Dear Mayor

The other day I was talking to a home builder who was having trouble getting a permit approved.  The application was straightforward, but he told me that in his 30+ year career he had never experienced such a delay.  After trying forever to resolve the issue he decided to visit the city permit office.  It was a last resort, and a bit extreme, but he told me that in the past it had always worked.

However when he arrived at the permit office, nobody was there.  He could only find a security guard who chuckled at his frustration.  He obviously wasn’t the first person who had showed up to try to push things along.

Where was everyone?  Working remotely.

For organizations built on in person work culture, switching to remote work can be rough.  When you’re in person, seeing the others is a constant reminder of what you’re all there to do.  People get attention and approval from their peers, superiors, partners and customers.  Communication happens on a human level; there’s body language, facial expression, and voice tone.  Relationships are forged.  Trust is built.  These are human needs fulfilled by a social environment.  Taking away that in person environment takes away some or all of those social elements.

I’m not sure what working remotely changed inside the permit department, but in the end the builder’s only resort was to run his issue up to the highest accountable individual possible.  I can’t imagine the mayor likes getting emails like that, but it certainly greased the wheels.

I hope that when this kind of friction occurs in any recently-turned-remote organization, the people who care will understand what remote work takes away, and work hard to figure out how to replace it.