Morgan Stanley, and some of its banking competitors, have been against remote working as the future of work.
CEO James Gorman made headlines in the summer of 2021 when he declared to workers: “If you can go to a restaurant in New York City, you can come into the office”.
He was also very clear that returning to the office was particularly important for younger workers because it allowed them to receive on-the-job training.
“[The office is] where we teach, where our interns learn. That’s how we develop people. Where you build all the soft cues that go with having a successful career that aren’t just about Zoom presentations.”
Gorman has doubled down on this view in 2022, while speaking at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit.
In his keynote speech, Bloomberg reported that Gorman declared that employees who want to continue working remotely are in ‘Jobland’ – instead, if they want to be ‘Careerland’, aka building their skills and developing their careers, they need to return to the office.
“A lot of us have gone into the mindset of ‘Jobland’. Well if you’re in ‘Careerland,’ you need to be around other people to learn from them a bit,” he noted.
He emphasized that he wasn’t concerned that employees were slacking off at home, but more worried about whether people would be able to develop “career skills, while working remotely and without being around “other human beings and how they deal with sensitivities that you can’t get from a screen.”
Gorman concluded: “My job running a company is to make sure that we train and develop our employees as professionals to do the job we need them to do.”
These arguments beg the question: is Gorman right? Or does learning and career development just need to be rethought for the modern, remote future of work? UNLEASH spoke to HR experts about their perspectives.
The future of development
Yes, there are some employees – maybe the younger ones or those new into the job – who may benefit from more informal learning that is easier to achieve in the office.
It is easy to get informal training, encouragement and support from the more experienced staff you are sitting next to every day, than to “ask colleagues for help and advice when working remotely, as picking up the phone or messaging a question can feel like a big deal”, notes A Head For Work coach and director Juliet Adams.
However, just because it is easier to do this in the office, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to do with distributed teams.
This is noted by CIPHR’s head of talent Bradley Burgoyne. “’Career skills’ – namely communication, operating style and career development – are often easier to develop in an office environment as you become more visible to more people more often. All these skills, however, can definitely still be acquired while working remotely”.
TravelFreak founder and CEO Jeremy Scott Foster agrees. “The office is not essential to skill development, but it is essential for business to work out how best to make remote skill development work for them.”
This is particularly important in the ongoing ‘Great Resignation’ where employees are moving jobs for more flexible working options, but also a better focus on career development. Employers that fail to grasp that remote work is the future, and therefore that remote career development is too, “could lose their top talent as they search for alternative work that does offer the remote option”, according to Scott Foster.
Remote learning and development simply requires employers and managers taking a more intentional and proactive approach to developing their teams and employees.
Make sure you reach out to workers and try to offer informal learning where possible. Also, use those conversations to ask them if there is anything they particularly want to learn in the next six months or year.
You can even add learning and development as part of their KPIs (this is something we do here at UNLEASH, which is a remote-first employer with a team distributed across Europe).
Offer this tech to your workers, and help them to upskill wherever they are working; in fact, spending less money on office real estate could free up funds to invest more in giving employees top notch training opportunities, notes Home Grounds founder and CEO Alex Mastin.
In addition, Tidio’s head of people Eve Melon tells UNLEASH that the “natural experience transmission between employees, mentioned by Gorman, exists during regular e-meeting, which positively impacts productivity and atmosphere.”
Ultimately, the future of work is one that will be facilitated by communication tools – Melon reminds us that “even in the office, employees interact virtually using chats, emails and video calls”. The main thing is that employers need to trust that employees can work as well, if not better, remotely, as they did in the office.
The benefits of remote career development
Morgan Stanley CEO Gorman’s comments also assume that all employees want to learn in the same way. But in the same way that people disagree about how many days they want to be in the office, there are diverse views about the best way to learn.
Yes, some prefer to be taught by a person and at a certain time, but this doesn’t suit everyone. Others may learn best on their own or want to fit in their studies when it suits them, such as around other commitments. Providing choice, including online options, therefore can help level the playing field and ensures everyone gets the most of their careers, no matter their working location.
Business mentor Peter Boolkah adds: “By taking away aspects of individual’s ability to exert control over their personal and professional lives will not foster a culture of productivity, therefore skill development will be challenged.”
He asks why a need for leaders is there to micromanage and control how employees learn. “The pandemic has shown that most things can be done successfully in a remote environment and that many employees enjoy this way of working”.
Adams notes that some workers, such as introverts, have flourished while working from home. They “can quickly become depleted in a busy office”, whereas “working remotely has given them the opportunity to work in a way that maximizes their contribution, raising self-esteem and self-belief”.
The WealthiHer Network founder Tamara Gillan picks up on the flaws of the “outdated” business environment that Gorman is so keen to get back to, particularly for women.
“To suggest that employees must commute to the office to develop their professional skills completely overlooks the disproportionate burden of care shouldered by women who have had to navigate the pressures of balancing personal and professional lives,” notes Gillian.
It is time for businesses to step up and provide the right learning opportunities – and ensure these are equal no matter where people choose to work. The development of those in the office should not be prioritized above those who are working from home – out of sight, out of mind is not good enough.
“A culture of half in half out certainly presents difficulties when it comes to skills development, but we are still working to redefine a future of work which acknowledges the complexity of real life while empowering the best possible career paths for every employee”, concludes Gillan.
Remember, the world of work is completely different from how it was two years ago, so why would the way we learn be the same?
Change may be scary – and it won’t be easy – but it is necessary for the world of work to continue to improve to the benefit of organizations and workers alike.