Is remote work the “holy grail” of office work? Even in the IT industry, which is accustomed to this way of operation, a change has taken place. What multi-tiered consequences will the new remote normality have in the post-pandemic era?
After a year of various stages of lockdown, all we have are these difficult questions. For the next months and years, we will be looking for answers to them.
Even the most avid sceptics have no illusions that coming years will be marked by remote work. Or at least partially outside the office. We no longer doubt that this new (for some) style of functioning will survive the pandemic. For some companies, it is nothing new. For others, it is a path to savings, yet others see it as a challenge.
The same applies to people who have been forced to operate in a new way. In 2020, it turned out that a significant part of the work can be done from the comfort of your home, without the need to move to the company’s headquarters. This has its undoubted advantages and disadvantages, risks and opportunities.
The end of offices as we know them?
Remote work changed a lot. Most of all, it helped many businesses to survive. Currently, we are slowly entering the next stage of this phenomenon — companies are switching to full remote work, combining it in a hybrid way or — what is more radical — even giving up office spaces. A new model of work has been announced. But the question about the long-term consequences of such activities remains. Are we sure all kind of work can be done in such a model? I can see some potential points worth considering.
It is good to save some time commuting to work and carry out your tasks in your apartment or house’s cosy comfort. Assuming you have such an office space at home. It’s nice to be able to close a few tasks, make coffee, have a quick lunch with your significant other, with children, tenants, or simply in solitary silence. Calm and refreshing. It can be done once, twice, or tenth time — but will this lonely lunch in your home kitchen still taste just as perfect 200 times? For some people, probably yes, but there is also a large group of people who need others.
Over the next few months and years, managers and specialists will undoubtedly have to monitor people working at home very carefully to react quickly to mental problems that the current situation may cause. Depression, anxiety or burnout will become issues that need to be thought about and talked about more often.
It is all the more a great responsibility that falls on people who run businesses to take a detailed look at the people they surround themselves with.
We do not have enough data yet to conclude what will be the long-term consequences of transferring entire companies into a model of distributed, remote and solitary units.
Business (not) as usual
Are the basic needs of the individual the only problem posed by remote work? Definitely not. Much has been said about this model’s benefits, but three other concerns are emerging besides mental health’s key issue.
The first is the performance of teams whose core is creative work. The contact between people, the ability to vividly and quickly reflect ideas and messages will mean that at least some of the work will have to return to the office to maintain its quality and pace. Those who do this will win over those who stay 100% remote, which in the long run will show the difference between “remote first” / “remote ready” and “remote only” companies.
The second issue is the organisational culture aspect. Any company that felt the value of creating its own unique internal culture knows what profits it brings for the entire team. However, a significant part of cultural constructs had disintegrated when people left the office space. “Fruit Thursdays” and “coffee in the kitchen” (personally, I miss both) are not enough to build a broadly understood “atmosphere”. A deep reflection is needed on what and how to offer to teams in this respect. How to integrate the people in the organisation so that it is not artificial and forced. Companies that will learn to do this before others have an advantage. It can make life easier for smaller companies, with a more flattened structure and direct relationships between the people who make it up.
The third key point, for me, is how to respond to a crisis. It is much easier and faster to deal with the problem with all the people on the spot. When not only fluent communication is important but also how quickly we deal with the crisis.
I believe that all of the above issues, from mental health, through team performance problems, building an organisational culture to crisis response skills, confirm that the sentence for work “on-site” was issued prematurely.
Working in the office will change, and the way the office functions as the company’s headquarters will also change. But they will still be needed places, although used differently than before.
Those who learn to function in these new conditions will effectively build teams and efficiently create and develop their businesses.