enjoy a flexible work schedule. ...
  • Enhance your productivity. ...
  • Save time and money. ...
  • Increase your motivation. ...
  • Prioritize your well-being. ...
  • Gain distance from office politics. ...
  • Customize your workspace.
Feb 16, 2023

Which is better work from home or office? ›

Home working enables more agility and flexibility in working arrangements. With employees no longer tied to an office, they may be better placed and more willing to work flexible hours such as earlier or later in the day or even at weekends.

Are remote workers less productive? ›

In a Stanford study, remote workers were found to be 13% more productive compared to their office counterparts. Remote workers ranked their productivity higher in other studies.

What are 3 cons of working from home? ›

In addition to its benefits, working from home can come with several drawbacks including:
  • Increased isolation.
  • Home office costs.
  • Risk of overworking.
  • Risk to productivity.
  • Distractions at home.
  • Workplace disconnect.
  • Disproportionate work-life balance.
  • Less face time.
Feb 17, 2023

What is pros and cons of work from home? ›

Working from home comes with the benefits of no commute, your own personal space, increased flexibility, and more money saved. The downsides of working from home include social and professional isolation and lack of innovation from in-office interaction.

How does remote work affect mental health? ›

Remote work removes the chance interactions that occur between coworkers in an office setting, sometimes resulting in feelings of isolation and loneliness. Many employees may also struggle to separate their professional and personal lives and extend their work hours, leading to burnout and sleep deprivation.

What are 3 advantages of remote working? ›

What are the benefits of remote working for employees?
  • Freedom and Flexibility.
  • Cost saving.
  • Save time.
  • Location.
  • Peace and quiet.
  • Health and happiness.
  • You're not alone.
  • Work/life balance.

How does working from home affect productivity? ›

A study by Standford of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increase productivity by 13%. This increase in performance was due to more calls per minute attributed to a quieter more convenient working environment and working more minutes per shift because of fewer breaks and sick days.

Are people happier working from home or in the office? ›

Are Remote Workers Happier? A survey report conducted by Owl labs suggests remote workers are happier and stay in their jobs longer. They also found that workers who were working at home reported being happy 22% more than workers who always work in an onsite office environment.

How does working from home affect teamwork? ›

Remote work, by its very nature, means fewer connections between team members across the organization. Supported by findings in the Microsoft study, this leads to a breakdown of critical bridging ties. In remote or hybrid workplaces, employees don't interact as much as they used to nor in the ways they normally would.

Is it better to work from home or in person? ›

Fully remote companies may also spend less money on expensive spaces or in-office catering. In contrast, office work provides more structure and connection for employees. It makes separating work and home life easier, as there is physical distance between the 2.

Are remote workers happier? ›

78% of respondents say remote and hybrid work improved their overall wellbeing.

Are remote workers depressed? ›

Fully remote (40 percent) and hybrid work (38 percent) are associated with an increased likelihood of anxiety and depression symptoms compared to in-person work (35 percent), according to an analysis by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), an Oakland, Calif. -based nonprofit research organization.

Do remote workers feel lonely? ›

One pre-pandemic study showed that full-time remote work was found to increase loneliness by 67% when compared to in-office work, according to research by organizational psychologist Lynn Holdsworth. “The feeling of loneliness can be debilitating,” says Dr.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of remote work? ›

Remote Work Pros And Cons
Remote Work ProsRemote Work Cons
1. Better work-life balance1. No face-to-face connection
2. More freedom2. Lack of access to information
3. Improved employee experience3. Decreased collaboration
4. Decreased infrastructure costs4. Loneliness and isolation
2 more rows
Aug 12, 2022

Why do employers not like working from home? ›

One reason big companies don't want their employees to work remotely is they want to keep their employees in the office. This is because it's easier for managers to have control over the people that are physically near them.

Why is it difficult to work from home? ›

One reason why remote work is so hard is because of at-home interruptions. Although many believe that working from home boosts your productivity, distractions can easily interrupt the tempo of your work. In order to avoid this issue, it is essential to manage your time well and separate “home” time from “work” time.

Are workers more productive at home pros and cons? ›

Pro: People who work from home have a better work-life balance.
  • Pro: Remote workers feel less stressed and more focused.
  • Con: Working from home can be lonely.
  • Pro: No daily commute.
  • Con: Communication and collaboration can be a challenge.
  • Pro: Remote workers have flexibility in their schedules.

Why working from home is less stressful? ›

Respondents also said that remote work could help them reduce stress and improve productivity by reducing distractions during the work day (75%) and interruptions from colleagues (74%), keeping them out of office politics (65%), allowing for a quieter work environment (60%), and giving them a more comfortable (52%) and ...

What are the negative psychological effects of working from home? ›

The anxiety, stress, and loneliness of working from home can lead to depression or make it worse. Depression isn't just feeling down. The Mayo Clinic says symptoms of depression include[*]: Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration (even over small matters)

How do you stay mentally healthy when working from home? ›

  1. Set and stick to a routine. Without steady schedules, the lines between work and personal time can get blurred and be stressful to get right. ...
  2. Make a dedicated workspace. ...
  3. Give yourself a break. ...
  4. Stay connected. ...
  5. Set boundaries. ...
  6. Think longer term. ...
  7. Be kind to yourself.

What are the top three attributes that make you an effective remote worker? ›

Those qualities are needed for remote workers too but there are a number of other traits it takes to be successful.
  • Communication.
  • Collaborative.
  • Independent worker.
  • Self-starter.
  • Works with little direction.
  • Produces impactful work.
  • Focused.
  • Time management.

What are 2 perks you like about working remotely? ›

What are the benefits of working remotely?
  • Better work-life balance. ...
  • Fewer expenses. ...
  • Little-to-no commute. ...
  • Greater inclusivity. ...
  • Positive environmental impact. ...
  • Location independence. ...
  • Customizable workspace. ...
  • Improved productivity and performance.
Mar 10, 2023

Why do people prefer remote work? ›

Remote workers report better balance, more productivity

Roughly one-third of parents cite child care as a major reason they telework. And most say working from home hasn't impacted their ability to advance in their career. There are downsides, though: 60% of remote workers feel less connected to their colleagues.

How has remote work changed the workforce? ›

A study by Great Place to Work® found that most people reported stable or increased productivity levels after employees started working from home. A University of Chicago research paper also found that over half of study respondents reported higher productivity when working remotely.

What are the factors affecting employee performance during work from home? ›

Job security, job satisfaction, work flexibility, organizational commitment and management support are emerged as key determinants of perceived teleworking productivity.

How do people feel about remote working? ›

Example 1: "I enjoy the flexibility that working from home allows. When I'm able to set my own hours, it helps me stay on task for a specific amount of time. This translates to a higher quality of work and a better job performance overall." Example 2: "I love the distraction-free atmosphere that remote work provides.

How do employees feel about remote working? ›

The Ability To Work From Home Increases Happiness

The study found that workers who have the ability to work from home report that they are happier at work. This finding was significant as workers who worked from home 100% of the time were 20% happier on average than those who didn't have the ability to work from home.

What increases employee satisfaction? ›

Investing in employees by offering training, up-skilling, mentoring or coaching is proven to enhance their satisfaction and engagement with the business. As an employer, you not only benefit from happier employees, but the additional skills and expertise they are subsequently able to offer.

How does lack of teamwork affect the workplace? ›

In the workplace, a failed team has the following consequences: forming of factions, battle lines are drawn, communication stops, and suspicion rises. Productivity and efficiency drop off sharply, and collaboration or innovation is next to impossible.

How important is teamwork in a work setting? ›

Teamwork can improve efficiency and productivity.

Efficiency rules when work is appropriately divided within a team, responsibilities are shared, and tasks are more likely to be finished within a set time frame. Good teamwork also enhances group outcomes and the measurable effectiveness of organizations.

Do remote workers feel less stressed and more focused? ›

However, the opposite is true. In fact, remote workers appear to be working longer hours while enjoying a healthier work-life balance and reduced stress. Remote workers are working longer hours. Ergotron's study found that 40% of employees work longer hours at home than when in the office.

Are remote workers more loyal? ›

Research has shown that people who work from home are more likely to be loyal to their employers and more productive than those who work in an office. Working from home provides many benefits, such as making employees happier and more productive.

What do remote workers miss the most? ›

When working remotely, a quick catch up with a colleague in the break room or after a long meeting isn't possible (46% of respondents specifically said they miss the work-related side conversations that happen in the office). Spontaneous conversations are difficult to recreate virtually.

Are remote workers more likely to be laid off? ›

CNBC confirmed this: "Remote workers are the most likely in the U.S. labor force to worry about being laid off, and most remote workers are worried about their ability to find a new job after the layoff."

Is remote work better for mental health? ›

It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better and boosts your overall mood. By allowing them to skip the daily commute and work remotely, they can go for that daily walk, attend their fitness class and improve their physical and mental health.

What personality is needed for remote work? ›

Favorable personality traits in a remote working situation

Successful remote workers are often less Competitive than the average employee and score higher on Meticulousness, Adaptability, Curiosity, Acceptance of Ambiguity and Approach to Risk.

Is remote work good for introverts? ›

Creative fields like writing, editing, photography, and art are ideal for introverted people since they can be done with limited human interaction and do not cause too much anxiety. Additionally, technical jobs are also a great fit for the introvert in you, as we tend to be detail-oriented and quite tech-savvy.

Is remote work better for introverts? ›

Benefits from working from home as an introvert

Working from home can help improve an introvert's mental and physical health since it helps remove social pressures they may have had in the office. Instead of working in a crowded office space, they can now work from home with more flexibility in their schedules.

Why do I feel bad about working from home? ›

But What Causes Remote Working Guilt? Your working from home guilt is connected to people's perceptions of what you are supposed to be doing. You may worry that others think you're contributing less or being less productive than if you were in the office physically.

Is working from home worth it? ›

You are truly independent.

It's much more than just the benefit of getting to work in your pajamas. Working from home means you'll learn to rely on self-motivation, self-discipline, focus, and concentration. “As you work through your career, those are really critical components for success,” says Fay.

What are the negative impacts of working from home during COVID? ›

For individuals who live alone, full time WFH without face-to-face interactions and social support everyday could contribute to mental issues such as social isolation and depression. For others, blurred work-life boundaries can make it difficult to detach mentally from work11 which can increase stress and anxiety.

Why remote work is bad for younger employees? ›

Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, argues that young professionals have less engagement, less commitment to their organization and more social isolation while working remotely, putting them at disadvantage for promotions and other career development opportunities ...

Why is working from home less stressful? ›

Respondents also said that remote work could help them reduce stress and improve productivity by reducing distractions during the work day (75%) and interruptions from colleagues (74%), keeping them out of office politics (65%), allowing for a quieter work environment (60%), and giving them a more comfortable (52%) and ...

What is the common stress in working from home? ›

Challenges facing professionals working from home include reliance on technologies, like teleconferencing and Zoom. In addition to the stress some experience from having to learn new skills, the virtual communication reduces much-needed personal contact and can contribute to anxiety and depression.

Are people who work from home more depressed? ›

In fact, employees who work remotely often say they're happier, more productive and more likely to stay with their employer. But new research shows there's at least one drawback to these arrangements: Remote and hybrid workers tend to experience higher rates of mental health issues.

Are home workers happier? ›

Remote working ability really makes people happier

While 81% of respondents said the opportunity to work from home would make them feel more equipped to deal with work/life conflicts. Remote workers are 22% happier with their jobs than on-site workers.

Is working from home better for mental health? ›

It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better and boosts your overall mood. By allowing them to skip the daily commute and work remotely, they can go for that daily walk, attend their fitness class and improve their physical and mental health.

Why do people work from home? ›

Add in the lack of a commute, and remote workers typically have more time and fewer distractions, which leads to increased productivity—a huge benefit of working from home for both employees and employers alike. When done right, remote work allows employees and companies to focus on what really matters—performance.

Does working from home increase anxiety? ›

The study found that remote work had an increased effect on mental health as compared to in-person work. Specifically, the study found that increased rates of anxiety and depression were found in fully-remote workers (40%) and hybrid workers (38%), but only 35% for those who work on-site.

Why do we need to work? ›

People work to make money. They need money for food, for rent, and to have fun with their friends and family.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rob Wisoky

Last Updated: 05/10/2023

Views: 6026

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (48 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rob Wisoky

Birthday: 1994-09-30

Address: 5789 Michel Vista, West Domenic, OR 80464-9452

Phone: +97313824072371

Job: Education Orchestrator

Hobby: Lockpicking, Crocheting, Baton twirling, Video gaming, Jogging, Whittling, Model building

Introduction: My name is Rob Wisoky, I am a smiling, helpful, encouraging, zealous, energetic, faithful, fantastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.