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Flexible Work Arrangements Lead to Logistical Problems, Known as 'Coordination Tax'

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Jun 17, 2024


The arrival of flexible working arrangements has spawned a new term to describe the logistical challenges of coordinating the time workers spend getting together with their far-flung (or nearby) colleagues, The Wall Street Journal reported: the “coordination tax.”

“You show up, and nobody else from your team is there; then you’re on back-to-back Zoom meetings, which you could have done at home,” said Brian Elliott, a leadership adviser and former Slack executive, in an interview with the Journal.

Acknowledging that hybrid work is here to stay, some companies are adding more structure to remote- and hybrid-work policies. Others are making use of tools to help co-workers coordinate their in-office time. Many workers say the annoyances of coordinating with co-workers aren’t easing with time, the Journal reported.

There are also productivity costs issues. Among 37,000 workers surveyed by software firm Qualtrics last year, the share who said they collaborated effectively with other teams fell to 69 percent from 73 percent a year earlier, the Journal reported. In a recent Microsoft survey of 31,000 working adults, half said they often commuted to the office only to discover their manager or teammates hadn’t. Hybrid employees who said they found it difficult to connect with their teams in person were more likely to report challenges in advancing their careers, and were twice as likely to consider changing employers.

In response, companies are making changes. Since the pandemic, adhesives maker H.B. Fuller has let team managers decide how many days the employees reporting to them work in the office. But, as colleagues went weeks without seeing each other, the company asked employees assigned to its St. Paul, Minn., headquarters to come in Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during one or two designated weeks a month for collaborative work. The company says office attendance during those periods is 50 percent higher than other times.

Microsoft recently launched an artificial intelligence-powered app for employers that lets workers share location schedules, while Neiman Marcus set up a similar software tool after opening office hubs in several cities. When employees did not use the scheduling tool, the company asked managers to share their own office times in advance, said Eric Severson, chief people officer.

“If I say, ‘In three weeks I’m going to be there on Wednesday,’ now you can arrange your life,” he said.