Will Working from Home Become the New Normal?
There has been a move toward working from home that has become the new normal in 2020. Obviously, much of this push has been because of the effects of COVID-19. But even before the onset of the pandemic, there had been a slow but undeniable move toward home-working. For some time now, there has been a generational shift in mindset around the need for greater balance between home and work, and the pressure has been well and truly on for employers to respond. Even before the pandemic, there were companies that allowed employees to work from home at least part, if not all of their working week. However, many employers were suspicious about telecommuting due to potential issues around productivity, collaboration, and morale. After the transition to working-from-home during the first wave of Coronavirus in March 2020, many managers that were initially sceptical about managing virtual workplaces saw that it was possible, even desirable.
They had to follow basic rules such as setting clear boundaries and goals, being transparent about company priorities, outlining responsibilities and using tools that help everyone stay in touch (e.g. the boom in the Zoom app). Leveraging technology to communicate for the purpose of inspiring, educating, informing and consulting with people is essential. Building a strong sense of connection and engagement takes staying in touch with each person on the team and the group. Maintaining routines such as one-to-one and team meetings is an important way of ensuring people do not become isolated and disconnected from either priorities or their colleagues. But is working from home really going to be part of the new normal?
During the first half of 2020, the inevitable shift to remote work was a pivotal enabler of business and economic continuity during the original shelter-in-place regulations. It may continue to be for quite some time, especially with a second wave is becoming a reality in many states around Australia, and also now that it has been proven to be a workable and even cost-effective solution. Consequently, our newsfeeds have been overwhelmed with reports and projections about where workers that were able to work remotely during lockdowns will be commuting to in the future — the rumpus room or the kitchen table.
The truth is, it will not be universal. Workplace expert and futurist, Alexandra Levit, who also received a Radar award in 2019 from Thinkers50 – who identify the leading management ideas of our age – says the reaction to COVID-19 and working from home has split businesses into two camps. There are the companies who will keep in place working from home, but those are the ones who were already somewhat predisposed to the idea to begin with, and then there are the companies who have an entrenched office culture and haven’t yet changed their minds. “The new normal of working from home is one we would have faced in the next decade or so anyway”, says Levit. “The pandemic has simply accelerated the process, and the businesses who haven’t yet changed their mind around remote work will have to come around to a new way of thinking about and structuring their workforce.”
Of the companies who have embraced working from home, a unique opportunity has been presented for them to assess whether this way of working can or should be adopted permanently. Now is the time for leaders to explore their beliefs and challenge those that may have in the past kept them closed-minded to flexible work options. While of course, many people in these exceptional circumstances are struggling with challenges, such as a lack of space or kids home schooling, early indications are that these obstacles are being overcome and people are adapting.
The reality is people are being forced to work differently, and anecdotal feedback suggests many are enjoying many of the changes working from home has brought. Not having the daily commute, parking or public transport costs, or office environment distractions are hugely popular benefits that have presented themselves, along with the improved ability to balance the demands of work and home.
So, what have we all learned from the abrupt transition to virtual collaboration, self-motivation, and increased organisational skills that we want to adopt in the future? Well, the new normal is not necessarily a business world without working in an office; it is just a new paradigm where we focus on the actual work instead of the office. As we adopt new ways of working via virtual workplaces, we will be able to focus much less on where we are working, and instead celebrate the immense contributions that we are making to our companies and industries.