We have a new neighbor on our street who moved into her home in April, at the height of the shutdown across the entire nation. She is a graphic designer for a magazine in the Washington D.C. area and in mid-March her entire team began working remotely. She looked around at her tiny, expensive apartment with a view of an alley and remembered her roots back in Minnesota, where her dollars would go farther and her view greatly improved. She found a house in a friendly neighborhood and is renting an adorable story and a half with a porch the width of the house. I’ll wave to her from the sidewalk as she sits on her porch, coffee at her side and laptop in front of her, working away on whatever project is next on her list.
The current pandemic has changed the way the world works, possibly forever.
With a Covid vaccine on the horizon and businesses talking about plans to return to the office, an honest assessment of why work offices exist is needed.
Is it to collaborate? With tools like Trello, Basecamp, Wrike and others it’s easy to manage projects virtually.
Is it to have work meetings? Welcome to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or one of many other video conferencing tools that allows people to meet from virtually anywhere. It takes effort to have side conversations in virtual meetings, be it through a chat function or on a separate device, so meetings are shorter and more effective.
Are people working in offices to share data or projects? Welcome to the cloud where documents, projects, spreadsheets and data are all stored for anyone in the organization to access. All you need is an internet connection and a login to access any of the documents you need.
Clearly one reason for in-person work environments is the benefit of getting to know your co-workers on a personal basis, in having casual conversations at the coffee machine and creating the comradery and teamwork many employees find fulfilling in their work environment. And yet, there are always team members who would rather get their work done and go back to their homes and families, valuing time spent outside of work with loved ones above connecting with their co-workers.
This doesn’t make them a less valuable employee, but it makes a work office a less valuable asset.
Ask the person who spends 2 hours every morning commuting to their office if the benefit of connecting with co-workers face-to-face was worth being on a train for 4 hours.
Companies in some fields have embraced remote work environments for years, while others believe that their work is best done in a formal office environment with cubes and offices filled with people. Companies that do not embrace remote employees will lose talented people to companies that embrace remote workers.
Working remotely during a pandemic has its challenges, especially for those with children at home for whom child care is closed, schools are also in distance-learning mode, or other aspects of their lives have been temporarily suspended due to the safety measures that are needed to contain the spread of the virus. But imagine the world after the pandemic, when schools can safely re-open, child care centers are operating again, and gatherings with family and friends fill our lives with the social connections human beings need.
Wouldn’t this improve workers’ work-life harmony and overall happiness? Doesn’t that make for better employees and human beings?