Remote Working - Get Used To It!
The Covid19 pandemic suddenly created the need to work remotely whether we were ready for this or not. It was no longer a matter of trying to "get our feet wet" with new technology. Teachers, for example, have had to master remote course delivery methods. Teaching via zoom, designing and delivering webinars and remote team work became part of the daily routine of those who teach across the spectrum - from primary schools through to Universities. Ditto for many other professions: architects, engineers, editors, you name it. Gaining proficiency in the required tools was no longer an option. Virtual work has become the norm in many contexts where the upside cancels out some of the undeniable downsides. A psychotherapist friend of mine who in the recent past swore he would never resort to online consultations, now says that they are certainly "much better than nothing" and that his initial aversion was perhaps misplaced. He rates virtual sessions as "70% effective" - a long way from "never".
For most employees, blending work and private schedules became a juggling act and for many, it has led to a re-evaluation of their career preferences. It opened up new ways and possibilities of achieving the tricky feat of an optimal work-life balance. Indeed, most of us learned that flexibility cuts both ways - it provides more choice which can be liberating, but it can also create all sorts of problems when we don't manage it well (as I've noted in a previous blog, too much choice has its downsides too). Physical workplaces help separate our business from our private lives but "work from home" routines can get us sucked into perpetual distractions (be they work or family related). This can lead to more rather than less stress.
As for us in the organizational development and management consulting profession, we've had to concede that virtual forms of interaction and relationship-building while not necessarily detrimental to commitment or motivation in all cases, can weaken the bond between an organization and its employees. A new challenge, yes, but not insurmountable, in most cases.
So, it is important that managers set clear expectations as regards the performance of the work (moving from a time-tracking mentality to measuring results or outcomes) and having a well defined communication routines. Regular "check-ins" to monitor progress and provide support are one of the most common means of ensuring that the team is adequately connected and well functioning. Remote work also makes "one on ones" an even more important part of a manager's routine.
So, whilst we lose some of the social benefits of physical workplaces (hallway conversations, impromptu gatherings, grabbing a lunch or beer at a nearby pub) there are the obvious upsides of less commuting and higher work-life flexibility that make WFH an attractive option.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution or way of balancing the physical with the virtual. What is for sure, however, is that most of us are not likely to fully return to the physical office arrangements of the past. Remote or hybrid arrangements are here to stay.