We've all seen those illustrations of a frog's development, where each individual Kermit moves from egg to tadpole phase 1 to tadpole phase 2 to froglet to frog. At each step, the little amphibian picks up new abilities, and it's eventually able to move from a purely aquatic existence to one in which both air and pond are options. Perhaps that's the metaphor we need to start applying to the whole hybrid work approach -- the more advanced or specialized the worker, the more latitude they have about when and where they work.
That's the approach Roblox seems to be taking. Last week, founder and CEO David Baszucki announced plans to transition his workforce away from remote work and back to on-site employment in San Mateo, CA. After walking through some of the reasons why he thinks in-person work is the best choice for the company, Baszucki also noted that this policy will have some exceptions:
There will be some remote employees who are not asked to return, specifically 1) teams and roles that are required to be remote (e.g., data centers, moderators, call centers, etc.), and 2) individuals who have niche skill sets or significant institutional knowledge (e.g., multi-disciplinary skills, deep expertise with Roblox systems, etc.).
It's the second category that is notable -- "individuals who have niche skill sets or significant institutional knowledge." It signals that once one reaches a certain level in one's career, there is the possibility of leverage; you no longer have to swim with the rest of the tadpoles but can work comfortably from your lily pad.
There's also the possibility that you might become senior enough where one of your personal and professional goals will be to help develop the people coming up behind you. As Baszucki noted:
We were … concerned about many cohorts, such as our new college graduates and people early in their careers, who typically learn through social contact and would miss out on this mentorship. And of course this requires the presence of senior employees to provide that mentorship.
Whether or not this mentorship opportunity is mandatory or voluntary is going to be one of those questions workplace strategists will have to balance when dealing with their niche-skilled employees and the folks who know where all the (hopefully metaphorical) bodies are buried.
This newsletter has talked before about the benefits of ambient knowledge transfer in the workplace and the challenges that a geographically distributed workforce presents in allowing for those ambient knowledge opportunities. This newsletter has also reported on the findings of CEOs who have looked at the productivity data and found that new employees benefit from in-person interactions with older colleagues. To reiterate what Microsoft's GM for Microsoft 365, Seth Patton, wrote when announcing Viva Engage in February 2023:
Employees who regularly seek individual expertise from their peers can find the process frustrating or limiting due to many factors like time zones, overloaded inboxes, or complex organizational silos.
One chance conversation in an office can cut across organizational silos with dazzling efficiency -- and no emails, something many of us can appreciate. And that gradual accumulation of institutional knowledge can eventually put one in a position where full control over when and where one works is back on the table.