September 19, 2023

Is Remote Work Making Us Dumber?


Episode Highlights

AI and Interview Cheating


Osmosis Learning Is Real


Learning & Development Should Be The #1 HR Priority


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What’s the most played-out online debate of this decade?

That’s easy. “Are workers more efficient remote or in the office?” Everyone has their opinion and on one is changing their mind. It’s tribal.

But there’s one point that most of us agree on: remote learning sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s in school or in the office.

When companies are expected to train new grads and skill develop experienced employees, it seems like kind of a big issue, doesn’t it? If we’re not getting smarter, are we getting dumber?

Jeff Smith and James Hornick discuss whether or not the episode’s title is clickbait in the next The 10 Minute Talent Rant, Episode 73 “Is Remote Work Making Us Dumber?”

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick, joined by Jeff Smith, and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition hiring space, maybe even pitch a solution or two. Before we dig in, all of our content can be found on

This week’s topic, don’t roast me, episode 73, “Is Remote Work Making Us Dumber?” Everyone’s head exploded. James comes back from overseas and drops a bomb. Yeah, but I guess it’s like a month hiatus because we took a full two weeks off. So, coming back, I hope I remember how to do this show and this is a great topic to come back for, so.

This is clickbait sort of maybe, maybe not. I’m not even sure. So we’re not suggesting that remote work is bringing on idiocracy. But we also want to address the general tribalism between the whole remote work and in office culture, which you can’t-

It’s inescapable, anyone come and talks about these things and you can see Jeff and I, we are in our basements right now.

We are team pro remote. I hate the distraction. Yeah, Matt Masucci, our founder, wouldn’t approve of fish posters in the Hirewell office, so here we are. I can’t stand the distraction factory. I get a lot more done when I have peace and quiet. But it’s absolutely silly at the same time to think you’re not losing something.

You’re not giving something up. And I think we have to be adults here and kind of address the nuance in the conversation here. Virtually every conversation around these topics is played out as they are. Always has some faction always unwilling to admit that there’s some sort of downside to remote work. And, like, it’s people are just holding us down and all that, so. Yeah, well, cut to the chase. We’re going to give the takeaway, kind of upfront. But, the bottom line of all of this is- so we don’t and I don’t think that remote work is necessarily

it’s not that, that’s making us dumber right? It’s the remote learning aspect of remote work. So there’s your takeaway. We’re not remote learning because we’re remote working, right? So maybe we’re just getting dumber compared to what we could be learning if we were getting into a more communal space. So let’s dive right into it.

You don’t know how much smarter you’d be if you’re in the office, but we’ll get to it, anyways. Yeah. Background on this topic, our colleague, Jin Bacheller, he’s in our finance and accounting. He’s a finance expert when it comes to recruitment. He made a very good observation based on multiple conversations with hiring contacts and clients, people like that, pass/fail rates on technical assessments are going down.

They have been the past several years and we’re talking like tricky stuff you have to learn how to do. Financial modeling, advanced Excel skills, stuff you need to know how to do to be proficient at a job. You can’t just BS your way through it. Either you can do it or you can’t. If you can’t do it, you’re not qualified for the job straight up.

Yeah. He’s had, like I said, he’s got several contacts who have been saying this. Pass rates used to be one in three, now they’re like one in five. The tests haven’t changed. It’s just that people aren’t doing as well. And. Another part of nuance here is that like, these are skill sets that for right or wrong are associated with like that old school work 80 hours a week, grind it out mentality.

We’re not saying that’s how things should be, but just, those things went away when the pandemic happened and the remote work happened. And people doing these jobs are adults, they can make their own decisions. They willfully got into these professions, but it came down to at bats. Like when you spent that much more time mastering these skills and tasks, you get really good at them.

And when that goes away, all of a sudden, like, is that what caused the test rates to go down? There’s not as much kind of time in the office, just one observation we have. Totally. So, we also read this Wall Street Journal article, talking about how college remote learning, and we’ll get into outside of the University of Learning as well, has, it just failed.

It failed students and companies and we’re now kind of feeling that burden to train up on some of those core skills that used to be there, in the actual marketplace, at the companies. So, a few little snippets among the 40,000 candidates taking the fundamentals of engineering exam to work as a professional engineer, scores fell by 10% during the pandemic. 10 points in a three year period that I mean, that’s a significant change.

Students taking entrance exams to study nursing are scoring on average 5 percentage points lower than before the pandemic. So, it’s limiting the number of students eligible to enroll in nursing programs, which is sorely needed right now, as we’ve all heard over and over.

The 2nd interesting thing is, think nursing, engineering, like two completely disparate skill sets, same sorts of evidence.



On the criteria basic skills test, verbal scores for men under 25 have declined by 11 percentage points over the three years. So, like, we’re not saying anything that I think literally any parent with a child at any level of school can tell you.

Like, bottom line is none of this worked. Some more things to add on to this, another issue. Technology just makes it too easy to cheat on standardized tests nowadays. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve had hiring managers or internal recruiters or whoever’s like, whether it’s tech people or anything else, like talking about, I can hear the candidate Googling the answers, you know?

Now I can say, old man’s like, I remember when calculators were going to make us dumber because you didn’t have to do all the math in your head, but like, I think there’s, you have to realize there’s a difference between using chat GPT as a coder to pump out code faster versus leaning on to the point to actually fake that you know how to do the strategy and actually solve the problem, which it can’t actually do, but it might be able to like, make it sound like you can.

And that’s another thing like, digging ditches is one thing, but like solving problems is something else entirely. Like people are getting better and better being able to use technology to like talk the talk without having to walk the walk, which is another issue in hiring in general. Yeah. One last piece, we’re going to try and shoehorn in is we’re hearing a lot of chatter specifically on that early career, the 1 to 4 year professionals. That they’re just not professional in the sense that we’ve grown accustomed to anyways, the characteristics of a professional individual, you know, soft skill wise. So, not being around their colleagues in person, these little things, office culture, nuances of talking to execs versus your peers, working closely with different people that think differently from you.

That’s making hiring harder. Hiring a three year person who has never worked in an office is essentially, you’re essentially hiring somebody that doesn’t know how to act when a real problem arises, more or less. Yeah. Osmosis learning is a real thing. It’s completely gone when you go full remote.

Now, you can argue that like osmosis learning is what made up for the fact that traditional learning wasn’t very good in the first place, but that’s another conversation entirely, but doesn’t change the fact that it’s gone. Anyways, takeaways. So, I mean, we said at the beginning, this is, it’s not so much a remote problem as it is a learning problem.

So our advice is HR should take a hyper focus on adult learning, like really learning how adults can learn in a remote setting or a hybrid setting. When you think about HR competencies. Most things can be outsourced or done skeletally. You know, you can outsource a staffing or recruiting function if you have a good process, right?

If it’s just a matter of volume, hire James or I will take it off your plate. L&D is a different beast, and people ask why. It’s because your culture is unique, and the livelihood of your firm, and our firm, and somebody else’s firm, depends on that uniqueness. So L&D should be the number one priority of any HR professional out there.

Everyone gets so focused on talent acquisition or employee relations. I’m not saying those, obviously, we’re not saying those things aren’t important, but HR teams specifically should be focused on upskilling their team in those learning environments. We’re not saying remote learning can’t be good. We’re just saying the data suggests it isn’t good right now, and that’s an issue.

Yeah, I mean, testing services themselves have been reliant on things like Wonderlic and various logic tests for decades. If I took a Wonderlic right now, I guarantee you it would be 5 to 6 points less than when I took it 12 years ago at one of my previous employers. It’s the farther you get away from university standardized testing, the harder that exercise becomes. And that’s not even getting into personality assessments. Love those.

Anyways, we’re short on clock and it’s maybe the first time this year we’ve actually finished this thing in 10 minutes. It’s amazing. I know. Thanks for tuning in the 10 Minute Talent Rant, part of the Talent Insights series, which is always available to replay on as well as YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon. Jeff, thanks again, as always, everyone out there, we will see you soon.



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