This forced social and labor experiment we’re going through is changing the canon of the workplace as we know it.
We’ve all been taught to leave work at the doorstep. Yet, nowadays, work gets done in makeshift offices based in living rooms, kitchens and even pantries, embedded in our homes’ routines, smells and leisure-prone furniture.
And it seems to be working. Companies everywhere are meeting deadlines and delivering their products and services from the insulated, private homes of their workforce instead of their office spaces.
Though many take home offices as a temporary arrangement, companies are looking into the outcome of this “experiment” and considering the reshaping of their office life by including remote work as a feature in their future workflow.
And working from home may not be the most important change in the workplace to come out of the current circumstances.
There are many good reasons for having a physical, common office space: it is a work-focused environment, that fosters collaboration and effective communication between workers and management.
It is also equipped with the necessary tools to get work done: computers, office supplies, desks, phones, internet connection, etc. Many tech companies and startups even created playground areas designed to keep their employees more engaged with the workplace, more creative and productive.
Ultimately, the company office is a space specifically designed for work.
Office life can be challenging for employees, though. Long and exhausting commutes to and from work, negative office dynamics and the distractions created by simply having people in the same room can reduce productivity and thus impair the purpose of office space.
Remote work can bypass some of these challenges. Thanks to all the amazing technology we have at our disposal it is not a matter of feasibility but of mindset, although it is definitely not for everyone nor for every company.
Remote work is being put to the test on a large scale. There was already an army of laborers churning out work from their households. Most were freelancers – by definition, loosely connected workers standing outside the day-to-day routine of office life.
Mass remote work, with the entire office staff distributed across different locations, was a reality promoted by few companies, mostly operating in digital-related areas. Until the day it became mandatory for all businesses.
It is “one of the most significant shifts in work culture“, a trend that has been growing in the last few years.
Remote work means more than working outside the traditional office environment. It is an organizational arrangement between companies and employees that doesn’t require them to use the companies facilities to carry out their professional activity.
The difference between the incidental work-from-home situation and real remote work lies on how the home working space is optimized: is it specifically designed for work, ie, a place apart from the domestic sphere?
This clarification is important because it implies an effective evaluation of the working conditions of the remote worker, and of the underlying personal commitment to have a work dedicated space with all the necessary tools to develop a professional activity, making the need to work someplace else useless.
The advantages and issues of remote work are already well researched and documented. As stated before, working remotely is not for everyone and may not suit many companies’ needs.
Here are some upsides and downsides to consider before engaging in remote mode:
The flexible hours, the personal time management as opposed to an imposed schedule, the cut in expenses and the adoption of healthy habits can reduce stress, make employees more productive and, ultimately, happier. And happy employees tend to work better and stay longer in the service of their employers.
The risks are relevant but manageable with proper following and by establishing consistent communication and security protocols.
The biggest challenge lies on the employers side. How to forfeit the controlled, work-focused, physical office environment and engage with a geographically scattered, virtual array of home offices, while maintaining (or potentially improving) productivity and keep workers accountable?
There are many questions and issues to address but the most important are related to psychological and conceptual factors: how much control should a company have over their employees? Can they commit to work from a domestic environment? What will be the psychological effects of displaced work in teams and individual workers?
There are many guides on how to establish a home office, yet few on how to manage remote teams.
Here are some fundamental ideas to keep scattered team members in sync with the company’s goals and with each other.
When the current restrictions are over, real live social gatherings are an option so everyone gets to socialize and foster camaraderie.
Companies were already using digital team management and collaborative platforms, along with online communication tools, so the technological leap to embrace remote work is insignificant in most cases. The in-house tools used at the office will be the same available at the home office.
The normalization of remote work may be one of the many impactful consequences coming out of the current situation and in its aftermath, with changes in the workplace logistics going beyond displaced office locations.
Some harsh truths may come to the surface. Office and travel budgets may be re-evaluated, productivity standards may be put to new light, and overall employee security and wellbeing will find a new place in companies priority list.
Work flexibility is also under discussion, with the chance of a four-day workweek becoming an increasingly attractive option in modern day societies. In an uncertain – but surely competitive – near future, companies and their managers must be aware of all the options technology offers and satisfy society’s demand for a better work/life balance. Better work leads to happier workers. Happier workers make better companies.
Work will never be the same again, and that may be a good thing. The real question is:
Are we ready to embrace the change?