As millions of knowledge workers around the world take refuge from Coronavirus at home, remote work has suddenly become normalized. Once companies realize its benefits, the pros of remote work could outweigh its cons to cause a permanent shift.
For many companies that operate distributed teams around the world, remote work is everyday life. For many others, the very notion of remote work arouses doubts and misgivings where vocabularies of slacking and unproductivity are more common.
But what’s happening now is a bit of a revolution. The coronavirus outbreak has induced the world’s largest remote work experiment that might just reinvent how we work and live from this point forward.
Recently, Matt Mullenweg, the chief executive of WordPress, wrote:
“(Remote work) can offer an opportunity for many companies to finally build a culture that allows long-overdue work flexibility. Millions of people will get the chance to experience days without long commutes, or the harsh inflexibility of not being able to stay close to home when a family member is sick. Or even when you’re sick yourself.”
He is right. Not only are many people debutant remote workers today, but it’s also for the first time that remote work is being discussed at this grand a scale.
Culture of Generosity
For the past century, we’ve been trained on how to work in an office; obviously, then, remote work is proving to be challenging. But that’s not because of remote work, but the nature of work itself. While Google, Microsoft and many others are offering their tools for free, there’s still a lack of good collaborative tools to navigate remote work situations.
All of this stands to change as many companies grapple with the reality of social distancing and try to meet the demand of their team members (and clients). We can expect a proliferation of many apps and tools specially designed to make remote work easy on both the individual and teams—further enabling a culture of remote work.
Some amount of investment is already made
Many companies like Twitter are also scrambling to make life easy for their workers. This means covering expenses required to set up home offices, and even the cost of buying furniture like an ergonomic chair. When such investments are made, wouldn’t employees like to continue to reap its benefits? And, wouldn’t companies want to benefit from spending the money?
Blurring lines: employee or freelancer?
Most companies work with a set of freelancers and consultants. Remote work has blurred the lines between the freelancer and the employee in a way only an entire office going remote could have. But while we notice these trends, the question also is what is this new change in work-life doing for the employees themselves.
A new sense of possibility
Around the world, there’s already a huge shift towards gig and project-based work and the pandemic can solidify it. Many people are realizing that they may be able to balance multiple projects now that they’re not spending time on, say, commuting to their office. But it must be said that it takes a particularly agile and hustle-based mindset to be able to deal with the job insecurity that comes with being a remote freelancer as opposed to being a remote worker with a full-time job.
Regardless, people are now wrapping their minds around just how much time there is. While much of this could be because it’s not safe to step out anymore, many remote freelancers swear that even in non-crisis situations, working from home frees up a lot of their time.
And suddenly, they have more time to think about life.
Better work-life balance is the number one winning factor for remote work and more people are now accepting it. If you’re paying attention to the kind of commentary online, almost all are speaking of assisting people in their new work-from-home adventures by pointing precisely this. When you’re not spending many hours in needless meetings or in socializing with co-workers, you’re suddenly free to use that extra time to reconnect with family, lost hobbies, or simply do what you like.
Productivity, however, is not compromised
In the office environment, you can be stuck in the churn of everyday tasks and therefore, a change of setting can be a great boost to productivity. It can free up your mental bandwidth and allow you a new perspective, thus enhancing creativity and problem-solving. This change in environment has also been proven to make you less stressed and perhaps more willing to take up newer challenges.
Most of our conversation around 9-5 work is not just for the privileged but it’s also ableist. Rarely do these lifestyles take into account the needs of those who may be disabled, those who are caregivers, or simply those who might like to spend time with their children beyond maternity or paternity leaves. Remote work enables that. And as it brings their perspectives into homogenous teams, it makes sure diversity does not simply remain a token measure.
It’s easier on the pocket and the environment
Jobs around the world are concentrated in big metropolitan cities where everything is prohibitively expensive. Transportation is expensive, food costs are high, rent even higher.
Remote work—where people can live where they please—saves them from living in cramped apartments or burning fuel by traveling for hours. It also prevents companies from leasing commercial spaces in city centers. There may also be benefits for the environment but the question of sustainability is a bit nuanced.
Usually, energy management in buildings (especially when coming from renewable sources) is more sophisticated than at individual homes. It also may be easier to heat/cool commercial buildings than individual homes. But as the call for remote work is loud, solutions are also forthcoming. One is in the form of individual homes with low-emission infrastructure such as solar panels.
However, if there is one complaint against remote work that trumps everything else, it’s the following: Loneliness.
Remote work is accused of breaking down social bonds, of disrupting teamwork, or simply encouraging people to be cooped up in their homes. The truth is anything but.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us how much we like the outdoors and meeting friends. But there’s no monopoly on socialization. It can happen in various ways—over lunch with your family, in the evenings with your local friends, or with the other participants in your Zumba class.
If anything, the new COVID-19 triggered remote work experiment is showing us that there’s no decisive way to work. Work does and must continue to happen anywhere.
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