Goldman Sachs is Wrong About Remote Work (But Also Right)

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Last week, David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs was widely quoted as describing remote work as an ‘aberration’ which he would seek to ‘correct as soon as possible’ in remarks at a conference hosted by Credit Suisse.

Goldman Sachs headlines
Source: Google News

Some commentators jumped on Solomon for not thinking more innovatively about the future of work at the company.   Others applauded him for not following the crowd, and thinking critically about the specific needs of Goldman Sachs.  The right path seems somewhere in the middle, and his wider comments raise some interesting points. 

Focus on New Joiners

One of the specific concerns that Solomon raised was around new joiners.

“I am very focused on the fact that I don’t want another class of young people arriving at Goldman Sachs in the summer remotely”

He expressed worry that while working remotely, these people would not get the ‘direct mentorship’ from their colleagues which would accelerate their professional development at the company.  

Knowing the role of junior investment bankers, the cynic’s view might be that it’s much harder to remotely flog your graduates to produce pitch books at 5am in their flats than if you’re holding them hostage in an office.  But we digress. 

The central point is a valid one.  As we discussed in our article on the state of remote work, one of the keys to creating a great remote work policy is acknowledging that everyone experiences it differently.   If Goldman Sachs have identified that their new starters are not receiving the right opportunities through remote work, then something should change.  

Similarly for your own teams, one size will not fit all and it’s likely that those already exposed to company culture will slip more easily into remote work than those who’ve never met their colleagues.

‘The New Normal’

Solomon was clear that he viewed the previous year as ‘not the new normal’.  We agree.   We’ve said before, the past 12 months have not been an experiment in remote work.  They have been an experiment in remote work during a global pandemic.  Whilst companies will have learned a lot about the resilience of their organisations and working methods, there have also been untold costs, particularly in mental health.

We expect many companies will make the mistake of using the past year as a baseline for their future plans, when it’s not representative of any kind of normal (unless deadly pandemics are about to become an annual feature).  Instead, companies should consider the ideal working environment they want to create, and use the lessons learned from the past year to help that become a reality.

The Battle for Talent

If Solomon has made a misjudgement, it’s in appreciating the demand from top talent for remote work.  

Recent studies on the state of remote work show a staggering percentage of employees who want to work remotely at least some of the time.  

Buffer Remote Work Survey
Source: Buffer

Moreover the same studies show that the availability of flexible work significantly impacts their choice of employer. 

Whilst these studies are often biased towards the tech sector, the scale of the finding seems likely to be relevant for other sectors which employ knowledge workers (and to a degree there is overlap in talent in areas like engineering).

The past several years have seen various large financial services firms review their employee packages in response to competition for talent from established tech firms.  Whereas previously high-end investment banks could stand head and shoulders above other employers in the perks they offered to prospective hires, now Google, Amazon and others have started to eat their lunch (ironically in part by providing expensive, catered, in-office lunch). 

Dilbert cartoon

If remote work is as desirable as surveys suggest it is, it’s hard not to believe that eventually Goldman and others will end up offering it, however reluctantly.   Particularly for high performers who can demonstrably take their talents and book of business elsewhere. 

If they don’t, a trickle of talent to other companies which do offer attractive remote packages may become a flood. 

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