Celeb author Malcolm Gladwell gets roasted for dumb (and hypocritical) take on remote work

The outspoken journalist hasn't always practiced what he preaches.

Celebrity author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell is getting roasted online—and for good reason. He attacked remote work during a recent podcast interview, and his remarks went viral over the weekend.

“It’s very hard to feel necessary when you’re physically disconnected,” he said. “As we face the battle that all organizations are facing now in getting people back into the office, it’s really hard to explain this core psychological truth, which is we want you to have a feeling of belonging and to feel necessary.”

“We want you to join our team,” Gladwell added. “And if you’re not here it’s really hard to do that.”

His ultimate conclusion was the most bombastic of all: “It’s not in your best interest to work at home. I know it’s a hassle to come into the office, but if you’re just sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, is that the work life you want to live?”

You can watch Gladwell’s remarks for yourself  (and my reaction) below:

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Suffice it to say the internet was not amused by Gladwell’s take.

There are so many problems with Gladwell’s argument, which is unfortunately shared somewhat widely among the elite class, that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Malcolm Gladwell is a Work-From-Home Hypocrite

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that Malcolm Gladwell himself has a long history of working remotely. 

In fact, New York Magazine reported in 2010 that despite living just miles away from his publication’s office, Gladwell almost never went into work:

“He is a well-known figure around his neighborhood, fond of tapping away on his laptop in coffee shops and cafés. His writer’s life is part anachronistic, part futuristic. His Lexus IS—a car, he concedes, he rarely drives—is parked down the street in the space he pays a small fortune to lease. A couple of miles north in Times Square are Gladwell’s editors at The New Yorker, who don’t see him in the office very often—owing to his self-professed ‘aversion to midtown’—but who grant him a license to write about whatever he chooses and accommodate him with couriers to pick up his fact-checking materials, lest he be forced to overcome that aversion.”

Similarly, Gladwell declared in 2005, “I hate desks. Desks are now banished.” The Guardian reported that, “He starts the day writing at home, but this is always done from his sofa, using his laptop.”

In 2010, Gladwell described himself as “someone who writes in coffee shops for a living.”

To be clear, Gladwell’s hypocrisy doesn’t necessarily negate his argument. But it does suggest that he personally has found the many upsides of remote work far more important than “belonging”—and to be in his “self-interest.”

‘Best Interest’ is Different for Every Person

Gladwell’s sweeping claim that remote work isn’t in one’s “best interest” is fundamentally foolish, because it ignores the reality that people’s lives, styles, and situations are so different that no one lifestyle is in the best interest of everyone. 

For some more introverted people, like myself, working from home makes us happier and more productive. For others, it might be totally untenable and drive them crazy! It also depends enormously on what industry you’re in and what kind of work you’re doing. Some work lends itself easily to remote work, while other kinds of work must necessarily be done in person.

It’s deeply arrogant for Gladwell to think he knows what’s in everyone’s best interest. It seems obvious that the utmost authority on a person’s self-interest is, well, that person—and millions have decided that remote work is most certainly in their best interest. 

Discriminating Against Remote Workers is a Terrible Idea

Gladwell went on to advocate for discriminating against prospective employees who want to work remotely. 

If you preferentially select people based on their desire to work in an office, it’s a really wonderful way to build a nice office culture,” he said.

Gladwell concluded this allows you to “cream-skim” the bad employees out of the bunch. But this is actually a terrible idea and a surefire way to harm your business. 

Sure, some roles might necessarily require in-person work. Yet if remote work is an option and you insist on only hiring those willing to relocate/commute into an office, you are arbitrarily—irrespective of talent and potential—ruling out like 95% of the applicant pool. Many amazing employees might have a child at home they need to stay with or a partner who can’t relocate.

If an entrepreneur follows Gladwell’s advice, they would be shrinking their talent pool and ruling out tons of potentially great employees—a recipe for mediocre hires, not “a nice office culture.”

Ultimately, Gladwell’s take deserves the viral condemnation it is receiving. Remote work isn’t right for everyone or every job, but it’s a wonderful development for many that’s empowering workers and increasing our quality of life. 

Like this article? Check out the latest BASEDPolitics podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or below:

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

1 COMMENT

  1. I worked from home (about 50% home/50% client locations) for the last 9 years of my working life. This was long before CV-19 as I retired in 2015. Yeah, there are nice things about it that most know. Less talked about are some of the drawbacks.

    The biggest is many employees, maybe most, lack sufficient motivation and discipline to be equally productive at home as in the office. It’s just human nature. There were times when ANYTHING was more important than what I was being paid to do. Those dirty dishes just can’t wait! The baby only has a gross of diapers? I’d better get to the store! Man, that lawn has really grown, it has to be cut now!

    The isolation can get get pretty bad. Not snowflake where’s my stuffed animal bad, but you really miss the casual and professional interactions with co-workers. Further, I can’t tell you how many times I’d waste an hour or more trying to solve what should have been an easy problem, whereas back at work I could have “thrown the problem over the cube wall” where a co-worker could generally spot the error immediately.

    Interestingly, when I started those nine years of home office work, the company I worked for was just beginning their “everyone works from home” campaign. All over the country they were selling company facilities, moving out of leased spaces, etc.. About a year after I retired, I read the company decided to start moving back the other direction and getting employees back in the office. They realized it was a mostly a failed experiment. I wonder if it will take other companies 10 years to figure it out.

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