COVID-19 has forced much of the global workforce into a grand remote work experiment. The transition has been easier for some than for others. Certain employees have a better disposition for working from home, and certain organizations adjusted more easily to the sudden and shocking change in routine because they had systems and technologies in place to handle the transition. Other staff, while functionally able to work from home with relative ease, found themselves held back by a lack of organization-wide parameters for this new normal.
Some aspects of this change we are undergoing will be long lasting, and the skills we build will propel us forward, changing much more than where we work, but how we work and what we can accomplish together.
Before this pandemic, many companies had already started accepting remote work while others had a more long-term plan for their digital transformation and remote work roll-out. Over the span of just weeks, I have seen many of those who believed more time was required instead forced into a new working mode that was not as hard as they envisioned. While not all office-based activities could be replaced, teams have seen how employees can be productive, creative, and results-driven while working in a completely virtual environment. I believe that when all of this global work from home experiment is all said-and-done, working from home will become an important and valued extension of working in a centralized location and considered as part of a single “work” strategy.
The second shattered perception? There is no real “generation gap” limiting remote work productivity. As millions of employees have embraced technology and rapidly developed new skills to work remotely, many have come to realize that age and years of experience matter much less than familiarity with digital tools, the desire to be resilient, and the ability to overcome the obstacles thrown at them.
Lastly, in realizing how much face-to-face interactions mean to us now that they are absent from our lives, the purpose of a collective environment like the office is changed and elevated. As an example, my colleagues in Hong Kong, who have now almost fully returned to their workplace, have created a new schedule for themselves, where they choose where they will work based on the type of work they need to accomplish. Heads-down focus work will often happen remotely from home. When they come into the office it is specifically to connect and work collaboratively with others. This allows them to be more intentional and focused on their tasks, and the results they want to achieve.
The physical workplace will always have a crucial role to play when it comes to team collaboration, culture, brand identity, and beyond. I’ve been continuously impressed by the way we are adapting to connecting virtually, but this situation has highlighted a need for employees to have a place where they can congregate (both remotely and in-person in the office) to share knowledge, learn best practices, and connect on company and career issues with colleagues.
I believe that permanent change will occur in a few key ways:
First, it will change talent recruitment and retention. If employers are not beholden to recruiting in specific locations or regions, then the possibilities of hiring the best people — regardless of their location — are endless. Employers will look for a new remote work skillset – people who are agile self-starters and take initiative.
Second, businesses must rethink their technology to foster remote working and equip employees with devices, communications platforms and data access that will allow productivity to thrive in both remote and centralized settings. The global shift in our ability to work remotely will require employers to embrace the “dual frontier” by discussing and developing ways to integrate working from home with working from a centralized workplace.
Finally, our current global work from home experiment will permanently alter workflow fundamentals. In this new environment, leaders must measure productivity with an emphasis on outputs over inputs. Leaders should also analyze their processes to make sure they are optimized for a distributed workforce. This includes adopting project-based working models, in which transparent goals are established at the beginning, giving employees more freedom to self-regulate. The traditional “command and control” approach of leadership must shift to a more flexible, innovative model that promotes agility, open communication, and teaming – even in a virtual setting.