I’ve worked in remote and hybrid environments for well over a decade. Remote work, when done well, works excellently. One example from my own experience: the ability to employ stay-at-home mums who balance employment around childcare commitments has been a game-changer for businesses that I’ve been in.
You cannot turn back the clock.
For sure, I’m one of the laptop class who can easily work from pretty much anywhere. I have a young family in a nice house and a decent home office setup. My commute to Central London and back is about 2.5-3 hours per day. I have a lot more productive time available to me in a remote-first environment than in an office-based environment. And I get to spend more time with my kids. It’s a true win-win.
This is not to say that it’s easy to make the most of remote working. There are challenges to getting remote working right. The best thing to do is to face up to these challenges and figure out how to solve them.
Here are examples of the sorts of person or organisation that struggle with the transition to more remote working:
- Commercial landlords. In the short term demand for offices in central locations goes down as remote working goes up. Though in the longer term we will see offices being recreated as hybrid living/working spaces. The city centres that are dead at the weekend will change for the better.
- Managers who don’t have the skills to connect with staff remotely. It’s one thing to be in an office watching people, picking up on body language cues and grabbing people when you need to talk to them. This can’t simply be replicated on video calls.
- People without a decent work-from-home setup. If you’re in a small flat then spending too long in there will drive you crazy. If you can’t get good broadband at home then you will struggle to work remotely.
- Companies who can’t provide a decent remote-first infrastructure. Computer systems need to be accessible securely and quickly over the internet, not just from inside the office.
- Companies who support office workers. For example the lunch stops and the flower seller who saw his business collapse 50% even before London’s official lockdown started.
- People who are most comfortable with face-to-face networking. In the olden days (1990’s) the place to be was the smoking room in which everyone was an equal irrespective of rank. Then the place to be to pick up on tidbits of career-enhancing information would have been in the coffee area or the pub at lunch/after work.
- Organisations who haven’t figured out how to do training remotely. The nature of training and developing junior staff has changed. You can’t provide shadowing or guidance as easily remotely as when you are sitting next to each other.
- Organisations which have a culture which encourages ‘out of sight out of mind’. If 80% of staff are in the office and 20% are dialling into calls then the 20% will quickly become second class citizens.
- People who struggle to set boundaries between work and personal lives.
It looks like a pretty long list but the underlying themes are pretty clear:
- Investments in infrastructure are needed (better broadband, better IT setups).
- Support for small local businesses as they transition to the new more remote world is needed.
- Managers need help to adapt to remote work. The book Remote is a great place to start for organisations trying to figure out how to adapt to a remote world.
- A face-to-face element is still needed, whether through shared working spaces or other ways of getting people together every now and again.
Anyone who makes broad-brush statements that “you can’t collaborate in remote work” or “you can’t work efficiently remotely” is telling you about their difficulty in adapting to this new reality. Not about the nature of remote work. Plenty of people are making great strides in making the most of the opportunities of remote work while addressing the downsides. With the right level of will and vision we can adapt to increasingly remote work and, indeed, thrive in it.
Oh and a couple of final requests. Please can people start saying:
Working remotely instead of Working from home
Going to an office instead of Going to work