Many organizations have decided that their workforce will work remotely for at least the next 6 months and perhaps much longer. Many corporate leaders, including those at Twitter and Facebook, have stated they will not bring their workforce back to the office ever or only some of it.
We have seen many attempts at remote work during smog emergencies in Los Angeles years ago to hot-desking that was popular at places like Sun Microsystems back in the 1980s and 1990s to reduce traffic congestion.
But there were several differences then: we did not have the Intenet, ubiquitous cheap laptops or remote working apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These have changed the entire scenario and made working remotely effective and much easier.
So the question remains: is this the new way of working or it is an aberration? Will we all be back in offices once a vaccine is developed and is effective?
My personal belief is that this is a permanent change and that we will eventually accept a hybrid model as the new norm for everyone whose work allows them to be remote from a physical place. This number will continue to increase as we develop more automated tools, robots, and restructure or change the nature of many jobs. For example, insurance adjusters used to go to the scene of an accident or fire but now many of them rely on videos and photos and determine settlements without ever seeing the actual scene. Doctors are getting used to telemedicine that has reduced the need for office visits by a large percentage. Xrays are being sent digitally to be read remotely.
Over the next decade, it is likely that most jobs will be able to be done anywhere remotely.
The Pros of Remote Work
Several research studies indicate that remote workers are more productive because less time is spent on chitchat, lunches, and meetings. Being at home allows for more focused time for work even allowing for breaks or time spent in childcare.
It also allows for flexible working hours, something workers have been seeking for the past decade. Parents can arrange their work schedule around the times their children are studying or sleeping,
Without the need for relocation, remote work may also lessen the talent shortage by opening up the world to people located anywhere who have the skills needed. This will increase diversity and bring in new perspectives and approaches.
Another benefit is no more commuting to the office. By staying home, workers improve the air, lessen traffic congestion, save fuel, and get back the hours spent in cars or on buses.
The Cons of Remote Work
Many remote workers report that they are lonely or feel like their skills go unnoticed in the virtual world. Managers will not get to know them or build a relationship, which may mean a less likely chance at a promotion or pay increase.
Teamwork also becomes a challenge as physically distanced teams may find it hard to build comradery or learn to collaborate, share, and openly discuss issues in an online format.
Many remote workers find themselves working more than ever - putting ion hours and hours that they would not have spent if they were commuting or working in an office. This can lead to burnout and may also increase corporate liabilities if people start getting sick.
If employers insist on sticking with the usual 9-5 work schedules, fewer women may end up participating in the workforce. Childcare and remote education have already caused many women to drop out.
What may emerge is a hybrid working model where people mostly work remotely but get together at set times and places for meetings, team events, or to socialize. Workers may choose to meet at each other’s homes or at a cafe or restaurant for social get-togethers and occasionally go to the office to meet. Google’s CEO recently stated that he believes the hybrid model will be the future of work. (See the link below)
Other hybrid models call for staggered working days in the office and at home, allowing for some face=-to-face time but also keeping workers remote for large portions of the week or month.
Whatever ends up being the preferred working model, I am sure it will be largely remote. There will be more acceptance or people working wherever and performance measures will be based on contribution and not on time.
The 9-5 regulated working model only became common because of the rise of labor unions and subsequent legislation. They made sense once to provide a safe and reasonable working environment for a manufacturing world where people had to be physically present. With physical presence removed, the only real limitation is our mindset and habits. Legislation needs to be updated and the workplace reimagined. The coronavirus has just accelerated a trend that was already happening.
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