In 2020, I published a post regarding working remotely. This was my perspective before the COVID-19 pandemic began and while it has not largely changed my habits, I have made a few observations along the way which I felt needed airing.
Doing your job inside the confines of a corporate-like office has brought up many decisions over the past century. It has informed interior design, employee management, work culture, task accomplishment, and technology growth. Conversations regarding performing the modern job outside of an office and into coffee shops, bar tops, beach-side resorts, and spare bedrooms have been largely left to those with large entrepreneurial goals or intensive international nomadism.
That is, until the first quarter of 2020 when the W.H.O. (World Health Organization) declared the SARS-2 COVID-19 virus outbreak a pandemic on a planetary scale. Suddenly, people who had never considered working outside of the small square footage that they, on a normal basis, be spending the majority of their prime adult life cohabitating for a paycheck and for a chance to spend their lives as they saw fit. For many, this was a scary change. Remote work was trending to become more normal before the pandemic began, but at a much slower rate and was focused largely on the technology world, due to the ability to work anywhere with an internet connection.
Many businesses gave their employees time off, paid or not because, in the beginning, it was understood that to “squash the rise”, everyone in the world needed to stay home for two weeks. No matter your opinion on whether this was or was not the correct decision, work still needed to be performed, and how people were going to do that seemed to be begging remote work tools and opportunities to now become the norm.
For many businesses, culture attracts employees, as do fancy offices, and other things that make positions seem more interesting to would-be new hires. It also helps draw comparisons between competing businesses. This business and that business are the same, the job you would do is the same, and the pay is the same, but this business gives you “more.” More takes a lot of shapes and normally it has to do with anything but the work itself. I believe the pandemic has given an opportunity for both businesses and career professionals to take a look at the “why” part of where they work, but also how they work where they do.
As a web developer, my job has largely not changed outside of my office being in my home, rather than 15 minutes – 45 minutes from my home. I wake up at a normal time, prepare for the day just the same as I would if I was going to the office, and perform my work in my office just the same. Once coffee shops opened again, I go to the coffee shop most mornings, just as I once did on the way to the office, and I eat lunch at home only about half of the week. When the day draws to a close, I sit on my porch with a beer or glass of whiskey or ride my bike to a local bar to catch up on the news with friends, or head to the nearby school fields to play soccer with my kids. This idyllic workweek has little change than it was pre-pandemic, other than location.
Knowing that I’ve had experience with remote work and the fact that my personality does not require water cooler chat or constant human relationship stimulation to feel confident or to perform my job, the switch was very natural and easy for me. However, I know that many people found this change very hard and difficult, especially those who need in-person or consistent human interaction. For some, their only friends were their work friends and that made their job easier/better/more satisfying, something that Zoom meetings, Slack messages, and emails can’t truly replace. These folks are not everyone, but their feelings on this do matter.
Outside of a job that cannot be performed outside of a warehouse/office setting, I believe that an office/remote business hybrid should be our future in order to fit both personnel differences and also help solve various issues which are created by the 8-5 pm workday.
For example, if 100 people drive 30 minutes to a job, Monday-Friday, there are 100 vehicles on various roads to that job. But if 60 of those people stay home, that is 60 fewer vehicles crowding the road. That is fewer miles on your car, less likelihood of accidents, less consumption of various resources (oil, vehicles, wear and tear on roads, etc.), and any money spent will stay local to where people live.
Businesses spend a lot of time constructing buildings or refabricating offices in existing structures that largely are uninhabited on evenings and weekends, meaning they serve one purpose and are empty outside of the traditional work hours. If we are to consider those offices that require large footprint offices now need smaller places and less parking, what more could be brought to smaller towns, or areas of cities where they are primarily populated by businesses. Could businesses give better raises to employees and help pad executives’ stock options with better work and less overhead? I believe they can and I believe they can also find better quality employees who aren’t only doing their work because it is what is required of them, but because they want to do it, due to the environment, the better conditions available, and the location notwithstanding.
If we are to continue down the path of remote work, businesses will need to evolve just like the executives and managers will need to find other litmus tests for understanding productive work. In the past ten years, I’ve worked with more and more leaders who are realizing that, similar to line workers of the industrial revolution, work accomplished is a far better criterion for production than just seeing an employee at their desk or because they are never late and rarely take sick days.
We can go even deeper than just quotas of work performed, as well, when we look beyond attendance and attention as our understanding of what we do or don’t do. When we’ve pushed these things aside, we begin to understand how an employee works, both successes and faults, and we can find ways to encourage them to continue to work hard and succeed. Growing employees can only be done with a leader who pays attention to their staff, but it doesn’t just start with the standard human interaction. Farmers know that certain soils work for certain plants, so why can’t our businesses try to ascertain how/where/what drives an employee to work the best and keeps them happy, while producing something that can grow the business and make it successful too?
Since the dawn of the internet, people have been set to create productivity tools for the modern workplace. With today’s work, there are so many to choose from, all available by the opening of a browser. We saw a leap ahead in video conferencing technology during the covid pandemic’s first year and continue to see its improvement, along with many other tools. Business leaders, hiring managers and more are settling back into a world of in-office, hybrid, and full-time remote work and finding better employees and better work accomplished, especially with the stress of the pandemic dwindling.
In the end, there will always be jobs that are required in person due to their nature, much like there will be businesses that have employees in an office when they could easily be at home. But I believe in 20 or 30 years’ time, we’ll see far more “office-free” work being conducted, which I personally hope will be the brave new world it already seems to be.