The decline of the office certainly plays a factor.
Remote work has opened up big opportunities for professionals to take ownership of their own learning – and to network with people previously less accessible.
Working in our own home offices, on our own schedules, makes it easier for us to participate in specific communities our managers might not endorse. When my boss is not sitting ten feet away in an open floor plan, I feel more empowered to make my own decisions directing my own growth. I don’t have to seek guidance from peers on my lunch break. If I’m experiencing stress within my company, online communities give me a place to gain a different perspective on how things ought to be.
They have both filled the vacuum created by the decline of the office – and also accelerated its demise.
And community organizers are not merely curious bystanders. In many cases, they are expanding their target market by proactively raising questions about our full-time work.
The more they cause us to question the competency of internal business leaders, the greater our likelihood to invest time (and dollars) in communities external to the business.
This doesn’t mean they are wrong – or that going back to the office will somehow restore a healthy old normal. But I would suggest that we look skeptically at those who evangelize for new loyalties (online community) over old ones. In that same vein, let’s also be mindful that those calling for us to “return to the office” are not necessarily being “micro-managers” who want to restrain us. In many cases, they could simply be looking for ways to make the deepest impact on the professional development and growth of their teams.