Op-Ed: Learning by shock, the big trick of remote work
Suddenly, Zoom meetings are as ubiquitous as your morning coffee. Beyond that, now hanging out with friends staring at your computer, virtual parties, concerts and tours are in our new everyday lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suddenly we’re living in a dystopian world that still seems as far-fetched as when we watched movies like “Contagion.”
Zoom’s stock has gone through the roof and Microsoft has already launched “Meet Now” to compete. The technological tools that allow us to work and play and stay in touch remotely seem endless and companies are scrambling to adapt.
Not only small and mid-sized businesses. Not only entrepreneurs, but huge companies as well, that have no excuse or limit of resources to have dived into these trends long ago.
That includes investment bank company Goldman Sachs. A full 98% of the company’s employees are now working remotely, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said in an interview on CNBC.
“When you go through something like this, it forces you to ask questions and think about things differently,” Solomon said.
Really? He realized this just now? Even after the coronavirus pandemic calms down, I believe we will see an increase in the use of video conferencing and become more comfortable with that type of technology.
In our agency, iFullCircle Communications, we have been using these tools for years for many reasons. In all honesty, of course we did not have an incredible insight on what was going to happen with COVID-19. We just believed that for my line of work within the agency (crisis management and consulting) it was critical that I could work whenever, from wherever. The same goes for the advertising, creative and digital teams here.
Also, as the team in the agency grew, so did the necessity of a flexible system that would allow people to work from home if needed. So, when iFull Circle Communications closed its physical offices two days before the emergency Executive Order, the next Monday we kept working uninterruptedly.
But here is the trick: we made a seamless transition not because of the technology that now everyone uses or is hurrying to learn how to use: we did it because we have a corporate culture of structured work either within the office or at home. We are used to this. We did not start this learning curve when the crisis hit, and in this we were very lucky.
It was obvious to me year ago that providing more flexibility to employees made our agency a more attractive place for people to work, and so we have attracted amazing talent over the years. Allowing employees to work from home on occasion has paid off for the company as well, in increased productivity.
The coronavirus pandemic will probably have a lasting impact on companies and remote work policies worldwide, according to consulting organization Global Workplace Analytics. It estimates that within two years, 25% to 30% of the U.S. workforce will work from home on a regular basis. Now just 5.2% does according to U.S. last Census data. That’s very, very little.
The United States is behind other countries like the Netherlands (13.7% work from home), Luxembourg (12.7%), Finland (12.3%) and many others, but this will change now quickly.
What companies that have never dwelled on this will discover now, is that this is a “gradual,” process that requires a lot more structure than they might think. It also requires a lot of discipline from the employees and management.
As the world focuses right now on the safety and health of employees, serving clients and helping communities, we will have to adapt, and soon, but bear this in mind: remote work is not done just with software and a computer, it’s achieved with the right monitoring systems in place, a learning curve and discipline.
But it’s here to stay, so the sooner you start to create a corporate culture that nurtures this way of working, understand its challenges and go through the trial and error phase, the sooner you will be ready for the next chapter of what the job market and the economy will require of all of us.