We all know that remote working is as spreading almost as rapidly as the damned coronavirus itself, but does it have staying power? Is working from home really going to be the new normal, an integral part of corporate culture forevermore? Or will it burn out as the pandemic danger recedes and people go back to the familiar old 9-to-5?
I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say “Maybe.” Honestly, right now it’s hard to know where we’re headed. If I was kidnapped and hauled off to a Vegas casino right now–and I’d have to be tied up and thrown into the cargo hold of a plane to go to Sin City these days, with the mayor down there threatening to turn her town into a petri dish with slots–I would put cash on “Yes, we’re not going back to the office anytime soon.” But I’d hedge that bet and move the money around a bit to minimize risk.
Human nature is awfully hard to predict. While people are afraid right now, we forget our fears awfully damn fast when danger recedes. So I’m not sure home offices will look all that appealing once the lockdowns start to lift. Many are suffering from cabin fever right now, being unable to get out much or at all with almost everything shut down. Unless you’re into bowling in Georgia, of course, and then you’re all good.
A lot of people working from home for the first time at the moment are also not experiencing what regular working from home is truly like. This is a special situation, to say the least. New remote workers are crammed together with makeshift work arrangements, maybe with a laid-off partner at home, and maybe with a kid or three as well since all the schools are closed. That is a long way from the typical peace and quiet of working in a home office, likely with a spouse off to work elsewhere or secluded in his or her own office down the hallway, and the kids away learning their A-B-Cs.
Being thrust into working from home has not been without its other hiccups, too. Remote working has social and psychological challenges, especially if you live alone. The sense of isolation can be powerful, and C-19 hit so suddenly that many simply had no time to mentally or physically prepare for it. Then there are the tech issues of quickly trying to set up a home office, so you can do your job outside of the regular workplace. And the let’s not forget about the inevitable communication quibbles that come when a team that usually has its members all in the same place for 35 hours+ a week suddenly has to do all of its talking and planning on tele-conferences or over email and other forms of text messaging.
So I could easily see a snap back coming. C-19 restrictions finally lift and I can envision many, many workers racing back to the office, desperately looking for some sort of freedom, human contact beyond the home family unit, and an escape. I can already hear that famous old Simpsons sound effect–the slamming door, racing footsteps, and car tires peeling out–echoing all over the country on Victory Over Covid Day.
With all that said, remote working is still here to stay. C-19 may or may not spark an immediate and permanent revolution. But working from home will continue to grow because it, well, works, for both employer and employee.
Study after study has shown that more flexible working arrangements lead to tremendous benefits for everyone. (I could cite examples, but there are so many that it would be like footnoting a reference to the sun rising in the east.) Employees gain greater job satisfaction, productivity, and a positive work-life balance. Employers gain a happier workforce and all of the good things that come with enhanced productivity, which leads to more focused employees committed to sticking around. Plus everybody saves some money, with less emphasis on such expenses as commuting and the need to maintain office buildings for staff.
The Great Workplace Experiment of 2020 has come with a ton of hurdles. None of this sudden shift to working from home has been particularly easy for anyone. There will be some bounce back to the traditional office. We may have suddenly moved to a remote work culture for all of the wrong reasons, thanks to the devastation of COVID-19. But we will continue to cultivate and expand this remote work culture for all of the right ones, as it is simply the better way forward for both employer and employee.