Armchair prognosticators wax eloquent about the changes COVID-19 will bring to our future society. The absence of commutes, outside entertainment, and social events affords time aplenty for this sort of crystal balling. One of the most clichéd tropes is that employers who didn’t do so before Coronavirus will be forced to embrace remote work after witnessing how well we’ve functioned during our collective captivity.
I call bullshit on this even though I’m a strong advocate of remote work. There are plenty of lessons I think we should glean from this pandemic, but the transitional ease of working from home during a crisis isn’t one of them.
Although employees are working remotely, the utter upheaval of this pandemic renders it nearly impossible to scientifically measure the productivity of working from home. Assessing today’s output relative to pre-Covid accomplishment is akin to building a scrum team of new employees and comparing its velocity against a longstanding, well-functioning team. Too many variables have been introduced into the experiment to provide an apples to apples comparison. Presently, almost all of us are distracted in one way or another and it’s, therefore, unreasonable to expect that much, if anything, functions smoothly.
These are but a handful of the myriad distractions we face on a daily basis:
- Upset about the ravages of this virus
- Worries about family and friends’ health
- Concern about loss of employment
- Challenge of keeping children occupied
- Hunting for scarce yeast for sourdough bread
- Wondering whether it’s better to drink or inject Clorox to kill Coronavirus
In the best of circumstances, remote working is even challenging for companies that have been doing it for years. To be effective, a remote organization requires a balance of cohesive and well-communicated objectives, a smart meeting culture, enlightened management, and a healthy amount of trial and error.
Even though it feels like we have plenty of time these days, much of our energy is diffused – absorbed by other concerns. Managers and teams who believe they’re as productive as ever are either fooling themselves or were dysfunctional to begin with.
LinkedIn posts from CEOs often adopt this war-like tone:
- Here’s how my company is helping in the COVID-19 fight
- My workforce is toiling around the clock and I couldn’t be prouder of them
- We are a well-oiled machine, having adapted magnificently because we are agile
During this time of crisis it feels almost unpatriotic to question or even attempt to measure worker productivity. Still, it doesn’t mean that CEOs are convinced that working from home is the right model when the crisis ends. In the early 1980’s, Silicon Valley companies led the pack in the shift to casual office attire. Business casual quickly found a cultural foothold that forced change upon the starched-shirt midwest and east coast ethos. Casual Fridays soon led to casual everyday.
It is possible that a similar cultural change will force management to more universally accept remote work. This would certainly be a boon for worker flexibility, making it much easier to juggle our busy business and personal lives. Furthermore, a marvelous side-effect we’re all witnessing from working from home is clean air and empty streets. Although it’s important to repair our crumbling infrastructure, a mass move to remote work might cause us to rethink the need for expensive and disruptive new road construction.
We may not have entered this remote work experiment with scientific rigor. The deck is stacked against us achieving great efficiency when we’re surrounded by chaos. Regardless, we’ve whet our appetites for remote work and this experience has opened our eyes to the promise of a more balanced life. Let’s remember these bright points from this dark time and push for change.